Revised October 2017
The first step when searching for information is, predictably, to surf Google. 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 the sites' lack of facts and figures. Genealogy sites are not listed.
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. See newspapers.bl.uk/blcs/ for details. 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 http://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'. Requests for information may be sent to The Editor, The Stage, 43 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3XT (email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
A site which, uniquely, takes queries is http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/ArthurLloydForum.htm
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 http://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. Email your query to firstname.lastname@example.org or ring 0117 331 5086.
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, 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. For details ring 0300 123 1837. 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 Sharman's Music Hall
This database covers the years 1838-1944, though the great majority of entries is for 1911 to 1918. This 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. Email your queries to email@example.com.
The London Music Hall Database
Prof 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
An appeal for information in Call Boy, the quarterly journal of the British Music Hall Society, may be made via the editor, Geoff Bowden, on email@example.com
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)
SIBMAS The International Directory of Performing Arts Collections and Institutions may be found on:
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, International Reply Coupons. Do not send unsolicited photographs, original documents, etc., without prior agreement.
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.
Some 70 catalogues, including the Bodleian and the BL, may be searched simultaneously through http://copac.ac.uk A site with access to over 72,000 titles is www.sheetmusicwarehouse.co.uk; the charge is around £10 per song.
Mechanical Copyright Protection Society/The Performing Right Society
Information about songs, though not actual copies, may be gleaned from these Societies which list titles under their current copyright holders. Send your queries by email to details@MCPS.co.uk or by fax to 0207 306 4350. Queries are not dealt with by phone.
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. For copies phone 08707 702480.
Further Recommended Sources
Also try www.musicroom.com which 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. A further vast collection of song lyrics is viewable on lyricsplayground.com/alpha/p.html.
Dinosaur Discs have an immense collection of old 78s and will send you copies or make up a compilation on CD. See their website 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 songs 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 of 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.com
If you find any of the above to be out-of-date please let me know on