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  • Chrissy Hamlin

Marie Lloyd & Winifred Atwell - Kate Garner's Inspiring Musical Women

Singer, Songwriter and Musician Kate Garner, is the daughter of the late Chas Hodges from the legendary Cockney sing-a-long duo, Chas & Dave. When Kate appeared on our podcast in December 2021, she chose three very interesting #InspiringWomen to talk to me about: Musical Hall Singer, Marie Lloyd, Trinidadian Pianist Winifred Atwell, and her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. In the blog post below you can discover more about the two musical

women who have inspired Kate's songs and her love of vintage music.


First, here's a short video tribute to Marie Lloyd by Kate Garner


Marie Lloyd was one of the most popular Music Hall performers of the late 19th and early 20th Century, but offstage her personal life was far from happy, she had two abusive marriages, and despite her high earnings, she ended her life in financial difficulty.

Marie Lloyd was born on 12 February 1870 in Hoxton, London. Her real name was Matilda Alice Victoria Wood and she was the eldest of nine children. Her mother, also called Matilda, was a dressmaker and costume designer, and her father, John, was an artificial flower arranger and a waiter. Lloyd often played truant from school as a child, and looked after her younger siblings whilst her parent's were working.

She and her sister, Alice, would often produce "shows" at home which they would perform for the entire family. In 1879 Matilda and her siblings formed a theatrical act called the "Fairy Bell Troupe". Aged just 10, Matilda and the troupe, with their mother providing the costumes, conducted their first performance at a mission in Nile Street, Hoxton, in 1880. They followed this up with an appearance the Blue Ribbon Gospel Temperance Mission later the same year, where they performed temperance songs, teaching people about the dangers of alcohol abuse.

Her father got Matilda an unpaid job as a table singer at the Eagle Tavern in Hoxton, where he worked as a waiter. She also earned money by making babies' boots, and, later, curled feathers for hat making. However she was sacked from that job when she was caught

dancing on the tables by the foreman.

It was clear that young Matilda really wanted a proper career on the stage. Her parents were initially opposed to the idea but they eventually relented when they saw just how determined she was.

On 9 May 1885, at the age of 15, Matilda made her professional solo stage début at the Grecian Music Hall in the Eagle Tavern, under the name "Matilda Wood". She performed "In the Good Old Days" and "My Soldier Laddie". Matilda then got a booking at the Sir John Falstaff music hall in Old Street where she sang a series of romantic ballads and appeared on stage in costumes designed by her mother.

Her very first stage name was "Bella Delmere" and lthough her performances were a success, she often sung other artists' songs without their permission. One performer even threatened her with an legal injunction! When the Collins Music Hall in Islington wanted to celebrate their refurbishment, they booked "Bella Delamere" to appear. She then performed at the Hammersmith Temple of Varieties and the Middlesex Music Hall in Drury Lane. On 3 February 1886, she appeared at the prestigious Sebright Music Hall in Bethnal Green, where she met George Ware, who was a prolific composer of music hall songs. Ware became her agent, and gave her original songs to sing. He also told her to change her stage name to "Marie Lloyd" because it sounded better.

Marie Lloyd first performed under her new name on 22 June 1886 at the Falstaff Music Hall, where she sung the song "The Boy I Love Is Up in the Gallery". This song by George Ware, had originally been written for another Music Hall performer, Nelly Power. By 1887, Lloyd's performance of the song had become so popular that she was in demand in London's West End. She performed at the Oxford Music Hall, where she entertained the audience with her expert" skirt dancing" - cheekily revealing glimpses of her ankles and legs whilst singing. Although many of Marie Lloyd's songs could be considered quite "risque" and rude, she always carried it off in a highly comedic way, by winking cheekily and smiling at the audience. She also began making all her own stage costumes, a skill she had learned from her mother, and she continued to do for the rest of her career.

After playing the Star Palace of Varieties in Bermondsey, at the start of 1886, she then went on a month-long tour of Ireland, earning £10 per week. When the tour ended, she returned to East London to perform at the Sebright Music Hall, Bethnal Green again, where she was now in high demand. By the end of 1886, Lloyd was playing in several halls each night and was earning around £100 per week.

While appearing at the Foresters music hall in Mile End, Marie Lloyd met Percy Charles Courtenay, a racecourse ticket tout from south London. When she became pregnant by Courtenay, they quickly got married on 12 November 1887 in Hoxton. In May 1888, Lloyd gave birth to her daughter, Marie Courtenay. Percy Courtenay was a gambler and a heavy drinker and Lloyd's friends and family all disliked him. The marriage was not a happy one. When Lloyd rented a room in her home, to a 13 year old Music Hall performer called Bella Burge, Courtenay became jealous of their friendship. He also hated his wife throwing parties for all her theatrical friends.

In October 1888, Lloyd returned to the stage in a Pantomime in Hoxton. It would run until February 1889, giving her the security of a few months regular work, near to her home and baby daughter. The following year, she appeared at Empire, the Alhambra theatres, the Trocadero Palace of Varieties, and the Royal Standard playhouse. She also gave birth to a stillborn child in 1889.

By 1891 Marie Lloyd had a catalogue of hit songs and was considered a major name in the music halls and in pantomime. When she appeared at the Oxford music hall in June, the audience cheered so loudly for her return that the following act could not be heard. During the summer months, she went on tour to Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester, where she was so popular, she had to cancel a trip to Paris just so she could appear on stage in England for 6 extra nights. Between 1891 - 1893, Lloyd was recruited by the impresario Augustus Harris to appear alongside Dan Leno in the spectacular Theatre Royal, Drury Lane Christmas pantomimes. In her professional life things could not be better.

In her private life, things were not going well however. On 12 January 1892, Lloyd and Courtenay had a drunken fight in her Drury Lane dressing room after her evening pantomime performance. Courtenay pulled a sword off the wall and threatened to cut her throat; Lloyd managed to escape from the abuse with cuts bruises and reported the incident to the police.

Lloyd made her American stage début in 1893, appearing at Koster and Bial's Music Hall in New York. She came back to play in London, and then went on to perform in France, where she was also very popular.

In May 1894, Courtenay followed Lloyd to the Empire, Leicester Square, where she was performing, and attempted to batter her with a stick, shouting: "I will gouge your eyes out and ruin you!" He missed Lloyd, but struck her young friend and lodger, Bella Burge, in the face instead.

After this incident Lloyd was sacked by the Empire Theatre, who were fearful of the bad publicity. After leaving Courtenay and moving to 73 Carleton Road, Tuffnell Park, Lloyd applied for a restraining warrant, preventing Courtenay from contacting her. When Lloyd begun a relationship with music hall singer Alec Hurley, Courtenay initiated divorce proceedings in 1894 on the grounds of her adultery.

Lloyd's risqué songs were often criticized by theatre reviewers and influential feminists alike. Laura Ormiston Chant, who was a member of the Social Purity Alliance, disliked the bawdiness of music hall performances, and thought that the venues were attractive to prostitutes. She campaigned for large screens to be placed around the promenade at the Empire Theatre in Leicester Square, as part of the licensing conditions. The screens were unpopular and protesters later pulled them down.

That November at the Tivoli theatre, Lloyd performed "Johnny Jones", a ditty about a girl who is taught the facts of life by her best male friend. The song, although not lyrically obscene, was considered to be offensive largely because of the manner in which Lloyd sang it, adding winks and gestures, and creating a conspiratorial relationship with her audience. Social reformers cited "Johnny Jones" as being offensive, but less so compared to some other songs of the day.

Upon the expiry of a music hall's entertainments licence, the Licensing Committee tried to use the lyrical content of music hall songs as evidence against a renewal. As a result, Lloyd was summoned to perform some of her songs in front of a council committee. She sang "Oh! Mr Porter" ; "A Little of What You Fancy"; and, "She Sits Among the Cabbages and Peas", which she retitled "I Sits Amongst the Cabbages and Leeks". The numbers were sung in such a way that the committee had no reason to find anything amiss. Feeling disgruntled at the council's interference, she then sung Alfred Tennyson's drawing-room ballad "Come into the Garden, Maud" with leers and nudges to illustrate each innuendo. The committee were left stunned at the performance, but Lloyd argued afterwards that the rudeness was "all in the mind".

In 1896, Lloyd sailed to South Africa with her daughter, who appeared as Little Maudie Courtenay on the same bill as her mother. The following year, Lloyd travelled to New York where she re-appeared at Koster and Bial's Music Hall. After the tour, Lloyd returned to London, and at Christmas, she appeared in pantomime, at the Crown Theatre in Peckham, in a production of Dick Whittington.

In February 1900, Lloyd was the subject of a benefit performance at the Crown Theatre in Peckham. Kate Carney, Vesta Tilley and Joe Elvin were among the star turns who performed before the main piece, Cinderella, which starred Lloyd, her sister Alice, Kittee Rayburn and Jennie Rubie.

Before her divorce from Courtenay had been granted, Lloyd went to live with her lover Alec Hurley in Southampton Row, London. Hurley regularly appeared on the same bill as Lloyd and his calm nature seemed to be a complete contrast to the abusive personality of Courtenay.

Lloyd and Hurley did a 2 month tour of Australia in 1901, opening at Harry Rickards Opera House in Melbourne on 18 May with their own version of "The Lambeth Walk". They returned to London where Lloyd appeared in The Revue, written by Charles Raymond and Phillip Yorke with lyrics by Roland Carse and music by Maurice Jacobi. It was staged at the Tivoli theatre, in celebration of the Coronation of King Edward VII.

Lloyd was divorced from Percy Courtenay in May 1905, and then married Alec Hurley on 27 October 1906. Although he was a successful artist himself, after they married Hurley began feeling a little sidelined by his wife's continued popularity. There was also much disgruntlement in the world of Music Hall Artists in general at this time, which led to later industrial action.

In 1906, the first strike was initiated by the Variety Artistes' Federation. The following year, the Music Hall War commenced, which saw the Federation fight for more freedom and better working conditions on behalf of all regular music-hall performers. Although as a big name "Star" Lloyd commanded and negotiated her own individual booking fees, she nevertheless supported the strike, stood on picket lines, and gave generously to the strike fund. To raise spirits, she often performed for the other strikers, whilst standing on picket lines and she also took part in a fundraising performance at the Scala Theatre. During one demonstration, she recognized a female singer she knew, trying to enter the theatre by the back door and shouted, "Let her through, girls, she'll close the music hall faster than we can." That singer was Belle Elmore, who was later murdered by her husband, Dr. Crippen.