Sunday, 27 January 2013

Field Study's Man in E17 loses himself in a phantasmagoria of music hall variety

Palace Mews, E17 26th January 2013

Field Study's Man in E17 loses himself in a phantasmagoria of music hall variety

It is just over 110 years since the grand opening of The Palace Theatre on Walthamstow High Street. I forget if, at the time of the opening (Monday 28th December 1903), the high street was still called Marsh Street. I found out about this opening by visiting the free exhibition, 'Walthamstow High Street' at Vestry House Museum. The exhibition, which runs to 24th February, is an enjoyable collection of artefacts, mainly photographs along with old music hall leaflets and posters, oral histories - all well presented and supplemented by informative texts. It was the Palace Theatre posters I enjoyed, including the poster for the grand opening, which featured the announcement:

'expensive engagement of Fred Karno's company of speechless comedians in, Jailbirds - the funniest absurdity ever seen. 30 minutes continual roars of laughter. Scene 1 The Banquet Card Burglary, Scene 2 Corridor of Prison, Scene 3 The Quarry at Portland.

The theatre, up until it's demolition in 1960, has an intriguing 'sub-history' that involves a veiled Italian countess who may have been a Mussolini show girl. I was so engrossed in the exhibition that I assumed the creaking floorboards of the exhibition space signalled the presence of just another ordinary punter come to immerse themselves in the slightly elegiac history of a high street. I felt a little uncomfortable as he or she stood right behind me, breathing heavily over my shoulder and, just as I started to turn to move away, I heard an exclamation, "Mamma Mia!", exclaimed in a terrible Italian accent, and caught a glimpse of 'Field Study's Man in E17' making his way to High Street, Walthamstow to look for traces of the funniest absurdities ever seen. 

Palace Mews E17, 26th January 2013. 

Site of the Palace Theatre?

Field Study's Man in E17 seemed most concerned that the water mains replacement/market displacement work in progress on the high street might have disturbed some of the spirits of Walthamstow's music hall past. In his mind 57 years of variety, courtesy of the Palace Theatre, was about to reemerge - in a huge phantasmagorical spectacle but with no stage. Marie Lloyd, The Dream Nudes, The Mighty Atom, Gertie Gitana, Maria Di Calci, Al Perry, Edward Petrof, the Del Rosa Dancers and Billie Roche were just a small part of the ghostly bill playing on his mind. Would the high street shoppers be so spooked and annoyed by the wonderful bicycling acts of the great Lavender Troupe that they would desert the high street in favour of online and mall shopping? Unlikely.  Would the ghosts of the Palace Theatre gatecrash Ye Olde Rose & Crown Theatre Pub? Unlikely. I just managed to intervene when someone asked the haunted field student why he was taking photographs of the alley way that is Palace Mews. I pulled him away before he could talk about mass music hall 'hauntings', and pointed to some signs we had only just noticed despite our many trips up and down the high street.

I took him in the direction of the Dominion Cinema to investigate an odd trace of Walthamstow's long lost cinema goers. 


Here are some links to Fred Karno:

Khaotic - The Fred Karno Story - Poverty Corner

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