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Dedicated to Arthur Lloyd, 1839 - 1904.

 

The Gaiety Theatre, Sauchiehall Street and West Nile St, Glasgow

Formerly - The Choral Hall - Later - The Gaiety Theatre of Varieties / The Empire Theatre

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Glasgow Sauchiehall Street postcard around 1900 viewed from Buchanan Street, with the Empire Palace Theatre middle left, successor to the Gaiety - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Above - Glasgow Sauchiehall Street postcard around 1900 viewed from Buchanan Street, with the Empire Palace Theatre middle left, successor to the Gaiety - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

The Gaiety and its successor the famed Empire Theatre in Sauchiehall Street, at the corner of West Nile Street, started their musical journey as the Choral Hall which was a base for the Glasgow Choral Union. The Union was created in 1855 by the amalgamation of the Glasgow Musical Association formed in 1843 and the Glasgow Harmonic Society instituted in 1850.

Fronted by shops and houses at 121/123 West Nile Street, the New Choral Hall as it was then known opened in 1868. The Choral Union used it for its rehearsals under Henry A Lambeth, composer and organist, and maintained the building. Their public concerts were major events and took place in the City Hall, the Cathedral, and the St Andrew`s Halls when they opened in 1877.

The Hall was also used for soirees, concerts and meetings. The Choral Union`s orchestra became known as the Scottish Orchestra, nowadays the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and the Union is now known as the RSNO Chorus.

In December 1871 Arthur Lloyd staged his “Comedy Holiday Banquets” - to see the Old Year Out and the New Year In - in the New Choral Hall. Each of the 16 performances had 1,000 seats, at One Shilling. His advertisements announced “The Hall is Now made a Beautiful and ELEGANT DRAWING ROOM with NEW STAGE AND COSTLY FITTINGS.”

A Bailie Cartoon of Charles Bernard - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Charles Bernard, after managing a theatre in Dublin, focused on Edinburgh and Glasgow. In March 1872 he was able to purchase the Choral Hall and the buildings fronting it to Sauchiehall Street. The Glasgow Herald reported:- “For £12,500 Charles Bernard has purchased the extensive block of buildings at the corner of Nile-Street, Glasgow in which city he proposes to remain with his company permanently. The Choral Hall, which forms part of the block is to be enlarged so as to contain 2,000 persons, and in connection with it are to be suitable reading, billiard, smoking and refreshment rooms.”

Right - A Bailie Cartoon of Charles Bernard - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

He gained a drama licence, providing plays, opera, revues and pantomime; and had his own stock company, touring widely. For a time he was also lessee of the Operetta House, Waterloo Street, Edinburgh.

His stage debut was in 1846 in London`s Strand Theatre and he worked his way up through singing and drama. He joined the opera and burlesque company of the Lyceum Theatre, London, managed by Madame Vestris. He conducted and sang in his burnt-cork company The Queen`s Minstrels – “the original and legitimate Christy`s Minstrels” – which he jointly owned with Madame Vestris. Its advertisements carried the royal coat-of-arms, as the only minstrel company to have the patronage of the Royal Family, and he advertised himself as “The Queen`s Favourite Baritone.” The troupe continued its tours into the late 1870s.

Sketches in The Gaiety - Previous to Reconstruction, January 1896 - From 'Quiz', a periodical popular in Glasgow in the last quarter of the 19th century - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Taking ideas for a new theatre fronting Sauchiehall Street from the Gaiete and the Theatre-Lyrique in Paris he opened his luxurious Gaiety Theatre in 1874, designed by the architect William MacIlwraith. Its stalls, balcony and gallery could accommodate 1,400 and for the stalls, balcony, and six private boxes it had newly patented tip-up chairs upholstered in yellow and red satin. The hall was 121 feet long and the proscenium had a square opening, 22 feet wide. The main entrance was in Sauchiehall Street. Bernard`s wife was the first manageress, and his wife`s sister funded his expansion in Manchester. He and his family lived in the Gaiety Buildings. A later general manager was Sam H. S. Austin, secretary of the Bernard Company. The position of the theatre is named on this zoomable map of Glasgow, 1882.

Left - Sketches in The Gaiety - Previous to Reconstruction, January 1896 - From 'Quiz', a periodical popular in Glasgow in the last quarter of the 19th century - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

The artistic example of the Glover family was in front of him and Bernard succeeded William Glover as lessee of Newcastle`s Theatre Royal in 1878. Contemporaries there write of the five good pantomimes he produced, appearing in two of them Robinson Crusoe and Dick Whittington. Pantomimes ran for the same length in Newcastle as in Glasgow, usually around 11 weeks. He brought to Newcastle the early Savoy operas of HMS Pinafore, Sorcerer, and the Pirates of Penzance, and had started his own Comic Opera Company (which toured as far south as Eastbourne.)

A Programme for Mr and Mrs Kendal and Mr Hare and Company from the St. James's Theatre in London, at Bernard's Glasgow Gaiety for 12 nights from Monday the 16th of August 1880 - Click to see the entire programme.In 1880 the Gaiety was renovated and redecorated by architect Frank Matcham, who had just completed the Royalty Theatre on the other side of Sauchiehall Street.

Adding to the plays and pantomimes in his Gaiety theatre, which he advertised as “a musical bijou for Glasgow, where the most respectable of both sexes can witness good music and other popular entertainments”, Bernard presented the D`Oyle Carte Opera Company and the Carl Rosa Company in each of 1880 and 1881. In 1881 he introduced to the Gaiety the very seductive Sarah Bernhardt who “attracted the lovers of fashion and the lovers of art.”

Right - A Programme for Mr and Mrs Kendal and Mr Hare and Company from the St. James's Theatre in London, at Bernard's Glasgow Gaiety for 12 nights from Monday the 16th of August 1880 - Click to see the entire programme.

The programme shown right also goes on to advertise prospective forthcoming productions at the Glasgow Gaiety in August 1880 of 'Old Cronies' and 'Queen's Shilling' on the 20th and 21st, 'A Scrap of Paper' with Mr and Mrs Kendal and Company on the 23rd, and from the 30th of August the Opera Buffe Company in 'La Fille Du Tambour Major', Chas Reade's Company in 'It's Never Too Late To Mend', Wilson Barrett's Company in 'The Old Love And The New', Ellen Terry & Chas Kelly, 'H M S pinafore and The Sorcerer', The Carl Rosa Company, Charles Whyndham's Company in 'Truth', Frank Emery's Company in 'Masks And Faces' and Chas Bernard's Opera Bouffe Company in 'Cloches De Corneville'. - Click to see the entire programme.

A GALLERY IN THE GAIETY

The playwright and actor, Graham Moffat, gives an account of his first “gallery night” at the Gaiety during the early 1880's in his autobiography “Join Me In Remembering”:- The show that I am on my way to see is a burlesque of “Aladdin” with Nellie Farren and the London Gaiety Company. In the lane behind Sauchiehall Street, at the back of the Gaiety Theatre, quite a crowd has already collected. We are nearly all men, and we are forced to stand closer together as our numbers rapidly increase.

Suddenly the big double doors are flung wide open. The man who undid the bolts has to run for his life as the whole throng of theatre-goers, impelled by but a single thought, throws itself forward. I am wedged in on every side and pressed forcibly, in a swaying mass of humanity, towards the door… The pressure from the West Nile Street side is so great that it seems as though I, and those about me, will be forced on one side… It is a tremendous relief when at last I am propelled safely past the entrance. I am so small and so light in weight that on the stairs I am lifted bodily off my feet and up several flights, my toes hardly ever touching the steps. Perspiring and dishevelled I arrive at the pay-box…. Having received my change and a metal disc, I ascend so many more stairs that I cease to wonder why this part of the theatre is called “the Gods!” I emerge near the roof of the auditorium and automatically following a custom learned in more sacred surroundings remove my bowler which providentially has come through unabashed… I am almost on a level with the decorative crystals that hang from the central gas chandelier. So commodious is the gallery that I think it could seat as many as our whole kirk. True it is that the seat I get for my penny in the plate on Sundays is luxury indeed compared with these bare, backless benches, but after all the show is the thing, and I can see at a glance that from every point there is a full view of the stage. Before going down the steps I make an effort to adjust my torn collar by tightening the strap of my made-up tie upon it, but the wretched thing refuses to stay put. Long before the curtain rises I abandon the irritating fight to preserve appearances and thrust both collar and tie into my pocket.

Following the example of my neighbours I have appropriated plenty of room on the hard seat, but as the gallery fills to capacity a “packer” makes us all sit up, squeezing us all together to the last possible sixpence. There is now the prospect of a rather tedious wait, but I soon find that the gallery knows how to provide it’s own amusement. A fine tenor voice sings of the feathered community’s fabled enquiry into the circumstances concerning the tragic death of “poor Cock Robin”, and after hearing the boastful and shameless confession of the sparrow, practically the whole gallery audience bursts into sympathetic song. It is my first experience of community singing outside the kirk and I eagerly add my feeble pipe to the great choir, six hundred strong. Cock Robin is followed by Hearts of Oak and John Brown’s Body. We are still singing this when the conductor takes his place in the orchestra, and with an unheard tap of his baton starts the overture; but so vociferous is our Glory, Glory Hallelujah! That for all I hear of the opposition music the fiddlers down there might be scraping strings of hemp. We finish to a burst of our own applause and then condescend to give a hearing to what remains of the opening music.

The theatre is darkened down, stage lights switched on and the curtain rises. My attention is now so riveted to the stage that I lose all conscious memory of what I have suffered to get here, even my present physical discomforts, the hard seat and the pressure on my flanks no longer exist. I am transported into a fantastic, ancient Baghdad, inhabited by cockneys; a city where some of the girls are boys and one of the men is an old woman.”

Extract kindly made available by John Short, whose uncle was Jimmy Logan.

Charles Bernard also took a lease of the Theatre Royal, Hope Street opening with a pantomime in December 1881, Dick Whittington and his Cat, or the harlequin – The Faithful Cat and the Demon Rat. What the public did not know was he had expanded too far, and was running out of cash. His progress came to an end when he was sequestrated in Glasgow in July 1882. The Gaiety had been profitable, the Theatre Royal, Newcastle was profitable as was the Prince`s Theatre, Manchester; the smaller Her Majesty`s Theatre in Carlisle was not. But he had run out of money by buying copyrights for his Comic Opera Company and the costs of taking up the lease of the Theatre Royal, Hope Street.

In reply to questions about his own performing companies and music material Bernard said:- 'I paid £1500 each for the copyright of Les Cloches de Corneville, La Petite Madamoiselle and Sharon`s Sceptre. My Comic Opera Company made small profits with these, but my Childrens` company lost a lot of money.'

Asked why he was not benefiting from the copyright investments of £4500 he simply replied “……popularity changed.” Gilbert and Sullivan`s new style of entertainments was sweeping the country. Some years later he made a come-back, as a manager at the Palace Theatre in London.

For over a year Alexander Livingston was manager then lessee, assisted by T. T. Brindley from London who introduced music-hall varieties, and John Heslop of Edinburgh`s Theatre Royal took a brief interest before his own bankruptcy.

In March 1884 the Gaiety reopened with comedy-drama under a lease to dramatist AD McNeill who had been an actor in the Theatre Royal, Dunlop Street and the Royalty. Later in the year the theatre changed its name to the Gaiety Theatre of Varieties under Daniel Smith McKay, accountancy trained, as lessee running it as a variety house, but also having a drama licence. He was the originator of the “Military Promenade Concerts” at Edinburgh`s Waverley Market, also ran the Albert Hall, Edinburgh, and from 1884 the ill fated Star Theatre of Varieties in Watson Street, Glasgow Cross (later known as the Queen`s Theatre.) He earned a reputation of cutting his performers` wages to the bone.

One event in the Gaiety which resonated round the country was in February 1890 when the much-heralded UK Boxing Contest took place between Jem Mace, the retired World heavyweight champion, and Charley Mitchell, the English champion. The referee was R. Watson of Sporting Life, and the prize money £1,000. Mitchell won.

A Glasgow Bailie cartoon in 1891 of (Sir) Edward Moss and Richard Thornton, the new Gaiety lessees - Courtesy Graeme Smith.During 1890 McKay ran out of money and at the end of that year Moss & Thornton took over the Gaiety lease, this being the Moss consortium`s first venture in Glasgow, a city in which H. E. Moss completed his education before moving to Greenock with his father James Moss. H. E. Moss started his own major ventures firstly with the Gaiety, Edinburgh followed by The Avenue, Sunderland; then the Gaiety, Newcastle-on-Tyne until he opened the Empire Theatre there jointly with Richard Thornton.

Right - A Glasgow Bailie cartoon in 1891 of (Sir) Edward Moss and Richard Thornton, the new Gaiety lessees - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

By February 1891 the Gaiety had been totally refurbished, and was the first theatre in Scotland to be lit by electricity. William Glover painted the scenery including the act-drop representing the Silver Strand, Loch Katrine.

An advertisement for the opening of the Glasgow Gaiety Theatre, Sauchiehall Street under Moss & Thornton, 2nd February 1891 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.The orchestra was now led by Edward de Banzie, formerly of the Royal and Royalty Theatres, and the manager appointed was W.H. Howard.

At the same time, end 1890, Moss & Thornton & James Kirk took a lease of the Scotia in Stockwell Street from Mrs Christina Baylis who was retiring from business.

Left - An advertisement for the opening of the Glasgow Gaiety Theatre, Sauchiehall Street under Moss & Thornton, 2nd February 1891 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

The Gaiety and the Scotia now worked in conjunction.

In April 1892 the Moss consortium purchased the Scotia and its adjoining properties for £20,000, as a going concern from the Baylis family. (Moss Empires would continue as the Scotia / Metropole owners for about 30 years before selling it and taking up shares in the Alhambra Theatre, Wellington Street.)

In the winter of 1894/95 unemployment among the working class was high and a severe winter made things worse, causing a huge demand for food and coal for the poor. Relief Funds were started and among those who helped were Moss & Thornton owners of the Gaiety and Scotia Variety Theatres. The North British Daily Mail reports on 12th of February 1895 thus:-

The Zaro Troupe who were featured in the opening night production at the Gaiety Theatre, Glasgow in 1891 - Courtesy Graeme Smith."W H Howard and Richie Thom, the managers of the Gaiety and Scotia, are opening soup kitchens at both houses with the intention to supply soup and bread to from eight hundred to one thousand poor persons per week. Subscription boxes are to be placed in prominent parts of both houses, and they are confident their patrons will give a liberal response.

Right - The Zaro Troupe who were featured in the opening night production at the Gaiety Theatre, Glasgow in 1891 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

A cartoon from 'Quiz' of Feb 1895 showing the food being served at midday at the Gaiety (Sauchiehall Street) and at the Scotia (Stockwell Street) - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Councillor Angus Campbell has consented to become treasurer, and the allocation of tickets is to be entrusted to magistrates, councillors, police officials, clergy of all denominations, and other responsible persons. We may mention that the large dressing rooms at both the Scotia and Gaiety will be specially fitted up for these free dinners. Those to whom tickets are given are asked to take cans to hold the soup." - The North British Daily Mail 12th of February 1895.

Left - A cartoon from 'Quiz' of February 1895 showing the food being served at midday at the Gaiety (Sauchiehall Street) and at the Scotia (Stockwell Street) - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

Miss Victorina who was featured in the opening night production at the Gaiety Theatre, Glasgow in 1891 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.Building up their business Moss & Thornton had bought the Gaiety outright in May 1894.

Very soon a new company led by H. E. Moss was formed on the Stock Exchange, the Glasgow Empire Palace Co Ltd, to build anew at Sauchiehall Street and to run the Scotia. The Gaiety was duly demolished and a new theatre emerged in 1897, accommodating 2,158 people. The Glasgow Empire Palace had arrived.

Right - Miss Victorina who was featured in the opening night production at the Gaiety Theatre, Glasgow in 1891 - Courtesy Graeme Smith.

For an image of an original Gaiety Theatre programme for 'Babes in the Woods' click here.

(This Gaiety Theatre should not be confused with the smaller Gaiety Theatre in Anderston Cross, Glasgow.)

The above text on the Gaiety Theatre, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, was written by Graeme Smith and kindly sent in for inclusion on the site in 2014, and is, in part, from his book 'THE THEATRE ROYAL: Entertaining a Nation', Details here.

An image showing the 'King and Queen of Comedy' Frazer and Mac - Courtesy Denise Frazer Bean.A visitor to this page, Denise Frazer Bean, has sent in the following information from the ERA related to the Gaiety Theatre, Glasgow, including information relevant to her Grandparents, Frazer and Mac, and my own G.G. Grandfather Arthur Lloyd:-

"On the 27th ult. (April) Frazer and Mac, who are at the Gaiety, Glasgow, on the birthday of the former and the anniversary of their wedding, gave a supper to a few of their professional friends.

Right - An image showing the 'King and Queen of Comedy' Frazer and Mac - Courtesy Denise Frazer Bean.

The company included Mr. Arthur Lloyd and family, Mr R.G. Knowles, Miss Winifred Johnson, Miss Flo. Hastings, Mr. Harry Villers, Mr Dave Ellis, Mr. Frank Griffin, Mr. P.W. Taylor, Mr. R. Blair, Mrs Elliot, and Miss Rose Elliot. With Supper, songs, recitations, and speeches, a most enjoyable couple of hours was spent." - The Era, Saturday 06 May 1893.

Denise goes on to say:- 'My great-grandparents were Charles Dayton Augustus Frazer and Ada Crozier Frazer who performed as Frazer and Mac (AKA King and Queen of Comedy) in the USA, England, British Isles and Africa from 1888 to 1920(s). I am including one of their photos.

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