Fundraising, singing and non-stop dancing
Fancy Dress Ball
In the nineteenth century the fancy dress ball took over from the older ‘masked ball’. Instead of wearing masks, the dancers chose costumes associated with historic periods or famous figures of the past, such as Queen Elizabeth I and Napoleon Bonaparte.
Some inventive participants might attempt to personify night, or spring, or another abstract concept, hoping to win a prize for the most original costume. The poster announces that prizes for the best costumes will be awarded at this ball in Battersea Town Hall.
Costumes in 1922 were not as elaborate as some fancy-dress costumes today and were either home-made or hired rather than purchased. The fancy-dress sales industry did not really take off until the 1990s.
The music to be heard is described as ‘up to date’ and it is to be played by the Orpheus Jazz Orchestra. The first jazz band ever heard in the UK was the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, who played at the Hammersmith Palais in 1919.
In the 1920s there was great interest in breaking all sorts of records. In 1923 dancers were attempting to establish non-stop dancing records across Europe and North America. Other dancers were entering competitions for non-stop dancing and, by the 1930s, ‘marathon dances’ were common.
Some dance halls held 24-hour events with music played on gramophones, but Battersea has opted for just three hours and a live band. This Saturday evening dance is advertised as ending at 11:45 PM, just before a special Sunday licence would have been required from the local magistrate.
It is likely that a competitive element featured in the Battersea dance, because there are tickets are available for those who wish only to view rather than participate. This would ensure a larger attendance and help in raising money for the two Battersea hospitals.
It is interesting that the poster states that the dance takes place under the auspices of the Mayor of Battersea. The year before, the Mayor of Sunderland had described non-stop dances as ‘an idiotic exhibition verging on lunacy’ (Manchester Guardian, 10 Apr. 1923).
The poster shows an untypical image of the celebrated music-hall entertainer Gus Elen (1862–1940) because his usual stage character was that of the costermonger, or coster, who earned a living selling fruit and vegetables from a barrow in the street. Gus Elen was often regarded as a more realistic Cockney than his rival music-hall star Albert Chevalier.
The poster in our collection advertises it as a “High Class concert” which might be a bit tongue-in-cheek, as music-hall was usually understood to be a popular, working class entertainment.
He holds sheets of some of his most popular songs. The most prominent is ‘If It Wasn’t for the ’Ouses in Between’, which he first sang in 1894. It was a humorous Cockney commentary on cramped housing in London. One line runs: ‘Wiv a ladder and some glasses, you could see to Hackney Marshes, if it wasn’t for the ’ouses in between’.
Another song sheet that is just visible is ‘It’s a Great Big Shame’ (1895), which tells of a large, burly man who has fallen victim to a tiny, bullying wife. Pathé brought Elen out of retirement in 1932 to film him performing this song in a Wardour Street studio.
Infant Welfare Exhibition
This poster is undated, but likely to date from the 1920s-1930s. Battersea was in the forefront of the maternity and child welfare movement. Dr McCleary had set up a milk depot in 1902, and later opened the first London’s first infant consultation centre in Battersea.
Statutory authorities and private agencies became involved in promoting infant health, and it is likely that this exhibition in Battersea Town Hall was organized by a combination of municipal and voluntary health workers.
When it opened in 1893, Battersea Town Hall had a Medical Officer’s Room and a Sanitary Office, which, among other things, would have managed public health education campaigns, as well as overseeing drainage and sewers in the Borough. It is likely that this office would have been involved in staging the Infant Welfare exhibition. Public Health (Prevention and Treatment of Disease) Act 1913, authorised county boroughs and county councils to make arrangements for the treatment of tuberculosis (a major cause of infant mortality at the time, and still, in many places, today).
The term ‘cinematograph’ referred to a film camera that also functioned as a film projector. The lectures are illustrated with relevant films. This may be seen as a forerunner of PowerPoint presentations.
The pioneering by French filmmakers the Lumière Brothers had made the cinematograph popular around the world by 1900. It weighed just over 7 kilograms, which meant it could be transported easily.
One lecture includes a demonstration of wireless telephony, which in a few years would be known as the wireless set (or, simply, the wireless) in the UK and the radio in the USA.
Temperance choirs had first formed in the nineteenth century, often emerging from Methodist chapels. They fought to promote sobriety and warned of the dangers of alcohol abuse. These choirs were very fond of choral competitions, which sometimes meant that they fought with each other.
There is no indication of the musical items on the programme of this particular concet, but it is likely that many would be drawn from the temperance music published by the Church of England and by Curwen. It may have included a ‘temperance cantata’, which was a mixture of music and narrative.