Sir Oswald Stoll
Above - Sir Oswald Stoll - From the Moss Empires Jubilee Brochure of 1949
Sir Oswald Stoll was born in Melbourne, Australia on the 20th of January 1866. His name was originally Oswald Gray but this was changed to Stoll after moving to the UK with his mother, Adelaide Stoll, after the death of his father and Adelaide's subsequent marriage to his step father.
Once in England Adelaide bought and ran the Parthenon
Music Hall in Liverpool
and the young Oswald, then only 14 years old, was soon looking after
the actors back stage. This led him to become an agent, and soon, to
own and manage a vast empire of Theatres and Music Halls throughout
On the 24th of June 1886 Oswald and his mother bought the Lease of Levino's Museum of Varieties in Cardiff, along with some adjoining properties, and by the end of September 1889 they had reopened the building as a Music Hall with a newly granted music and dancing Licence, under its new name of The Empire Palace of Varieties.
By 1892 the Stolls had added the Philharmonic in Cardiff, the Newport Empire, and the Swansea Empire to their portfolio, but had put up for sale the Lease of the Liverpool Parthenon to concentrate on their other projects.
At the Empire Palace of Varieties in Cardiff, business was booming, and by 1895 it was found that the building was of insufficient size to cater for its eager patrons, indeed people were being turned away from its music hall and variety shows on a regular basis.
This success led to the Stolls deciding to enlarge the premises and so, in conjunction with H. E. Moss of the Moss and Thornton circuit, they set up a new Company which was formed in May 1895, called the Cardiff, Newport, and Swansea Empire Palaces Ltd.
Moss bought the lease of the Cardiff Empire and some of its adjoining properties from Mrs. Stoll and her son Oswald, and also the leases of the Newport and Swansea Empires, for a combined cost of £48,000, and then made them over to the new Company, whose Managing Director would be Oswald Stoll, with Moss being the Chairman.
The new Company then rebuilt the Cardiff Empire which reopened on Saturday the 30th of September 1900. Business went from strength to strength and as can be seen from the advertisement shown right by 1905 the combined Moss Thornton and Stoll Theatres Circuit would include some 37 variety Theatres around the UK.
In 1904 Oswald Stoll created what was to become his crowning achievement in Theatre buildings when he erected the London Coliseum, designed by the now renowned Theatre architect, Frank Matcham. The Coliseum was a Variety Theatre designed to be larger in every way than even that of the largest Theatre in London at the time, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. The Theatre opened on the 24th of December 1904.
Left - The London Coliseum from a Postcard dated 1904.
It was the Coliseum which eventually drove Stoll to part company with Moss and Thornton in 1910 and to go it alone as Stoll Theatres Ltd, a Company which would eventually include, along with the London Coliseum, the Manchester Hippodrome, the Middlesex in London, the Bristol Hippodrome, the Hackney Empire, the Shepherds Bush Empire, the Chiswick Empire, the Wood Green Empire, the Ardwick Green Empire, the Chatham Empire, and the Leicester Palace amongst many others.
On the 1st of July 1912 Oswald Stoll put on the first Royal Command Performance at the Palace Theatre in London. Profits from the show were donated to the Variety Artistes' Benevolent Fund, now known as the Entertainment Artistes' Benevolent Fund (EABF). Since this performance over 80 more have been produced over the years, always attended by a senior member of the Royal Family, and always in aid of EABF. The show is produced in various different Theatres and always televised nowadays and has become known as the Royal Variety Performance.
Above - The Back page from a Leicester Palace Theatre Programme showing some of Stoll's Theatres in the early 1910s - Courtesy David Garratt. Theatres shown are the London Coliseum, the Manchester Hippodrome, the Middlesex in London, the Bristol Hippodrome, the Hackney Empire, the Shepherds Bush Empire, the Chiswick Empire, the Wood Green Empire, the Ardwick Green Empire, the Chatham Empire, and the Leicester Palace.
In 1919 Oswald Stoll was Knighted and a Complementary Dinner was organised for him by Viscount Barnham at the Savoy Hotel in London where many of the luminaries of Theatre and Government were in attendance. The Stage Newspaper reported on the event in their June the 19th 1919 edition saying:- 'Sir Oswald Stoll had every right and reason to feel a proud and happy man at the Complimentary Dinner given to him at the Savoy Hotel on Sunday evening in celebration of the knighthood recently confered upon him. It was in every respect a memorable occasion; a well-deserved tribute to a man who has done so much to improve the tone and advance the interests of the modern variety theatre.
What he has done has been to improve the old music-hall out of all recognition. In the old days they produced and fostered plenty of fun and frolic, but it was for Sir Oswald Stoll and few other men to give them a beauty of many colours and an interest of many kinds, which were undreamt of before they took in hand the work of organising the variety theatres on a national and even international scale and size. The pictures of Eastern life and the revived graces of the ballet that we have had in the variety theatres of recent years we owe mainly to Sir Oswald Stoll and a few others. Perhaps it is not in London, with all its manifold attractions, that we can best realise what this means. In the great centres of industrial population the variety house counts for more even than it does here in the life and leisure of the people. I saw it written somewhere that we ought to nationalise our luxuries. That is just what Sir Oswald has done by bringing the luxuries of sumptuous entertainment and magnificent spectacle within the reach of all classes alike in every part of the country. There never was a time when all sorts and conditions of men and women, and particularly those who have had least of the enjoyments of life, were so determined to have plenty of recreation, and to have it of the best that can be bought night and day with the money - paper money which is being printed and floated about our towns and countryside in such magic waves. By every agreement and every award made in every trade the workmen's leisure is being increased and multiplied. A Labour Minister told me that the boys of his constituency told him they didn't mean to work in future more than five hours a day. That has not been Sir Oswald Stoll's working day. Still, it all means leisure, and it is of real importance to our national character that every opportunity should be given for using that leisure decently and well. You must recollect that the young people of both sexes have lost the fireside habit. They have lost it for the kinema theatre, and once having lost it they will never regain it. If they are to go out it is quite well that they should do so under Sir Oswald Stoll's auspices. The variety theatre has the power, and under Sir Oswald Stoll it has had the will, to make and measure a great advance in the asthetic tastes of our age and generation. The old music-hall, even if is is not able to go back to the sixties and the Coal Hole, was not exactly a place of refinement. I remember the old Evans' myself, with the chairman at the table, and it was dull enough but warm enough even then. Ladies only sat behind the cover of a large fan in a few dingy boxes. But generally speaking, women didn't go much to the music-hall anyway.
Well that has all been changed and differently ordered. No doubt we owe something to the London County Council and the local governing bodies for the influence they have exerted from without, but we owe far more to the reform and improvement from within. The Managing authorities hays counted for more than the local authorities, and they have delivered them in a very pleasant way. That makes us all the better pleased to toast Sir Oswald here to-night. In doing so we shall have a thought also for the lady who has ever been his fellow worker and most loved friend. If "the trebling of a child is women's wisdom," surely his mother's work over all these years counts for much in his career.
Right - A Page from the Stoll Herald which was produced to publicise news and information about forthcoming shows and films in Stoll Theatres programmes. This one is from a Leicester Palace Edition for October the 5th 1924 - Courtesy David Garratt.
He is also a Financial and economic writer, who shows us how we can explain away our National Debt, which some people think is rather large. It will certainly be larger with the Victory Loan. Still it is not as financier but as manager and man who has done the public great service that I ask you to drink to his health tonight.
He has established a more solid claim recently to the public gratitude. In the War Seal Foundation he has done a work of high importance to the nation, because he is, by doing it, discharging the nation's debt. We all know that we cannot do enough for those men who suffered so sorely in the stricken field during this war. Surely, in providing comfortable homes with pleasant surroundings for the crippled and the maimed, and enabling them to live with such happiness as they can have in the midst of their families, and under the care of those who are near and dear to them, he has done an admirable thing, not only for his own fame, but for the credit of the country. It is not as a financier, public or private, but it is as a manager and a man who has done the public great service that I am asking you to drink to his health tonight, and to hope that there lie before him many more years of private enterprise and public usefulness.
Above - A Page from the Stoll Herald from October the 5th 1924 - Courtesy David Garratt.
The Lord Chamberlain
At the invitation of Viscount Burnham, the toast was supported by the Lord Chamberlain Viscount Sandhurst said that it was with the most genuine pleasure that he acceded to the chairman's wish, but he had great diffidence in doing so. To add to Viscount Burnham's speech, so admirable in taste and matter, was unnecessary; to improve it was impossible. The Lord Chamberlain proceeded, "I think when Lord Burnham goes to the theatre be goes there with different feelings to my own. He sees the play perhaps for the first time; but if there is anything in it I have certainly read it once before I go. I have very likely read it twice, and if there is any thing in it of one kind or another, perhaps three times. I have passed more than an hour or two on endeavouring to grasp those jokes which are intended to have two meanings, but too frequently have none at all. I am sometimes accused of being too puritanical, and sometimes too much the other way, but, acting on the best advice I can get, and it is good advice, I endeavour to sail on an even keel and keep within my duties as defined by statute. But this is not the time to talk about myself. If in the proper place I am challenged I daresay I can find much to say. When that time comes I shall regard it somewhat with pleasure. We are here to-night to honour one upon whom the King has graciously conferred a distinguished honour, and I know of none which is better bestowed than that upon our friend, Sir Oswald Stoll. I am frequently assailed by my well-wishers - those are the people from whom you hear the truth- and asked why I do not raise the whole tone of our performances, go in for the great drama, and do away with inane and silly entertainments. Well, first of all, I read the script. The script is one thing, and it may be very different from the stage performance. And then I have two answers, neither of them, I am vain enough to think, bad. First, I beg my adviser to remember that once upon a time we all were young, ourselves, and second, the last five years have been abnormal to an extreme degree. The stage itself has not escaped the abnormal condition of things, and it was required that there should be entertainments of kind - a light kind, if you like, and I am all for them - for those who had come from the trenches. They did not want to go to the more solid kind of entertainments, they wanted something which would take them out of the scenes from which they had just come. Through the genius of Sir Oswald Stoll and men like him those entertainments were provided.
The toast was then most enthusiastically honoured, with Mr. Jas. W. Tate at the piano; after which the presentation of the picture was made.
Sir Oswald Stoll
In the course of his reply, Sir Oswald said:-
"I am no orator, like Demosthenes, of whom Philip said "I am more afraid of that man than of all the fleets and armies the Athenians possess." Nevertheless, my oratory is equally appalling. My style is often so difficult that I can hardly climb over it myself. If I should show any signals of distress, therefore, I hope it may be remembered that I am the only S.O.S. of recent Honours' Lists.
"It would not he right at this dinner to regard me as a fish out of water, although I am being served up, reserved in oils. The analogy would not be perfect, because the oils are different. Shannon oils are not for a dinner, or even a day, but for all time. When I saw our noble chairman unveiling my portrait I felt rather in fashion as a new discovery in oil. It is a speaking likeness, and says to me: 'What have you done to deserve it all?' My answer is complete when I may point to such a gathering as this, every member of which is a part of the wealth, or the knowledge, or the power of the creativeness that is in the country. Adding the parts, the sum is no mean force in the national life; and this great force has seen fit to specialise itself to-night towards the one object of doing me honour - greater honour than knighthood itself.
In connection with the honour conferred upon me by the King, the War Seal Foundation has been mentioned. That scheme is a phase of the Housing question. There was, and is, a shortage of houses, because well-intentioned philanthropists, as in the case of the Guinness and other Trusts, restricted the return on housing investments to 3 percent, which drove away all investors who wanted more. The shortage was increased by more or lees ingenuous municipalities, which built against even 3 per cent investment - drove most of these out of the market, and then stopped building themselves. But apart from injuring the industry these bodies standardised too much. Standardisation is not always sound. You can standardise all hats to fit the same head, but you cannot standardise all heads to fit the same hat. Able-bodied men and disabled men, with families, both require housing, but very different housing. That is where the War Seal Foundation makes a bridge. It furnishes the kind of housing a disabled man most needs when he leaves the hospital. It foresees his daily disabilities, and gathers his family around him. It Makes his pension mean for him happiness or at least contentment in a real home, with necessary treatment at his own door instead, perhaps, of neglect in a slum or misery in an institution. If the property had to earn interest on its cost it would be too expensive for the very men who most need it They would have to pay nearly four times the present rental. The cost, however, is not invested, but is absolutely sunk. This securely limits interference with private enterprise, and the constitution of the scheme provides that the property shall never be used to undermine the ordinary housing market.
The presence of Viscount Sandhurst and Brig. Gen. Sir Douglas Dawson, as well as the gracious references to myself which Viscount Sandhurst has made, lead me to hope that I may regard knighthood as conferred upon me at least partly through my connection with the entertainment world.
"Roman law dishonoured the stage. It forbade senators to marry actresses; and it made the gratuitous assumption that actresses were always ready to marry senators. In ancient Greece Solon condemned the stage, and so belied his reputed wisdom. However, nobody except himself ever understood the stage as did Shakespeare, and British judgment in honouring the stage honours him. Though I am a profound admirer of Shakespeare, I do not regard him as an intellectual, but as an emotionalist. Shakespeare's emotional teaching swayed us very early in the war. When Macbeth and his lady plunged into an abyss of guilt in order to procure for 'all their days and nights sole sovereign sway and masterdom,' the thing that shattered this dream of power more than any other cause was the murder of the defenseless wife and children of Macduff, which roused Macbeth's most potent enemy to fury. By such teaching for centuries Shakespeare swayed British emotions when a nation of Macbeths in bidding for 'sole sovereign sway and masterdom' violated little Belgium.
"Shakespeare swayed America too. When she entered the war for the unity and freedom of nations we heard the voice of President Wilson; but we felt the hand of Abraham Lincoln, the great apostle of union and emancipation whose household gods were Shakespeare and the Bible. Today all over Europe emotions are engulfing intellect as the ocean engulfs icebergs in a rising temperature.
"All this emphasises the importance of the stage and the screen, or motion pictures in our national life. They are the schools, not of the intellect, but of the practical, as distinct from the purely religious, emotions. They show in action the consequences of right and wrong emotions. The Shakespeare of the stage, the Balladmongers of the music-hall, the Griffiths and the Chaplins of the screen are the educators of our emotions. For good or ill that is so; and no new standards or guiding lights are being set up to ensure that it shall be for good. Shakespeare is an eternal standard, because he is the spirit of eternal youth, but he is dressed in antiquated garments and tires the careless.
"The powers that he must provide machinery for furnishing new standards. They must not only make the stage and the screen honoured professions, but must expend upon the development of right emotions a few of the millions which in education they expend upon the development of right minds. They must not spend the money in competing against private enterprise and so killing another industry, but in fostering the growth of standards for private enterprise. This can be done by the creation and endowment of a university of all the arts and crafts contributory to the stage and screen, associated with a single national festival theatre commemorating Shakespeare. If ever we had a sympathetic Lord Chamberlain strongly and sympathetically supported we have one now. If ever we had a sympathetic Commissioner of Works I believe that time is now. With the support of the Education Minister, who appears to have some understanding of the theatre, I feel sure they could prevail upon the Treasury to find the funds. Any obstacle in the way of the Treasury should, and could, be removed.
"In conclusion may I say this occasion has brought me infinite gratification, and I thank from, my heart all those who have identified themselves with it.
Above - A Page from the Stoll Herald for May the 19th 1930 - Courtesy David Garratt.
The health of the Chairmen was proposed by the Attorney-General, Sir Gordon Hewart K.C., M.P., who referred to Viscount Burnham's association with the Daily Telegraph. Viscount Burnham, in the great and responsible position he occupied, was not only held up as an example of the patriotic English gentleman. He had held up that position with singularly sound judgment and wisdom.
In his reply, Viscount Burnham said that be was pleased to see the Attorney present at that gathering. He, the chairman, was certain that unless the Law Officers of the Crown were closely associated with the managers of the variety theatres they world never understand the importance of certain matters with which they might have to deal. Viscount Burnham added: "The testimonial to Sir Oswald Stoll this evening has been carried out spontaneously and with genuine goodwill. It has been neither 'got up' nor 'made up.'"
An excellent programme of instrumental music was provided during dinner by members of the London Coliseum orchestra, with Mr. R. Whittaker as solo violinist and Mlle. Andrea Conti as solo pianist. Mr. Ben Davies sang three songs in his best style, another warmly-applauded vocalist being Madame Alice Baron, who was successfully at the London Coliseum last week. Mlle. Conti also won appreciation for her rendering of Rachmaninoff's familiar Prelude.'
Sir Oswald Stoll was not just a Theatre owner and Manager but was involved in Film Production too. In April 1918 he bought a small studio in Surbiton and in 1920 he purchased a former Airplane Factory in Cricklewood which he converted into a production facility called the Stoll Studios in Cricklewood, which would be in production until 1938.
Stoll was also a philanthropist, in 1916 he had provided the land for what the War Seal Foundation, today known as the 'Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation' in Fulham, which was a charity set up to provide housing for disabled soldiers from the first world war. This is something he believed in passionately and was detailed in speeches made at the Complementary Dinner held for the celebration of his Knighthood in 1919 (see above). The charity continues today.
Having split from Moss Empires in 1910 Oswald Stoll would later remerge his Company, Stoll Theatres, with that of Moss Empires to form Stoll Moss Theatres under the Directorship of Prince Littler. Lew Grade acquired Stoll Moss in 1964 and for many years the Company ran most of London's West End Theatres, along with Theatres all over the Country. Sold to Australian Robert Holmes à Court in 1982, the Company was run by his wife Janet for several years until it was bought by Andrew Lloyd Webber's Really Useful Group in 2003 and run under the Really Useful Theatres name. By this time there were only 12 West End Theatres remaining in the Company and subsequent sell offs have left RUG with just 6. The Company name of Stoll Moss does still exist but the name is no longer used and the great years of Moss, Thornton, and Stoll are now a distant memory from a lost era.
Above - A Page from the Stoll Herald for May the 26th 1930 - Courtesy David Garratt.
Oswald Stoll was married twice, firstly to Harriet Lewis, in 1892, they had one child, a daughter, but Harriet died in 1902. He subsequently married Millicent Shaw in 1903, and they had three boys. Knighted in 1919, Oswald Stoll died at home in Putney in 1942.
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