The Strongest Man on Earth

Alec Hurley, born on this day (probably!) in 1871, is mostly remembered for being Marie Lloyd’s second husband. He was also a music hall performer in his own right, however, and I recently stumbled across a song of his in the MusiCB3 stacks.

The song is called The Strongest Man on Earth, and it was written to commemorate a contest between two professional athletes. Charles A. Sampson, a strongman and variety performer, was billed on the music hall stage as the ‘strongest man in the world’. Sampson was popular with audiences, but in an attempt to drum up even more publicity around his acts, he offered up a challenge during one of his performances – on 2nd November 1889 there was a prize of £500 offered to anyone who could match Sampson’s weightlifting feats, the assumption being that no one would come close and the money would go to Sampson. This rather backfired for Sampson when the challenge was accepted by Eugen Sandow, who managed to lift an even greater weight than offered. The illustrated title page for the resulting song shows Sandow effortlessly lifting a ridiculously heavy weight with one hand, watched by an irate Sampson…

The song was written for and ‘sung with great success by Alec Hurley’. Before turning to music hall performing as his main career, Alec Hurley was a boxer, and he would apparently perform this song after his boxing matches (I do wonder what he sang if he lost though..!).

Born in Hackney in 1871, Alexander Hurley worked as a dockworker before treading the boards as a boxer and music hall performer. As his career went more towards performing he became known as ‘The Coster King’, singing songs full of cockney-style humour, and was likened to performers like Albert Chevalier. He married the ‘queen of the music hall’ Marie Lloyd in 1906. The marriage was short-lived, but in the early years of their relationship Lloyd and Hurley would perform and tour together, and they also worked together on organising and funding the music hall strikes of 1907.

Alec Hurley’s music hall career suffered by comparison with Marie Lloyd’s, and seems to have been one reason for their eventual estrangement and divorce, after which Hurley stopped performing. There are several music hall songs still mainly associated with Hurley, however, including The Lambeth Walk (not to be confused with the more famous song of the same name from Me and My Girl), ‘Arry ‘Arry Arry’ and I Ain’t-a Goin’ to Tell.

Hurley died in December 1913, and is buried in Tower Hamlets Cemetery. His grave was restored in 2001 as part of a British Music Hall Society restoration project.


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