Marie Lloyd, Dr Crippen and the Bedford Music Hall in Camden

Marie Lloyd at home in 1921, a year before she died.

Marie Lloyd at home in 1921, a year before she died.

There is a strange, but rather brilliant documentary, directed in 1967 by Norman Cohen, called The London Nobody Knows, the beginning of which features a slightly incongruous James Mason, in very smart polished shoes, gingerly stepping over the literally putrefying remains of an old music hall theatre.

The building was the Bedford Music Hall on Camden High Street and it was said to be Marie Lloyd’s favourite place to perform. Unfortunately the theatre closed permanently in 1959 and the sad, rotting building was eventually demolished ten years later. Two years after nearly ruining James Mason’s brogues.

Excerpt from The London That Nobody Knows

At one point in the film James Mason mentions, with a wry smile on his face, that an early regular performer at the Music Hall may well have still been haunting the place – a local singer called Belle Elmore.

Elmore’s stage career was relatively unsuccessful and her name is unknown to most of us today, especially as a Music Hall artiste. However, after her death in 1910 she achieved notoriety throughout the land, not as a singer, but as the murdered wife of the infamous Dr Hawley Harvey Crippen.

The Bedford Theatre in 1949

The Bedford Theatre in 1949

Belle Elmore in 1900, ten years before she was murdered by her husband.

Belle Elmore in 1900, ten years before she was murdered by her husband.

Dr Crippen

Dr Crippen

Before the infamous Doctor had murdered Elmore and subsequently burnt her bones in the oven, dissolved her internal organs in an acid bath, buried what was left of the torso under bricks in the basement and placed her decapitated head in a handbag which was subsequently thrown overboard on a day-trip to Dieppe, the married couple lived at 39 Hilldrop Crescent. It was quite a salubrious address about a mile from the Bedford Music Hall.

Hilldrop Crescent near Holloway in 1910

Hilldrop Crescent near Holloway in 1910

Dr Crippen is notorious, of course, for being the first murderer to be arrested with the use of telephony when, during an attempted escape to Canada on the SS Montrose with his young lover Ethel Le Neve, Captain Henry George Kendall sent a telegraph back to England saying:

Have strong suspicions that Crippen London cellar murderer and accomplice are among saloon passengers. Moustache taken off growing beard. Accomplice dressed as boy. Manner and build undoubtedly a girl.

Chief Inspector Dew, who had already once interviewed Crippen and initially decided that he was innocent, took the faster White Line steamer – the SS Laurentic – to Canada. On the 31 July 1910 the Inspector greeted the couple when they met him on the ship:

Good morning, Dr Crippen. Do you know me? I’m Chief Inspector Dew from Scotland Yard.

After a pause, Crippen replied,

Thank God it’s over. The suspense has been too great. I couldn’t stand it any longer.

Crippen then held out his arms for his handcuffs. Dew later recalled:

Old Crippen took it quite well. He always was a bit of a philosopher, though he could not have helped being astounded to see me on board the boat. He was quite a likeable chap in his way.

Chief Inspector Walter Dew

Chief Inspector Walter Dew

Dr Crippen being led off the SS Montrose, seemingly by one of the Thompson twins but more likely by Chief Inspector Dew

Dr Crippen being led off the SS Montrose, seemingly by one of the Thompson twins but more likely by Chief Inspector Dew

Ethel Le Neve circa 1910

Ethel Le Neve circa 1910

The final resting place of a bit of Belle Elmore

The final resting place of a bit of Belle Elmore

The Hallway at 39 Hilldrop Crescent

The Hallway at 39 Hilldrop Crescent

Crippen and Ethel Le Neve were tried separately by the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey and Crippen, likeable philosopher or not, was found guilty after just 27 minutes by the jury and subsequently hanged at Pentonville prison in November 1910. Ethel Le Neve, however, was acquitted and only died in 1967 – not long after James Mason was filmed exploring what was left of the Bedford Music Hall.

The Old Bailey during the trial of Dr Crippen August 10th 1910

The Old Bailey during the trial of Dr Crippen August 10th 1910

James Mason in his piece about the old theatre in Camden failed to relate that only nine years after Marie Lloyd’s fiftieth birthday celebrations (which were incidentally held at the Bedford), and seven years after her death in 1922, the comic-actor Peter Sellers actually lived at the Bedford with his mother and grandmother in a rented flat above the entrance in Camden High Street.

Sellers’ mother was performing at the Bedford in a production called ‘Ha!Ha!!Ha!!!’ along with his father. When the revue finished, Peter’s father Bill suddenly decided to leave home forever, leaving Peter, his mother, and grandmother to totally fend for themselves while still living upstairs at the theatre. Sellers may well have been still living in the flat above the Bedford when he performed, at the age of five, with his mother in a revue called Splash Me! at the Windmill theatre in Great Windmill Street.

The Bedford Theatre’s fortunes eventually declined and, like many other theatres and converted cinemas in London, it eventually capitulated to its unavoidable fate when it fell dark completely in 1959.

Bedford House on Camden High Street

Bedford House on Camden High Street in 2007

Dr Crippen’s old address, 39 Hilldrop Crescent, was spared the indignity of being demolished at the whim of a sixties Camden council planning meeting, but only because it was destroyed by a bomb in the Second World War. It was replaced, like so many other buildings, by a nondescript block of flats. Another nondescript block was built to replace the Bedford Theatre. It is still known as Bedford House though.

39 Hilldrop Crescent today

39 Hilldrop Crescent today

Marie Lloyd and Claire Loumaine 1913

Marie Lloyd and Claire Loumaine 1913

If Heat magazine, or perhaps Perez Hilton, had existed before the First World War they would have surely printed the picture above which features a 43 year old Marie Lloyd embracing and kissing a woman called Claire Loumaine. The photograph was taken on 25th April at Paddington Station where the music hall star had gone to meet Loumaine on her return from Australia.

Does anyone know who Claire Loumaine is? I can’t find anything about her at all.

Nine years after Marie Lloyd greeted her close friend off the train at Paddington the music hall star collapsed on stage during a rendition of one of her most famous songs I’m One of the Ruins That Cromwell Knocked About a Bit. The crowd continued laughing thinking that the staggering around that preceded the fall was all part of her act. Lloyd was desperately ill however, and died soon after on 7th October 1922. One hundred thousand people were reported to have attended her funeral five days later in Hampstead.

A twenty year old Marie Lloyd in 1890

A twenty year old Marie Lloyd in 1890

Marie Lloyd – A Little Of What You Fancy Does You Good

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35 Responses to “Marie Lloyd, Dr Crippen and the Bedford Music Hall in Camden”

  1. Paolo Meccano says:

    As ever, another excellent post and thanks for the Marie Lloyd soundfile.

    I have Barbara Windsor’s version of the song (I’m ignorant as to the circumstances of her recording) and if you’d like to hear it (if you don’t already have it), please let me know.

  2. I love this blog. A fascinating post.
    Claire Loumaine must be a friend or a relative of Lloyd’s, otherwise a google search on her name should show SOMETHING, if he had achieved fame of some sort…
    How sad it was to see how the Bedford Music Hall was allowed to rot that way – really sad. And that story about Dr. Crippen is really interesting, you hear a lot of references to him here and there. Isn’t Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux loosely based on the Crippen story?

  3. Simon says:

    Marie Lloyd was a Hoxton girl, as I was a Hoxton boy, and the block of flats I grew up in was named after her. There’s also a pub named after around the corner from there.

  4. Paul says:

    Your all too infrequent posts are something I really look forward to. Thank you

  5. J.D. King says:

    Fantastic, stem to stern!

  6. nickelinthemachine says:

    Hey, thanks Mike. That’s her isn’t it? Not much information about her except on that site. I wonder if there’s any recordings of her.

    Rob

  7. sid smith says:

    Another top notch post Rob. I was shocked to discover through your block that Crippen’s lover died only as recently as 1967. I wonder if she ever spoke of the trial and the experience to anyone?

  8. Conrad says:

    Great piece of work. I only found Another Nickel In The Machine a couple of months ago, and already I look forward to the next enstallment. Any chance of something about Ealing? In way case, carry on the fantastic work.

  9. belinda ackermann says:

    real delight to read
    i like a previous commenter look forward to you posts
    thanks

  10. Paul Duane says:

    Fascinating stuff – I’d come across the Bedford in The London Nobody Knows, but also through the recollections of elderly Camden winos who used to kip in there during its latter days, they recall it as a dangerous place to wander about while drunk as you could fall to your death through any of the many massive holes in the floor!

  11. Cris Warren says:

    Hello, great post – as ever. Iwonder if you might be able to give me a ring on (0117) 3171717 for a quick chat re Cripen.

    All the best

    Cris Warren
    Icon Films

  12. Laurence Miller says:

    Came across this fascinating item while idly surfing. Now aged 82 I well recall being taken to the old Bedford when young and seeing many of the stars of the music hall, even on one occasion, George Robey giving a charity performance ! Apropos Crippen, I remember my father telling me a bizarre joke which went the rounds at the time -’They tried Crippen for the murder of his wife, but she was in court all the time, but she was too cut up to say anything.’ Sorry.

  13. Mac says:

    Walked past that spot on my way to Mornington Cresent, (no access to tube via camden, thank you very bloody much), every street can have it’s tales can’t it?

    Anyway, hope you do come back and carry on the good work of educating, entertaining, and enlightening us.

  14. nickelinthemachine says:

    Hey thanks for the lovely comment. I’ll be back soon, I love writing this blog too much. Cheers.

  15. Jason Webber says:

    Fascinating post!

    For interest here is a link to the handcuffs used on Dr Crippen

    http://www.20thcenturylondon.org.uk/server.php?show=conObject.5105

    You may find other material on the website interesting and useful.

  16. John Corke says:

    I was most interested in the film snip of the Bedford music hall as my great Grandfather was Henry Hart the proprietor of the Bedford and other music halls and would be grateful of any other information anyone has on him.

  17. Frances Keyland says:

    Have just read a book by Daniel Farson on Marie Lloyd. In the 60′s he and Joan Littlewood had worked on a play on her life, with Avis Bunnage as Marie, however Ned Sherrin had also written a play on Marie Lloyd called Sing a Rude Song in which Barbara Windsor played Marie.

  18. Denise Kennedy says:

    Hi

    I know this was posted a while ago, but I agree with Mike, this is Claire Romaine – male impersonator in the music halls who was married to the composer Edgar Romaine. Claire ended up living with Bella Burge (Marie Lloyd’s friend and dresser, music hall artiste Bella Lloyd/Ella Lane, and the first female boxing promoter at the Blackfriars Ring 1910 – 1940/42) until her death in 1964.

    Denise kennedy

  19. lynne susan says:

    I came upon this site by accident,its amazing ,so informative.
    Keep up the good work.

  20. susan mcalister says:

    Me and my brother used to play in the Bedford when we were kids. Around 1960. There were a lot of tramps in there and sometimes they would chase us out. We got in around the back by climbing in a pit of rubbish and going through a door. We had so much fun . Went all over it. My brothers friend lived in a flat above the entrance on Camden high st it was a bit creepy in his flat. Anyone else play there?

  21. [...] Crippen and Ethel Le Neve [Crippen's young mistress] were tried separately by the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey and Crippen, likeable philosopher or not, was found guilty after just 27 minutes by the jury and subsequently hanged at Pentonville prison in November 1910. Ethel Le Neve, however, was acquitted and only died in 1967 — not long after James Mason was filmed exploring what was left of the Bedford Music Hall.” – from Another Nickel in the Machine [...]

  22. Stephen says:

    As I strolled near Hilldrop Crescent the other day I noticed that the old folks’ home nearby is called ‘Elmore House’. Someone has a rather macabre sense of humour!

  23. Marion says:

    Hi, I was wondering if I could get the picture of Lloyd kissing the French woman ( is she French) in high resolution? Do you know where I could maybe find a print as well?

    Thanks

    Marion

  24. Margaret McNeill says:

    Has anyone seen the documentary about Dr Crippen ? Recent findings cast doubt upon his guilt. Belle Ellmore (mrs Crippen) had, prior to her ‘murder’ arranged to go to America, and had bags and cases picked up from 10 Hilldrop Close. The human remains, found in the celler (reputed to be those of the ‘murdered’ wife, were DNA tested in recent years, and found to be MALE !!!!!

  25. Margaret McNeill says:

    Sorry……39, Hilldrop Crescent !

  26. Nikki jones says:

    Has there been a book writen about Marie lloyd?? If so do you know what it is called so that i can get a copy, as jessie Wallace talks about reading books on her. Is there a biography written about her. Could you email me about this please thank you. It is really interesting what you have written about her.

  27. Richard says:

    This is the best I think:

    Midge Gillies, Marie Lloyd: The One and Only (London: Victor Gollancz, 1999).

  28. Gene says:

    A fascinating post I found after reading of the death of Al Bowly. FWIW, the observant Captain Kendall of the Montrose had his moment of infamy as well. In 1914 he was the Captain of the ill-fated Empress of Ireland which sank in the St Lawrence with great loss of life. The Empress was the second of the ‘Big Three’ sunken passenger liners which had hearings headed by Lord Mersey. The other two were Titanic and Lusitania. RIP!

  29. Seanie says:

    Hi

    Thanks for the interesting blog

    The “Bedford House” on Camden High Rd shown in your picture is at 131 – 133 Camden High St

    The Bedford Theatre was at 93-95 where Jobcentreplus is today in another garish modern building

    If the numbers haven’t been rigged (I’m pretty sure they haven’t ) Bedford House is not the site of the old Theatre

  30. DONALD says:

    marie lloyd appeared at both the new gaeity theatre and kings theatre in dundee scotland between 1908 and 1920
    her rival vesta tilley also appeared at the new gaeity theatre in 1908 as well

  31. Debra Gosling says:

    I have just seen this website and read the posting by John Corke in 2009.
    If Mr Corke could contact me I have some information on his great grandfather Henry Hart. Thanks and love this website!

  32. Mike Terran says:

    Seanie is correct, The Bedford was at 93-95 Camden High Road (Mary Terrace runs alongside where the theatre stood). Not the Bedford House location (which was a Fine Fare supermarket at the time of The Bedford finally being demolished).

  33. john corke says:

    would love to hear from Debra Gosling, how do I get in touch?

  34. debra Gosling says:

    Hello John Corke,

    Please email me: debrajgosling@gmail.com

    Thanks.

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