Arthur Lloyd: The forgotten star finding fame online
Even as a child growing up in the 1960s, Matthew Lloyd was saddened to find that his ancestor, the celebrated Victorian music hall star Arthur Lloyd, had been largely forgotten by successive generations.
Arthur (1839-1904) was a prolific songwriter, playwright and performer who consistently topped the bill at theatres and music halls in England and Scotland for four decades.
In the 1970s, by now working as a theatre technician, his great-grandson began collecting Arthur Lloyd memorabilia, inspired by the interest and generosity of the late actor and music hall buff John Moffatt, whom he got to know while working backstage at the Lyric Theatre on London’s Shaftesbury Avenue.
“John was one of the few people I’d come across who had heard of my ancestor,” he says. “He gave me four or five Arthur Lloyd songsheets, including Not for Joseph, which was his most popular song.”
Another collector of music hall ephemera, the puppeteer Peter Charlton, also gifted Lloyd artefacts relating to his great-grandfather. Gradually, over a couple of decades, Matthew built up enough material to consider creating a website.
“I thought it would fill up seven or eight pages, but once it was up online, all these people started contacting me with information and memorabilia about Arthur and other music hall artists, as well as archive stuff about theatre buildings, which is another subject that has always interested me.
“Not long after I’d gone online, someone contacted me from the north of England to say they’d got 40 posters of Arthur Lloyd and others. It turned out this guy’s antiques shop had taken the posters in lieu of payment for a debt incurred by my grandfather Harry, Arthur’s son, who was a bit of a rogue by all accounts. I had to pay quite a lot of money to get them back.”
This remarkable collection of posters and playbills dates back to the 1840s and provides a fairly comprehensive overview of the ground covered by Arthur, his wife Katty King, who was also a performer, and other members of their extended family.
Like the rest of the site, arthurlloyd.co.uk, which now runs to 2,500 pages, the posters are clearly set out, and easily enlarged simply by clicking on the image. Matthew has resisted entreaties to update the site since he first established it in 2001. Its blue typeface on a red background is distinctive and easy to read.
“It is quite old-fashioned looking, but a lot of websites are hard to read and I wanted to keep it easy on the eye,” says 59-year-old Matthew, who is entirely self-taught in web design. “I’ve had web designers approach me to spruce it up, but I like the fact that there’s no clutter and that it’s easy to navigate.”
Currently a lighting technician on the musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matthew says he spends two to three hours a day working on the website, painstakingly inserting new text and pictures. “Now that so many newspapers, like The Stage, and theatre archives are accessible online it makes life a lot easier, but it is still incredibly time-consuming. It could easily be a full-time job. If someone paid me to do it, I’d probably give up being a lighting technician.”
It is non-profit-making, but since July, he has been affiliated with boxoffice.co.uk in an attempt to generate some income.
Matthew has built up a network of contributors over the years, including Peter Charlton and Brent Fernandez, who is based in New Zealand. “I used to buy in ephemera but I don’t need to do that any more because I am sent stuff all the time. If it wasn’t for all the donations, the site wouldn’t be as extensive as it is. It gets between three and four million hits a year, so a lot of people seem to be interested.”
Since the beginning, the site has always covered the history of the country’s theatre buildings, as well as the history of music hall, and Matthew says the buildings now take up a lot more space. It has become the go-to archive for anyone researching theatre buildings, past or present, in England, Scotland or Wales.
“My aim is to feature every theatre that was ever built in the UK documented on the site, which I reckon is going to take another 15 years to complete. At present I am about two-thirds of the way there. The number of theatres in existence now is a fraction of what it used to be. So many have been demolished.”
Despite his workload, Matthew says he is always pleased to hear from people with material on theatres that no longer exist, especially if it concerns ephemera or architectural details, but is less keen on hearing from people researching their own theatrical ancestors as he doesn’t have time to deal with them.
The idea of a forgotten Victorian music hall star becoming an international brand in the 21st century is one of the things that spurs his descendant on. “When I started this project, nobody had ever heard of Arthur Lloyd, even though he was a huge star in his day. It’s nice to think I’ve brought his name back into the limelight.”
If you’d like to read more stories from the history of entertainment, The Stage Archive offers access to all back issues of the paper from 1880 to 2007 and is available from £15