Islington museum

Current exhibitions

Find out about our latest free exhibitions and displays

Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay!

Music Hall in Islington

Dates: 25 July to 22 October 2019

Opening times: Monday – Saturday: 10am to 5pm, Wednesday and Sunday (and public holidays): Closed

Admission: Free

Venue: Islington Museum, 245 St John Street, London EC1V 4NB

From ‘Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay’ to ‘Pack up your troubles’ and beyond, music hall songs and their performers occupy a special place in the hearts of Londoners and, in particular, Islington.

For over 100 years, throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the borough’s many music halls and variety theatres entertained generations of Islingtonians. Each venue promised a unique evening’s entertainment and local residents and visitors would drop in to see their favourite ‘turns’.

Famous singing star Marie Lloyd made her debut at the Eagle Tavern, off City Road, and Norman Wisdom launched his professional career at Collins’ Music Hall on Islington Green. Astounding feats of daring and illusion were witnessed at the Finsbury Park Empire, where Harry Houdini escaped from near-impossible stunts and P T Selbit was credited with being the first person to perform the illusion of sawing a woman in half. Audiences laughed at the comedy of Charlie Chaplin, Kate Carney, Laurel and Hardy, and Max Miller and marvelled at the amazing feats performed by fire eaters, trick cyclists and acrobats.

This exhibition celebrates music hall and variety entertainment throughout a time when Islington was London’s undisputed ‘Parish of Pleasure’!

Free events programme

Booking essential

Show: A stroll down the Golden Mile

  • Matinee: Thursday 15 August, 2pm
  • Evening: Friday 4 October, 6.30pm

Islington Museum

Explore the remarkable and rambunctious history of music hall in Islington! Hear from our band of merry miscreants, the ‘Naughty Nineties’, as they sing their way through songs from the borough. Join in with old favourites including ‘Champagne Charlie and ‘My Old Man Said Follow the Van…’ and get a taste of what music hall was all about!

Book Matinee performance at Eventbrite

Book Evening performance at Eventbrite

Walk. The boy up in the gallery: Nelly Power and the music halls of Islington

  • Walk 1 – Tuesday 20 August, 6pm
  • Walk 2 – Saturday 14 September, 11am

Meet outside Angel Underground Station

Join our guide Lottie, as Victorian music-hall singer and Islington resident Nelly Power, on this free 90-minute ‘theatrical’ walk. Listen to Nelly’s story, and perhaps a song or two, while visiting the locations of the borough’s well-known music halls. Hear how these venues were once made famous by performers including Vesta Tilley, Gracie Fields, Marie Lloyd and, of course, Nelly herself!

The tour finishes at Islington Museum where you can view our music-hall exhibition.

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Show. Marie Lloyd Stole My Life

Lottie Walker as ‘Nelly Power’

Thursday 5 September. 6.30pm

Islington Museum

‘The boy I love is up in the gallery’ and ‘I can’t even get a seat in the crowd’. How did a music hall sweetheart and pantomime star end up nothing more than a small blue plaque in Islington? Let Nelly Power take you through the highs and lows of a life lived in theatre. And, as for how it all went so wrong? Well, Nelly has a few ideas and Miss Marie Lloyd features in most of them!
Fresh from the Edinburgh Fringe, Lottie Walker appears as Nelly Power, now almost-forgotten Islington star of the Victorian music hall.

Book at Eventbrite

Talk. Freak shows, circus and music hall: Victorian entertainment in Islington

Dr John Wolff

Tuesday 24 September. 6pm

Islington Museum

Roll up! Roll up! Roll up! Historian and author Dr John Woolf explores the history of the Victorian freak show, through the stories of the ‘freak performers’ who graced the boards of this popular form of Victorian entertainment.

From the world’s first international celebrity, a dwarf performer endorsed by Queen Victoria, to the original ‘Siamese Twins’ who wowed the medical world - this talk brings centre stage the stars of the Victorian freak show that helped define Queen Victoria’s age, a number of whom appeared in Islington’s music halls and places of entertainment.

Book at Eventbrite

Talk. Chapel on the Green: The rise and fall of Collins’ Music Hall

Tuesday 15 October, 6pm

Islington Museum

Mark Aston takes us back to the golden age of music hall to tell the story of one of London’s most loved and famous halls – Collins’ on Islington Green. For nearly 100 years, Collins’ played host to all the music-hall greats, including Marie Lloyd, Harry Champion, George Robey and a young Charlie Chaplin, and also ‘turns’ considered not so great!

Book at Eventbrite

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