Adelaide Gray came to this country from Australia with her son, Oswald, after the death of her husband. She married John Stoll who was the owner of the Parthenon Rooms in Liverpool and took over the venue shortly after John’s death in 1880. The Parthenon Music Hall was born. Adelaide was helped by fourteen year old Oswald who looked after the artistes backstage, eventually putting together the programme and booking the acts.
I have an original contract of employment from the Parthenon Music Hall and we can see the tough conditions put on the artistes. The contract is dated December 17th 1888 and is for six nights. At the top of the contract, and heavily underlined, appear the words that you do not appear at any other Place of Amusement in or within Five Miles of this City. This meant that the artistes could not play at several halls a night as had previously been the case. They struggled financially as they had to pay for board and lodging and travel expenses out of the one engagement. Mrs Stoll expected damages of five times the performer’s salary if they broke this clause. There is also a warning that all artistes must submit details of their act for the programme two weeks before the start of the engagement or risk the contract being cancelled or remain good at Mrs Stoll’s option.
There are twelve rules on the back of the contract and from them we learn that any artiste who received from incompetency or any other cause, the entire disapproval of the audience, will be dismissed, only receiving salary for that portion of of the engagement which may have been fulfilled. Hoping to shake off the old image of music halls as not quite nice, Mrs Stoll insists in rule eight that every Artiste must stringently avoid introducing any obscene Song, Saying or Gesture and upon being requested to cease performing any indecorous item which may be deemed nauseous to the public taste, or opposed to respectability, must do so without demur. One wonders how the Stolls dealt with very popular performers who bent the rules. An inebriated artiste arriving for work could be dismissed or fined. In later life Oswald Stoll put up signs backstage prohibiting his employees from using coarse language.
Fire was a constant worry in places of entertainment and there are reports of many music hall fires. Mrs Stoll covers this in her rules, disclaiming any responsibility in connection with artistes property and if in the event of fire the hall is closed, engagements must terminate therewith. The performers had to agree to taking the place of the preceding artiste on the programme if they did not appear, so giving a performance that was twice as long – but for the same money. Each infringement of the rules could mean a fine of ten shillings which would be deducted from the offender’s salary.The contract I have is for two artistes and the weekly salary is four pounds ten shillings between them so any fine would severely damage them financially. The contract is signed by Adelaide and Oswald Stoll.
The Stolls went on to open other music halls and Oswald became one of the most successful owners in the business. His crowning glory was the building of the London Coliseum in 1904 and Adelaide Stoll would sit in the box office and take the money. After her death Oswald installed a bust of his mother in the foyer of the Coliseum where it can still be seen.