More a junction than a destination*

*Crewe was named after the railway station, not the other way round.

I want to go to Manchester and they’re making me change at Crewe – no, really. Just don’t get me started on the difference between a train that is not running and one that has been cancelled.

Matilda Wood was born to be the eldest of nine, in Hoxton, London in 1870. With her siblings, she formed a minstrel act known as the Fairy Bell troupe, which performed temperance songs. The first stage name taken by young Tilley was Bella Delmere, and she first appeared as Marie Lloyd in 1886. She would become most closely associated with “Oh! Mr Porter”, a song of 1892 by George Le Brunn which tells of a girl “going too far”.

Carried away on the wrong train, she is trapped with an old gentleman in her compartment, who tells her:

“If you make a fuss of me and on me do not frown,

You shall have my mansion, dear, away in London Town.”

(The actor Ellen Ternan and her mother were travelling by train from Paris with Charles Dickens when they were caught up in the Staplehurst Rail Crash of 1865. Although Ellen sustained an injury, and Charles tended to victims, including the dying, he managed matters so that he never appeared in press reports or legal proceedings.)

By 1895, Lloyd’s risqué songs were receiving frequent criticism from theatre reviewers and influential feminists. A member of the Social Purity Alliance, Laura Ormiston Chant (whom Lloyd did not regard as an enemy, sharing similar political views), ran a campaign which persuaded the London County Council to erect large screens around the promenade at the Empire Theatre in Leicester Square, as part of the licensing conditions. The young Winston Churchill was among the protesters who later pulled them down.

Lloyd was summoned to perform some of her songs in front of a council committee. The numbers were sung in such a way that the committee had no reason to find anything amiss. As a protest, Lloyd then rendered lines from Alfred Tennyson’s drawing-room ballad “Come into the garden, Maud” with leers and nudges to illustrate each innuendo, and to argue that rudeness was “all in the mind”.

1906 brought the first significant rift between music hall artistes and theatre managers, in the form of a strike. In 1907 the Music Hall War commenced, and was resolved later the same year : Lloyd often performed on picket lines. One day she recognised Belle Elmore (born Kunigunde Mackamotski) trying to cross the line, and shouted: “Let her through, girls, she’ll close the music hall faster than we can.” The unfortunate Belle was later murdered by her husband, Dr Crippen.

In October 1922, Lloyd collapsed on stage at the Alhambra Theatre. Three days later, on 7 October, she died at the age of 52 of heart and kidney failure. More than 50 000 people turned out for her funeral.

In 1893, the young Matilda had appeared in Paris. She was found sobbing after her performance, “I done my best and they call me a beast.” The friendly stagehand explained that, on the contrary, the audience was calling for more: “Bis, bis!”.

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