The first form of musical hall were taverns in the eighteenth century, where working class men would go to eat, drink, and be entertained by singers on stage. By the 1830s, supper rooms opened up for the middle-classes, where hot food would be served. Examples of such early music venues include The Green Gate, The Borough (which had a habit of burning down), and The Eagle. The Eagle is actually responsible for the origins of the Pop Goes The Weasel nursery rhyme. The song is about a father who spends all his money at music halls and then has to pawn - or 'pop' - his weasel. At the time, the term 'weasel' referred to a piece of tailoring equipment, so presumably the man ran some kind of tailoring business.
The first real music hall was The Canterbury Hall, which was built in 1852. Entry was sixpence, and starred performers such as Sam Cowell. At one time, Britain had over five hundred music halls, but now there are only a few left. The Bedford Music Hall in Camden was built in 1861 and finally closed two years short of its hundredth birthday in 1959. One man who had a particular interest in Bedford music hall was a painter called Walter Sickert. He spent much time there, and was inspired to paint the venue, and other other music halls like it.
In an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, you can learn more about Britain's music halls through a collection of Sickert's artwork, which is on display until the 5th January. There will be a particular strong focus on the story of female performers, which is explored through paintings, objects, and ephemera.