Music in the Archives: A whistle-stop tour through our collections (part one)

June is finally here! The sun is out (well, mostly), lockdown restrictions are starting to lift a bit here in the UK and – most importantly – it’s time for one of our favourite University events of the year: Summer Music Week. Kent’s brilliant Music department annually hosts a series of concerts to celebrate the end of the academic year, and in these strangest of times we need music more than ever.

We’ve collaborated with Kent’s music programme many times before and our links are incredibly strong – there are so many forms of music in our collections! So to celebrate this year’s concerts, we thought we’d put together a brief chronology of some of the musical highlights in our stores…

Pre-1700s collection: Psalms, prayers and printed hymns

Our Pre-1700s collection is a real treasure trove of items, ranging from some of the most important printed books in the literary canon (looking at you, Johnson’s First Folio) to travel narratives, histories and much more. A big part of the Pre-1700s collection is comprised of religious texts and sermons; fantastic for anyone interested in the many debates around the role of the Church and the development of Protestantism in England.

Photograph of hymn music in a 16th century bible.

Photograph of hymn music in a 16th century bible (C 549 BIB, Pre-1700s collection)

What’s particularly great about our Pre-1700s texts though is the insight they give into how everyday people practiced religion and interacted with the Bible, particularly after it was translated into English. Our 1580s Bible is such a great example of this; not only does it have marginalia dating from 200 years after its publication, but if you look in the back of the book there are musical scores to hymns sung in Church at the time!

John Crow’s Ballad and Song collection: oral history in print

Much of our Pre-1700s collection is comprised of books collected by the academic John Crow (read more about him here). Crow was a scholar particularly interested in a) the Renaissance world, b) Shakespeare’s legacy and c) ballad and song books, which for the purposes of this blog we’re going to refer to as an early form of sea-shanty TikTok.

A colourful row of books from the John Crow Ballad and Song collection.

A colourful row of books from the John Crow Ballad and Song collection

The ballad and song books contain many publications of the Percy Society (active 1840 – 1852), which published and reprinted rare poems and songs, and the Ballad Society (founded 1868) which had similar aims but focused on publishing folklore. Ballads were a big part of English popular storytelling for generations; they were often printed on cheap paper, sold on street corners and passed around in pubs – but few of them survive due to their ephemeral nature. The Percy Society and Ballad Society aimed to change this by printing them in more formal book editions (made of better quality materials so likely to survive longer). The ballad and song books we look after are a fantastic resource for anyone interested in folk music, exploring how histories were passed around between oral and written formats, and much more.

Theatre collections part one: the Pettingell playscripts

Spoiler alert: a great deal of the music we hold can be found in our extensive theatre collections – so much so that they appear three different times in this blog alone, and that’s only because we’d run out of space otherwise! It’s pretty much impossible to separate music from theatre, particularly during live performance’s rise to fame during the nineteenth century – orchestras could be found in nearly every venue. Music was used to create atmosphere, to heighten emotion, to change scenes and – of course – during songs and dances on stage. Amongst critics there were continual questions asked about music’s role in the theatres, it being seen by some to cheapen ‘proper’ drama.

Title page for a ballet version of Macbeth, complete with am illustration of Macbeth holding two daggers. from the Pettingell collection.

Title page for a ballet version of Macbeth from the Pettingell collection (PETT S.124)

Photograph of the play text for Boucicault's play 'The Octoroon', from the Pettingell collection. The printed text is crossed out and handwritten revisions are included on the next page.

Photograph of the play text for Boucicault’s play ‘The Octoroon’, from the Pettingell collection (PETT PAR 21)

One of the main gems of our theatre collections is without a doubt the Pettingell collection, which comprises of over 4000 plays collected by comedian Arthur Williams and later bought by actor Frank Pettingell. Williams attended many of the plays he collected and as a result a great number of the scripts, which you could generally buy cheaply as a kind of souvenir, are uniquely annotated by their owner with information such as cast lists and additional pages added in. The Pettingell collection also contains more than 300 pantomime libretti, which we’ll talk about more below. It’s a great collection if you’re new to the world of Victorian theatre as you can really get a sense of the range of plays produced during this era – from histories to popular folk stories to adaptations of famous literary works, not to mention unique genres such as melodrama.

Music hall: early celebrities, the world before Spotify and popular music in action

Selection of tickets from music hall events pasted on to a brown backing board from the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection

Selection of tickets from music hall events pasted on to a brown backing board from the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection

My colleague Clair has written brilliantly before about music hall, but it’s pretty difficult to talk all things musical in the collections without mentioning some of our wonderful material that belonged to the British Music Hall Society’s resident archivist and historian Max Tyler. For the uninitiated, music hall (not musical(s) – pronunciation is key here) was a form of entertainment especially popular in the late Victorian/early Edwardian era in Britain – around 1890 – 1910. It was where many forms of Victorian popular culture developed, and is largely responsible for the variety shows of the mid-late 20th century. Music hall’s popularity was due in part to the industrial revolution – people moved to newly urban centres looking for work, which in turn created a demand for popular entertainment venues.

Selection of photographs of music hall stars pasted onto a brown backing board from the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection

Selection of photographs of music hall stars pasted onto a brown backing board from the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection

Whilst the specifics of each music hall performance would vary, a few things would look similar at each venue: every event would have a chairman, to oversee and host the evening, and often a pianist to accompany performers. Admission was generally cheap (sometimes free, if you bought drinks) and caused licensers endless headaches about what constituted a proper venue! All kinds of performance would occur during a music hall night, from songs and ‘specialty’ acts such as dance, clowns and other physical entertainers, to condensed versions of plays (just don’t tell Boucicault about that…; see next post). Sometimes a single act would cross all different types of performance.

Cover for sheet music to 'All Thro' Sticking to a Soldier' sung by Miss Ada Lundberg, from the Max Tyler Music Hall collection

Cover for sheet music to ‘All Thro’ Sticking to a Soldier’ sung by Miss Ada Lundberg, from the Max Tyler Music Hall collection

Musical score for 'All Thro' Sticking to a Soldier' sung by Miss Ada Lundberg, from the Max Tyler Music Hall collection

Musical score for ‘All Thro’ Sticking to a Soldier’ sung by Miss Ada Lundberg, from the Max Tyler Music Hall collection

As our extensive collection of music in the Max Tyler Archive demonstrates, it was possible to purchase illustrated song sheets of many popular music hall hits for home performance – albeit these tended to be the sanitised versions, for more genteel audiences, rather than the more popular bawdy songs! According to theatre historian Jacky Bratton, the abundance of song sheets that survive today gives us a slightly skewed view of what was actually performed in music halls, as it just wasn’t possible to record specialty acts or perhaps even adapted plays in the same manner.

Work on the amazing Max Tyler Music Hall collection is still ongoing, but you can browse our listings of Max’s incredible research files on our archive catalogue here.

We hope you’ve enjoyed this mini-series about music in Special Collections & Archives; do visit our website for more information on the collections and if you have any queries please drop us a line (specialcollections@kent.ac.uk).

Sources:

John Crow Ballad and Song collection: the University of Oxford have an amazing resource via the Bodelian Library – Broadside Ballads online.

Pettingell playscripts:

Fuhrmann, C. Between Opera and Musical: Theatre Music in Early Nineteenth-Century London. In Gordon, R. and Jubin, O. (Eds) The Oxford Handbook of the British Musical. DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199988747.013.2

Pisani, M. (2004). Music for the theatre: Style and function in incidental music. In K. Powell (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Victorian and Edwardian Theatre (Cambridge Companions to Literature, pp. 70-92). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CCOL052179157X.005

Music hall:

Bratton, J. (2004). The music hall. In K. Powell (Ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Victorian and Edwardian Theatre (Cambridge Companions to Literature, pp. 164-182). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CCOL052179157X.010

Don’t Dilly Dally on the Research

You may remember reading about the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection in our #musichallvareityday blog post. Today we’re going to delve a little deeper in to one part of this rich and impressive collection – the research files!

It goes without saying that Max was a great fan of music hall, and he was known by many for his specialist knowledge of the subject. But Max was also a diligent organiser and an avid researcher of music hall, and this is reflected in the research files within this collection.

Examples of the research files in Max’s collection.

Whilst working as the British Music Hall Society’s historian and archivist he would receive many queries from people all over the world. Max would always go the extra mile when responding to these queries, often carrying out a substantial amount of research on the enquirer’s behalf. He seemed to have a knack for knowing where to look for the most elusive of details, and his knowledge of obscure music hall songs was second to none. The outcomes of this research, alongside his own research for the various articles, publications and presentations he produced, was compiled into these files.

There are 183 files in the collection, on topics from individual performers, composers and historic events, through to animals, horse racing and trains. The majority of the contents is photocopied sheet music and songsheets, but they also contain biographies, published articles and newspaper cuttings, copies of photographs, print outs from the internet, and email correspondence, alongside some original examples of ephemera, songsheets and postcards.

So, what do we have here…?

Within the collection there are:

  • 115 files on specific performers, covering such well-known artists as Vesta Tilley, Gus Elen, Marie Lloyd and Dan Leno. Male performers make up almost 65% of this sub-series of files, whilst only 32% focus on female performers. There are also 3 files about double-acts and one about a performance group (The Co-Optimists).
  • 12 files on specific subjects, including racing, the Salvation Army, football, railways, the genealogy of music hall, and ballooning!
  • 5 files about specific theatres, which includes the Musical Comedy and Gaiety Theatre (London), the Palace and Middlesex music halls, The Windmill (London), and two about the Players Theatre (London).
  • 4 files about historic events; the Suffragette movement, the Jameson Raid, the Anglo-Zulu war, and the Princess Alice Paddle Steamer Disaster
  • 3 files about a specific show or production, two about the stage show ‘Trilby’, and one about the BBC radio show ‘Palace of Varieties’.
  • And 1 file about a historic figure (it’s Queen Victoria)

There are also 43 files on less specific topics, such as ‘Songwriters’ and ‘Artistes’, collations of print outs and requests from research institutions like the Bodleian Library, or alphabetised folders containing collated resources and songs.

The most frequent words to appear in the catalogue records of the research files in the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection.

Some highlights…

Now, files full of photocopies of published songsheets may not sound too exciting, however there are some real gems amongst the collection…

A songsheet for the song ‘Lambeth Walk’ which includes dance moves on the back

MWT/RES/166 – Lambeth Walk Songsheet, from ‘Me and My Girl’, with Lupino Lane, George Graves and Teddie St Denis, music by Noel Gay.

 

Photograph of the performer Chris Beeching looking very dapper in character as Champagne Charlie, for a production of a show performed at Wilton’s Music Hall in 2013.

MWT/RES/067 – Black and white photograph of Christopher Beeching dressed as Champagne Charlie for a 2013 production directed by Glyn Idris Jones. Photograph credited to Dan Savident.

Sheet music for a song about our local seaside town Margate, called ‘Merry Margate’.Check out an audio rendition here, performed by our very own Dan Harding from the Kent music department!

MWT/RES/167 – Photocopy of sheet music and lyrics for ‘Merry Margate’, written and composed by Lloyd G. Williams.

A souvenir folio from the first production of ‘Trilby’ on the stage in London, 30th Ocotber, 1895. Includes a cast list and photographic plates of the cast members in costume.

MWT/RES/008 – Small folio souvenier programme of Paul M. Potter’s ‘Trilby’, performed at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket on 30th October, 1895

That’s not to say all of the material within this collection is joyous and full of whimsy. The music hall tradition reflected societal norms of the day, and whilst many songs were intended to be satirical or comical, they did sometimes include racial stereotyping, blackface, stories of domestic abuse and/or offensive and outdated language. Whilst this can be upsetting and shocking to see, and to process and catalogue, it is important that we accurately record these terms and depictions in the interest of historical accuracy. Removing this material, censoring, or replacing these terms with modern equivalents, would risk falsifying the historical record and would in itself be problematic.

This collection has the potential to support some very interesting research projects. There is material here that could be used to research topics such as the representation of People of Colour in theatre, male and female impersonation around the turn of the century, or perhaps how humour was used to tell stories of poverty and depravation.

We’ve recently completed the cataloguing of the files, all of which you can now review on our online catalogue. If you’re interested in seeing anything in the files, just get in touch with us at specialcollections@kent.ac.uk!