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The Mansion of Mirth Sandgate as Seen Through the Eyes of the Alhambra Music Hall and Rex Cinema
On one side, the sea: on the other, gently rising hills, scattered with villas, and smudged with the grey smoke of tamarisks. On the hill top lay Shorncliffe Camp, its barracks and hutments stretching away towards Cheriton and the Downs. The bugles, in those days, haunted this stretch of coast perpetually: their sad cries drifting faintly seawards, as though answering the far, muffled booming of the foghorns, out in the misty distance beyond Dungeness. (Jocelyn Brooke The Goose Cathedral 1950)
Sandgate was first mentioned as `Sandygent' in 1256 and was named after the gate in the hills where the Enbrook stream flowed into the sea. Henry VIII built a castle there in 1539 as part of his defence of the south east coast that also included the castles at Sandown, Deal, Walmer and Camber. Henry visited the castle in March 1541 and May 1542 as did his daughter Elizabeth I in 1575.
However, a proper village was not established until Fabian (or Fabius) Clayton Wilson, a shipbuilder from Dover, leased land in the area from Lord Radnor in c.1773. Wooden tenements were erected for the shipyard workers (some can still be found at the foot of Sandgate Hill). Further yards were established and for a time they thrived when seven 28 gun frigates, four 16 gun sloops and two fireships were built for the Royal Navy. Shipbuilding in Sandgate came to an end with the retirement of boat builder Richard Graves in 1873.
The growth of Sandgate was also assisted by the establishment of the army camp above the village at Shorncliffe in 1794. Shorncliffe had been used as an army post since at least the time of the Spanish Armada and was reinforced following the outbreak of war with Napoleon in 1793. During the invasion scare the old castle was converted into a Martello Tower while further towers were placed above the village. In September 1802 Sir John Moore assumed command of Shorncliffe Camp and lodged in Sandgate at Sir John Shaw's villa, while his mother and sister were placed at York Cottage in Castle Road. Moore died at Corunna in 1809, and upon the centenary of his death a granite plinth was placed upon the Esplanade.
The presence of military men like Moore also helped to assist Sandgate's embryonic aspirations as a watering place. In 1799 Thomas Purday established a circulating library that also provided musical entertainment, a reading room, billiard table and a bazaar selling fancy goods and souvenirs. Salt water baths and bathing machines were provided by J.B. Taylor and on 12th September 1809 the Kentish Express wrote: This place (notwithstanding the hitherto unfavourable state of the weather) has been fashionably and numerously attended this season than at any period since it became a watering place. The lodgings are all full, and in all probability will for some length of time continue so. Purday's Library, recently fitted up with an elegant reading room, has become a very fashionable lounge. The balls at Strood's Rooms (which are every fortnight) have been fully attended, and have greatly contributed to the amusements of the place. The sea bathing here is in the greatest perfection, as the waters are pure. There are varied and pleasant walks and rides, cliffs of easy ascent (by the grand military roads), commanding a beautiful view of the British Channel, bounded at a distance by the undulating line of the French coast, the whole of the luxuriant level of Romney Marsh, and a large portion of the neighbouring county of Sussex, with a diversity of interesting and romantic scenery in the background. Sandgate can claim at least an equal degree of admiration to any watering place in England.
In 1806 `Belle Vue' was erected by the local landowner the 4th Earl of Darnley as a holiday home. This later developed into Enbrook House, while at the other end of the village Encombe was erected by Henry Dawkins in 1821. William Wilberforce came to Sandgate on several occasions and in 1812 commented: Sandgate is one of the creations of modern English opulence. It has a number of very comfortable houses for warm or even moderate weather, with a library, a warm bath and other appendages. The country by far is the most picturesque of any sea coast I have seen in the south of England. However he also commented on another occasion that it was `grievous' to see the place without a church or chapel of any kind! This was remedied by the erection of a Methodist Chapel in 1816, two years after the National School was established (for which the weekly charge was 1d). Inns established by this time included the Fleur de Lis, New Inn (later Royal Kent), Ship Inn (later Royal Norfolk), Martello Tower (later Castle Tavern) and Duke of York. In 1836 Sandgate acquired its own brewery and in the following decade began its association with a family of publicans who were to provide the village with its biggest attraction of all.
MR RIGDEN TREADS THE BOARDS
The establishment of the Bricklayers Arms
In the mid-1840s a family named Elgar, who had lived at Burmarsh for centuries, moved to Dover. John Elgar moved to Sandgate where he carried on the trade of butcher. One of his brothers, Benjamin Butcher Elgar, had a son Benjamin, born at Dover in 1814. The young Benjamin moved to Deptford, where he married Martha (or Mary Ann) Wilson from Wiltshire on 12th July 1843. Benjamin and Martha moved back to Sandgate soon afterwards and took over a little beerhouse from a Mrs Sarah Chester. The beerhouse had a forge alongside, for Mrs Chester's late husband had been a blacksmith by trade. They named it (or renamed it) the Bricklayers Arms (locally known as the Bricks) and may have extended it into the old forge. Benjamin died in 1846 and Martha carried on alone until her marriage to Robert Rigden, a gardener at Cliff House, who then took over the beerhouse. He is listed in an 1849 directory as a beer retailer, and from 1851 as proprietor of the Bricklayers Arms in the same property. The 1851 census lists the occupants of the house as Robert Rigden (31) publican, Mary Ann (37) wife, Harriet A. Elgar (7) daughter, Benjamin E. Elgar (4) son, Elizabeth Rigden (2) daughter, Mary A. Rigden (1) daughter and William Wilson (12) nephew.
1. The man with the beard is believed to be Robert Rigden, founder of Sandgate's music hall.
Public and resort health
Following the passing of the Public Health Act in 1848 to combat cholera, a Local Board was formed two years later (1850) to administer Sandgate. In 1849 it was reported that the village was in `a destitute sanitary condition' with 23 dunghills, 19 piggeries and 4 slaughterhouses. A further report recorded that 60 houses had no drains and there was no rubbish collection.
The establishment of the Local Board gave Sandgate its bye-laws, and a local rate was charged to pay for an improved water supply, waste water removal and gas lighting. Public officers were appointed, including a surveyor and an inspector of nuisances. In 1844 a peoples' dispensary had been opened by a retired naval officer Dr. William Donnelly.
These improvements however failed to prevent an outbreak of cholera in 1854; there were 94 reported cases in the village of which 46 proved fatal. The outbreak was due to the poor water supply and the defective drains. Four years later, two springs above Seabrook were purchased to give Sandgate a more sustained supply of fresh water.
Notwithstanding its health problems, in 1852 Dr. George Mosely, author of `Sandgate as a Residence for Invalids' claimed it was the healthiest spot on the South Coast, being free of the sea fog that plagued other watering places! All manner of ailments could be cured at Sandgate, including tuberculosis!
Dr. Tanners work `Climates for Invalids' concurs claiming: Sandgate offers a milder winter climate than Folkestone with an exception from fogs. The mean winter temperature is 41.6 degrees F, consumptive and dyspeptic invalids who find Brighton too bracing, and Hastings too relaxing may well winter at Sandgate, especially if they need quiet and seclusion. The town is in a good sanitary condition, great improvements have been made to every house and fitted with domestic appliances necessary to good health. Sandgate demands some delightful prospects. The Hythe Bay, the distant lighthouse at Dungeness and the Marsh are seen from most of the houses in the neighbourhood.
The permanent establishment of Shorncliffe Camp
During the Crimean War of 1854-6 Shorncliffe Camp was permanently established for the British German Legion (formerly the Foreign Legion). Rows of wooden huts were erected to house them and a permanent church was consecrated. A commandant's house, schools and a canteen were also provided. Queen Victoria viewed the troops on the 9th August 1855 and the entourage passed through Sandgate. However, an armistice (Treaty of Paris) was signed in March 1856 and consequently the camp saw little action; with the majority of the Germans being relocated to South Africa.
A rough and ready place
Unfortunately, Sandgate's association with the camp led to it becoming a rather rough and ready place with a cluster of low class beerhouses catering for the thirsty soldiers. These included the Alma, Sebastapol and Inkerman Arms, all named after Crimean War battles. The 1830 Beerhouse Act had allowed any ratepayer of `good character' to open a beerhouse on the payment of 2 guineas to the licensing authorities. A picquet of 25 soldiers patrolled the village during Saturday evenings to keep an eye on the behaviour of the soldiers in the inns and beerhouses.
2. The Bricklayers Arms in the 1850s. Note the ornate lamp engraved with `Rigden wine & spirit merchant. Alan F. Taylor
The Bricklayers Arms Music Hall
The Local Board records show that in April 1854 permission was granted to Robert Rigden to rebuild the Bricklayers Arms. On 4th October 1858 Rigden opened a newly built room on the back of the premises as a music hall, and five days later the Folkestone Chronicle announced: On Monday evening last, Mr. Rigden, the landlord of the `Bricklayers Arms,' opened a new room he has lately erected on the rear of his premises for the purpose of having musical entertainment etc. The hall, which is 65 feet long by 25 feet wide, and proportionately high, is lit by three handsome chandeliers descending from the roof, with branches for gas at intervals along each side. The spirit, which has dictated the erection of this fine room, is creditable to Mr. Rigden. A concert was given on the above evening, when Madame Blewitt (pianist and vocalist), Mrs. Marion (a pleasing ballad singer), Mrs. Barnes, Mr. A. J. Gellis, not forgetting Herr Rosencrant the negro melodist and tambourine player who - astonished many by his extraordinary performances on three tambourines at once - gave a very pleasing entertainment, which was further enlightened by some very capital dancing in ballet costume by Miss. Anne Zeletta, from the London theatres. A large number of persons were present and seemed to enjoy the entertainment provided for them.
The origins of Music Hall
The origins of music hall could be said to date back to the Elizabethan period. The Elizabethans had an intoxication not only for words, but also gymnastics and juggling and sports which were a national pastime, particularly archery. Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the Theatre Royals at Drury Lane and Covent Garden were granted a patent in 1663 for theatre performances. Other would be theatres had to get round the patent by adding a circus or fair. The patent would remain in force until the passing of the Theatre Act in 1843, which stipulated that provincial theatres were approved by local Justices of the Peace (London theatres by the Lord Chamberlain), who were to scrutinise each play that was presented. Stage plays were defined as `to include every Tragedy, Comedy, Farce, Opera, Burletta, Interlude, Melodrama or other entertainment or any part thereof.'
Eating and drinking were not allowed in the theatre auditorium, yet refreshments were very much part of the evening out at the penny gaffs of the East End of London. These predecessors of the music halls were often dark and dismal places where the poor went to see comics, singers, conjurors, magicians, short sketches and `speciality acts'. Entrance cost a penny (although reserve seats could be had for tuppence) and as a result the halls became very crowded, and pick pocketing was rife. Heckling the performers became the favourite pastime of the audience. Those that were particularly disliked were given the `bird' or if they were really bad the `scarlet bird' where the audience would rise and shout until they were red in the face and the curtain came down. One of the most notorious of the old penny gaff style halls were the disreputable cider cellars in Maiden Lane. These were opened around 1830 by William Rhodes, who also acted as Chairman of the entertainment on offer, a tradition later adopted by many music halls.
As was the case with the Bricklayers Arms, music and supper rooms/saloons attached to public houses were the forerunner of many music halls. This was particularly the case in London; such as the Canterbury Arms in Lambeth and the Eagle in the City Road: the latter inspiring the popular ditty up and down the City Road, in and out of the Eagle, that's the way the money goes, pop goes the weasel.
However, the 1843 Theatre Act attempted to clamp down on the music and supper rooms by forcing them to become legitimate theatres or licensed music halls. Nevertheless the halls could get around the constraints of the Act by avoiding dialogue (as used in a `legitimate' play) and using mime, song or printed cards. Furthermore, their patrons could still eat and drink whilst watching the show as the halls, which with their tables and chairs rather than rows of seats, were not classed as theatres. Some of the music halls openly flouted the law by introducing dialogue and were pursued in the courts by the enraged `legitimate' theatres.
In 1840 one of the first purpose-built music halls, the Winchester, was opened in Blackfriars Road, followed eight years later by the Surrey Music Hall at the Grapes Inn, Southwark Road (which is thought to be the first to use the term `music hall'). Nevertheless it is Charles Morton who is usually credited with seizing on the Act by creating the Music Hall, with its blend of variety entertainment and liquid refreshment, as we know it. He rebuilt the Canterbury Arms into the New Canterbury Music Hall in May 1852 where 700 patrons could eat, drink and watch the acts on stage beneath huge gas chandeliers. The hall proved to be so popular it was rebuilt in 1856-7 to hold 1500 people. Tickets were priced at 3d or 6d, which included a refreshment ticket. Programmes were also provided, containing lyrics to all the songs. Morton engaged the top performers of the day, who usually earned around £40 per week. The exception was Sam Cowell, the top performer of the day with a weekly wage of around £80 a week. With his tall stovepipe hat and neck handkerchief, Cowell resembled a Dickensian character and often sang songs with a Dickens theme. He also performed at the famous Evans' Supper Rooms in Covent Garden, situated in the basement of the Grand Hotel, whose patrons included Dickens and Thackeray. Unfortunately, Cowell's hard drinking lifestyle was to lead to his early death at the age of 44 on 11th March 1864.
In addition to the Canterbury, Morton additionally opened the Palace and the Oxford. The latter was situated at the junction of Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road and was formerly the Boar and Castle. However, only seven years after Morton acquired it the Oxford was destroyed by fire in 1868 and the site was sold. Nevertheless Morton remained an influential figure in the business and later presented operettas at the Philharmonic Hall up until his death aged 85 in 1904.
The grandest of the early halls was the Alhambra in Leicester Square, which was opened in 1854 and is said to be the model for the famous Follies-Bergerie. The building was later enlarged to accommodate up to 3,500 patrons and it is interesting to compare it with the Bricklayers Arms as they represent the two types of music hall that emerged as the genre grew in popularity. There were the smaller, more intimate halls (such as the Bricklayers Arms), derived from the music and supper rooms and smaller pub concert halls, whilst the purpose-built halls (like the Alhambra, Leicester Square) or those converted from theatres or public houses, came to resemble the theatres in all but name. The latter were often grand edifices with elaborate internal decoration such as huge chandeliers and even fountains in the foyer. In these types of establishment the `riff-raff' was firmly discouraged and the high prices charged reflected this. Halls such as the Bricklayers Arms however could not afford to be so choosy.
3. The Papillion's Soldier's Institute, opened in 1858 as a temperance alternative to the licensed public houses in Sandgate. Alan F. Taylor
Local entertainment venues
Nevertheless, the Bricklayers Arms had no other local music halls as competition in the 1850s, and there was generally very little other entertainment on offer. Hythe's Town Hall was used for a variety of uses, including shows (but not spicy music hall), but the town's theatre had closed back in 1837. Folkestone's rather restrained theatre based in the Harevian Theatre on the Bayle was revived in 1858 yet that's all the town had: the Apollo Assembly Rooms having succumbed following the coming of the railway in 1843.
In Sandgate itself, the Papillon Soldier's Institute was opened in 1858 by sisters Octavia & Lucy Papillion in Chapel Street. The building grew to house a mission hall, library, refreshment room, bar and amusement room. A further institute was established at Lydd before Miss Lucy's death in 1885. Sandgate also boasted a working men's library and institute opened in 1855. The Castle Inn had acquired a concert room and other rivals to the Bricks included the long-established Sandgate inn Fleur de Lis and the Marine Hotel, as indicated by these two newspaper reports:
10th July 1858 Folkestone Chronicle, in the case of Charles Stewart charged with stealing an Albert gold chain. Alfred Middleton, upon examination, said I am a professor of music, living at Dover. On 26th February, we left Folkestone for Sandgate, and were building our Theatre at the back of the `Fleur de Lis' when the prisoner came and offered two shirts for sale, which I purchased for 4s. Two or three days later he returned and offered me the gold Albert chain, for which I gave him 7s.
19th May 1860 Folkestone Chronicle: MARINE HOTEL, SANDGATE NEW MUSIC HALL AND PLEASURE GARDENS - the proprietress of the above Hotel informs her Friends and the Public that the above Hall, together with spacious Gardens attached, are now open for the Summer Season, under the management of Mr A Cherry. The following talented company will appear - Miss Maskell, the celebrated Drum Player; Miss J Clifton, the pleasing Ballad Singer; Mr Alfred Cherry. Admission free. Commence at six o'clock, open Sundays at five o'clock.
Sandgate's Assembly Rooms were also improved:
6th December 1862 Folkestone Chronicle: Mr Michael Valyer opened his new Assembly Rooms on Thursday evening last. The room is a compact one, situated close to the Castle, is over 50 feet long and of proportionate width, well lighted with eight handsome crystal bracket gas burners.
Improvements to the Bricklayers Arms
To fight the potential competition from rivals such as that at the Fleur de Lis and Marine Hotel, Robert Rigden endeavoured to improve his music hall and on 2nd April 1859 the Folkestone Chronicle reported: The proprietor of this popular place of entertainment has certainly done all that can be desired to cater for the qualification of the public, there has been lately added to the room, a gallery, from whence the performances can be witnessed in a perfectly private manner.
Two months later, on 18th June 1859, the Folkestone Chronicle reported in the case of attempted robbery at Sandgate the culprit was restrained and handed over by Robert Rigden. Indeed, Rigden was described as a well-built, striking figure of a man, who used to stand at the entrance to his premises wearing a velvet smoking cap ready to prevent any drunken soldiers from entering! He was also said to be equally adept at removing them once the effects of his alcohol began to cloud their judgement! However a photograph of Rigden shows him to be a slight figure.
On Tuesday 29th January 1861, the Royal Good Intent Lodge of the Odd Fellows held a ball at Rigden's. The Folkestone Chronicle reported that: At 2am supper was served, after which dancing was resumed, and carried on with great animation, until nearly dawn. About two weeks later a Military, Tradesmen's and Volunteers Ball was held