Thursday, January 5, 2012

Prowlina Pry and the Empire Theatre

Laura Ormiston Chant was horrified.  A writer of hymns and the editor of the National Vigilance Association magazine, she had been told about the painted ladies who paraded along the promenade of the Empire music-hall.  Even the outfits of the ballet dancers who performed there revealed too much.  Two American visitors warned her and she decided to prevent the ‘horrid slavery’ of these poor women.

Nicknamed ‘Prowlina Pry’, Chant said that she was no prude and she wasn’t against music-halls.  However, she disagreed with Walter McQueen Pope.  He wrote that these women were ‘caged tigresses’ who ‘never importuned’ and ‘made good wives and mothers’.

Chant fought against the renewal of the Empire’s licence and it was closed down by the London County Council in 1894.  It was soon reopened with canvas screens placed between the promenade and the auditorium.  This infuriated the audience who rushed on the ‘barricades’ and tore them down.  

Winston Churchill took the opportunity to make a speech.  “You have seen us tear down these barricades tonight.  See that you pull down those who are responsible for them at the coming election,” he said.  The promenade remained at the theatre.