A star is born
Marie Lloyd was born Matilda Alice Victoria Wood on 12 February 1870 at 36 Plumber Street (now Provost Street) in Hoxton, east London. Approximately fifteen years later, she would make her performing debut just around the corner at the Eagle Tavern, part of the Grecian Theatre complex where her father worked as a barman to supplement his income as a maker of artificial flowers. Marie was the eldest of nine children born to John and Matilda Wood, a working class couple who were far from wealthy yet did not live the impoverished lives of many of their neighbours.
A prodigy with a new name
The young Matilda Wood showed a flair for performing from a very early age. She would even take her siblings to the local cemetery to practise mourning and sobbing until they had it down to a fine art. The Victorians loved a good funeral! On her debut she wore a black mantilla in her hair and began with a rendition of music hall songwriter Fred Gilbert’s ‘The Good Old Times’. The evening was a great success and led both to further bookings and to her adoption of the stage name, Bella Delmeyer, which came to be spelt in several different ways. In 1886, however, she changed her name to Marie Lloyd. ‘Marie’ because, pronounced in the French manner, she thought it sounded more refined and ‘Lloyd’ after Lloyds weekly newspaper.
Her career and marriages
Marie was often referred to as ‘The Queen of the Music Hall’ and became famous for such songs as ‘Don’t Dilly Dally on the Way’ and ‘The Boy I Love is Up in the Gallery’. Her career spanned three decades during which she had numerous hit songs, sellout shows and pantomime appearances all over the country. She also performed in Paris, South Africa, the USA and Australia.
Marie would also experience three unhappy marriages, two of which were abusive. The first, to Percy Courtenay in 1887, produced a daughter, Marie Lloyd Junior. Courtenay was jealous of Marie’s success, however, and took to alcohol and gambling. Her second marriage was to fellow entertainer Alec Hurley and took place in Hampstead Town Hall (see picture below). The romance did not endure and they went their separate ways before too long.
Husband number three was racing jockey Bernard Dillon with whom she lived in Golders Green. He was considerably younger than Marie. Dillon also became jealous of the ‘limelight’ she inhabited and became an abusive, violent drunk. She endured several beatings before eventually leaving him in 1920.
A rebel with a cheeky sense of humour
It wasn’t just her marriages which caused Marie grief. Although tame by today’s standards, her acts were full of comedy and innuendo. She once got into trouble for singing ‘The Boy I Love is Up in the Gallery’ without the permission of the song’s original singer, Nelly Power. She was also pressurised by anti-music hall campaigners who claimed that music halls encouraged drunkenness and prostitution. Indeed, an active campaigner was one Frederick Charrington, who turned his back on his brewing family in the name of temperance!
Music hall licensing committees began to refuse to issue some licences on the grounds of offensive song lyrics. The prudery of the times caused Marie to be hauled over the coals for a particular song which included the words ” she sits among the cabbages and peas”. She changed the lyrics to “she sits among the cabbages and leeks”. And she got away with it!
Music Halls, The Bedford Theatre and Dr. Crippen
Music hall was a type of theatre entertainment which had its origins in public houses. A singer would be accompanied by upbeat tunes played on the piano with the audience also singing along. Comedy, and other acts such as juggling, would be thrown in for good measure. Music hall entertainment was the forerunner of what we now call variety shows; music halls themselves have become a modern rarity.
The popularity of music halls began to rise in the mid-19thC. More and more venues sprang up all over London, including Camden’s very own Bedford Theatre. Erected in 1899 on the site of the old Bedford Music Hall in Camden High Street, it was the work of theatre architect Bertie Crew, and began life as The Bedford Palace of Varieties.
In 1906-7 music hall artists and staff went on strike in a dispute with theatre managers over pay and conditions. Although Marie Llloyd’s popularity meant that her personal finances were in good shape, she showed her commitment to her colleagues both financially and on the picket line. Belle Ellmore, the stage name of Cora Crippen, the unfortunate wife and victim of the infamous Dr. Crippen, was also a music hall entertainer, if not an especially good one. Belle made the mistake of crossing the picket line at the Bedford when Marie Lloyd was on duty. “Let her through, girls,” shouted Marie, “she’ll close the place faster than we can”.
Laid to rest in Hampstead
On 12 October at least 50,000 people lined the route from Marie’s Golders Green home to to St. Lukes Church in Kidderpore Aveneue, and then on to Hampstead Cemetery in Fortune Green Road. Not only did mourners from the entertainment industry pay their last respects, but also people from many walks of life including flower sellers, taxi drivers, costermongers and jockeys. Apparently one lady had walked all the way from Newmarket to be there. Funeral arrangements were conducted by the famous firm of undertakers, A. France and Sons of Lambs Conduit Street in Holborn, and a picture of the funeral can be viewed by clicking on the link afranceand son.wordpress.com/about.
Her memorial in Hampstead is modest for someone so well known. Her epitaph reads:
In loving memory of our darling sister Marie Lloyd.
Born 12th February 1870
Died October 7th 1922
Daughter of John and Matilda Wood
Tired was she, and she wouldn’t show it
Suffering was she, and hoped we didn’t know it
But he who loved her knew, and, understanding all
Prescribed long rest and gave the final call
Featured image – https://commons.wikimedia.org/File:Marie_Lloyd_by_Lanfier_Ltd.jpg
Gillies, Midge (1999). Marie Lloyd: The One and Only. London: Gollancz.
Baker, Richard Anthony (1990). Marie Lloyd: Queen of the Music Halls. London: R. Hale.
Marie Lloyd – Wikipedia