The Music Hall and Theatre History Site
Dedicated to Arthur Lloyd, 1839 - 1904.

About Jolly John Nash


Jolly John Nash is mentioned on this site on numerous occasions because he was a friend of, and often performed with, Arthur Lloyd. On this page I have included some information about this influential and much loved Music Hall performer who was born in Gloucestershire in 1830, and died in 1901, three years before Arthur Lloyd., and was buried at Fulham Cemetery.

A Notice from the ERA, 30th of September 1877 - MR " JOLLY" JOHN NASH is on tour through Cornwall and Devon with his capital entertainment Be Merry and Wise, and is meeting with the most gratifying success.

Above - A Notice from the ERA, 30th of September 1877 - MR " JOLLY" JOHN NASH is on tour through Cornwall and Devon with his capital entertainment Be Merry and Wise, and is meeting with the most gratifying success.



From the ERA 11th of March 1899

MR. Jolly John Nash - Photo by Lafayette, Dublin - From the ERA 11th of March 1899.We this week give a portrait from a photograph by Lafayette of Mr Jolly John Nash, a comedian who is known to fame as an inimitable singer of laughing songs. He is, however, far more versatile than may be supposed from such a statement, for he to a gifted musician who can play the cornet brilliantly, and who is an expert with the concertina. He is quite a veteran, having been before the public now for thirty-five years, and his career is full of interest. He hails from Gloucestershire, and in his young days studied music deeply. W. H. Rockstro, teaching him harmony and counterpoint.

Right - MR. Jolly John Nash - Photo by Lafayette, Dublin - From the ERA 11th of March 1899.

He obtained the post of choir master in a provincial church and left that to assume the duties of bandmaster in a famous rifle regiment. He had already developed powers as a comedian, and his success, as an amateur determined him to try the music halls. In a remarkably short space of time he jumped into favour, and he has never jumped out of it.

His laughing songs were novel and were wonderfully sung, two very good reasons for their popular reception. Who does not remember "The Nice Old Maids," and "The Little Brown Jug," and "Sister Mary?"

They all come afresh to the memory as creations of to-day. Charles Dickens mentioned Jolly John in "Household Words" in 1865, and he was further brought into prominence by Philander Q. Smith in his "Comic History of England," whilst a third reference to him appeared in the great satire, "The Coming K-----." Early in his career he had the distinction of entertaining the Prince of Wales (See below.)

Jolly John Nash has been a great traveller in his time. In the course of three visits to the United States of America he has sung in every State, and he boasts of having shaken hands with three Presidents, and lunched with two. In Ceylon he hob-nobbed with Arabi Pasha. The Australians gave him a particularly cordial welcome.

His fellow professionals owe much to him for the part he played in the foundation of the Music Hall Sick and Provident Fund. He has studied ancient authors on occult sciences, and has turned his knowledge to some account by the practice - strictly amateur, of course - of palmistry. He is an earnest Mason, a Past Chief Ranger of the Foresters, a Buffalo, an Elk (a New York fraternity), and an Eccentric.

Mr Nash is now appearing at the Walham-green Granville Varieties, and has engagements at many of the London and provincial halls to follow.

We understand that a movement is on foot, originated by Mr R. Warner, backed by G. A. Payne, E. R. Villiars, Esqs., and a few others, to present the subject of our illustration with a substantial testimonial benefit some time in April to mark their respect for him after his thirty-five years' professional life. Quite a long list of patrons has already been obtained, headed by His Grace the Duke of Beaufort, several Lords, five members of the Government, Sir H. Irving. Sir Thos. Lipton, the Eccentric Club, the National Sporting Club, and others. It is expected to be a record in music hall benefits, and we shall be able to speak further later on about this interesting function.

The above text was first published in the ERA, 11th of March 1899.

The Music Hall Sick Fund Provident Society

THE officers and London committee of the Music Hall Sick Fund Provident Society dined together on Thursday, 14th inst., at the Holborn Restaurant, to celebrate the twenty-fifth year of the society's existence, Mr Herbert Campbell, president, in the chair ; Mr John Nash (founder of the society) in the vice-chair. Amongst those present were Messrs W. G. Eaton (vice-president), Frank Heath, W. F. Moss, J. Keegan, Arthur Forrest, A. E. Oliver, William Bailey, W. H. Handley, and G. W. Hunt. The following gentlemen were invited guests :—Mr Under-Sheriff Thomas Beard, Mr Herbert Sprake, Mr G. A. Payne, Mr Harry Jennings, and Mr E. W. Mackney. The celebration was both enjoyable and enthusiastic. "Success to the Society" was most heartily drunk by the company assembled. The Era, 23 Apr 1892.


From the ERA 23rd of February 1895

The Song Sheet Cover for 'Dumplings' sung by Jolly John Nash, and although not mentioned, written for him by Arthur Lloyd - Courtesy Colin McIntyre.Mr John Jolly Nash has begun to plant for the immortal Gods. His nights he still devotes to the entertainment of a public that has known and esteemed him now thirty years; but during the daytime he initiates aspiring youngsters into the art and mystery of the variety stage, so the next generation may get an echo of his merriment.

Right - The Song Sheet Cover for 'Dumplings' sung by Jolly John Nash, and although not mentioned, written for him by Arthur Lloyd - Courtesy Colin McIntyre.

Mr Nash s the very receptacle of the history of the variety stage. He knew it in his humble beginnings - he is part and parcel of its modern dignity and splendour. As an artist, Mr Nash was born with a silver spoon - or should one say a silver cornet - in his mouth. He never knew what it was to labour for a pittance. In his young days he was, in fact, a well-to-do mineral proprietor in the Forest of Dean, an ardent supporter of the Volunteer movement in its beginning, and a popular assistant at gatherings where "harmony prevailed." As a visitor to London Mr Nash knew the old-time music halls - the Winchester, the King and Queen at Paddington Green, and that disreputable ally of the music hall, "The Judge and Jury." He can give you a vivid description of Ross's, Sam Cowell's, and Sharpe's performances long ere he dreamed of becoming a professional himself. The failure of his business in Gloucestershire made "the merriest man alive" a very sad man for the moment. He ran up to London to recuperate, and dropped into the Oxford, then a new aspirant to public favour.

Here Mr Nash encountered Mr Morton, and in the course of conversation declared that he could sing as well as a popular artist then on the stage. Mr Morton said in that case Mr Nash had a good living in his hands, and summoned Mr Jonghmanns into consultation. In the event Mr Nash was engaged to appear at the Oxford and at the Canterbury, at a salary of three pounds for each hall. He sang three songs - one of his own composition, about the Volunteer movement; Jack Blewitt's "Merry little fat grey man," and the laughing song that has stood him in such good stead ever since. One of the laughing songs, it should be said, for Mr Nash has two - one that is set to the time-honoured tune of "The Cork Leg," and another that Charles Sloman, the famous extempore vocalist, provided him with. As Mr Nash tells you the sad story of Sloman's premature death he adds a tribute of admiration for Sloman was a genius in his way. He began his professional career when he was so young that ere he had reached middle age people spoke of him as old Charley Sloman. He was not fifty when he died in a hospital, whither he was taken by pesons who found him wandering about the street, his memory a blank. But there were friends, says Mr Nash, who meant that his declining years should be passed in comfort.

Mr Nash had not been at the Oxford very long when he received a tempting offer to join the company in process of formation for the opening of the Strand Music Hall in the autumn of 1864. He sang the first song on the stage of that handsome building, and also presided o'er the revels. The company that ran the Strand came to grief, but Mr Nash acquired a proprietary interest in the place, and remained there for some time, his partner being Mr Syers, who foolishly defied the authorities in the matter of a dance very like the can-can. From this point the prosperity of the undertaking faded away. It ceased to be a music hall, and is now the Gaiety Theatre. Mr Nash shows you with pride programmes of the Strand Music Hall at its best - when performances of Comus challenged favourable comparison with those simultaneously in progress at Drury-lane. Mr Nash took part therein as a serious baritone vocalist.

Arthur Lloyd was then in the height of his fame, and so was Vance. These artists, with Mr Nash, had the honour on several occasions of entertaining the Prince of Wales at private functions. Mr Nash, in a merry mood, inserted an advertisement in The Era to the effect that he had only one week vacant, and that his terms therefor were a hundred guineas. Nowadays we know a popular favourite of the variety stage thinks naught of such a salary, but then it seemed stupendous.

As a matter of fact Mr Nash completed arrangements for his vacant week at a salary of fifty pounds. But, in the meantime, the advertisement had attracted attention, and Mr Nash preserves to this day a series of perfectly virulent articles in the Rock and similar papers, directed against "the singer of doggerel who basked in the smiles of Royalty, and received the salary of a cabinet minister." One religious journal made a rather irrelevant calculation as to the number of the heathen that could be converted on a hundred a-week.

Speaking on this question of salaries Mr Nash corrects the error that some people make in supposing that large salaries are quite an innovation. So far back as Sam Cowell's day popular favourites were handsomely paid. Mackney, for instance, has drawn immense salaries in his day. But where one fortunate artist drew a large salary thirty years ago, his humble colleagues being very poorly paid indeed, all the artists whose names appear on the bills of some modern music halls may be in receipt of what would at one time have been regarded as star salaries.

Mr Nash is not given to unqualified praise of the old times. He knows, none better, their weaknesses, and the improvements that have been effected in the meanwhile. But he is very loyal to the memory of old associates. How able some of those ill-paid performers were; how eagerly they would he snapped up by the enterprising impresario of today! There were heroes, he wishes to impress upon you, before Agamemnon.

Mr Nash has sung on the same stage with a clever brother of Sims Reeves. Miss Louie Sherrington and Miss Caroline Parkes are names of clever performers of the other sex that occur to him. When Mr Nash's voice was first tried at the Oxford it was to the accompaniment on the harmonium of Mr Alfred Plumpton, now the musical director at the Palace Theatre, whose wife, too, was a brilliant musician in her day.

Mr Nash has been to America several times; the first was in 1874, when an English variety artist was a much more remarkable visitor than is now the case. There was, in fact, a considerable prejudice against Englishmen, but Mr Nash determined to combat it in a jovial spirit, and so contrived to make himself a popular favourite. Mr Nash was in his youth a well trained musician. In the meantime he has written and composed many of the songs that constitute his repertory. He has distinguished himself as an author too. A few years ago he collected into a cheap volume a series of anecdotes and experiences, which he entitled "The Merriest Man Alive," and which met with much acceptance. Mr Nash declares that he did not nearly exhaust his store of good tales, and threatens to issue a supplementary volume. The sooner the better! Jolly John Nash has spent a long life among interesting people. While the youngsters print their premature "Records" why not the salt veteran?

Mr Nash cherishes a jealous regard for the variety stage and its professors. It proved a good friend to him in the hour of need, and in return he has given it his care and energy now for thirty years and upwards. During all that time, he proudly boasts, he has never broken faith with manager or public. Mr Nash was one of the first vocal comedians to adopt for use on the stage the evening dress of a gentleman in society, and throughout his career he has hardly deviated from that habit. He has lived, of course, to see a vast change in the style and circumstance of the music hall - having always, as he says, had a great belief in its possibilities and a profound faith in its virility and self-respect. Of Mr Nash, at any rate, one may say that his aim has always been to minister of the purest delight and recreation. For thirty years he has spread the admirable infection of healthy laughter and preached a cheerful philosophy. Still with vigorous health he follows his calling. Who shall say after this that the life of a music hall singer must needs be short, if it is merry?

Above text is from the ERA 23rd of February 1895.


From the ERA 22nd of April 1899

With one consent the project of a farewell complimentary benefit to Mr Jolly John Nash was taken up by the heads of the theatrical and variety professions, with the result that the Tivoli was thronged on the afternoon of Monday last by a very large number of the admirers of the doyen comique of the music halls. Mr Nash was in the hey-day of his fame when the world went crazy over the old-time ditties of "I'm a chickaleary bloke," "Slap Bang," "Champagne Charley," "Polly Perkins," and "Rackety Jack." It was then his mission, as it is now, to make "that idiot laughter keep men's eyes, and strain their cheeks to idle merriment," and when the history of the rise and progress of the music hall comes to be written, Mr Nash will certainty occupy an honoured place in its annals.

He can well remember in his struggling period the harmonic meeting of the old tavern days, when a chairman was elected, obliged with a song, and then called upon a member of the company. If guests were reticent, then came the opportunity of the professional vocalist, who was sentimental or comic, according to the demand, and sang a dozen songs or more, often for the modest honorarium of three half-crowns and free drinks. Within the last ten years the chairman has gradually disappeared, and is almost as extinct as the dodo. He would certainly be out of place in the stately palaces that now enshrine variety. Mr Nash has seen these changes and many more, but he himself in his favourite role of Mr Merryman has changed not. We are afraid to say how many years have passed since he first sang his well-known laughing song, of which we quote a verse :—

Though he was dead he laughed away,
And some people go so far as to say,
It's very likely this rum chap may
Keep laughing on for many a day.

Men have grown old since it first took the town, but "the jolly one" has persuaded Father Time to deal gently with him, and is as virile and jaunty as ever.

The benefit had been organised by a powerful executive committee, of which Mr R. E. Villiers and Mr Joe Lyons were the chairmen, Mr George Adney Payne, hon. treasurer, and Messrs Richard Warner and Vernon Dowsett the hon. secretaries. The Duke of Beaufort gave his patronage as president, and among the other distinguished patrons were the Earl of Londesborough, Viscount Valentia, Sir Richard Webster, Sir Henry Irving, Charles Wyndham, Wilson Barrett, Edward Terry, and many more influential people.

The entertainment started punctually at 2'0 o'clock, when Mr Angelo Asher led his orchestra in a spirited composition from his own pen, entitled "Our British Heroes." Early in the afternoon Mr Lionel Brough came to tell a few of his funniest stories, which evoked roars of laughter; and Mr Lewis Waller won the attention of a hushed house by his fine declamation in Rudyard Kipling's "Ballad of the Clampherdown."

One of the most successful turns of the afternoon was Bransby Williams. The young character-actor and mimic has hit upon a happy medium for the true and complete exploitation of his gifts. In his serious moments he reproduced the methods and mannerisms of Mr Wilson Barrett, Mr Beerbohm Tree, and Sir Henry Irving in their rendering of Hamlet's scene with the ghost on the ramparts of Elsinore. Then, after making us hear, as it were, the echoes of those celebrated actors' voices, Mr Williams reproduced the perky tones of Mr Dan Leno, the sonorous cockney accents of Mr Gus Elen, the hurried and breathless utterance of Mr R. G. Knowles, who endeavour to outface their brethren of the legitimate stage, but are obliged to rely on sentences that may be writ in the argot of Cockaigne, but are not to be found in the pages of the Bard. Mr Williams's entertainment was much enjoyed.

Mr Harry Pleon and Miss Eva Hope Pleon found their métier in the realms of burlesque. Miss Marie Loftus, too, parodied in a highly original and quaint manner the ancient serio and dancer of the early seventies, in the days when music halls had not put on the mantle of respectability. Miss Ethel Haydon, most attractive of Gaiety girls, introduced a pretty little song concerning a pair of shoes; Mr George Robey donned some Elizabethan armour to tell us of the courtier-like conduct of Sir Walter Raleigh towards Queen Bess, who, it appears, had a telegraph code; Mr Herbert Campbell successfully repeated his successful item "I'm none of your Nosey Parker sort;" Mr Harry Randall once more obliged with his now famous selection "My wife's a cook," the points of which were highly appreciated by the ladies present; and Miss Ida Rene interested the audience in her newest song "The Company Promoter."

Mr Dan Leno was not in his best form with his Punch and Judy showman, but made amends with the ditty concerning Jim and Mrs Kelly; Mr Frank Latona exhibited his instrumental talent and his humour as a musical tramp; Miss Florence Esdaile's operatic solo gave considerable pleasure; Miss Florrie Forde in a gorgeous Georgian costume sang of "Angelina Brown ;" and Lily Burnand gave one of her most familiar selections. UgoTigo Biondi, who made his first appearance since his return from the land of the Southern Cross, chose an impersonation of a Continental waiter, and was very heartily received. Little Lina Verdi delighted everyone with her imitations of Phyllis Rankin,Vesta Tilley, and others; the stately and handsome Sisters Levey exercised their excellent voices in a verty catchy melody; Chirgwin, who had a popular reception, was as amusing as ever; 'Mr Fred Russell voiced the interpolations of Coster Joe with his customary drollery; Miss Clara Wieland evinced her usual chic in her favourite song, "I will not marry the corporal ;" and other entertainers included the Athos Troupe, Miss Edith Yorke, and Mr Paul Pelham.

Towards the close of the programme Mr Richard Warner and Mr Vernon Dowsett, manager of the Tivoli, appeared on the stage, and the first gentleman announced that it was hoped to make the proceeds of the benefit £500 - a statement that was received with much applause. Jolly John Nash then came to the footlights, and, in response to a most enthusiastic reception, made a speech that was mainly of thanks to the promoters and helpers who had done so much to make the benefit the success it undoubtedly was. He said it was thirty-five years since he made 'his first appearance in London, and he was very grateful that the public had been loyal and sympathetic to him throughout that long period. He had not promoted the benefit, which was tendered to him by a few friends, the idea originating with Mr Richard Warner. Having assisted at many similar gatherings himself, he was satisfied that he might rely upon the help of his brother artists, and he had not been disappointed; for they had not only supported him by coming there, but many of them had sent that useful commodity, £ s. d. One of his foremost friends was Mr Villiers, of the Pavilion, who had given him engagements when be first started in London. Another was Mr James Squires, "the King of Walham-green," who had driven him up that morning in a coach and four, and had taken an immense amount of interest in the affair. Mr Joe Lyons, too! They all knew Joe, and when he put his hand to the wheel it had to go. It was a compliment to him that he had obtained the patronage of nearly all the theatrical managers in the town, and actors of the legitimate stage proper had come forward to lend their services - thus bringing nearer the union of the two professions and breaking down the line between them.

The music hall which flourished in former days was now disappearing, and there were only the regular and the variety theatres. He believed the time would come when they would join hands with the single desire to amuse and interest the public. The splendid services rendered by Mr Waller and Mr Brough he gratefully recognised, and it was agreeable e to think that, although he had been on the stage for so long a time, the public were not yet tired of him. Several contracts from managers had been offered, thus proving that, in their opinion, there was life in the old dog yet.

At the conclusion of his remarks Mr Nash was presented with baskets of flowers by his grandchildren, one of whom bore the theatrical name of Nance Oldfield, and before the afternoon came to a close he favoured the house with his famous laughing song, set to the tune of "The Cork Leg." This popular item was very favourably greeted, and, the encore being inevitable, the beneficiaire sounded the "charge " on the identical bugle that sent the gallant six hundred to wreck the Russian artillery at Balaclava. The sequel to this outburst of patriotism was the appearance of Mr Walter Joyce to recite Tennyson's well-known poem on the "magnificent blunder." Mr Harry Poole gave his chief much valuable assistance in front during the afternoon.

Among the large number of well-known people present were:—Mr Charles Wyndham, of the Criterion, who occupied a private box; Mr Henri Gros and Mr Jack Edgar, of the Metropolitan; Mr J. H. Jennings (Uncle John), late of the Oxford; Messrs Harry Lundy and Arthur Yates, of the Oxford; Mr Herbert Sprake, late of Collins's; Mr A. E. Oliver, of the Cambridge; Mr E. V. Page, of the Empress, Brixton; Mr Tom Maltby, of the Queen's Palace, Poplar; Mr H. T. Brickwell, of the Garrick; Messrs A. M., Edgar, and Sydney Hyman, Arthur Deakin, John Deakin, Will Oliver, H. Wieland, E. Volta, George Jacobi (of the Tower, Blackpool), James Chappell, Ugo Biondi, Georges Jacobi, H. Tozer, H. Wells, H. Sutton, J. Davie, E. Villiers, George Richter, Frank Glenister, Willie Clarkson, Alan Macey, James Howell, and many others.

Above text from the ERA 22nd of April 1899.

The Programme for Nash and Arthur's Command performance at the Whitehall Gardens on February the 10th 1868 - Click to enlarge. On February the 10th 1868 whilst performing at the Royal in Holborn Jolly John Nash and Arthur Lloyd were summoned to a gathering at the Whitehall Gardens in London to perform in front of the then Prince of Wales, who would later become King Edward VII. This was the first Command Performance ever requested of Music Hall Artistes and Nash and Lloyd would have been justly proud to be so honoured.

Right - The Programme for Nash and Arthur's Command performance at the Whitehall Gardens on February the 10th 1868 - Click to enlarge.

Jolly John Nash wrote about this occasion in his book of reminiscences thus:

Jolly John Nash'Accompanied by Mr W. Holland, the 'Napoleonic' caterer, we were ushered into a splendid apartment by powdered attendants in gorgeous liveries, and a rich repast was set before us. After we had regaled ourselves, we were told that we were required in the drawing-room, and that we were to sing our songs in exactly the same way as we should do in a music hall.

Left - Jolly John Nash.

'We found ourselves in the presence of the Prince and about fourteen noblemen, who had been dining, and they were then lounging about the saloon, enjoying cigars, champagne cup and other cooling drinks. It was the quietest function I ever assisted at, although some of the papers described it as something too dreadfully awful. Our accompanist seated himself at the piano, and I, with a preliminary bow to the assembly, commenced singing a popular song with me at that time-"The Merry Toper." This song gave great delight to the noble swells, after which Mr Lloyd appeared and sang some of his favourite ditties, all of which pleased our aristocratic patrons. My own contributions consisted of the above, also one called " Rackety jack," " I'm not at all Inquisitive," and a few others.

When I entered the room as "Rackety jack," one of the company, the Duke of R-, called out to me to take off my hat and keep it off. I had taken it off to make my preliminary bow, but had resumed it to give effect to the character I was presenting, and I now appealed to him in this way, "Mr Chairman" - loud laughter from the noble audience, who appeared mightily tickled at my calling the autocratic individual "Mr Chairman," and they called him " Mr Chairman" for the remainder of the evening, and thought it great fun. "'Mr Chairman," said I, "am I to give this song as if I were in a music hall?" "'Certainly, Nash," from all the other noble guests, "and keep your hat on, if necessary."

'The noble chairman was a duke with a very serious cast of countenance, and he appeared perfectly horrified at my presumption. His comic anger seemed to afford the Prince and his companions great delight. Now Mr " Rackety Jack " commenced to sing of his jolly sort of life, with a refrain to each verse as follows:-

"Hey! hi! here stop! Waiter, waiter! Fizz, pop! I'm Rackety Jack, no money I lack, And I'm the boy for a spree." 'When I came to the refrain, I addressed the solemn-looking nobleman, " Now then, Mr Chair-man, chorus altogether." This was received with roars of laughter by the nobles, who joined in the chorus con spirito, and the room resounded with- " Hey! hi! here stop! Waiter, waiter! Fizz, pop I'm Rackety jack," etc.

'We continued,' adds Mr Nash, 'to sing alternately - Arthur Lloyd and myself - until about four in the morning, and left with an assurance that we had much pleased his Lordship and his princely guest.'

Arthur loyd told the story of this first appearance before the Prince of Wales also, some years later, in an interview with the ERA, printed in their July the 19th 1890 edition, which read: 'Lord Carrington sent to the Royal in Holborn, and myself and Jolly John Nash went in response. We were not required until two o'clock in the morning, and when we were, a screen formed by curtains made a sort of sanctum between us and the audience. The Prince was seated with a blue sash round him in a lounge chair, whilst the rest were all ranged round him with their chairs turned behind-before, and the occupants leaning over the back. Nash was very nervous and persuaded me to go first. I went and sang a song, of which the chorus ran 'It's the sort of thing you read about but very seldom see.' After two or three verses I sang the following:

I must now award a word of praise to a gent who's sitting there,
I mean that worthy party who so ably fills the chair,
See how sweetly now he smiles, as pleasant as can be,
It's a sort of smile I read about but very seldom see.

As I sang it the Prince leant forward to listen, and all those round him turned and clapped their hands towards him. He seemed immensely amused, and when I had finished the last verse he applauded very good humouredly "And so that's how I came to be the first comic singer who sang before the Prince of Wales."

Archive newspaper reports on this page were collated and kindly sent in for inclusion by B.F.

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