As we approach the zenith of the holiday season, schools are closed for Christmas – to the relief of the staff and the possible anticipation of parents awaiting the dreaded cry of ‘I’m bo-o-o-red!!’ – it is worth remembering that this was not always so. When the Royal Masonic first began, there were no school holidays at all, of any kind. This was not unusual for schools and, even when holidays were established, it was not rare to find pupils remaining at school during a time when the rest of their schoolfellows went home. Who can forget the episode in A Christmas Carol when Scrooge is shown his younger self, alone, kicking his heels in the schoolroom, abandoned by his family?
Two newspaper reports in the 1890s draw our attention to the fact that some girls remained in the RMIG school house over the Christmas break but not, thankfully, maundering in the classroom. Indeed, they were right royally entertained. We do not have the records for which girls had stayed at school over Christmas but in 1896, they were treated to a theatre visit, kindly supplied by one of the managers of the Princess’ Theatre.
The theatre had opened in 1840 on the site of what had once been the Royal Bazaar which had been destroyed by fire but quickly rebuilt and named the Queen’s Bazaar. It was at what was then 73 Oxford Street and “It had three tiers of boxes around a rectangular pit, plus a gallery.” http://www.theatrestrust.org.uk/resources/theatres/show/3271-princess-s-london
The theatre was extensively re-modelled in 1880 which alterations caused the neighbouring jeweller’s shop to fall down. The girls visited the Theatre on December 31, 1896 and in 1897 it underwent further alterations but clearly not enough to keep it viable as it closed in 1902.
(All images of the theatre from http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/Princess.htm)
“The Princess’s Theatre was demolished in 1931 to make way for a large Woolworth store, which itself was replaced by a shopping centre, Oxford walk, which was subsequently replaced by HMV, Oxford Street. The numbering of the street has changed and the site is now at No. 150, Oxford Street.“ Information courtesy of Graham Hoadly from http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/Princess.htm
Robert Arthur and Albert Gilmer were the managers of the theatre at the turn of the century although it should be noted that on July 11, 1897, the New York Times announced that George Edwardes had “entered into partnership with Albert Gilmer for the management next season of the Princess’ Theatre. They will open in the Autumn with a spectacular melodrama now being written for them by Cecil Raleigh and Seymour Hicks, and which they announce will be produced on a scale of magnificence as yet unequaled on the London stage.” http://socrates.litsios.org/site/the-life-of-selskar-gunn/his-theatrical-heritage/
However, the play that the girls saw was Two Little Vagabonds written by Shirley & Sims.
Arthur Shirley was ‘a writer and actor, known for The Grip of Iron (1920), My Old Dutch (1915) and Under Two Flags (1916).’ http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0794298/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm George Robert Sims, also a writer and director, was ‘known for Lady Letmere’s Jewellery (1908), The Great Day (1920) and The Life Line (1919).’ http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0801311/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm
From a newspaper article in The Mercury of Hobart, Tasmania [when the play toured Australia] we are told:
‘Mr. G. R. Sims (who was the joint author with Mr Arthur Shirley) has given the piece a certain amount of characteristic Cockney humour. Such a grim rascal as Bill Mullins, “the gaffer,” and the two thieves, Dido Bounce, and “Cough Drop” …’ http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/9682647
The newspaper article describes the play as ‘a sensational drama of the highest type, being wholesome in sentiment, and exquisite in pathos, relieved by many humorous situations.’ It had been ‘adapted from “Les Deux Gosses” from M. Pierre Decourcelle “Les Deux Gosses” was secured in Paris in March 1896, which was at the “Ambigu”. In September 1897 the play was acted simultaneously at the Pavilion, Surrey and Lyric Hamm., as well as on tour.’ http://webs.ono.com/arthurshirley/PLAYS/Two_Little_Vagabonds.htm
(the second of these images is from
That this play was popular can be testified to by the fact that by 1923, it had been seen by almost 15 million people.
In 1894, (or the Christmas of 1893), those remaining at school over the holidays had been entertained by the Lord Mayor and Lady Mayoress of London at Mansion House. Perhaps some of the same pupils who were later treated to the theatre visit also experienced this.
The Egyptian Hall (https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/about-the-city/the-lord-mayor/mansion-house/Pages/inside-mansion-house.aspx informs us) should really be termed the Roman Hall as there is nothing Egyptian about it. Based on classical Vitruvian designs it is, however, drawn from Roman buildings found in Egypt and hence, presumably, the name. This style was very popular in the C18th, inspired by Palladio. The girls were probably more interested in the dancing and the magician than the architecture!
The Magic Lantern is the forerunner of the modern slide projector. In the 1890s, Magic Lantern Shows were extremely popular and could be argued to be the forerunner of film. The best of them used ‘most of the techniques that we today consider ‘the art of the cinema,’ — dissolves, fades, superimpositions, cross-editing, different forms of lighting, different camera angles. The result is an exciting and ‘cinematic’ interpretation of many of the great stories and songs of the Victorian period.’ http://www.magiclantern.org.uk/history/history01.php
On 28 December 1895 the Lumière Brothers gave their first public showing of the Cinématographe at the Grand Cafe, Boulevard des Capucines, Paris. This spelled the end for the magic lantern show as public entertainment but lantern projection continued in widespread use in areas like education. There are no records of what the girls saw in their magic lantern show although the Library Committee was responsible for the direction of the Guildhall Library and Art Gallery, other Corporation libraries, the Barbican Art Gallery and the Guildhall Museum (now part of the Museum of London), so perhaps their show related to these institutions.
The Lord Mayor who invited the pupils was Sir George Robert Tyler and his wife Lady Emily Eleanor Tyler, nee Robinson. Sir George was a founder of
‘Venables, Tyler and Son, papermakers of 17 Queenhithe. Venables, Tyler & Co first appear in the City of London trade directories in 1817. Partners in the firm included two Lord Mayors of London, William Venables (1825) and Sir George Robert Tyler (1893). Sir George was a councilman and alderman from 1887 to his death, a Sheriff of London for 1891-2, and Lord Mayor of London for 1893-4. He was Master of the Stationers’ Company for 1893-4. He was made a baronet, of Queenhithe, in 1894.’ (Wikipedia & discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk)
(oil painting by Benedict Hyland)
In one of those small world moments, the honoured guest at the School’s Prize Day in 2015 was ‘Alderman Dame Fiona Woolf DBE [who] was the Lord Mayor of London for the year 2013/14 as the 686th Lord Mayor, and only the second woman to hold the role since 1189’ http://www.fionawoolf.com/
Dame Fiona, it transpired, had a connection to the School. Her aunts, the Hart twins, had been former pupils and in her speech to the present pupils of RMSG, Dame Fiona said:
My aunts … were an inspiration to me. They taught me that you can have the courage to make an active personal contribution in a diverse challenging world knowing that your education has enabled you to learn anything … this school [gave] them the amazing start in life that instilled in me, a generation later, the enthusiasm and confidence to know that there should be no limit to my ambition.
The pupils who were listening to her in 2015 and those that had been entertained by Dame Fiona’s predecessor 119 years previously might both have been astonished by their surprising connection!