Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
Parkway and running down to Mornington Crescent are several streets of terraced houses,
of which Albert Road is the best. They are not of outstanding architectural interest, but
Albert Road has some rather nice iron balconies at the first-floor windows. Here the pro-
cess of resuscitation can be studied at first hand, for there is a 'U' and a 'non-U' part to
this street; the expensively restored end is at the junction with Parkway, and as you pro-
gress down the street, the houses are cheaper, awaiting restoration. These streets were built
as family houses for the middle class, but soon declined as the poorer classes moved into
the streets made grimy by the railways. The houses were then divided up into those single
bed-sitters of dreary aspect so convincingly recorded by Sickert. In Camden High Street
is the focal point of Sickert's work in Camden Town - the Old Bedford, now deserted and
awaiting demolition. Its loss as a living music-hall can only be described as a tragic one to
London life. The present Bedford stands on the site of the previous music-hall of that name
(the later remodelling of the 1890s amounting to rebuilding), and Sickert painted both. Its
exterior is not very exciting, being in that curious compound of Renaissance motifs taken
from more than one source that can only be described as late Victorian, a style that ap-
peared in office blocks, pubs, music-halls, and banks all over London during the 1890s.
The interior was, however, superb. Lightly draped nymphs of a kind that appeared at the
Royal Academy in the days of Onslow Ford supported the arch over the boxes. The front
of the circle was elaborate with cupids, masks, and electric torches, and the blue velvet
drapery of the boxes was echoed in the plush seats. Mirrors reflected striped wallpaper and
gas lights, giving unexpected reflections of audience and architecture, the true Baroque of
the music-hall. My recollections of the Bedford date from its last days when I used to go
up there to draw in the mornings during rehearsal (and noted the curious smell of orange
peel that Dickens mentions) or during the performance. We often went up from the Slade.
I remember being chucked out for protesting about the use of goldfish in a conjuring act.
I saw George Robey there, almost the last of a great tradition that included Marie Lloyd,
Dan Leno, George Lashwood, and Champagne Charlie, those artists of timeless artistry
who set the cockneys singing. Moreover, there was a freakish quality about many of the
turns in the touring companies at the Bedford whose corniness appealed to me: chorus
girls dressed as nuns singing the 'Ave Maria' in a blaze of purple light; artistic poses ('Les
Nudes') in pink tights; opaque slapstick comedy. Besides the Old Bedford, Camden High
Street had another music-hall, the Royal Camden at Mornington Crescent. This dates from
the turn of the century, and is now used by the BBC, at least a better fate than that of the
Before leaving Camden, there are one or two more buildings worth looking at. One is
almost opposite the Camden Theatre; this is the cigarette factory built in 1926, and quite
my favourite among London's many freaks, although there is a cinema on a smaller scale
but in an identical style in Islington. How on earth anyone could have selected an Egyp-
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