History Of Madame Tussaud's
( Originally Published 1920 )
Bank Holiday queues—Cup-tie day—Gentlemen from the north—Bachelor beanfeasts—The Member for Oldham—A scare.
THE four regular Bank Holidays of the year are great occasions at Madame Tussaud's. On each of them the precincts of Tussaud's show signs of activity long before the average Londoner is astir. The length of any of the queues has never been actually measured, but it is no exaggeration to say that the people have frequently waited four and five deep in a line extending almost a quarter of a mile—from the doors of the Exhibition to the gates of Regent's Park.
The crowd at these times consists mainly of Londoners from all the outlying districts of the Metropolis, for Madame Tussaud's has always been in great favour as a holiday resort for the multitude. Parents also bring their children in great numbers, and the holiday crowds continue to come for days after.
There is, however, at least one morning in the year when the portals of the Exhibition are literally teeming with life while the citizens are slumbering in bed.
On Easter Monday, Whit-Monday, the August Bank Holiday, and even on Boxing Day, holiday-makers may be seen at an early hour waiting in a queue, yet no comparison may be made between these crowds and those of the Cup-tie mornings I have witnessed at the Exhibition.
This day brings into London tens of thousands of men and boys from the densely populated. manufacturing towns and mining areas of Lancashire, Yorkshire,, Durham, and Northumberland. These football enthusiasts arrive in the Metropolis as early in the morning as two, three, and four o'clock on the day of the Crystal Palace carnival.
It has always seemed to me that Madame Tussaud's has received the lion's share of patronage during the long interval between the arrival of the cheap excursion trains at the great railway stations and the time when the Cuptie is played in the afternoon. The attendance at these hours is extraordinary, and the appearance of a house of entertainment in full swing so early in the morning has an indescribably weird and garish effect.
These north country patrons of ours take up position on the steps of the entrance, and pass the time taking refreshments brought with them from their homes. Though weary with their journey, they are always cheery and well-behaved, and the way in which they banter each other in the broad accents of Oldham, Manchester, Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, Halifax, Newcastle, etc., has many a time afforded me a good deal of interest and diversion.
I have often stood on the broad open staircase and looked down upon the swarming hundreds in the entrance-hall and the refreshment rooms and it is a happy experience to dwell on that there has never been occasion to rebuke any of them for roughness or want of good behaviour. It is peculiarly true of the country cousin, so far as my experience of him goes, that he never indulges in horseplay when he comes to Madame Tussaud's.
There is, however, one very striking contrast between the crowd on a Bank Holiday and that on a Cup-tie day, and this is due to the circumstances that the followers of football do not bring their women-folk or children with them on the occasion of these "bachelor" beanfeasts—a concession, I presume, made to their men by the wives and sweethearts of the north.
Not by a long way do all these excursionists go to see the great football finals at the Palace. Quite a large proportion, taking advantage of the cheap fares, come to see London and its many sights which the average Londoner proverbially overlooks.
It has more than once been remarked by the Exhibition attendants that many Cup-tie visitors spend the greater part of the day at Madame Tussaud's, lingering for hours among the relics of Napoleon and the figures and exhibits of the Chamber of Horrors, without having the slightest intention of venturing so far as to see the football contest played.
It is a mistake to imagine that the working classes of the north are ignorant of English history, or not concerned with it; and if that impression exists, I should like to correct it. I doubt whether any class takes a keener interest in the Hall of Kings, or makes more use of the information provided by the Catalogue.
The "trippers," "country cousins," or whatever one likes to call them, seldom pester the Exhibition attendants with queries, for what one does not know another does. The Catalogues are taken away for further perusal, and one may often search the whole Exhibition in vain the next morning for one that has been discarded.
All day long groups of Cuptie trippers stand about the Sleeping Beauty, not only for her sake, but also for the sake of Madame Tussaud, whose figure stands at Madame St. Amaranthe's head, while at her feet sits William Cobbett, wearing his old beaver hat, and holding in his hand the snuff-box which legend credits him with passing to visitors on some weird occasions.
Men from Oldham naturally show special interest in Cobbett, who was, in his day, Member of Parliament for that town.
Cobbett sits on a red upholstered ottoman, with room enough for two other persons, and on a certain Cuptie day two travel-stained, tired men sat down by him, and, noticing that he moved his head from side to side, took him to be alive. They addressed questions to him, and jumped up very hurriedly as he jerked his head and looked blankly at them through his horn spectacles.
The only two figures in the Exhibition that make any pretence of life are William Cobbett and the Sleeping Beauty.
A wonderful self-made man was Cobbett, who began life as a living scarecrow, armed with a shotgun, in the employment of a farmer, and, after being, among other things, sergeant-major won a great reputation as a writer of English prose and attained the distinction of adding M.P. to his name in those days when Parliamentary honours were less easily achieved than they are today.
To be sure, the figures of statesmen have always interested Cup-tie crowds, for the provincial is much more of a politician than the Londoner.
So also literary men like Scott, Dickens, Tennyson, Burns; and Kipling come in for much attention; more, perhaps, than portraits of the clergy.
Sportsmen, too, such as W. G. Grace, Fred Archer, and `'`Tommy Lipton"—the last-mentioned for his America Cup performances—receive enough notice on Cuptie days to maintain a good average of appreciation for the year.
As on Bank Holidays, so on Cup-tie days, there are always many more live than wax figures in the Chamber of Horrors from morning till night. Indeed, I have seen the place so crowded that it was difficult to distinquish the effigies from the awestricken observers.
Sometimes I have taken a walk round the Exhibition after it was closed on the night of the Cuptie to see that all was right. Once I was called in haste to the Chamber of Horrors, where a stranger had been found asleep in a dark corner. After he had been roused and escorted outside, the scared fellow made off as if he had had the hangman at his heels. A return ticket from Bolton was picked up where he had lain. But the man from Bolton had bolted, and did not return to claim the ticket.