Paul Gibson’s Hull and East Yorkshire History

The Albert Hall — the last of Hull's Music Halls?

As the town of Hull expanded in the 19th Century many areas of land formerly used as gardens and orchards were taken up for new buildings. Just such an area of gardens at the west end of Carr Lane was known as ‘Portas’s Gardens’ – sometimes also referred to as Porter’s Gardens. This was land that belonged to the Trinity House estate and when the lease of the land expired in the early 1820s a long line of property was constructed stretching west out of the town, which is clearly shown on Baines’ 1823 plan of Hull. This was named Ocean Place due to its maritime owners and was situated on the south side of the Anlaby Toll-Bar road. The terrace of small properties was supplemented by a large hospital and almshouses in 1848 known as the Mariners Hospital. 

Following the arrival of the railway in Hull and the construction of Paragon Station in 1847 an entrance to the station was made opposite the west end of Ocean Place (the station officially opened in May 1848). As there was no direct route from the station to the large mass of developing roads south of the station a new street was laid out from c.1856, although it had been planned since at least 1848 when it was shown as a ‘proposed street’ on Wilkinson’s plan of Hull made in that year (shown right).

The new street made a direct link from the York & North Midland Railway’s new Paragon Station to Osborne Street, Porter Street and the surrounding area. As it faced the station entrance the new street was officially named Midland Street in 1859. The construction of the new street required the demolition of three properties near the west end of Ocean Place.

The Census of 1861 listed only ten properties in the new Midland Street numbered one to ten from the Porter Street end.  The first occupants included Mr Minty the grocer, Mr Fishwick the fishmonger (naturally), Mrs Scott the dressmaker, Mr Hughes’ refreshment house, Mr Usher the photographer, Mr Dunn the confectioner, Mr Garbutt the boot & shoe maker, Mr Lidster the tobacconist & builder, Mr Briggs a shipping clerk and Mrs Handsom the grocer. The west side of the street appears not to have been built upon until some years later except for the ‘Model Dwellings’ constructed in 1862 at the corner with St Luke Street. The next Census of 1871 listed 11 properties in the street (one to eleven) with still with no sign of property being built on the west side.

Kelly’s directory of 1872 (issued in July of that year) also shows that only the east side was built upon at that date. The same directory listed Mr. William Fussey, who was noted as a ‘marquee maker & china, glass and earthenware dealer at no.44 Osborne Street and No.23 Ocean Place – the ‘Anlaby Yard’, near to the corner of Midland Street on Anlaby Road.  William Fussey was later recorded as the proprietor of the Albert Hall, Midland Street in Butcher & Cos. trade directory of 1874-5. This was the first mention of the hall by name and these dates suggest that the hall was constructed in 1873. Plans in the Hull City Archives confirm the hall was a somewhat speculative venture in April 1873, built behind Mr Fussey’s other ‘houses’ in Ocean Place and fronting Midland Street, confirming the long assumed link between the property that now stands on the site of the houses on Ocean Place, and the Albert Hall itself. The first plans show a simple warehouse on two levels with no use attributed to either floor. Adjoining the building was Mr Chessen’s warehouse (a builder) to the north and Mr Wilson’s warehouse (a provisions merchant) to the south. It is possible that licensing applications had proved difficult (records do not exist for this period) or that Mr Fussey had originally intended this to be simply a warehouse for his many businesses.  A decision was soon made for the use of the new building however, as a year later plans were drawn-up for two tiny ‘dressing rooms’ with a ‘kitchen below’ that were attached to the north-west wall of the building. These plans refer to the building as the ‘Albert Hall Inn’ and were dated and approved in April 1874. The dressing rooms suggest Mr Fussey’s immediate incursion into the entertainment business, which was already a family interest, and the use of music hall acts.  His move was well-timed as he would no doubt be hoping to gain passing foot-trade from the users of the railway station, who may otherwise have headed for the Alhambra Music Hall in Porter Street just a quarter of a mile further on. The Alhambra had opened in 1864 and may well have offered a slightly more up-market list of events. 

The question of licensing arises here and it is clear that the Albert Hall was first and foremost a public house with its drinks license applying to the front and ground floor rooms and first floor ‘Saloon Bar’. The concert room would have been subject to a theatrical license of some sort (legislation from the 1843 Theatres Act is difficult to discern) and would be quite separate. The rooms attached were simply a set of rooms for ‘functions’ and were offered for hire, but also used by the owners for live events for a paying audience. Mr Fussey was quick to point out in the press that ‘the elegant new hall is not a Music Hall but a Public Hall, which may be had on hire for respectable people’, possibly seeking to negate any licensing issues, but the new hall was clearly a music hall in almost every respect. In any event the arrival of a new venue for music hall acts in Hull was duly advertised in the local press within a year of construction; the Hull & North Lincolnshire Times of 23 May 1874 noted: -

‘The Albert Hall – This elegant and commodious building, which will be fitted with a portable Proscenium, Stage, and Scenery, now erecting in Midland Street, will shortly be ready to Let for Entertainments of a first-class character; also for Dinners, Teas, Suppers, Bazaars, Balls, Public Meetings, Lectures, Presentations, or any other respectable purpose for which the Hall, with its rooms, is adapted. For Terms, apply to the proprietor, WM. FUSSEY, Glass and China Rooms, 23 Ocean Place. Dinners, Teas, Suppers &c., provided in the hall, or under marquess (sic).’ 

The Albert Hall duly opened on Thursday 28 May 1874, ‘box office open daily at Mr Fussey’s 23 Ocean Place’, and a review of its opening appeared in the Hull News the following Saturday: - 

‘ENTERTAINMENT AT THE ALBERT HALL.

The new hall, erected by Mr.W. Fussey in Midland-street, from designs by Mr. W. Thompson, Anlaby-road, was opened for public performances on Thursday evening. It is a commodious, comfortable room, capable of seating nearly 800 persons, and it is prettily decorated and fitted up. In connection with the hall there is every accommodation for the provision of teas, dinners, &c. At present the means of ingress and egress are insufficient, but we understand that another entrance will be made which will remove this objection. The entertainment on Thursday night vas under the management of Messrs. Strange and Wilson, who introduced some of Professor Pepper's marvelous optical inventions. These were exhibited during the recital of adaptations of Schiller's poem the Storm of Thoughts, and Dickens's story The Haunted Man. The optical illusions were exceedingly well managed, the counterfeit presentments of the performers being fre­quently mistaken for the originals, and vice versa. By the aid of lenses and powerful lights some very puzzling and startling effects are produced, and the reflected figures are shown more clearly and in better perspective than is usually the case. The entertainment is enlivened by some capital singing, and the concluding portion of it, in which the tenant of a haunted house is perplexed and alarmed by the ghostly shapes which beset him on every hand is very amusing. A cleverly contrived cabinet is also productive of much mirth and mystification, those who enter it disappearing or being transformed in the most surprising. manner. Messrs. Strange and Wilson and the proprietor of the hall have arranged that the proceeds of Monday night's performance shall be given to the Hull Infirmary.’ (sic)

The same edition of the Hull News ran a small advertisement for coming events at the hall including the ‘Aetherscope – a refined and scientific, and marvelous entertainment’ which appeared on Monday 1 June with all proceed going again to the Hull Infirmary. It was also noted that reserved seats (cushioned, numbered and carpeted) were three shillings, front seats (cushioned) were two shillings, back seats were one shilling and the gallery was sixpence. Doors opened at 7:30 pm and the presentation commenced at 8 pm with carriages from 10 pm.  Most of the early advertisements for the Hall and its events were ended with reference to the ‘sole proprietors Messrs Strange & Wilson’ but it is difficult to see what relationship they had with the hall or Mr Fussey.

The 1881 Census listed William Fussey resident at No.23 Ocean Place; he was Hull born and aged 53 years. Also resident were his wife and sister and his ten children. He appears to have had dealings with the music halls prior to his tenure at the Albert Hall and a probable relative of his was the proprietor of a music hall in Hull in the early 1870s when Thomas Fussey was the proprietor of a concert hall & refreshment room at No.13 George Street. This simple property in George Street was later the site of a famous Hull landmark - the Grand Theatre.

Music Halls

Music halls had first appeared in Hull in the 1830s when part of the Assembly Rooms in Kingston Square were first used as the ‘Hull Music Hall’ with seating for 600 (advert in Eastern Counties Herald 18 November 1838). In 1845 Mr Skelton held a ‘Grand Concert’ in the ‘Music Hall, Jarratt Street’ and throughout the 1850s and 1860s new music halls appeared in Hull following the national trend, although none were purpose-built. A converted waxworks on the site of the former Mechanic’s Institute in George Street was used as a music hall from 1851 when the proprietor realised real-life, moving acts were out-selling his static entertainments, and this was to become the more familiar Majestic, and later the Criterion Theatre.

Shown right is the 1908 Ordnance Survey plan showing the location of the Albert Hall, marked P.H. for public house.

Nationally music halls had developed out of the musical entertainment given in the upper or back rooms of pubs from the 1830s onward - often known as ‘singing rooms’ or ‘free and easys’. The success of this type of entertainment began a trend of larger ‘concert rooms’ often called saloons, to be built in pubs and eventually to the construction of music halls as separate buildings with their own identity. In Hull we had many examples including: - the Plough Inn and Harmonic Tavern, in Robinson Row (c.1855), the Harmonic Tavern, at Stepney (c.1842), the Ship Saloon & Concert Room, at no.80 Lowgate (c.1842) and the very grand Neptune Concert Hall, at the corner of Paragon Street and Chariot Street (c.1858). The saloons were soon restricted by the licensing authorities when in 1843 they were required to either register as theatres, in which case they lost the right to serve drinks in the auditorium, or to cease anything that could be described as ‘theatrical entertainment’. Channel 4’s ‘Musicality’ website gave a concise description of events in a chapter entitled ‘Beery Origins’: -

‘Musicals are as British as warm beer. They were born in olde England taverns when veteran boozers burst into song. Eventually, in the 1840s, these sing-songs were organised on the public stage and called music hall – the first truly British popular entertainment. In 1843, the Theatres Act forced pubs to choose between offering solo artistes who sang while the public drank, or becoming serious theatres with no drinking allowed. Charles Morton, licensee of the Canterbury pub in south London, is credited with inventing music hall when he built a hall next to his pub in 1852. He upgraded the fun by including opera arias as well as ballads. By the 1860s, music hall was a major industry. Stars such as Marie Lloyd, Dan Leno, Little Tich and Vesta Tilley sang songs like 'My Old Man Said Follow the Van', 'Down at the Old Bull and Bush' and 'I'm Henery the Eighth I Am'.

Respectability came when George V attended the first Royal Command Variety Performance at the Palace Theatre in 1912.’ From this point most developed into popular theatres and from the 1850s it was often hard to distinguish between pubs, music halls and small popular theatres. The music halls initially retained the seating arrangements usually found in the pub with benches and tables, which enabled the audience to drink whilst being entertained and usually there was one or more bars off the concert room, often with glass screens giving a view of the stage’.

Albert Hall continued …

The success or otherwise of the Albert Hall in Hull as a music venue is unclear but in 1890 historian Edmund Wrigglesworth noted it was ‘occasionally used as a place of entertainment’ in his ‘Guide to Hull’. Certainly it was rarely if ever described as a music hall per-se and was noted mostly as the Albert Hall Inn, simply as a public house. Evidence of its theatrical use does exist in the form of a promotional leaflet, which notes the hall as the Royal Albert Hall and gives details of a performance of an Irish Drama ‘The Colleen Dawn’ performed in October 1886 by the Hull Thespian Society. The dramatic nature of this performance suggests that the hall had taken a theatre license and would have therefore needed a separate licensed area for drinks. Its elaborate decoration was not unusual for its time and has as much to do with competition from gin palaces and larger pubs as the suggestion of activities within. However decoration does suggest a musical theme with its figures playing drums, pipes and other simple instruments, whereas the later 1880s tiled first-floor frontage owes more to standard utilitarian Victorian pub décor. 

In 1892 the Albert Hall was acquired by Worthington’s who bought the estate of the Exchange Brewery (formerly the South Myton Brewery) in Porter Street. The South Myton Brewery had formerly owned the Albert Hall and 23 other pubs in the area. It seems that this was the last point at which the first floor hall was used as a performing stage; plans from 1907 show it had been converted to a five table billiards room some time prior to that date. Interestingly the ‘saloon Bar’’ was still in-situ as was the small gallery on the small second floor, situated at the rear of the hall overlooking Midland Street. In 1935 the vaulted ceiling in the former concert room was lowered and the billiards tables reduced to two, located in the ground floor rear room, when space was made for a larger ‘lounge’ to add to the licensed area of the pub. The Albert Hall narrowly avoided damage in 1941 when the east side of Midland Street (see 1940s photo above) suffered damage due to the intense bombing all around it in Osborne Street and Anlaby Road.

The pub only received a full on-license (seven days) in March 1953 when it took the suspended license of the Albany Hotel in Waterworks Street, which closed following the Blitz of 1941. At this point living accommodation was constructed at the rear of the premises with a kitchen and lounge taking the space of the former smaller billiards room with three bedrooms and a bathroom above. Sadly at the same point a glazed curving ceramic bar in the downstairs bar was replaced with a square smaller version. The Albert Hall closed as a ‘pub’ in 1965 when its licence was transferred to the Schooner, a new pub on Anlaby Park Road North. From the late 1960s it was developed as a Bingo Hall and was known as the Fair & Square Club in the 1970s - as shown right.

An approved planning application has been pending for the Albert Hall site for several years, and the future of what is almost certainly Hull’s earliest surviving buildings that was once used as a music hall is in doubt. Due to its present state I would suspect demolition to be the only outcome for the hall as plans for a hotel complex hang over the area like a dark cloud. Protests against the plans have been heard from individuals (including myself) and interested groups nationwide since the plans were proposed, and public opinion is to say the least disappointed on the apparent future of the Albert Hall.

All of the colour photographs seen here were taken on 25 August 2009 and show the present disgraceful state that the hall has been allowed to deteriorate to. The associated buildings fronting Anlaby Road that link with the Albert Hall at the rear of the property are in a similar state. It looks increasingly likely that the building may become victim to the vandals and arsonists who all too regularly take advantage of such neglected old buildings. Hang your head in shame Hull City Council - another irreplaceable piece of Hull's architectural and social heritage is crumbling in front of your eyes. It's not too late to be saved but it soon will be - in the present economic climate I feel that a hotel development of this size will be delayed for some time yet, however, the Albert Hall frontage, which is likely to be the only bit that is saved or indeed worth saving, will not survive another winter in its present state.

Instead of the roller-shutter doors that were initially planned for this historic frontage, all that it needs to survive until it is (hopefully) restored is a little TLC. A small input of cash and perhaps a little protection from the elements may yet save the day - but it will have to come quick - very quick.

UPDATE - July 2013 - Nothing came from the plans mentioned above and currently the pavement below the formre Albert Hall is fenced off as the frontage is in danger of collapse due to these years of shamefull neglect by the owner and lack of action by the local council to help preserve this buildings details.

As I feared - it will soon become another part of our social history that will be lost to the poeple of Hull. Don't say I didnt warn you ...

Select list of licensees

1873 Albert Hall Inn, William Fussey, (plans) ; 1874-1885 W. Fussey proprietor, Albert Hall; 1888-1889 Thomas Cook, victualler, Albert Hall p.h. ; 1892 George Robert Reader, vict., Albert Hall ; 1895-1897 William James Gook, Albert Hall Inn, 15 Midland Street ; 1901 T. Stamp manager, Albert Hall Inn, Midland Street ; 1905 William Dix, Albert Hall Inn ; 1907 Joshua Kendall, Albert Hall Inn ; 1909 John Sherman, Albert Hall Inn ; 1916 Harry Harris, Albert Hall Inn ; 1921 Robert Dunn, Albert Hall Inn ; 1925-1939 Thomas Allen, Albert Hall ; 1954 Albert Hall, Midland Street ; 1960 Albert Hall Inn, Midland Street.                  

© Paul L Gibson 2005

Updated for the web August 2009

Brief Bibliography & Sources 

History of the Streets of Hull. J Richardson, a Malet Lambert re-print of an original series of articles in the East Yorkshire Times in 1915. Hull, 1980s.

Landlord, Graham Wilkinson, unpublished 2005 version

1861 Census CD Rom

1871 Census CD Rom

Trade directories, various

Victorian Pubs, Mark Girouard, Yale University Press 1984

Illustrated Guide to Hull. Edmund Wrigglesworth, Brown & Sons. Hull, 1890.

Buildings plans OBL/4067 (1873), OBL/3273 (1874) c/o Hull City Archive

Last Complete Performance: In Memory of Hull’s Cinemas. Robert Curry, Hutton Press and Hull College Local History Unit. Cherry Burton, 1992.

Around the Wolds, Issue 81 Christmas 2001(?), a letter from Peter Burgess.

1970s photograph courtesy John Wiles

F S Smith sketch of Midland Street courtesy Hull City Museums & Art Galleries

www.channel4.com/learning/microsites/I/ideasfactory/musicality/musical_moments/

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