The Man, The Myth, The Legend: Richard Whittington’s Lasting Legacy In Pantomime

This year marks the 600th anniversary of the death of Richard Whittington, a well-known fifteenth-century Mercer and three times Mayor of London, who was key in shaping civic governance in medieval London. He also served under three medieval kings, Richard II, Henry IV, and Henry V. His legacy and memory has survived the test of time, albeit with a few embellishments along the way (there’s no record confirming that Richard Whittington ever had a cat, for example). Nevertheless, even in the present day, we continue to remember Whittington for he serves as the inspiration for the tale we all know and love, Dick Whittington and His Cat.

Black and white photograph of Dorothy Ward as ‘Principal Boy’ in Dick Whittington, taken at the Whittington Stone (created 1821) at the foot of Highgate Hill, London. Photograph in the David Drummond Pantomime Collection

The Story of Dick Whittington and His Cat

The story of Dick Whittington is one of England’s most famous folk tales, harking back to the early modern period, with one of the first fictionalised references to Richard Whittington and his cat being made in a ballad written by Richard Johnson in 1612. The story was adapted into prose form during the later 17th century by Thomas Heywood, who wrote The Famous and Remarkable History of Sir Richard Whittington, and then it was crafted into a puppet play during the 18th century by Martin Powell. As from 1814, the story was further adapted as a staged pantomime, with the first performance starring Joseph Grimaldi as Dame Cicely Suet, the Cook, and later as a tale for children.

Flyer for a performance of Emile Littler’s Dick Whittington and His Cat at the Palace Theatre in London. Flyer in the David Drummond Pantomime Collection

The story that modern day audiences are familiar with tell the tale of an orphan boy, Dick, who ventures to London hoping to make his fortune, believing the streets of London to be ‘paved with gold’. He enters the employment of the merchant FitzWarren, who takes him in, yet Dick finds life as a scullion boy miserable as he is bullied by the Cook and does not enjoy being plagued by rats and mice. It is during this time that he buys his cat, hoping to keep the vermin away. Dick, however, soon ventured his cat to acquire a stake in the cargo ship that was set to sail for north Africa. Nevertheless, when the bullying of the Cook intensifies, Dick runs away yet soon returns after hearing the bells of Bow Church speak to him ‘Turn again Whittington Thrice Lord Mayor of London’.

Extract from Scene 4 of the pantomime ‘The Adventures of Dick Whittington’ from a script collection of Clarkson Rose’s. In this scene, Dick hears the bells call out and predict that he will be Mayor of London. This performance took place at the Palace Theatre in Westcliff-On-Sea. Item in the David Drummond Pantomime Collection

Extract from Scene 4 of the pantomime ‘The Adventures of Dick Whittington’ from a script collection of Clarkson Rose’s. In this scene, Dick hears the bells call out and predict that he will be Mayor of London. This performance took place at the Palace Theatre in Westcliff-On-Sea. Item in the David Drummond Pantomime Collection

Upon his return to FitzWarren’s home, he finds out that he is a rich man. His cat who had formed part of the crew of the vessel that set sail for north Africa was loaned to the King of Barbary as his Palace was overrun with rats. The king was so grateful for the cat’s service, that he paid for the entire cargo and ten times as much for Dick’s cat. From this point onwards, Dick’s fortunes continue to improve by marrying Alice FitzWarren, his employer’s daughter, and becoming Mayor of London three times, just as the bells of Bow Church had foretold.

Where History and Myth Meet

Whilst the story that we recognise has been largely fictionalised, elements of the life of the true Richard Whittington form the basis of the pantomime. Even those responsible for staging the pantomime Dick Whittington, recognised the performance’s historical links to this medieval mayor of London, questioning aspects of the myth surrounding Whittington, such as whether he had a cat and where the origins of this story came from.

Short article explaining the historical links between the pantomime Dick Whittington to Richard Whittington, mayor of London during the late medieval period. The news article also gives details of the upcoming pantomime starring the Principal Boy Jean Adrienne as Dick Whittington in the upcoming pantomime at the Palace Theatre in Manchester. News cutting in the David Drummond Pantomime Collection

These links can be further explored within the source material available for the pantomime Dick Whittington in Special Collections & Archives’ David Drummond Pantomime Collection, which is currently being catalogued after being awarded an Archives Revealed grant from The National Archives.

Travels to London

Central to the story is London as a focal point for the fortunes of Dick Whittington and the real historical figure of Richard Whittington. Like the fictional character Dick Whittington, the real Whittington also came from outside of London. In contrast to his dramatised counterpart, however, Richard Whittington was born in Pauntley, Gloucestershire during the 1350s and did not begin his tale in Lancashire. Whittington’s story was also not a tale of rags to riches. Unlike young Dick Whittington, who was an orphan, Richard Whittington came from a landowning family and was sent to London to undertake an apprenticeship to learn to be a mercer, a type of tradesman that specialised in textiles and luxury goods.

Miscellaneous item showing Dick Whittington and his Cat 4 miles from London. Item forms part of the David Drummond Pantomime Collection

Both Richard Whittington and Dick Whittington also inhabit the same spaces within London. In both the pantomime and in the time period that Richard Whittington lived, both Cheapside and the Guildhall are prominent features of the stories of both of these individuals. Historically, Cheapside was one of the most important streets within London for trade and many of the individual guildhalls were based near this area (and still are to this day). Dick was taken into the home of the merchant Fitzwarren and the real life Richard Whittington himself was engaged in trade because of his profession. It is of no wonder, therefore, that the area known as Cheapside has been incorporated into the pantomime. Similarly, the Guildhall was a place that would have been central to those involved trade. Moreover, the Guildhall was the centre of civic governance and politics, being THE place that mayors of London would have frequented and conducted their business from. The Guildhall and Cheapside were core focal points for Londoners during the medieval period and it is significant that these locations feature in the pantomime of Dick Whittington, showing the clear historic links between both stories. Understanding the importance of London in both their stories is key for audiences to understand that by going to England’s capital, both Whittingtons secured their fortune and created successful careers.

Tradesmen in the Metropolis

Understanding the type of worlds that both Whittingtons inhabit in the city of London is also important in establishing this historical link between these two figures. Dick Whittington may not have been an apprentice to a merchant or artisanal tradesman but he does live in the house of a merchant known as Fitzwarren, who he works as a scullion boy for.

Extract from Scene 2 from a Book of Words of the pantomime Dick Whittington written by Frank Ayrton, produced at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham from 1910-1911. It is in this moment that Alderman Fitzwarren agrees to give Dick employment. Item in the David Drummond Pantomime Collection

The inspiration for Dick to live in the house of a merchant may come from the work life of the real-life Whittington, who was himself a very successful artisanal tradesman and an established mercer in London by 1379. Whittington also had an upmarket clientele by the 1380s and 1390s, for he sold luxurious goods to customers such as Richard II and other members of the royal family, including John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and Thomas Woodstock, Duke of Gloucester. Despite the change of regime and usurpation of Richard II by the Lancastrian king Henry IV, Richard Whittington continued to prosper and he also sold goods to the new royal family, even supplying goods for the marriages of Henry IV’s daughters, Blanche and Philippa.

Marriage to Alice Fitzwarren

The historical Whittington’s links to the world of trade even influenced the choice of love interest for the character Dick Whittington, for both individuals marry a woman of the same name – Alice FitzWaryn/Fitzwarren.

Extract from Scene 12 from a Book of Words for the pantomime Dick Whittington and His Cat written by Newman Maurice, produced at the Brixton Theatre. Now that Dick is Mayor of London, he asks for Alice’s hand in marriage. Item from David Drummond Pantomime Collection

Where the pantomime departs from the true historical narrative, however, is in how that these marriages come about. The historic Richard Whittington married Alice Fitzwaryn, the daughter of Sir Ivo FitzWaryn (clearly the inspiration for Fitzwarren who employs Dick), a landowner in Dorset. Sir Ivo only had daughters and so this was probably an advantageous marriage for Whittington, who married Alice at the age of 48 and who would have inherited certain of Sir Ivo’s estates in Wiltshire and Somerset that would have been passed on to Alice. In contrast, in the pantomime, Alice is the daughter of Dick’s employer, Fitzwarren, and Dick’s love interest throughout, marrying once Dick has made his fortune and is mayor.

Thrice Mayor of London

The clearest link between Richard Whittington and the pantomime character, Dick Whittington, is, of course, the fact that they were both thrice mayors of London.

Opening of Scene X in which the Lord Mayor’s Show takes place. Extract is from the Book of Words for Augustus Harris’s Pantomime Whittington and His Cat, produced at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1884-1885. Book of Words written by E. L. Blanchard. Item in the David Drummond Pantomime Collection

As mentioned earlier, by the end of the pantomime Dick achieves his destiny and becomes Mayor of London three times. This is in keeping with the fate of the historical figure of Richard Whittington, who was first appointed Mayor of London on 8th June 1397 by Richard II, following the death of Adam Bamme, the previous mayor, on 6th June 1397. What is quite special about the way that Whittington became mayor is that it shows the trust that the King had for him, as Richard II appointed him in this position based on the good relationship that Whittington had cultivated with him. He was then elected mayor by his fellow citizens in 1406 and then again for the third time in 1419.

Charitable Endeavours

Whittington’s charitable nature and philanthropic endeavours are also remembered in the materials available. Once mayor, the pantomime character Dick Whittington’s charitable acts included the building of alms houses, a church, and Newgate Prison. The real Whittington was just as philanthropic, financing a number of public projects, such as drainage systems for the poor. Whittington left in his will £7000 (more than £6 million by modern standards!), which he had drawn up by September 1421, to go towards charitable endeavours. Like Dick Whittington, money went towards the rebuilding of Newgate prison and investing in alms houses, but the historical Whittington also financed the building of the first library in London’s Guildhall and distributed money towards repairing St Bartholomew’s Hospital.

Etching showing Whittington’s Alms Houses on Highgate Hill. Item forms part of the David Drummond Pantomime Collection

Whittington was recognised during his lifetime as being someone who inspired trust and nobly served the city of London. These character traits and commitment to good works certainly seem to have also been integral to the character of Dick Whittington, who follows the historical Whittington’s footsteps in ending his tale by giving back to the City where he was able to forge his path and success. This idea of civic duty and the role of Londoners in upholding these values seems to be preserved in the way that Whittington’s legacy has lived on through the legendary figure of Dick Whittington.

Extract from the final scene in a script for the pantomime Dick Whittington & His Cat, a Christmas pantomime written by Theo Hook in 1948. Before the pantomime ends, Alice reminds ‘every boy and girl this night (or day) Who sees this Pantomime. Be good and true like Whittington’. Item in the David Drummond Pantomime Collection

Remembering Whittington on the Stage

Throughout this blog post, you have seen various sources to study the links between the historical figure Richard Whittington and the fictional character of Dick Whittington. The David Drummond Pantomime Collection is a treasure trove for anyone wanting to explore the link between Richard Whittington and his pantomime counterpart Dick Whittington further. From photographs to news cuttings, these materials show us just how many times Dick Whittington appeared on the stage and where, demonstrating interest in the figure and his centrality to the world of pantomime from the Victorian period to the present day. It is a legacy that has survived beyond the fifteenth century and remains in popular memory in our present day.

At Special Collections & Archives, we have a rich collection of pantomime and theatre materials in which the figure of Dick Whittington appears time and time again. Search our catalogue for more and pay us a visit – we’d love to remember Richard Whittington’s legacy with you!

Remembering Marie Lloyd

Friday 7th October, 2022 marks 100 years since the death of Marie Lloyd, one of the most famous and popular music hall stars of the late 19th and early 20th century and “Queen of Comediennes”.

Max Tyler Music Hall collection, University of Kent

Early years

Born Matilda Alice Victoria Wood on the 12th February 1870, Marie was the eldest of nine children. All of the Wood children would take their turn on the stage, performing together as early as 1879 as a minstrel act called the ‘Fairy Bell troupe’, with a number of her siblings going on to have successful careers in their own right.

In 1885 Lloyd made her first professional solo performance, performing as ‘Bella Delmere’ at the Royal Eagle Music Hall on 9th May, aged just 15. However, this name was quickly changed and by June of that year she was performing as ‘Marie Lloyd’. Despite not having the best of singing voices, Marie oozed charm and was a natural comedian, making her an instant hit. Her popularity continued to grow, and she continued to get bookings at halls across London, performing songs such as “The Boy I Love Is Up in the Gallery”, “She Has a Sailor for a Lover” and “Wink the Other Eye”. By 1891 Lloyd was a household name, pulling in large crowds at halls across Britain, and starring in the Theatre Royal at Drury Lane’s Christmas pantomimes alongisde stars such as Dan Leno. As her star continued to rise, her agent reported that Lloyd was fully booked up for years at the best houses across the UK, and that her salary ran from £250-£300 a week, sometimes as much as £700 a week at the height of her career. 

Reputation, charity, and controversy

Part of Lloyd’s appeal was that she did not appear on stage to be bound by the moral constraints of the time – her songs were cheeky and risqué, and she would play with the audience. However, this cheekiness did give her somewhat of a reputation. In 1895, Lloyd added the song ‘What’s that for, eh?’ to her act. The song tells the tale of a schoolchild who, when she asks her parents awkward questions, gets unsatisfactory answers. So she goes to her friend ‘Johnny Jones’ for help, and he teaches her the facts of life. And while the lyrics were not indecent, when Marie performed the song she was suggestive, winking to the audience and gesturing.

“What’s that for, eh? Tell me Ma
If you don’t tell me I’ll ask Pa”
But Ma said, “Oh its no thing shut your row”
Well, I’ve asked Johnny Jones, see
So I know now.”

The song and it’s performance was so controversial that it was cited as evidence in a hearing of 1896, when the Oxford Music Hall was threatened with having its licence withheld.

Max Tyler Music Hall collection, University of Kent

In October 1906 Lloyd was elected the first president of the Music Hall Ladies Guild. The organisation helped the wives of artists who were unable to perform and make money, providing food and resources to them and their families. They also supported young people, helping boys find work as messengers or call-boys. Some members of the Guild would use it as an opportunity to network and improve their social standing, however Lloyd did not have time for this pretentious self-promotion. She was well-known for her incredibly generosity and charitable giving, and preferred to have fun and entertain at Guild events.

Lloyd also petitioned for Music Hall artistes to have more rights and fair contracts. She used her clout as a well-known and celebrated artist to stand up for the community, and in 1899 she took a manager to court over a dispute with her contract, and won. This accomplishment was recognised by her peers, who presented her with gifts to mark her generosity in defending artist’s rights. She wrote in The Era “I am, and always have been ready and willing to help my brother and sister artists by every means in my power in anything that is for their good”. She was integral in developing the National Alliance, a group that wrote a charter that was sent out to theatre managers outlining the terms by which performers wished to work. The refusal by some to sign this charter led to a number of theatres being “blacklisted” by artists, and over two thousand performers taking to the streets to protest contract conditions.

1912 saw the first ever Royal Command Performance (later known as the Royal Variety Show) at the Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London, with acts performing on stage in the presence of King George V and Queen Mary. To some amazement, Marie Lloyd was left off of the bill. According to Graeme Cruickshank in the Spring 2012 volume of The Call Boy, this was possibly at the direction of Alfred Butt, Oswald Stoll and George Ashton (producers of the show) in their attempt to make the show “family friendly”. Some thought it may also have been due to her association with the music hall strike, or that it was simply a case of balancing the bill and not oversaturating it with female comedic performers. In public, Lloyd took the slight professionally and with dignity, but there is evidence that she was furious – Alfred Butt even wrote to the palace warning that Marie Lloyd was to write to the King regarding her omission (although there is no evidence of her ever doing this). Possibly telling of her feelings on the matter, on the night of the performance Lloyd put on her own show at the London Pavilion in Piccadilly, and left for Paris immediately after that performance. Albert Chevalier (who was also left off of the billing) said of it “The whole arrangement as it stands is really extraordinary. Who is there more representative of the variety profession? Miss Lloyd is a great genius, she is an artist from the crown of her head to the sole of her foot…”.

Marie continued to perform throughout World War I, performing new songs, including some with a military theme. She also frequently visited hospitals to visit wounded servicemen, and toured munition factories to boost morale.

“Now, I do feel so proud of you, I do honour bright
I’m going to give you an extra cuddle tonight
I didn’t like yer much before yer join’d the army, John
But I do like yer, cocky, now you’ve got yer Khaki on.”

Despite all her charitable efforts throughout her career and during the war, Marie was never officially recognised in the way her colleagues, such as George Robey CBE, were. This had an impact on her bitterness in later life, which was only exacerbated when she was overlooked again for the 1919 Command Performance.

Max Tyler Music Hall collection, University of Kent

Off stage life

Despite her successes, Lloyd had a troubled personal life. She was married three times, and experienced domestic abuse during two of them. She married Percy Charles Courtenay in 1887, but the marriage was unhappy, and filled with violence, drunkeness and jealousy. The couple divorced in 1894, after Courtenay discovered that Lloyd had started an affair with fellow performer Alec Hurley. Hurley and Lloyd married in 1906, however the pair were effectively seperated by 1910 after they had consistent marital probems. Lloyd began an open and passionate affair with Bernard Dillon, a jockey. Hurley initiated divorce proceedings in 1911. Sadly the relationship between Lloyd and Dillon was not a happy one, marred by Dillon’s jealousy, drunkeness, and gambling addiction. Despite this they married in 1914. He was violent and abusive throught the rest of Lloyd’s life.

Sadly, Lloyd was also a heavy drinker, particularly in later life, perhaps a consequence of her troubled personal life. She would often have violent fights with Dillon, with Lloyd sometimes needing to apply make up to cover the bruises. As she moved in to her 50s she fell in to a depression, and would no longer hide her feelings of bitterness and anger. In July of 1920 she took Dillon to court over his violence, making their private life very much a topic of public record. This resulted in him being ordered by the court to “keep the peace” for the next twelve months, a sentence that was apparently requested by Lloyd.

In the later years of her life, Lloyd was in financial trouble (in part due to Dillon’s gambling debts) and needed to work in order to get by. Her drinking and ill health made her less and less reliable, sometimes only performing for a fraction of the time that she was scheduled. She began to forget her lines and would sometimes stumble on the stage, so much so that stagehands would be asked to be on call to help her if she became unsteady. In order to save money, in early 1922 she moved in with her sister Daisy, and by the time of her death Lloyd was virtually penniless.


Lloyd worked right up until days before her death, having been on tour for much of 1922 despite being unwell. Her last performance at the Edmonton Empire was the Tuesday before her death. Prior to the performance, she complained to Sidney Bernstein (the owner of the theatre) of a stomach ache and was shivering. Bernstein tried to persuade her to go home, but to no avail. Her doctor was called and he gave her some medication, before staying to watch her performance from the side of the stage. During the performance Lloyd staggered and fell, making the audience laugh thinking it was part of her act. After the show Lloyd collapsed and was taken home in a taxi, unconscious. She did not regain consciousness and died at her residence in Golder’s Green, 7th October 1922 at the age of 52.

Funeral and legacy

Lloyd’s funeral was held at Hampstead Cemetery on 12 October, 1922. More than 50,000 people turned out on the streets of Hampstead to watch her funeral cortege. It was estimated that 120,000 people visited her grave in the following weeks, with queues stretching out from the gates of Hampstead Cemetary. Many newspapers and fellow performers paid tribute to Lloyd in the days after her death. T.S. Eliot wrote a moving tribute to her in The Criterion of January 1923. He said of Lloyd…

“Marie Lloyd was the greatest music hall artist in England: she was also the most popular… 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… Whereas other comedians amuse their audiences as much and sometimes more than Marie Lloyd, no other comedian succeded so well in giving expression to the life of that audience, in raising it to kind of art.” 

Many of the songs sung by Lloyd are still known today, including “My Old Man Said Follow the Van”, “A Little of What You Fancy Does You Good”, and “Don’t Dilly Dally On The Way”. A memorial tablet to Lloyd was installed in the vestibule at Tivoli cinema (what was the Tivoli Theatre) in the Strand in 1944, on the 21st anniversary of her death. Lloyd was also commemorated in 1977 with a blue plaque at her previous residence, 55 Graham Road in Dalston. In media, a stage show and BBC drama have been created depicting the life of Marie Lloyd.

Max Tyler Music Hall collection, University of Kent



As with many acts at the time, Lloyd performed some songs that contained offensive and racist terminology, and we can not with good conscience speak of her success and popularity without mention of this. Music Hall song and performance was in many ways a reflection of social attitudes at the time, and this does not exclude those parts of white, British history that are offensive and repellent. We can see this in our collection of music hall songsheets, with some containing racist slurs and offensive depictions, imperialistic attitude, and that make light of marital violence, misogyny, and the class divide. Music Hall rose in a time of expansion of the British Empire and popular imperialism. Songs performed by both male and female artists played with notions of power, or leaned on stereotypes to connect with the audience.

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!

A little of what you fancy..!

To celebrate the inaugural #musichallvarietyday on Saturday 16th May, 2020, we thought we’d tell you a bit about one of our magnificent theatre collections, the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection!

In June 2018 Special Collections & Archives were lucky enough to receive the personal music hall memorabilia collection of Max Tyler.

Who was Max Tyler?

Max was the historian and archivist of the British Music Hall Society. A retired bank manager, Max looked after the society’s theatrical memorabilia and was an expert in the field, particularly in the subject of seaside entertainment and obscure music hall tunes!


Photographs of Max Tyler. Left and right images courtesy of Alison Young, middle image from the Max Tyler Music Hall collection.

Max was often invited to speak at events all across the UK and frequently wrote articles for publications such as The Call Boy and The Stage, and was the editor of the journal Music Hall Studies. According to the Music Hall Studies website, it was Max’s belief that “if there were no other source relating to British social history for a long period around the turn of the nineteenth century, a study of music hall song would provide everything researchers were seeking”.

Max had been in talks with us for many years about his personal collection of music hall memorabilia and research, with him ultimately bequeathing it to the University. Sadly, Max passed away on 5th January 2018 after being in poor health for some time. In his obituary in The Call Boy, Roy Hudd said of Max, “Max Tyler, an old fashioned gentleman and an old fashioned gentle man”.

After his death we worked closely with the British Music Hall Society to transfer the collection to our archive.

Music Hall? What’s that!?

Music hall was an incredibly popular form of entertainment from the mid-19th through to the early 20th century. Originating in bars and public houses, it was a heady mixture of popular songs, comedy and variety entertainment.

Oxford Music Hall, 1875

From around 1850 specialist music halls began springing up all across the country as the genre became more and more popular. The patrons would smoke, eat and drink whilst enjoying the humorous (and often cheeky) performances from that night’s entertainers. These entertainers were the celebrities of the day, with the most successful ones, such as Marie Lloyd, performing both nationally and internationally. The songs they sang were often a comment on the working class social issues of the time, such as money troubles, overcrowded living, unfaithful or nagging spouses, and sometimes even true love!

As the 20th century progressed and World War loomed, music hall popularity dwindled. Then came radio, cinema, and later, television, firmly putting an end to its ubiquitous popularity.

The collection

The Max Tyler Music Hall Collection is chock-full of music hall material, spanning from the late 19th century through to the early 21st century. It includes original and copies of Music Hall song sheets, sheet music and scripts for musical comedies, music hall programmes, playbills, 20th century music hall and vaudeville magazines and periodicals, music hall audio recordings on cassette, CD, shellac discs, and reel-to-reel tapes, published books on music hall, and music hall performers, Max’s research notes, and even Max’s very own stage blazer and hat!

Max’s striped blazer and straw boater hat, from the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection.

We couldn’t possibly fit information about everything in the collection in to one blog post, so for today’s post we will focus on a couple of the larger elements of the collection.


There are at least 1500 songsheets in the Max Tyler collection. With elaborately illustrated covers, and whimsical titles such as “I wasn’t so drunk as all that” and “La-Didily-Idily-Umti-Umti-Ay!” these songsheets are an incredible glimpse in to the working classes of the day (albeit a satirised, playful one!) Performers such as T.E. Dunville, Vesta Tilley, Marie Lloyd and Gus Elen, amongst many others, are represented, as well as prolific composers such as Joseph Tabrar, Arthur Lloyd and George Le Brunn.

Just a few of the 1500+ songsheets in the collection.


The collection boasts beautifully illustrated late 19th and early 20th century programmes from variety theatres of the day, through to bold and photographic programmes of the later 20th century. It includes examples from provincial towns as well as the larger cities. This part of the collection is incredibly complimentary to our other theatre collections, which you can find out more about on our website!

A selection of the earlier programmes available in the collection.

Research Notes

Max was a diligent organiser and avid researcher of music hall, the benefits of which can be seen in his collection. He would always go the extra mile when researching on behalf of the society or members of the public and seemed to have a knack for knowing where to look for the most elusive of details. There are over a hundred files in the collection, on topics from individual performers, composers and historic events, through to animals and trains; it if it was a theme in music hall then Max was bound to have researched it in some way!

Examples of the research files in Max’s collection.

Book collection

There are just under 550 books in Max’s collection. Again, the topics of these books vary from the specific to the peripheral when it comes to music hall. There are titles written by or about music hall performers, encyclopaedias and compendiums of music hall songs, stars and theatres, through to historical and literary texts.

Books in the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection

We are currently working on organising and cataloguing the collection. Material which has been catalogued can be found here if you’re looking for archival material, or here if you’re looking for items from Max’s book collection.

If you are interested in researching or simply viewing any material from this stunning collection, please do get in touch with us via

Loving Lyly: talk on 25 Feb

We may have gone a little quiet about our annual Special Collections & Archives and Cathedral Library lecture series, but rest assured, we have been thinking on it!

The second lecture of the series will be given by UoK’s very own Dr. Andy Kesson, who is also a guest lecturer at Shakespeare’s Globe. Andy’s research focusses upon literature, performance and cultural theory, particularly in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. He will be talking about one of Canterbury’s early modern playwrights, in a lecture entitled:

Loving Lyly; or, why does Canterbury not celebrate its most successful writer, John Lyly?

The talk will take place on Monday 25 February in the AV Suite at the Cathedral Lodge, within Canterbury Cathedral precincts. Refreshments will be available from 6pm, and the talk will start at 6.30. All are very welcome to join us, from within the University or as a member of the public.

The first lecture in our 2012/2013 season was given in November by Dr James Baker, who spoke about his research into the literary creation of Dr Syntax by Thomas Rowlandson and George Coombe. The British Cartoon Archive has recently acquired a major collection relating to this nineteenth century cultural icon. If you haven’t been able to see our Dr. Syntax exhibition yet, do come up to the Templeman Library Gallery before the 18 March to take a look.

The third and final lecture in this season will be delivered by Dr. Helen Brooks, who will be using the University’s extensive theatre collections to investigate Theatres of War, prior to the start of major research coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the First World War.

We do hope to see you there.