the friend online
26 June 2009

From music hall to hip hop

Trish Carn charts the history of Hoxton Hall as the trustees and the wider community celebrate ninety-nine years in their ‘new’ addition

Hoxton Hall entertainments opened in 1863 with a new music hall for the east end of London. The Shoreditch Observer reported in November that ‘the series of entertainments… provided during the last week have been most successful, and have attracted large and attentive assemblies… Among the special features of the week we may notice the very skilful performances of Professor Longrenia, the wizard, which were most interesting and gave great satisfaction… The performances of the Orpheus Quartet are also deserving of most favourable mention; and the splendid series of views exhibited by means of the lime light by Mr Seppings are an exhibition in themselves… On Wednesday last, Thomas O’Brien, Esq, gave a very able political review of the House of Commons in the time of Pitt… and on Wednesday next he will treat the very important subject of the Equalisation of the poor-rates, on which occasion we would seriously advise all parochial authorities and others interested in the question to attend.’

McDonald’s Music Hall was recommended by The Era 15 January 1871: ‘In the locality in which this hall is situated good provision is made for the gratification of both the people who like to go to the playhouse to see splendid scenery and talented acting, and those who enjoy taking their ease while smoking or drinking and listening to comic vocalists in a Concert Hall.’

However, this came to an end when McDonald’s Music Hall lost its licence and was purchased by London-born William Noble. William was described as a ‘somewhat wilful and unruly boy, who ran away from a school in Yorkshire, and therefore was placed in charge of the master of a collier brig and sent to sea. He acquired a love for the life of a sailor and joined the Navy, and also learned to love strong drink and fell into the habits of intemperance… Mr James Rae induced him to sign the pledge, and soon afterwards to devote himself to the service of God.’ When William returned from visiting the USA, he founded the English Blue Ribbon movement. His base was Hoxton Hall and he achieved extraordinary success with his Blue Ribbon Gospel Army.

QuakerStreet: The Bedford Institute Association Centenary Report, 1949, describes the beginning of Quaker interest in the area by the need to start with the school for boys. This was begun in the spring of 1849 by some members of Devonshire House Friends Meeting in Bishopsgate. The school was held on Sundays in rented premises in Spitalfields. It prospered and sixteen years later was transferred to a new and much larger building, the first Bedford Institute. ‘After another three years, in 1868, an association was founded to link the work in Spitalfields with similar work begun by Friends in the Meeting houses in Ratcliff and Finsbury… The purpose of the work was partly evangelistic and partly scholastic… Only undaunted faith and perseverance carried the project through.’ It describes the concern within the Society that regarded the work of teaching Sunday School as a ‘snare to our young people’. ‘There was always a lively hope that spiritual needs, as well as intellectual and social needs, might find satisfaction through the work, and this hope stands out all the more clearly in some of the regretful admissions of partial failure to fulfil it… Friends in the association were concerned “to meet all needs and to foster and develop the whole life in the spirit of brotherhood in the faith, fellowship, and service of Jesus Christ”… When they claimed that the Association was “making good citizens by the hundred” they were proud to add “and good Quakers by the score”.’

The Bedford Institute Association’s (BIA) report on work in East London in 1967 reports how the religious, educational and social work of the Association expanded rapidly. To the initial three centres were added another five in Deptford in 1870, Bunhill and Bethnal Green in 1874, Barking in 1891 and Hoxton in 1895. The music hall was the original home of the Hoxton centre. It was bought by Quaker, William I Palmer, as a base for the Blue Ribbon Temperance Mission from 1878 but following Palmer’s death in 1895 the Hall was offered to BIA by his executors, together with a gift of £500 for necessary repairs, to carry on work of a similar kind. Fifteen years later an adjoining dairy and cowshed were replaced by a commodious extension to the hall with the foundation stone being laid on 11 June 1910. The structure has remained largely unchanged since then.

The ninety-ninth birthday celebration was held partially to celebrate and showcase the new renovations to the Mission Hall, now renamed Stuart Hall, including new flooring and mirrors on one wall as it is used as a dance studio as well as a much-needed new roof. During the work a mural was discovered showing people in the neighbourhood from about fifty years ago. Some of them remember the painting and have visited to see it. Building on the work done during the Quaker involvement of education social activity, the three current projects for young people are:

• Hoxton Street Casting – a performing arts agency that represents thirteen- to nineteen-year-olds; will be run by young people and was set up specifically to support the young people of Hackney gain employment in the creative and performing arts industry.

• Hipnotic – intensive three-week hip hop workshops for young people aged twelve to nineteen years who are into acting, ‘MC’ing, dance, hip hop, art or fashion design, music or theatre.

• Hackney Time Travellers – a Hackney-wide project giving twelve- to nineteen-year-olds the opportunity to research and produce performances based around Hackney’s rich heritage and historical sites, including Hoxton Hall.

Quakers are still involved through the London Quaker Service Trust (LQST), which owns the freehold of the property. Three of the LQST trustees meet with the Hoxton Hall trustees a couple of times a year.
The Bedford Institute Association became Quaker Social Action in 1998.

Aims of Hoxton Hall today:
• To raise the aspirations of young people and increase their opportunities for success in life by nurturing their talent and developing their creativity.
• To increase well being and enjoyment by understanding and appreciation of the performing arts in the local area.
• To improve local people’s sense of place and community by enabling them to engage with Hoxton Hall and its history.
• To improve and maintain Hoxton Hall’s built environment, by safeguarding and sharing the benefits of our 145-year-old Grade II listed Music Hall theatre – with its music rooms and recording studio, rehearsal rooms, art workshops, meeting rooms and café – and its associated history.

Trish Carn


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