Tuesday, 18 September 2018

The London Pavilion, Kilburn and an Acid Attack

This is a story of the darker side of Victorian theatre which follows the complex links between the London Pavilion Theatre in Piccadilly Circus, Kilburn and a vicious acid attack on an actress.

The London Pavilion
The imposing London Pavilion occupies a prominent site at the corner of Shaftsbury Avenue and Piccadilly Circus. In the late 1980s the building was gutted and redeveloped behind the Grade II listed fa├žade.

This was the second ‘Pav’ on the site: the first dated from 1859 and was a humble affair, an entertainment room attached to the Black Horse Inn in Tichborne Street (now part of Great Windmill Street). It was the brainchild of Emil Loibl and his business partner Charles Sonnhammer who roofed in the irregularly shaped yard of the Inn to create the first London Pavilion Music Hall. A gallery was added on the north and east sides in 1861, and further improvements followed in 1876. Both men were born in Vienna and came to England in January 1844. Fifteen years later they had married English women, become naturalized British citizens and were wealthy men. The Pav attracted the great stars of the music hall such as Bessie Bellwood, Arthur Lloyd, and George Leybourne, while enormously popular performers like Jenny Hill and Albert Chevalier started their careers there.
Opening of the original London Pavillion, the men with top hats are probably Loibl and Sonnhammer

Sonnhammer ended their partnership and opened Scott’s Restaurant in nearby Coventry Street. Loibl remained as the Pav proprietor until 1878, when he was awarded £109,300 (worth an astonishing £10M today), by the Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW) for the freehold of the property. This was part of a major redevelopment of the area to create Shaftsbury Avenue. Loibl retired and became a cigarette and cigar importer as Markovitz and Co. 11 Air Street, Regent Street.

The Kilburn connection is that from 1872 to 1880 Loibl lived in ‘Springfield House’, and at No.7 Waterloo Cottages, on the Willesden side of the High Road. These were large houses near today’s Tricycle Cinema. In 1882 Emil divorced his wife Mary Anne for adultery, and two years later married American-born Emma Tannenbaum who was 34 years his junior. From 1888 to 1898 they lived at various addresses in Maida Vale. He died aged 83 on 10 May 1914 at 112 Greencroft Gardens and left £22,832, (worth over £2M today). Emma died in Ticehurst Sussex in 1926.
His partner, Charles Sonnhammer died in Brighton in 1895 and left £31,048 (worth about £3.5M today), to his wife.

Robert Edwin Villiers
Edwin Villiers had run several theatres and was the proprietor of the Canterbury Music Hall in Westminster Bridge Road. He went bankrupt in 1877 with liabilities of £60,000. He said the takings at the Canterbury averaged between £600 to £800 a week and he hoped to be able to pay all his creditors in full.

In August 1879 he took over the old London Pavilion and paid the MBW £7,000 per year (worth about £700,000 today) for the lease. Frederick William Goddard, the Metropolitan Board’s chief valuer and surveyor, informed Villiers through an intermediary that he expected ‘something for himself’ and Villiers paid Goddard £50 a quarter ‘under the counter’. In 1884 when it looked as though the old theater was going to be demolished, Villiers met Goddard and other MBW officials and agreed a secret and complex deal. Villiers built the new London Pavilion on the large triangular site facing Piccadilly Circus. This included the Black Lion site and the last performance in the old theatre took place on 26 March 1885. It was demolished and just eight months later, the impressive London Pavilion opened on 30 November 1885. Today, on the Shaftsbury Avenue side there is a plaque saying ‘This stone, the first in the new street was laid by Robert Edwin Villiers, 8th June 1885’.

London Pavillion, 1890s

In December 1886, Villiers sold the Pavilion to the Syndicate Halls Company for a large amount of money, and Goddard received a total of £5,000 of the proceeds. This was only one of the secret agreements entered into by the MBW and exposed by the Financial News. This led to a scandal and a Royal Commission inquiry in 1888. By that time the Board had gained such a bad reputation that the public dubbed it the ‘Metropolitan Board of Perks’. Partly as a result of the enquiry, the MBW was abolished under the Local Government Act 1888 and the LCC was elected on 21 January 1889.
Cartoon of Edwin Villiers

Robert Edwin Villiers was born in Clerkenwell in 1830, the son of a tailor. He worked as an actor and comedian before becoming a theatre manager. In 1856 he married the actress Rosa Antoinette (Nora) Schott who was born in Toronto in 1833. She had been on stage at the Haymarket Theatre with Villiers from 1854 to 1856. In 1880 Rosa filed for a judicial separation saying that Edwin had committed adultery with her sister, Cecilia Schott who was also an actress. He did not defend the case. From about 1881 to 1890, Edwin Villiers lived in 4 Loudoun Road, St John’s Wood. He died in Bickenhall Mansions in Gloucester Place in April 1904 and left £49,927 (worth over £5M today) to his son.

In 1901 Rosa Villiers was living in Hove. There is a connection between Rosa and Fanny Cornforth, the model who lived with the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti. She is one of several red-haired, so called ‘stunners’ who appear in his paintings, and she lived with him for over 25 years. After Rossetti’s death in 1882 she married Rosa’s brother John Schott. By 1907 Fanny was suffering from dementia. It has recently been discovered that Rosa arranged for Fanny to become a patient in the Graylingwell mental asylum in Chichester, where she died aged 72 in February 1909 under her previous married name of Sarah Hughes. Nine years later in October 1918, Rosa died in Torquay aged 85.

'The kissed mouth', Fanny Cornforth by Rossetti, 1859

The last connection in the story is between Edwin Villiers and Charles Henry Hodson who were both theatre managers, but at different ends of the scale.

Charles Henry Hodson
Hodson was born in Clapham in 1841 the son of a commission agent. For a short time he worked as a comic with the stage name Harry Don. He said that his family didn’t want him working in the theatre so he used the names Stanley Hodson, and Hodson Stanley when he was a theatrical agent. It was during this time that he met the much more successful Edwin Villiers.

In January 1869 Hodson’s first venture in management at the Theatre Royal in Colchester was a total flop. On Thursday of the first week when he had only taken 15 shillings; he announced the show was cancelled and the audience would get their money back. When they learned there was no money for salaries, the actors locked Hodson in his office overnight. The next day he paid them the £4 he had in his pocket and allowed them to pawn his diamond ring. But he subsequently sued them for assault and three actors were fined 1s and 6s 8d costs. In turn he was sued under the ‘Masters and Servants Act’ for not paying one of the actors a week’s salary. Hodson successfully argued that actors were not servants and the case was dismissed.

Lulu, the Beautiful Goddess of the Air

A few years later he was somewhat more successful. For ten months in 1875 he was the business manager for Lulu, a famous young gymnast who toured Europe. A highlight of her act was an enormous leap from the ground to a platform 25 feet high. In fact, she was propelled by a contraption hidden under the stage which fired her into the air. In 1877, while performing with Hengler’s Circus in Dublin, the mechanism malfunctioned and Lulu was badly injured. When treated by a doctor, Lulu had to admit that she was really a boy. Lulu was an American called Sam Wasgate who had been adopted by Guillermo Antonio Farini, whose real name was William Leonard Hunt. They toured as the Flying Farinis; Guillermo was a tightrope walker who tried to rival Blondin. Some years later when he was interviewed in New York, Lulu said his greatest problem had been fighting off the attentions of a German Baron who wanted to marry him!

The Flying Farinis

The Cannon Ball
In 1876 Hodson ran a theatrical agency at 30 Tavistock Street, Covent Garden and had periodic work as a business manager for various acts. At the end of October 1879 Hodson Stanley organised a ‘Grand Dramatic Ball’ for the ‘friends of the dramatic profession’ at the Cannon Street Hotel. The tickets cost half a guinea. ‘The Era’, the theatrical trade newspaper, published a very critical letter from ‘Cannon Ball’ who had attended the evening. He wrote that there was little evidence of any theatrical drama, there were no known actresses, and that some of the young women who wore fancy dress, were dressed in short shirts and carried skipping ropes. The suggestion was that many of them were ‘painted harlots’ or prostitutes. About 200 men and 100 women attended the ball. Hodson Stanley sued Edward Ledger the editor of The Era, for publishing a libellous letter. In court Clement Scott the theatre critic of The Era, admitted he had written the ‘Cannon Ball’ letter.

Edwin Villiers gave evidence and said he had known Hodson Stanley for about seven years. He had been given a ticket and did not see any indecency at the ball. The great actor Henry Irving who was a friend of Edward Ledger, was bizarrely called to give his opinion on the suitability of the costumes. After hearing several days of evidence, the jury decided Stott’s letter contained rather severe criticisms, but was not libellous.

The Acid Attack
Using his real name, in 1882 Charles Henry Stanley married Louisa Cooper in Clerkenwell. She was about 20 years younger than him. On the 5 March 1885 Louisa was appearing in the chorus of the pantomime at the Prince of Wales Theatre in Liverpool under her stage name Dora Keene. Two days earlier she had received a letter from her husband saying she must return to London or he would come and get her. While she waited in a cab outside the theatre, Stanley suddenly appeared in the street. He had been to her lodgings where he found several love letters signed ‘Harry’. In a fit of jealous rage, he threw oil of vitriol or sulphuric acid in her face, then waited until he was arrested. In court Stanley said about two years ago he suffered from a serious illness of the spine and had to walk with crutches. The doctors told him he had about 12 months to live. Unusually, at the trial he was allowed to fiercely cross examine Louisa (he had previously been a solicitor’s clerk). He said when he first met her she was living in poverty as a household drudge with her step mother. He married her and taught her how to act and sing so she could go on the stage. From her few engagements and £2 a week salary, she gave him 10s or 15s. The doctor from the hospital where she was treated, said the sulphuric acid had scarred her face permanently and she might lose the sight of her right eye. In his defence Stanley said the illness had affected his brain and when he had carried out the attack he was effectively mad. The jury found him guilty but recommended mercy. The judge said the attack was very serious and warranted a sentence of 10 years but following the jury’s recommendation he reduced it to five years.

Stanley was so ill when he arrived at Pentonville on 5 May 1885, he was sent straight to the prison hospital. Close to death, he was asked if he wanted to see anybody. Stanley replied he had no friends or relatives apart from his wife and he did not want to see her. Later he asked to see Mr Villiers of the Pavilion Theatre. When Edwin Villiers was contacted, he made the excuse that he only knew Hodson by sight, and was unable to see him because of business engagements. Stanley died the next day, aged 42. We do not know what became of Louisa.

This complicated story, following a chain of people, has looked at the underside of the theatre world in late Victorian England to show financial corruption, madness and violence.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

PC Harry Coles: left for dead in Kilburn

Harry Coles was born in 1866 in Devizes Wiltshire, the son of a labourer. On 1 January 1888 when he married Harriett Randell, Harry was an attendant at the County Asylum in the town. While living in Devizes the couple had two sons Clifford (1889) and James (1890), baptised a month before they moved to London, where Harry joined X’ division of the Metropolitan Police in September 1890.

In the early hours of 13 January 1897 PC Harry Coles 340X was on his routine patrol in Kilburn when he saw two powerfully built men acting suspiciously near No.91 Brondesbury Villas. The old hob-nailed boots which could make a noise as a policeman approached had been replaced by rubber-soled boots, so PC Coles was able to get right up to the men in the dark. When they saw him one of them tried to hit the constable with a jemmy before they made off down the street towards Woodville Road. There they climbed a fence onto the London and North Western Railway (today’s London Overground). PC Coles pursued them and a desperate fight with truncheon and jemmies took place on the tracks. The men split up, but Harry managed to pin one to the ground until the second one returned and grabbed him round the throat and began to throttle him. The constable’s helmet was smashed by more jemmy blows but it saved his life as he fell to the ground. His assailants repeatedly kicked and beat him about the head before dragging him unconscious through the mud to the side of the lines. They ran off into the dark, believing he was dead.

PC Coles regained his senses about two hours later and staggered to the railings where he was found by a police sergeant who took him to the police station in Salusbury Road. Here his wounds were attended by Dr George Robertson the divisional surgeon who lived in Kilburn Park Road. Harry returned home and was placed on sick leave for over three months. At the time Coles was living in Kilburn at 152 Gengall Road with wife Harriett and his sons. He did not know the identity of his attackers, but there had been numerous burglaries in the neighbourhood.

People in Kilburn were horrified when they heard of the attack and a subscription list was quickly opened to raise money for PC Coles. His pocket watch had been broken in the fight and it was decided to recognise his gallantry by giving him an inscribed gold watch. This was presented to PC Coles with a purse of gold coins, by Alderman Halse, a wealthy City solicitor and magistrate who owned No.91 and several other houses in Brondesbury Villas.

Two weeks later on 29 January Detective William Burrell and DS William McArthur followed two men in the Harrow Road at 12.30 on Friday night. They watched as the men went to 7 Sunderland Avenue, a small jewellers shop owned by Mrs Christina Doner. The detectives heard the sound of an iron object falling on the pavement before the men walked off. The detectives followed and arrested them several streets away. Returning to the shop the police found a jemmy and marks on the door lock. The men were Frank Ridler 32, a gas stoker, and William Routledge 28, a painter and decorator, both from Cirencester Road off the Harrow Road. They were charged with attempted breaking and entering. One of the men was identified by PC Coles as his attacker. They were tried at the Old Bailey on 8 March 1897 for the attempted burglary; Ridler was sentenced to 18 months hard labour and Routledge got 9 months. But they were not charged with the attack on PC Coles, presumably because there was insufficient evidence against them.

The police records show Frank Ridler was born in 1864 in America. He was 5 feet 9 inches tall, with brown hair and several tattoos. He had first been sentenced for a month in a reformatory when he was aged 14 for larceny. Then in 1894 to 10 months imprisonment in Wormwood Scrubs, again for larceny. William Routledge was born in Brighton in 1868. He was 5 feet 11 inches, with brown hair and he also had numerous tattoos. He was later sentenced to 6 months for fraud (1898) and 18 months hard labour (1901), for an attempted violent robbery.

Several months after the attack Harry returned to work where he resumed his old patrol in Kilburn. By 1911 he was stationed in Ealing, also part of X Division, and in the census he was living in Venetia Road, South Ealing. By then his eldest son Clifford had also joined the Met and was stationed in Central London.

After the statuary 25 years service, Harry retired in December 1915 with a pension of £64 14s a year (worth about £4,200 today). A newspaper article dubbed him ‘The Animal’s Friend’ noting that during his years as a policeman he had secured over 1,300 successful convictions for the mistreatment of horses and dogs.
PC Coles with some of the rescued animals

Harry said his fondness for animals was the result of being brought up on a farm where aged just eight, he had been lowered down a 60-foot well to rescue a sheep that had fallen in. In 1911, he had been given a medal from an admirer for his humane work and in 1916 he was presented with the silver medal of ‘Our Dumb Friends’ League’ which became The Blue Cross in 1950.

As far as we can tell, Harry seems to have moved to Bristol where a Harriett Coles died in 1925, and a Harry Coles died in 1932.

Acknowledgements: we would like to thank Rory Geoghegan from the Centre For Social Justice for the picture of PC Coles.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

The 1994 IRA Attack on Heathrow: the West Hampstead connection

Just before 6pm on Wednesday 9 March 1994 four mortars shells hit Heathrow Airport. Earlier, news agencies had been telephoned by a man with an Irish accent and using a known IRA code word he said, ‘In one hour’s time, a large number of bombs will be going off in Heathrow Airport. Clear all runways. Stop all flights’. The Anti-Terrorist branch of the Metropolitan Police and airport officials decided not to close the airport after a sweep of the terminal buildings and the runways found nothing suspicious. About 45 mins after the mortars landed they closed Heathrow.

The missiles had been launched over the airport fence from 6ft-long tubes fitted in the back of a red Nissan Micra parked about 400 yards away in the Excelsior Hotel car park, just outside the airport. After launching the missiles, a charge inside the car set it on fire and the blaze spread to surrounding cars. The Nissan had been stolen in Kilburn the previous Saturday night and fitted with false number plates. A special hotline phone number was given out to contact the security forces with any information.

Burn out Nissan car with launch tubes (Getty Images)
Two days later a second wave of four mortars landed on the airport. They narrowly missed a group of cleaners walking towards Terminal Four after working on a nearby Boeing 757. The police found the launch unit had been hidden in woodland several hundred metres away. Unfortunately, they failed to locate the third launch site which the terrorists had partly buried in scrubland just inside the perimeter fence south of Terminal Four. In the third attack on the 14 March five missiles took off and one struck the terminal roof.

Fortunately, very little damage was caused because none of the Semtex warheads fired in the three attacks exploded, due to a fault with the detonators. The IRA had begun to receive Semtex high-explosive from Libya in late 1986. It is horrifying to think what would have happened if a mortar shell had exploded near a fully fuelled aircraft.

Here is a news clip about the Heathrow attack:

Two weeks earlier in West Hampstead a man had been asked by an Irishman to move his car which was blocking a garage door in Elmcroft Mews off West End Lane. The Mews are next to and behind today’s Nandos. From then on, he noted the comings and goings in the Mews which he could see from his flat. He was suspicious because he saw men with rubber gloves working in the garage late at night. Three days after the Heathrow attack the West Hampstead man rang the anti-terrorist hotline, tipping them off about the garage. When they searched garage No.26 in the Mews they found traces of Semtex on the floor.

No.26 on left, Elmcroft Garages, (Dick Weindling, Sept 2018)
Nando's, 254 West End Lane, with entrance to Mews (Dick Weindling, 2018)

On 4 May a man using the name 'Fraser' rang the owner to return the keys and get his £50 deposit back, saying he no longer needed to use the garage. An undercover officer pretending to be the owner’s agent met Fraser and gave him the refund. He was followed back to his flat in Earls Court. Anti-terrorist police and the security services discovered his real name was Michael Gallagher. They set up a surveillance operation on Gallagher for an astonishing two-and-a-half years. He was followed from England to Scotland, Ulster and Dublin. Hundreds of his conversations were recorded at his bugged flat in Warwick Road where he lived with his girlfriend Mary Attenborough and working in her computer firm. She had previously been a maths lecturer at South Bank University. A library of 1,700 tapes, covering 15,000 hours recording were built up.

The tapes revealed Gallagher boasting that he took his orders direct from Dublin, dealing with Donal Gannon, one of the top six IRA leaders. But he became worried with the lack of contact and he started making forbidden phone calls to his IRA contacts and arranged to meet his handler. A team of 29 anti-terrorist officers and MI5 agents tracked Gallagher through London, only to see his IRA contact abort the meeting and walk straight past him in the street. From then on, the IRA feared Gallagher was becoming a liability. He became isolated and lonely, often confiding his fears to his girlfriend Mary, unaware they were being taped.

Undercover police photo of Gallagher at garage No.26

Gallagher was finally arrested on 28 October 1996 as by then police believed he would never lead them to the bigger IRA men they hoped to capture. Mary Attenborough was not charged.

On 24 February 1998 Gallagher was found guilty of conspiracy to cause an explosion after a trial lasting two and a half months. Commander John Grieve, the head of the anti-terrorist branch, said: ‘Gallagher was quite an unusual creature. He took great risks. He lived in London ready to do the IRA’s bidding and was essential to the IRA’s campaign on the mainland. Without people such as him the IRA’s campaign would be impossible.’ Commander Grieve thanked the West Hampstead man who called himself a ‘nosey neighbour’, and said, ‘We asked for millions of eyes and ears and we got one nugget of gold’. The judge suggested the man should be given £500 reward for providing the crucial information.

Michael Gallagher, 1998

The jury refused to believe Gallager’s story that he was merely showing off and that the conversations on the tapes were describing the plot of a book he was going to write. They found him guilty, and he was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.

Born in Glasgow, 55 year old Gallagher was brought up by staunchly Nationalist Irish parents from County Donegal. He left school at 17 and got a job with the DSS, he married and had three sons. His belief in a united Ireland led him to make contacts with Republican hard-liners in Glasgow’s bars. He regularly moved between England and Scotland gathering more Republican contacts. A strong family man, he would visit his sister, niece and nephew at their home in Baillieston, Glasgow. After 12 years, he left the DSS and became a second-hand furniture dealer. But after he began drinking heavily, his debts soared, the business foundered and his wife left him. He began working for the IRA and was given money to set up the 1994 attack by renting the West Hampstead lock-up garage. The press dubbed him ’Mr Fix-it’.

In February 2011 it was announced that Michael Gallagher was one of five IRA men serving long-term sentences in British jails, who would be sent to Ireland before Christmas to finish their sentences.

Today, most people in West Hampstead have no idea that the IRA mortars launched in the Heathrow attack were made in a garage behind the shops in West End Lane.