The Camberwell Riot

By Len A.Hynds

In every part of the country there were music halls, where troupes of actors, comedians, jugglers, tight rope walkers, dancers, singers and people who could do remarkable things, would travel from music hall to music hall, so every week, would be a completely different set of acts for people to go and watch, and all for a pittance by today’s standards.

The ones that spring to mind on my own patch, or rather on my division were the Empire Theatre at Camberwell, The Empress at Brixton, and four much smaller places around the Elephant & Castle, Old Kent Road, Peckham and Kennington. But those smaller ones would also have weeks of showing poor quality films, and one I remember showed silent films with a pianist. Then there was one at Blackfriars that only had wrestling bouts. Many pubs also had turns on special evenings and cinemas were everywhere.

Of these groups of travelling poorly paid actors, there were teams of young ladies, who would stand on a stage with no clothes on, with a sticking plaster over vital parts, in a strictly rigid ornamental pose, with dimmed coloured lights shining on them. They were not allowed to move but must remain absolutely still, and the Chamberlains Office of the government had to be informed when they were performing, so that an Inspector from their office could be sent. And they had such powers, that if they thought public mortals were being abused they had the power under law to close the theatre or music hall down.

I was driving 6L for Lucy, when we had a radio call to the Empire Camberwell where a riot was taking place. Apparently during such a naughty scene, a mouse had run across the stage, and one young lady had screamed and run off stage, to the delight of the eye popping audience of men, but not to the delicate senses of the Chamberlains Officer, who immediately closed the theatre, hence the riot.

The young lady's name was Peaches Page, and she became famous overnight, as the statue that had moved. All the papers ran the story, so she had her moment of fame.

And mouse traps were only sixpence each!