Thursday, 1 September 2011

Article - A potted history of the Malt Cross (Nottingham)

Most of you are probably familiar with The Malt Cross, one of Nottingham's most treasured venues - and the first place LeftLion ever put on live events.

But did you know that an ice rink was considered in the original blueprints? Or that the comedic group, Karno's Army, (famous for helping to launch the career of Charlie Chaplin) appeared on stage? Or that it was closed in 1914 when its license was revoked? Magistrates noted that it had become a haunt for “felons and whores” to practise “widespread villainy and lechery.”

Having established itself in both the community and the hearts of Nottingham folk, the Malt Cross decided to share the history of this amazing building, with a public exhibition throughout August.

St James's Street, where the Malt Cross stands, has existed since Norman times. In 1877, the building was purchased by a Mr Charles Weldon. He completely rebuilt and enlarged the premises in just six months and opened the doors on the 2 October, to coincide with the annual Goose Fair.

The architect of this unique building was Edwin Hill. An elusive character and local chap, the Malt Cross is the only building with which he is most definitely associated. One of the many wonders that has proved to be a talking point for historians and architects alike, is the vast arched roof, which is held together entirely by glue! There are no signs of nails or bolts having been used to secure the separate pieces of wood. It remains something of an enigma how Edwin Hill, a relatively unknown architect, came to construct a roof of such innovative design.

In the original plans for the building, no stage was featured. It was only with the surge in Music Hall entertainment that a high stage was added during construction. Charles Weldon had originally intended for the Malt Cross to be a public house and skating rink.

As well as being the builder, Weldon was also the initial proprietor. He also owned the Royal Alhambra Music Hall and the Alhambra band were booked to be one of the headlining acts of the opening night at The Malt Cross. A number of different managers took over the running of the business over the years, one of them being Sam Torr. As well as being manager, he was also a performer and perhaps most famous for exhibiting The Elephant Man. It's highly possible that John Merrick could well have been showcased at the Malt Cross, considering Sam Torr's involvement with the venue, but we will never know for certain.

The Malt Cross made its name by being Nottingham's official 'day house.' Trial matinee performances were held on Wednesday afternoons. Local proprietors of more established venues would come along to talent spot for their own venues. Acting as a 'stamping ground' for fresh talent, many famous acts were likely to have trod the boards at The Malt Cross at some stage during their careers.

Little Tich, standing at just 4ft 6in tall, was one of the most famous music hall performers of the day. Inspiring and influencing those during his lifetime and beyond, John Cleese of Monty Python fame, can be seen inpersonating Little Tich in the famous sketch, 'The Ministry of Silly Walks.'

Fred Karno was a well known theatre impresario of the British Music Hall. Credited for inventing (or at least 'trade marking') the custard pie in the face gag, Karno launched his internationally renowned comedy troupe in 1882 in Nottingham. Karno can take credit for helping to launch the careers of both Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel (of Laurel and Hardy fame.)

No comments:

Post a Comment