Frank Matcham and His Theatres – A Flair for Magic

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If you’ve ever been to the London’s Coliseum, the home of English National Opera, you will always remember the special feeling when you saw its interior for the first time – a kind of intimacy combined with baroque-like opulence, when the Victorian era met the Edwardian one. This was the creation of architect Frank Matcham, who died 200 years ago today. He was responsible for the building of over 90 theatres in the UK and involved in the refurbishment of 80 more. Matcham also worked on pubs, grand halls, hotels and a shopping arcade in Leeds.

Irina at the Coliseum, 2019
Irina at the Coliseum, 2019

Matcham did not have an academic education in architecture, but rather learnt his trade through practice, starting when he became apprenticed to an architect at the age of 14. At 21 he moved to London to join the architectural practice of J.T. Robinson, which specialised in theatres (who was also a surveyor to the Lord Chamberlain) – Matcham later married his daughter and took over the business.

Frank Matcham by Langfier (Wikipedia)
Frank Matcham by Langfier (Wikipedia)

In the early days of the 20th century you will find Matcham theatres all over the country – Belfast, Glasgow, Edinburgh, all the way down south, to Cardiff and Brighton.

Belfast, Grand Opera House 2019
Belfast, Grand Opera House 2019

Matcham approached the design of a theatre from a practical point of view, his theatres were built quickly and to budget, even on difficult sites, without compromising the overall effect and attention to detail. No two theatres are the same, but they all create a special feeling of magic for the theatre goers. Matcham found a way to replace columns supporting the upper galleries with cantilevers, to minimise the number of seats with an obstructive view of the stage. But it is the interior design that captivates you – when you enter the auditorium, you are enveloped in a special aura of a mystifying make belief of the theatre world, creating by an imaginative free style mixture of Renaissance, Tudor, Louis XIV, Italianate, Rococco, Classical and Baroque, including Anglo-Indian motifs, naval and military insignia. He developed own special fibrous plaster, which made it easier for his imagination to run wild.

Matcham’s Northern masterpiece – the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool (1899)

The Victorian era was the heyday of music hall, which broadened the appeal of theatre going for the general public. Often the safety standards left much to be desired, – some 91 major fires were reported in the British Isles in theatres in the period 1870-1900, involving great loss of life. Working along the lines of new safety and sanitary legislation introduced at that time, Matcham was in the forefront of creating a safe and enjoyable theatre for everyone, improving not only fire safety, but also ventilation, acoustics and stage design.

Only about 26 of his creations survive today, with some theatres having been transformed into bingo halls, nightclubs and cinemas.

His first project was the Elephant and Castle theatre in London in 1878. By the end of his working career he built or refurbished over 20 theatres in London alone, out of which only 7 survive today.

London (Hammersmith), Lyric Opera House, reconstructed 1979 within new structure

London (Richmond), Richmond Theatre (1899)

London (Westminster), London Hippodrome (1900)

London (Hackney), Hackney Empire (1901)

Hackney Empire 2015
Hackney Empire 2015

London (Newham), Stratford Theatre Royal (1902)

London (Hammersmith), Shepherd’s Bush Empire (1903)

London (Westminster), London Coliseum (1904)

Coliseum 2019
Coliseum 2019

London (Westminster), London Palladium (new theatre behind Lewis’s Corinthian facade) (1910)

Frank Matcham died on 17th May 1920 in Essex and is buried in Highgate Cemetery.

Interesting fact – Frank’s brother Charles Matcham moved to America, where he worked for the Bell Telephone Company. He was involved in the building  of first telephone exchanges in Europe and the introduction of the telephone to St. Petersburg and Riga where he personally installed Alexander II of Russia’s phone system.




The Girl I Left Behind Me (Brighton Camp)

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What is the song about?

The Girl I Left Behind Me (Brighton Camp) is sung by a soldier going to war, who remembers the beautiful girl whom he left back home, hoping to return to her soon.

The Girl I Left Behind Me, by Eastman Johnson, early 1870s
The Girl I Left Behind Me, by Eastman Johnson, early 1870s


Where did it start?

As with many folk songs, no one knows for sure. Some date the song to the times of Queen Elizabeth I (17th century), when it was played when soldiers or a naval ship left for war.

William Chappell, a music researcher and writer (of music publishers Chappell and Co. fame) and the first person who seriously studied traditional English tunes, in 1859 dated the song to 1758, when there were military encampments on the coast of the English Channel. This was during the Seven Years War, when the French planned an invasion of Britain, which never materialised.

The first printed mention The Girl I Left Behind is from Ireland, in a serial song collection The Charms of Melody, printed in Dublin in 1791. The earliest known version of the melody was printed about 1810 in Hime’s Pocket Book for the German Flute or Violin (Dublin).

The Girl I Left Behind Me travels around the world

In the 19th century this tune had some different Irish and English language lyrics in Ireland, including one called An Spailpín Fánach (The Rambling Labourer).

Early American settlers mention a song called Brighton Camp, but it might have had a different tune.

During the Napoleonic wars (1812), when America quarrelled with England once again, after the Wars of Independence, the song became popular in the US army as a marching tune – it is easy to play on the fife, a staple instrument of military bands.

During American Civil War both sides popularised the song with their own adapted lyrics, one version inspired by the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.

In the early stages of WWI, the British army used an obscene version of this song which ran in part:

Kaiser Bill is feeling ill,
the Crown Prince has gone barmy,
We don’t give a f*** for old von Kluck
And all his bleedin’ army

The Girl I Left Behind Me Lives On

The song found its way into the modern culture, too, from Bug’s Bunny (A Wild Hare), where he plays it on a carrot for a fife, and Popeye cartoon Popeye the Sailor Meets Sindbad the Sailor, to films about American civil war, Westerns and the Indian War, as well as TV series Hornblower and Sharpe’s Company. It features in the 1968 film The Charge of the Light Brigade and 1970s film Waterloo.

There are over 50 recordings of the song by various artists, including being referenced by Glenn Miller’s arrangement of American Patrol, popularised during World War II. Bing Crosby included the song in a medley on his album 101 Gang Songs (1961).

The site mentions 15 settings of the tune, as well as numerous name variations and the fact that it was added to 226 tunebooks.

The tune is popular with Morris dancers, often referred to as Brighton Camp, (Polka step in Morris dance, or as a 2/2 country dance tune). It was collected from musicians of the Cotswolds villages, where it was part of the popular music traditions.

The Lyrics:

I’m lonesome since I crossed the hill,
And o’er the moorland sedgy
Such heavy thoughts my heart do fill,
Since parting with my Betsey
I seek for one as fair and gay,
But find none to remind me
How sweet the hours I passed away,
With the girl I left behind me.

O ne’er shall I foget the night,
the stars were bright above me
And gently lent their silv’ry light
when first she vowed to love me
But now I’m bound to Brighton camp
kind heaven then pray guide me
And send me safely back again,
to the girl I left behind me

Her golden hair in ringlets fair,
her eyes like diamonds shining
Her slender waist, her heavenly face,
that leaves my heart still pining
Ye gods above oh hear my prayer
to my beauteous fair to find me
And send me safely back again,
to the girl I left behind me

The bee shall honey taste no more,
the dove become a ranger
The falling waters cease to roar,
ere I shall seek to change her
The vows we made to heav’n above
shall ever cheer and bind me
In constancy to her I love,
the girl I left behind me.





VE Day, 8 May 2020

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Today we hang out the Union Jack, dress up and sing patriotic songs – it VE Day! Unlike Russia, which celebrates Victory Day on 9th May, here it is commemorated on the 8th. It was on this day 75 years ago that Winston Churchill officially announced on the radio that Germany surrendered and the war came to an end in Europe. In preparation for festivities the government moved the bank holiday from 1 May to the 8th, but the grand celebrations never happened – we are all in lockdown… So, the country celebrates at home online. At 11 we watched the TV broadcast of the silent ceremony lead by Prince Charles and Camilla laying commemorative wreaths, followed by flypast over London by the Royal Air Force, looking forward to the Queen’s address later on today. In the evening the whole country will join in singing We’ll Meet Again by Dame Vera Lynn, which became a symbol of the nation’s spirit in war time, and also now, reflecting the mood the difficult times we live in.

VE Day
VE Day

The Paul McCartney Rose

We have a Paul McCartney in our garden – it’s the lovely rose created by French rose breeder Alain Meilland in 1988. It was paid for and named by EMI, the record company that issued all Beatles records in the 1960s. This was EMI’s 50th birthday present to Sir Paul a few years later.

Paul McCartney Rose
Paul McCartney Rose

The McCartney Rose (also called  MEIzeli and Sweet Lady) received 8 medals and awards at international rose competitions – fully deserved, as this is the strongest, tallest, hardiest and most fragrant one of all the roses in our garden. The bush grows to 1.5 m high and is covered with abundant sweet-scented blooms from March until late into the winter (with temperatures here rarely going below zero).

Paul McCartney Rose Bush
Paul McCartney Rose Bush

It is a hybrid tea rose, producing one flower with a high centre per stem, which opens up into a luxurious flower up to 7 inches across, with up to 40 petals in it. It is not afraid of diseases or greenfly.

Paul McCartney Rose Bud
Paul McCartney Rose Bud

It’s not a surprise, then, that it is the flower of choice for Beatles fans, and even Sir Paul grows it in this East Sussex estate in the south of England!

Paul McCartney Rose and Lilia (2019)
Paul McCartney Rose and Lilia (2019)


May Day

With the sun shining brightly, today is the day to welcome the summer!

People have been celebrating this since the Roman times. Floralia, a Roman festival lasting a week around this time, celebrated Flora, the goddess of flowers and fruit, with theatrical performances, spectacles, throwing beans and seeds and hares and goats running around.

Floralia by Hobbe_Smith (1898)
Floralia by Hobbe_Smith (1898) (

Later on, the Catholic Church selected 1st May to observe the May devotions to the Blessed Virgin Mary, crowning her head with flowers. This is also a feast day of St Joseph, Mary’s carpenter husband and surrogate father of Jesus. The church also appointed the 1st May as the feast of St. Philip and St. James, but still could not suppress the pagan jollities associated with this by country folk.

The celts celebrated Beltane (“lucky or bright fire”) on the evening of 30th April. If your cow jumps over the fire on that day, its milk will be protected from the fairies! People had been leaping over the fire until the early 19th century, celebrating Beltane. Many May Day folk traditions grew around this day, still celebrated as a festival of new life and fertility in Europe and America. Maypole is a tall post decorated with flowers and greenery at the top. It was erected on the village green as a focal point of May Day festivities. The tallest one in Yorkshire is said to be 30 metres high. People hold ribbons coming off it and dance around, forming intricate patterns – the real skill is dancing the other way round, unwinding it in the correct order!

Dancing around the Maypole
Dancing around the Maypole Young Miscellany English Folk Dance Group

A May Day parade is often headed by the May Queen – a girl dressed in white and adorned with flowers. From 16th century onwards people would make garlands decorated with leaves and flowers, to be carried during a parade and for dancing at the festivities.

Chimney sweeps went even further. They would create a leaf decoration so big, that it concealed a man inside it, – it became known as Jack in the Green, who often headed the parade and inspired merriment and mischief. Jack in the Green, representing the Green Man, a symbol of fertility, echoing back to the times when our ancestors worshipped trees.

Jack In The Green in Hastings
Jack In The Green in Hastings

The tradition died during the late Victorian times, but was renewed in 1983, and now Hastings Jack in the Green Festival is an annual celebration of English folk traditions and dancing. It starts with Morris dancers welcoming the dawn at 5am on 1st of May, followed by a weekend of Morris dancing around the town, parties and concerts and culminating with the parade of Jack in the Green, his colourful attendants and all the Morris dancers, – as seen in our film!

Young Miscellany At Hastings 2017-19