On the splendid occasion of ‘Music Hall and Variety Day,’ a day inaugurated by the British Music Hall Society last year to celebrate and commemorate the Music Hall and Variety genre, I thought I would take a sideways look at the Music Hall song “I Would’t Leave My Little Wooden Hut For You.”
This song was closely associated with Daisy Dormer and written by songwriters Charles Collins and Tom Mellor. It was first advertised in the theatrical press in June 1905 as one of Francis Day & Hunter’s ‘Summer Specialities’; by October it had become one of their ‘Winter Novelties.’ It was clearly a song to suit all seasons. This song represented Daisy’s ‘breakthrough’ to a new level of success, having been working on the Halls diligently and consistently since the mid 1890s without a hit. By November 1905, Daisy had taken up ‘Wooden Hut’ and on her appearance at the Ipswich Hippodrome, the East Anglian Times reported that the song had, ‘quite taken the fancy of the public’. It was naturally seized upon by producers for the upcoming pantomime season (then as now, they were alway keen to incorporate popular hits into the fabric of the story). The Daily Mirror recorded it as one of the pantomime songs of the year, the sheet music for which was ‘selling in thousands.’ Daisy was booked to play Jill the principal girl in Mother Goose at the Tyne Theatre, Newcastle that year and Wooden Hut’ was ‘the success of the evening.’ She accompanied it with a ‘neat dance, characterised by much sprightliness and grace.’
The verse lyrics to Wooden Hut describe a maiden living ‘on a can-ni-bal isle’ who is propositioned by a stranger; he wants to whisk her away to his ‘home across the sea.’ The ‘pretty Southern maid’ is not taken in by his charms and defiantly tells him:
‘I wouldn’t leave my little wooden hut for you-oo!
I’ve got one lover and I don’t want two-oo
What might happen there is no knowing
If he comes around so you’d better be going
Cos I wouldn’t leave my little wooden-hut for you!
The stranger runs away as soon as her beau turns up – ‘he was soon clean out of sight, he won’t return again’.
The verses are a product of attitudes towards race and gender that prevailed at that time; plainly the song would not be performed today. The chorus is more palatable and universal in its theme of competitive male lovers and a strong woman telling an unwanted suitor where to go.
The reference to a ‘wooden hut’ was ripe for humour and one which appears to have been a cause for postcard cartoon japes in the Edwardian era. I have a large collection of postcards which play with the title of the song – with a coffin featuring in many of them. As is the case with a collection of postcards, the sentiments expressed from the sender to the recipient are just as fascinating as the image on the front of the card. Here is a selection of a few of those in my collection:
This card depicting a grieving widow in mourning dress, with more than a passing resemblance to Queen Victoria, was sent in August 1906 to a Miss Copper in Halstead, Essex. The red-nosed corpse is safe in his wooden hut and smirks with glee from his underground chamber.
The following year a correspondent who signed off as “Pick Me Up” sent this card to Miss Bullock at Swadlincote near Burton on Trent.
In a large looping hand Pick Me Up wrote the chorus to the song as the message to Miss Bullock, with special emphasis on the words I would not leave. Miss Bullock might have felt somewhat upset to receive this card – one assumes Pick Me Up was not planning on leaving one lover for another anytime soon.
This card is a change in tone, a more romantic sentiment, possibly a Valentine’s card and features some Edwardian “beauties.”
In the four framed images are Gertie Millar, Phyllis Dare, her sister Zena Dare and Marie Studholme. They were familiar subjects for Edwardian postcards, known as the ‘Gaiety Girls’ thanks to their association with the Gaiety Theatre. They were the subject of many an Edwardian fantasy. Postcard manufacturers were always keen to reproduce their image to increase sales although the message here is ambiguous. Who wouldn’t leave their hut for who?
Of the artists of these cards, only Agnes Richardson is known to me. She was an illustrator known for her cherubic young girls, often sporting oversized bows or other headgear, such as the oversize army cap seen in this image:
This card was sent from Blackpool in August 1918, as the First World War drew to a close, to a Miss Barraclough in Morecambe and started with that familiar sentence from many a holiday postcard – “Hope you are having a nice time, we are.” 1918 was considerable years after the Wooden Hut song was released but the visual and sentimental gag to be gained from such an image is of long-lasting appeal.
So there we have an interesting bit of music hall history, a little bit of postcard art and a little more insight into the humour and social mores of the day.
Charles Collins: 1874 – 1923. Went onto successful partnerships with many other leading Music Hall songwriters and co-wrote some very significant songs including, ‘Are We To Part Like This, Bill?’ (sung by Kate Carney, 1912) and Don’t Dilly Dally on the Way (sung by Marie Lloyd, 1919) both with Harry Castling.
Tom Mellor: 1880 – 1926. Like Collins, Mellor teamed up with many other Music Hall songwriters including Fred Godfrey, Harry Gifford and Alf J Lawrence. Songs he had a hand in include, ‘We’re Irish and Proud of It, Too’ (1914) and ‘I Like Your Old French Bonnet.’
Collins and Mellor appear to have had a falling out over the authorship in the months following the success of Wooden Hut and don’t appear to have worked together again.
Agnes Richardson 1885 – 1951. Educated at Lambeth School of Art. Illustrated books for children, annuals and designed greetings cards and at least three posters for London Transport.
Wish You Were Here: 151 Years of the British Postcard opens at The Postal Museum in London on 20th May 2021. The exhibition celebrates and explores the iconic role the postcard has played in connecting people for more than a century and a half. Details here.
With thanks to:
The British Newspaper Archive. The Era 10 June 1905; East Anglian Times 11 November 1905; The Daily Mirror, 28 December 1905; The Era 30 December 1905.
Margaret Monod for helpful discussion about the identity of the Gaiety Girls.