Cyclopaedia à la The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing is a series of articles about songs by a London based band The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing. Or to be precise, this series is not about their songs as such, but short stories about people or things that they have written about in their songs.
IT requires some effort of analysis to understand why one person, among many who do a thing with accomplished skill, should be greater than the others; nor is it always easy to distinguish superiority from great popularity, when the two go together. I am thinking of Marie Lloyd, who has died only a short time before the writing of this letter. Although I have always admired her genius I do not think that I always appreciated its uniqueness; I certainly did not realize that her death would strike me as the most important event which I have had to chronicle in these pages. Marie Lloyd was the greatest music-hall artist in England: she was also the most popular. And popularity in her case was not merely evidence of her accomplishment; it was something more than success. It is evidence of the extent to which she represented and expressed that part of the English nation which has perhaps the greatest vitality and interest.
This is the first paragraph of ‘London Letter’ written in November and published in December 1922 in The Dial. The author of the essay is T. S. Eliot.
Marie Lloyd was born on 12 February 1870 in Hoxton, London, and christened Matilda Alice Victoria Wood. Name Matilda came from her mother.
T. S. Eliot writes in ‘London Letter’:
Marie Lloyd was of London–in fact of Hoxton–and on the stage from her earliest years. It is pleasing to know that her first act was for a Hoxton audience, when at the age of ten she organized the Fairy Bell Minstrels for the Nile Street Mission of the Band of Hope; at which she sang and acted a song entitled Throw Down the Bottle and Never Drink Again, which is said to have converted at least one member of the audience to the cause now enforced by law in America. It was similar audiences to her first audience that supported her to the last.
Matilda’s (or Tilley as she was called) father worked as a waiter at the Eagle Tavern, and that’s how she ended up singing there as her spare time. It’s quite interesting to see that there are different information about her earliest performers, but I decided to stick in the facts that are also mentioned in the very long and detailed Wikipedia article, which is based on the books written on her and seems to have quite reliable source information unlike some other articles on internet.
Her parents didn’t like the idea that she would become a professional singer, but that’s what happened. She made her official solo debut in 1885 at the Grecian theatre (or Saloon) that was located in the same premises than the Eagle Tavern. She was fifteen years old and used the name Matilda Wood. If the information I have found, the Salvation Army bought the premises in 1882. So during the time of her debut, the place was already under the Army’s ownership. “Marie Lloyd” was born in 1886 after she had performed for a while as Bella Delmere. Or a year earlier…. Or totally something else. (To be honest, the more I read the more confused I became. I found as many “facts” as I found articles. Or, if the above mentioned Wikipedia article manages to give two different kind of information about the same thing, no wonder I am confused. So if there are mistakes, I am sorry.)
Under the new name she started performing a song that George Ware wrote originally for another singer. The song was called ‘The Boy I Love is Up in the Gallery‘.
The boy I love is up in the gallery
The boy I love is looking now at me
That’s what is sung in the song that Marie Lloyd was singing. This is what The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing are singing in ‘(I’m In Love With) Marie Lloyd’:
She loves a boy in the gallery
I know that she means me
This footage from The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing gig in London is not chosen by accident: it was the first time when I saw the band live. The song starts with an extract from ‘When I Take My Morning Promenade’ sung by – Marie Lloyd.
And here you can (hopefully) hear the whole song ‘When I Take My Morning Promenade’ (if it is not taken down, as it seems to be habit with Marie Lloyd videos, so my apologize if the video is not shown):
There is a wonderful excerpt from a programme called London Nobody Knows, where James Mason visits the new Bedford theatre (the original one had burned down in 1899) a couple of years before it was demolished and tells about this place that used to be a grandeur arena for London’s famous artists. Marie Lloyd had also her 50th birthday celebrations there in 1920. I am not putting the video here as it would be probably taken down. (I have seen it used on a couple of Marie Lloyd articles, but when you try to click it, what you get is just a notification that video is not available.) So, I really do recommend you (it is really worth it) to go to YouTube and type “London Nobody Knows Excerpt” and you should find it. You will also hear part of this famous song ‘The Boy I Love is up in the Gallery’.
Marie Lloyd’s sexually suggestive songs or the way she performed them with winks and gestures were seen risqué and offensive and she was even tried to get banned from the stage. She even had to sing her songs before the Vigilance Committee. (Please check this fantastic article by Essie Fox to read more.)
A feminist called Laura Ormiston Chant had persuaded the London County Council to erect screens around the promenade outside the Empire Theatre where Marie Lloyd often performed. She believed that the obscene content of the shows “was making the area attractive to prostitutes, but the screens provoked outrage among the general public and they were swiftly torn down”. One of the objectors was Winston Churchill who used the occasion to make his first political speech. (source)
When the first Royal Variety Performance took place on 1 July 1912 at the Palace Theatre with King George V and Queen Mary at present, Marie Lloyd was not among the performers. Her act was considered too risqué for the Royal party. But Marie Lloyd booked a performance for the very same night at the London Pavilion. “Every performance by Marie Lloyd is a Command Performance by Order of the British Public” was printed in the posters and the event was a success. (source) What was said on the posters varies according to the source, but the point is that she was not accepted even though she was most famous of the scene at that time.
But a reason might also have been (as written on the website Trade Union Ancestors) Marie Lloyd’s active role in the Music Hall Strike back in 1907:
[a]lthough the strike ended well, the music hall owners exacted a sour little revenge on Marie Lloyd. Five years later, when the first music hall royal command performance for the music hall was held, vengeful managers excluded the greatest star of the music halls from their line-up.
Marie Lloyd had said (see the above mentioned website) about her own involvement:
We [the stars] can dictate our own terms. We are fighting not for ourselves, but for the poorer members of the profession, earning thirty shillings to £3 a week. For this they have to do double turns, and now matinées have been added as well. These poor things have been compelled to submit to unfair terms of employment, and I mean to back up the federation in whatever steps are taken.
Marie Lloyd gained huge popularity particularly among the working class, and she performed also as far away as in America, Australia and South Africa. She was loved by her audience, she was “our Marie”, but her private life was a mess. She was married thrice. She faced violence and unhappiness in her marriages and her own live style with lots of parties didn’t help the situations. According to what I have read about her husbands, the second one seemed to be a decent one, but Marie left her when finding another one who was to be her last husband. This husband number two, “Mr. Marie Lloyd” and the one that is still remembered best, was Alexander (Alec) Hurley, whom she married in 1906. He was he was also in show business.
The marriage ended after a few years. Alec Hurley died of pleurisy and pneumonia in 1913 and is buried in Tower Hamlets Cemetery.
Marie had travelled to America with Bernard Dillon as a married couple. But the truth was uncovered by the immigrant officer and Marie was confronted with humiliation. After Hurley’s death they could finally get married, but with Dillon came troubles which could have foretold already before the marriage. Marie started drinking herself to ease the pain. Domestic troubles as well as overwork started to have an affect on Marie Lloyd’s work and hastened her end.
She was ill when she was performing at the Alhambra Theatre in London. She collapsed in the middle of the song and died three days later, on 7 October 1922 at her home in Golders Green.
On 9 October The Guardian that called her “the philosopher of urban London’s Saturday night” wrote about her:
Life planted its first impress upon her in a London slum, and she spent her years in translating that first impression into terms of art. Hers was a world in which progress, industrialism, economic necessity (the term may be varied but the fact remains) had swept away leisure and starved out beauty, in which men were so poor and their livelihood so hazardous that they had scarcely learnt to think and never learnt to save.
The paper continued:
Being an artist with a touch of genius, she raised echoes in many alien hearts, and she was soon lifted into wealth, even into luxury. But she adhered to the culture from which she took her inspiration. She gave pretty gross offence, at times, to delicate ears. It is said that she never bothered to save money, money being meant to be shared with “pals.” What she had she scattered, according to report, among her friends, among lame dogs, among the orchestra that helped her through with her songs.
According to The Good Grave Guide to Hampstead Cemetery Fortune Green the grave was purchased by Marie’s close friend and fellow artist and later the owner of The Ring, Bella Burge. Her funeral took place on 12 October. A dozen cars were needed to carry just the flowers and thousands of mourners (the number varies from 50 000 to 100 000) lined the streets. She was buried in the Hampstead Cemetery.
T. S. Eliot wrote in ‘London Letter’:
Among all of that small number of music-hall performers, whose names are familiar to what is called the lower class, Marie Lloyd had far the strongest hold on popular affection. She is known to many audiences in America. I have never seen her perform in America, but I cannot imagine that she would be seen there at her best; she was only seen at her best under the stimulus of those audiences in England, and especially in Cockney London, who had crowded to hear her for thirty years.
Marie Lloyd’s art will I hope be discussed by more competent critics of the theatre than I. My own chief point is that I consider her superiority over other performers to be in a way a moral superiority: it was her understanding of the people and sympathy for them, and the people’s recognition of the fact that she embodied the virtues which they genuinely most respected in private life, that raised her to the position she occupied at her death. And her death is itself a significant moment in English history. I have called her the expressive figure of the lower classes. There has been no such expressive figure for any other class.
In ‘London Letter’ he also mentioned about Marie never going to movie business, but there is a short footage of her here (after the postcarts):
I want to close this little story with this beautiful tribute to her in a shape of poem by Edward Petherbridge. I really do recommend you to click the video and watch and listen to it (hopefully this won’t be taken down):
I, as being Finnish and not familiar with British music hall history, heard about Marie Lloyd first time through this song by The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing. The more I have now learned about her, the more I became interested in her life. I am sure I will come back to her in two and a half year time on my blog. Until then…
It’s a fact I can’t avoid
I’m in love
I’m in love with Marie Lloyd
And I know that if she knew
She would feel
She would feel the same way too
If you happen to in Hackney, there on the wall of the house located in the address 55 Graham Road, you can see a blue plaque showing where Marie Lloyd lived with her first husband, Percy Courtenay. More info here.
There is also a blue plaque at her last residence, 37 Woodstock Road, Golders Green. On the 150th anniversary of her birth, a blue plaque was also installed at her first marital home at 73 Carleton Road, Tuffnell Park.
Text and gig and grave photos © Katriina Etholén
‘(I’m In Love With) Marie Lloyd’ lyrics © The Men That Will Not Be Blamed For Nothing (please note that I have used here only part of the song)
Excerpts from ‘London Letter’ © Estate of T. S. Eliot . The whole essay can be viewed here (British Library collections)
I want to thank Seán T. Holloway, Operations Manager in Islington and Camden Cemetery Services for providing me material to find Marie Lloyd’s grave.
Sources and some very detailed articles about Marie Lloyd:
The Virtual Victorian offers you a long and detailed article about Marie Lloyd.
Marianne Colloms and Dick Weindling: The Good Grave Guide to Hampstead Cemetery, Fortune Green. Camden History Society, 2000.
Some extra links: