Marie Lloyd (1870 - 1922)

Marie Lloyd
Marie Lloyd

Marie Lloyd was born Matilda Alice Victoria Wood on 12 February 1870 at 36 Plumber Street in Hoxton, London. She was the eldest of nine children born to Matilda Mary Caroline (nee Archer) and John Wood a part time waiter at the Royal Eagle Public House in City Road and an artificial flower maker. Encouraged by her father the young Matilda was attracted to the stage at an early age and appeared with her sisters singing temperance songs in local missions and church halls. She sang solo at age 14 at the Grecian Music-Hall, which was attached to the Royal Eagle Pub, using the stage name of Della Delmere. On 22 June 1884 she first used the name Marie Lloyd when appearing at the Falstaff Music-Hall and was spotted by George Belmont. Within six weeks she was singing 'The boy I love is up in the gallery' at the Star Palace of Varieties, Bermondsey. She became very popular and by age 16 was earning £100 per week. Her first marriage was on 12 November 1887 to Percy Charles Courtenay a race course tout and they had one daughter Marie but parenthood did not stop her performing.

She appeared in Pantomime but preferred the Music Hall format where she could adlib and interact with her audience, who recognised her perfect pitch, sense of rhythm and the clarity of her diction. What her fans really liked was the double entendre and hints of naughtiness in her songs. This occasionally brought her act to the attention of the local watch committee but she maintained that any immorality was in the minds of the complainants and would sing the songs 'straight' to prove the point. The lyrics of "I sits among the cabbages and peas" raised some objections so on one occasion she changed them to "I sits among the cabbages and leeks" much to the delight of the audience. She is quoted as saying:
"They don't pay their sixpences and shillings at a music hall to hear the Salvation Army. If I was to try to sing highly moral songs, they would fire ginger beer bottles and beer mugs at me. I can't help it if people want to turn and twist my meaning"
Her songs often portrayed the harsh realities of the lives of the poor in general with an emphasis on the troubles faced by many working class women. Many in her audiences could relate to her songs. She did not forget her roots and although she was a highly paid artist she could sympathise with lowly paid artists. During the Music-Hall Strike of 1907, when theatre managements tried to force lowly paid artists to work extra matinees for nothing and at the same time restrict the freedom of the performers, Lloyd contributed to the strike fund and even picketed theatres using non union performers.

During World War 1 the army recruited in Music-Halls and Marie enthusiastically supported this by singing songs like "I didn't like you much before you joined the army, John, but I do like you, cockie, now you've got your khaki on". She also toured factories and sang in many free concerts for the wounded including at Horton War Hospital in January 1916. These tours and concerts were much appreciated by the public but Marie received no official recognition for her efforts possibly because of her lewd reputation.

The Epsom Herald dated 28th January 1916
The Epsom Herald dated 28th January 1916

Her first marriage was stormy and ended in divorce in 1905 and she quickly married singer Alexander Hurley but separated from him in 1910 shortly after she met and became infatuated with Bernard Dillon, an Irish jockey, who won the 1910 Epsom Derby. They set up home together but Dillon soon lost his jockey licence and turned to drink. When she and Dillon arrived in the USA in 1913 they were initially refused entry for "moral turpitude" as 'Mr & Mrs Dillon' were then unmarried. After Hurley's death in 1913, she married Dillon at the British Consulate in Portland Oregon in 1914.

During 1920 her marriage to Dillon ended in separation due to Dillon's heavily drinking and his abuse of her. About this time she began drinking and her voice became weaker and her act shorter. Her health deteriorated and she started being late for her curtain calls. She collapsed on stage on the 4 October 1922 and died 3 days later of heart and kidney failure. Her funeral was attended by over 100,000 people.