Monday 15 May 1911, the play ‘When Kilburn Sleeps’ was put on at
the Kilburn Empire. This was on the triangular site at the beginning
of Kilburn High Road, where the London Marriott Hotel is today.
was produced by the wonderfully named Wentworth Croke.
advertised it as ‘the worst play ever written, presented by
absolutely the worst actors in the world’. ‘Wigs stolen from
Clarkson’ (the famous theatrical wig maker). ‘Wardrobe from
Petticoat Lane’ (the street market). ‘Mechanical effects by
was written by Frank Dix (the advert said ‘pinched’), as a skit
reviewer who saw it, said it was very funny travesty on sanctimonious
melodrama performed with an excellent company of players. The actors
clearly enjoyed their work as did the reviewer. But the Kilburn
audience took it seriously, believing they were watching a real drama
being badly played. Some stared vacantly and kept quiet. Others began
hissing and booing. As they left the theatre they said, ‘The
management ought to be ashamed to engage such a company to play that
drama in that way’. ‘I saw it played properly in the West End a
few years ago’ (the person was mixing up the Kilburn production
with a successful drama called “When London Sleeps”, which was
later made into a film in 1932).
the play clearly failed to convey the intended humour to its
audience, Croke took it off after only one day.
full name was Wentworth Augustus John Croke, and
after working for a railway company and the Stock Exchange, he became
a successful producer, theatre manager and theatrical company owner.
Croke’s wife Grace Chalmers who he married in 1899, was an actress.
In the late 1920s he retired to run a hotel at Fowey in Cornwall.
Croke was in the habit of taking aspirins to help him sleep, and on the day he died, had taken 150 tablets. The 1930 inquest verdict was heart failure induced by an overdose, but the coroner ruled there was no evidence Croke had intended to harm himself.
Addition by “Life in Kilburn”: here is a link that presents the history of the Kilburn Empire.
Ford and Walton, the Kilburn builders of BBC Broadcasting House
Richard Thomas Ford and Francis James Walton were both employed by the Kilburn building firm of John Allen and Sons which was based in today’s Kingsgate Studios building. Then in December 1903 Ford and Walton set up their own building firm with a small office at No.1 West End Lane. In 1905 they acquired the large yard behind Nos. 242-252 Kilburn High Road. Number 242 was re-numbered in 1923 as No.254, which today is the address of the new 60-flat development ‘Park Place’ overlooking Grange Park.
Richard Ford grew up in Kilburn and was living with his parents at No.9 Lowfield Road in 1881 and at No.1 Kylemore Road in 1891. In 1894 he married Clara Saxby and they had three children. In August 1904 their little daughter ‘Dottie’ or Doris, died aged only nine and a half at their home, 42 Dyne Road. Richard Ford died in 1911 when he was living at 23 Mapesbury Road, and he left £7,401, today worth about £720,000.
Frank Walton lived in St Pancras. He married Anne Martha Stevens in 1890, and they had five children. In 1929 he was at 2 Morland Close Hampstead Way close to the Heath, when he died living £63,401 (today worth about £3.6M) to his widow.
The firm kept going under the sons of Richard and Frank and had lots of work around London. In 1930, they signed the contract with the BBC to build Broadcasting House in Portland Place, and it was completed in 1931.
The Grade II* building is in the Art Deco style on a steel frame. The first radio broadcast was made on 15 March 1932 and it was officially opened on 15 May.
The 1931 photograph has the Ford and Walton sign on the front and was taken before the Eric Gill statues of ‘Prospero’ and ‘Ariel’, and those by Kilburn sculptor Gilbert Bayes, were installed.
This popular music venue was at 234 Kilburn High Road, on the corner of Messina Avenue. Many famous musicians including Johnny Cash and David Bowie played there. We look at the original building which was the Grange Cinema, and what happened when the National closed and was taken over by two different church groups.
The Grange was a large mansion standing in grounds of nine and a half acres and with a frontage to Kilburn High Road. It was the home of Ada Peters the widow of a wealthy coach builder who made coaches for Queen Victoria. Following Ada’s death in 1910, the property was sold. The new owner was Oswald Stoll, a major name in the entertainment world who had already built the London Coliseum in St Martin’s Lane, near Leicester Square. Stoll wanted to erect another Coliseum theatre in Kilburn. In fact, progress overtook him and instead of a theatre, the 2,028 seat Grange cinema opened on 30 July 1914. This remained the biggest cinema in Kilburn until the huge Gaumont State opened in December 1937 with over 4,000 seats making it the largest cinema in Europe. The Grange cinema finally closed on 14 June 1975.
Butty’s Club and Dance Hall
Michael ‘Butty’ Sugrue, who ran the Admiral Nelson pub in Carlton Vale Kilburn and the Wellington in Shepherd’s Bush, opened his club in the old Grange Cinema on 23 Feb 1976. As a Kerry man he particularly catered for the Irish community. He was a wrestler, circus performer and was known as ‘Ireland’s Strongest Man’, able to lift four 56lb weights attached to a cart axle and dragging a cart filled with ten men using a rope clenched between his teeth. Butty was also an entrepreneur and a great publicist, and he persuaded Muhammad Ali to go to Dublin to fight his sparring partner, Alvin ‘Blue’ Lewis in July 1972. Closer to home, he persuaded Mick Meaney a barman at the Admiral Nelson, to break the world record for being buried alive. In April 1968 journalists joined huge crowds to watch as Mick emerged after 61 days underground. There are video clips of Butty on YouTube:
Master Rock Studios and the Biograph Cinema, by Dick Weindling
Many buildings in Kilburn have interesting stories, but few can match No.248 Kilburn High Road. The site is now demolished and permission has been given for two blocks of flats. They may not be aware, but the new residents will be living on top of a slice of media history.
The Biograph Cinema
In October 1908, American-born George Washington Grant and two partners formed the Biograph Theatre Company. They saw cinema as the growing medium and opened two Biograph cinemas in the Holloway Road and Peckham in 1909. The busy working-class area of Kilburn was a good place for their next venture. In May 1910, The Biograph Theatre with 600 seats opened at No.236 Kilburn High Road. The trade newspaper, Era, said, ‘It is doing remarkably well and is prettily decorated in brown and gold and is very cosy.’Continue reading →
Island Records was formed by Chris Blackwell who was born in London, but grew up in Jamaica. In 1958 after trying various jobs and using money from his parents, he decided to record Lance Hayward, a young, blind jazz pianist who was playing at the Half Moon Hotel in Montego Bay. The record was released in 1959, and this was the beginning of what would later become Island Records. The following year Blackwell had a hit with Laurel Aitken’s ‘Boogie In My Bones’. Using the money from the sales he set up a small office in Kingston. In 1962 Blackwell moved to London and began selling records to the West Indian communities in London, Birmingham, and Manchester from the back of his Mini-Cooper.
Blackwell took the name of Island Records from Alec Waugh’s novel ‘Island in the Sun’. Island Records Ltd began in May 1962 with four partners who invested a total of £4,000: Chris Blackwell, Graham Goodall, an Australian music engineer living in Jamaica, the Chinese-Jamaican record producer Leslie Kong and his brother.
From March 1963 to 1967 Island Records had their office at 108 Cambridge Road, (since demolished as part of the South Kilburn redevelopment plan). Continue reading →