Revised September 2020
The first step when searching for information is, of course, to surf the net. The second is to put your wanted artiste's name into Spotify - you never know - while YouTube may enable you to both see and hear your quarry, giving you a blast of immediacy which will more than compensate for these sites' lack of facts and figures. Genealogy sites are not listed below.
The catalogues of local libraries, including reference holdings, should be scoured for books on Music Hall and Variety (Dewey Classification 792.7); their indexes will offer a useful starting point for uncovering your subject. My own books Sing Us One of the Old Songs (OUP 1999) and Grace, Beauty & Banjos (Oberon 1999), for instance, give birth and death years for hundreds of performers; these can lead you to obituaries in local and national newspapers, and especially in trade papers such as The Era (1838-1939), The Stage (1880-) and The Performer (1906-1957). If you live within easy reach of London full runs of these publications (not The Era 1911-1912) are kept on microfilm at Westminster Reference Library, 35 St Martin's Street, Leicester Square, London W1.
Gale Historical Newspapers
This website consists of forty-nine digitised British newspapers up to 1900, though only two of these, The Graphic and The Penny Illustrated Paper, permit free downloading. All the others require payment of a fee for full access to citations. Gale's run of The Times from 1785-1985 may also be accessible at your local reference library; if you intend to use the facility regularly you can sign up at the library which will give you free access from your home computer. If your local library is not a subscriber you can register via Westminster Reference Library.The Era
The Era from 1838 to 1900 together with dozens of local newspapers (many running from the 18th until well into the 20th centuries) may be searched free of charge through The British Newspapers Archive www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk
Full runs of these and all other national and provincial newspapers are also viewable at the British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DV. Ring 0330 333 1144 for information on obtaining a reader's ticket.
The Stage Archive
A run of this invaluable source from 1880 to 2007 is now administered by the British Library. You may search the site for headings free of charge but payment is required to open citations fully. For direct access search: 'The Stage in British Newspaper Archive'.
The Theatre Museum
Collections from the defunct Theatre Museum are located in the Victoria & Albert Museum's study centre at Blythe House, 23 Blythe Road, London W14 0QX. The content is strongest on theatre, opera and ballet, though there is a substantial amount of Music Hall/Variety including posters and songsheets. Appointments must be made in advance, so email the Enquiries service (Mon-Fri 10-5): email@example.com or ring 020 7942 2697 to check whether the collection has any material likely to be significant for your purposes and book an appointment. The Study Room is open Tuesday-Friday only. Visit the Music Hall & Variety Theatre web pages at www.vam.ac.uk/page/m/music-hall for more information about the Collections.
The Raymond Mander & Joe Mitchenson Theatre Collection
This magnificent archive contains a significant amount of Music Hall and musical comedy material and is now housed in the University of Bristol. For queries ring 0117 331 5086 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Family Records Centres
The Family Records Centre registers of births, marriages and deaths are now on microfiche and may be searched at centres in Birmingham, Bridgend, Manchester, Newcastle, Plymouth, Westminster, London Metropolitan Archives and at the British Library. For details ring 0300 123 1837. Registers may also be searched at www.freebmd.org.uk. The entries date from 1837 and certificates may be ordered online from the General Register Office on www.gro.gov.uk. The postal address is General Register Office, PO Box 2, Southport, Merseyside PR8 2JD. A difficulty which very often arises when searching is that the registers only contain artistes' legal names, not their professional ones. A further complication is that married women were (and usually still are) registered at death under their husbands' surnames.
Colin Charman's Music Hall
This database covers the years 1838-1944, though the great majority of entries is for 1911 to 1918. The archive includes local press advertisements, previews and reviews from The Era, The Stage, and The Music Hall and Theatre Review, plus rehearsal calls from The Era and The Stage. It is not online so email your queries to email@example.com.
The London Music Hall Database
Jacky Bratton is custodian of a database which includes all London Music Hall advertisements in The Era for the first week of each month of every fifth year from 1865 to 1890. Some data for 1866/7 are also included. Details of artistes by name and type, also managers, prices, times, and practices of one hundred and twenty-three Halls are included. Drawbacks are that only London venues are covered, and that 'the five-yearly snapshot must miss many short-lived but possibly significant performances, and does not offer enough information about the trajectories of either acts or halls in a volatile and rapidly changing industry'. Nevertheless Prof Bratton tells me that one query in three makes a hit. Visit www.rhul.ac.uk/drama/music-hall or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.The British Music Hall Society
NB: These two addresses are currently not available.
An attractive and comprehensive site which takes queries is at www.arthurlloyd.co.uk
An appeal for information in Call Boy, the quarterly journal of the British Music Hall Society, may be made via the editor, Geoff Bowden, at email@example.com
The International Directory of Performing Arts Collections is at www.sibmas.org
Many vintage artistes can be seen performing at www.britishpathe.com from which DVD purchases made be made. Some clips may be downloaded free.
NOTE: If you are seeking information by post it is always
advisable to enclose a stamped addressed envelope, or, if
you are writing from outside the UK, an International Reply
Coupon. Do not send unsolicited photographs or original
documents without prior agreement.
British Library shelfmarks are given in brackets.
BROWN, JAMES D. & STRATTON, STEPHEN S. British Musical Biographies (10804 k 23)
BRYAN, GEORGE D. Stage Deaths 1850-1990 2 vols (on open shelves 791.0922)
" " Stage Lives 1985 " "
BOASE, FREDERICK Modern English Biography (on open shelves 920.041)
BUSBY, ROY British Music Hall: An Illustrated Who's Who from 1850 to the Present Day
ERA ALMANAC and ANNUAL, THE From 1868 includes an annual necrology
(on open shelves 791.0922)
GAMMOND, PETER The Oxford Companion to Popular Music 1991
(YM 1991 b186 - on open shelves 781.63)
GRAY, ANDREW Illustrated Who's Who in Variety (British Year Books) 1947 (011795 aa 75)
HERBERT, S. & McKERNAN, L. (eds.) Who's Who of Victorian Cinema 1996 (YC 1996 b 4504)
PERRY, JEB H. Variety Obits 1980 (X809/47928)
PRATT, ALFRED T. CAMDEN People of the Period 1897 (010608 m 25)
VARIETY OBITUARIES Eds. Chuck Bartelt & Barbara Bergeron (ZC 9D 365)
WEARING, J. P. American and British Theatrical Biography (792/.092/2)
If you find any of the above to be out-of-date please let me know on
When asked where copies of Music Hall songs may be found my first answer is always the same: try Google. Titles are often available online, sometimes downloadable without charge. Also try YouTube and Spotify for possible recordings.
- 14 September 2020
The National Operatic
and Dramatic Association
NODA has a collection of Music Hall songs, pantomime songs, musical comedy songs, and sheet music of all kinds. The postal copying service is service currently suspended.
Further Recommended Sources
A site with access to over 72,000 titles is www.sheetmusicwarehouse.co.uk
www.musicroom.com offers instrumental arrangements as well as free vocal sheet music. A similar service is also offered by sheetmusicdirect.com located at 14-15 Berners Street, London W1T 3LJ.
Another vast song collection (lyrics only) is viewable on www.lyricsplayground.com/alpha.
Dinosaur Discs has an immense collection of old 78s and will send you copies or make up a compilation on CD. See www.78rpm.co.uk or phone 01692 631 540.
A very useful book which should be available in your local Reference Library is The Oxford Companion to Popular Music (1991) by Peter Gammond. My own Sing Us One of the Old Songs (OUP 1998) cross-catalogues some 18,000 popular song titles, writers, composers, and singers from 1850-1920.
Over 1,100 comic poems and monologues for men and women may be found on monologues.co.uk, an extremely useful website assembled by Paul Wilkinson under the title Make ‘Em Laugh!!! (not to be confused with books with the same title by Eric Midwinter and myself). All the favourites are there from the repertoires of Albert Chevalier, Marriott Edgar, Stanley Holloway, Billy Bennett, Joyce Grenfell, Gracie Fields, Elsie & Doris Waters, etc., etc. Hundreds more monologues from the classic literary repertoire (Chekhov, Shakespeare, etc) are accessible on www.monologuearchive.co.uk
An American website boasting over 300,000 songs may be may be downloaded in audio from www.parloursongs.com. Another enormous collection of US songs from the eighteenth century to the 1960s from which sheet music (including covers) may be accessed at levysheetmusic.mse.jhu.edu. A US site uniquely offering a choice of keys for its downloadable song sheets is www.musicnotes.com/sheetmusic. Finally, an interesting site with over 3,000 titles is Historic American Sheet Music 1850-1920 on library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/hasm
you find any of the above information to be
out-of-date please let me know on