“A Sensible New Year’s Present”: advertisements in the St James’s Hall Saturday Popular Concerts programmes.

This week, I have been hopelessly distracted – and not just by the Keller Archive. Whilst searching through some of our St James’s Hall programmes for a reader, I found myself more absorbed by the delightful advertisements than the information I was supposed to be looking for. I gave in and sat down to browse contentedly through them. What fun! Herewith for your pleasure a vignette, a taster, a trip back in time…

As you might expect, musical instruments feature prominently – mostly all the rival piano manufacturers and dealers in London of the time vying for the concertgoer’s custom.


“Pianofortes with Iron Frames: All Modern Improvements: Special character of Tone: Unrivalled in Touch and Durability” proclaims the advertisement for Broadwood’s Pianofortes in the January 25th 1890 programme – and over the page we find “The Bluthner Pianofortes (Grand and Upright) the most Perfect Pianofortes in the World.” Not to be outdone though, E. Ascherberg & Co assert that as pianoforte manufacturers they are “unsurpassed for quality of tone and touch, durability and good value.” Should you so wish, you could also purchase an American Organ from Clough & Warren (from 18 guineas to 250 guineas) “Unanimously pronounced by the world’s best judges as SUPERIOR TO ALL OTHERS in those qualities which go to make perfection.”

Rudall Carte & Co  (highly respected and who were active until 1958 when they were acquired by Boosey and Hawkes) provide a little essay on why you should take up a “Wind instrument for Chamber Music, etc.” [although quite what the “etc” is, is not divulged.] “There are many strong points in their favour,” the advertisement continues, “there is not one of them which cannot be used with charming effect as a solo instrument, nor one which is not extremely interesting in the orchestra [!!]… Chamber music too, for wind instruments….is destined to become much more popular…” So, dear reader, what are you waiting for? Especially as “wind instruments generally are not difficult to learn…”


But it wasn’t only music-related advertisements which found their way into the programmes (as indeed is the case today as any discerning reader of a Proms programme, for example, or perhaps one for the London Symphony Orchestra will attest). There were also manufacturers and suppliers of all manner of goods promoting their wares. Holloway’s pills and ointment proclaim proudly that “The Pills purify the blood and correct all disorders of the liver, stomach, kidneys and bowels. They are invaluable for female complaints. The ointment is the most reliable remedy for bad legs, sores, ulcers and old wounds. For colds, coughs, sore throats, bronchitis, gout, rheumatism, glandular swellings and all diseases of the skin, it has no equal.” Clearly a magic brew, but I am not sure what the common factor between ‘old wounds’ and a cough might be…nonetheless, Holloway made a considerable fortune from his enterprise and went on to found Royal Holloway College.

Then there is the “Evening” Photographic Outfit from the London Stereoscopic and Photographic Company in Regent Street and Cheapside. An illustration of a rather mysterious-looking black box full of smaller black boxes, is accompanied by a quote from the magazine “Truth” which proclaims “..a novel and complete apparatus for producing photographs of one’s friends in the evening at home, after dinner…” A forerunner of the flash-bulb, perhaps? Delightfully, the firm has been revived by none other than Brian May, guitarist of Queen.

Some canny copy by the Girl’s Own Paper [complete run in the UL at L994.b.29] in their advertisement demonstrates an awareness of appealing to a particular audience: “The Girl’s Own Paper commences a New Volume with the Monthly Part for November. Amongst the attractions announced by the Editor are Pianoforte Pieces by Madame Schumann —- Hints on Pianoforte Playing by Miss Fanny Davies —- (both Schumann and Davies were regular performers at the Monday and Saturday St. James’s Hall concerts) and then in rather smaller type a list of other articles which the discerning female reader can look forward to including ‘Types of Girlhood’ and ‘District Visiting: How not to do it, and what one must put up with. By A Lady.’

And then there are the clothes: how about Thomson’s Glove-Fitting Corset (ouch!), or ladies opera and travelling hats from Henry Heath in Oxford Street (alas, long gone), school uniforms and novelties in juvenile dress for Christmas and New Year parties from Samuel Brothers in Ludgate Hill (still going, but no longer on Ludgate Hill), or perhaps you might care for T. W. Phillips (at 11 Wigmore Street) who “Begs to call the attention of the Nobility and Gentry to his Specialities in ladies gloves, hand-painted fans & silk hosiery which comprise the most recherché assortment in London.”

Marvellous. And what a fascinating study they present for social historians. We smile at the phraseology today, but in a hundred years’ time I expect my successor-but-several here could well be writing a similar post about quaint early 21st century concert programme advertisements. In short ladies and gentlemen (whether of the Nobility and Gentry or otherwise) there’s a great deal more to concert programmes than just a list of what’s being performed. And if you want to explore a little more of the tug of nostalgia, then here’s just the site for you.


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1 Response to “A Sensible New Year’s Present”: advertisements in the St James’s Hall Saturday Popular Concerts programmes.

  1. Pingback: Pigeons and bees at the Crystal Palace | MusiCB3 Blog

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