Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Hollingshead, John
HOLLINGSHEAD, JOHN (1827–1904), journalist and theatrical manager, born in Union Street, Hoxton, London, on 9 Sept. 1827, was son (by his wife Elizabeth) of Henry Randall Hollingshead. The father failed in business, and was confined in the debtors' prison of Whitecross Street, but became in 1847 clerk to the secretary of the Irish society for administering the Irish estates of the London corporation, retiring on a pension in 1872 and dying next year. Miss Sarah Jones, great-aunt of John's mother, was long nurse to Charles Lamb's sister Mary, who lived for the last six years of her life (1841-7) under the care of Miss Jones's sister, Mrs. Parsons, at her house in Alpha Road, St. John's Wood (Lucas, Life of Lamb, ii. 285-6). Hollingshead as a child saw something of Lamb, and as a young man saw much of Mary Lamb and her literary circle. Educated at a Pestalozzian academy at Homerton, Hollingshead at an early age took a nondescript situation in a soft goods warehouse in Lawrence Lane, Cheapside. A taste for literature early manifested itself, and he read in his spare time at Dr. Williams's Library (then in Cripplegate), and at the London Institution. He quickly developed an ambition to write for the press; at nineteen he contributed to 'Lloyd's Entertaining Journal' an article called 'Saturday Night in London,' and soon sent miscellaneous verse to the 'Press,' a conservative newspaper inspired by Benjamin Disraeli. After some experience as a commercial traveller, he entered into partnership as a cloth merchant in Warwick Street, Golden Square; but the venture failed, and he turned to journalism for a livelihood. In 1856 he became a contributor to the 'Train,' a shilling magazine founded and edited by Edmund Yates [q. v.], and then joined his friend, William Moy Thomas [q. v. Suppl. II], as part proprietor and joint editor of the 'Weekly Mail.' In 1857 he sent to 'Household Words,' then edited by Charles Dickens, a sketch of city life, called 'Poor Tom, a City Weed.' The article pleased the editor, whose sentiment and style Hollingshead emulated, and he joined the staff. He was a voluminous contributor of graphic articles, chiefly descriptive of current incident and of out-of-the-way scenes of London life. 'On the Canal' was the title of several articles describing a journey in a canal boat from London to Birmingham, and he roported the olassic Sayers-Heenan fight. Many of his contributions to 'Household Words' and other periodicals ho collected in volumes entitled 'Bow Bolls' (1859) ; 'Odd Journeys in and out of London' (1860) : 'Rubbing the Gilt off' (1860); 'Underground London' (1862), and 'Rough Diamonds' (1862). He was one of the first contributors to the 'Cornhill Magazine,' which was founded in 1859. When Thackeray, the editor, asked him where he learnt his 'pure style,' he replied 'In the streets, from costermongers and skittle-sharps.'
In 1861, when London suffered from famine, he wrote for the 'Morning Post' 'London Horrors' (republished as 'Ragged London' the same year). He also wrote much in the 'Leader' for his friend, F. J. Tomlin, for the 'London Review,' edited by Charles Mackay, and for 'Good Words,' edited by Norman Macleod. Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke [q. v.], a commissioner of the Great Exhibition of 1862, entrusted him with the 'Historical Introduction to the Catalogue.' From 1863 to 1868 he acted in succession to Yates as dramatic critic to the 'Daily News.' He wrote once or twice for 'Punch' when Shirley Brooks was editor, and in 1880, under Sir F. C. Burnand's editorship, became an occasional contributor. There he pleaded with effective satire for improvements in the government of London, especially attacking the Duke of Bedford, whom he christened the Duke of Mudford, for his mismanagement of his Bloomsbury property. His articles entitled 'Mud Salad (i.e. Covent Garden) Market' and 'The Gates of Gloomsbury' attracted wide attention. Many of his contributions to ' Punch,' in verse and prose, reappeared in 'his volumes 'FootUghts' (1883), 'Plain English ' (1888), and 'Niagara Spray' (1890).
Meanwhile he took a spirited part in other public movements. In 1858 he became a member of the committee for the abolition of the paper duty, which was effected in 1861. With Dion Boucicault he agitated in favour of 'Free Trade for Theatres,' and against the licensing regulations. In 1866 and again in 1892 a special committee of the House of Commons reported favourably on his general view, but no action was taken. To his efforts was largely due the Public Entertainments Act in 1875, sanctioning performances before 5 o'clock, which the Act 25 Geo. II c. 36 previously made illegal. In 1873 he led another agitation for the reform of copyright law so as to prevent the dramatisation of novels without the author's sanction. A royal commission reported in 1878 in favour of the novelist From 1860 onwards he fought the closing of the theatres on Ash Wednesday, and in 1886 the restriction wa? removed by Lord Lathom, then lord chamberlain.
Hollingshead helped to found the Arundel Club and the New Club, Covent Garden (My Lifetime, ii. 209), and joined with zest in Bohemian society. He first turned theatrical manager in 1865. Although he did not abandon journalism, his main interest lay for nearly a quarter of a century in theatrical enterprise. From 1865 to 1868 he was stage director of the Alhambra, where he thoroughly reformed the performances. For acting a pantomimic sketch in contravention of the theatrical licensing law he was fined 240l. or 20l. a performance.
On 21 Dec. 1868 Hollingshead opened as manager the Gaiety Theatre in the Strand, which had been newly built by Charles John Phipps [q. v. Suppl. I] for Lionel Lawson. It was erected on the site once partly occupied by the Strand music-hall. A theatre and restaurant were now first combined in London in one building. At the Gaiety, Hollingshead made many innovations, including the system of 'No fees,' and inaugurated continual Wednesday and Saturday matinees. In August 1878, outside the theatre, he first introduced the electric light into London, and later, he was the first to make use of it upon the stage. He mainly devoted himself to burlesque, which he first produced in three acts. In his own phrase, he kept 'the sacred lamp of burlesque' burning at the Gaiety for eighteen years. His chief successes in burlesque were Recce's 'Forty Thieves,' Herve's and Alfred Thompson's 'Aladdin,' H. J. Byron's 'Little Dr. Faust' and 'Little Don Cesar de Bazan,' and 'Blue Beard,' ' Ariel,' and other pieces by Sir F. C. Burnand. His actors and actresses included Toole, Edward Terry, Nellie Farren, Fred LesHe, and Kate Vaughan. His scene painters were Grieve, Telbin and Son, Gordon, John O'Connor, and W. Hann, and his musical conductor was Meyer Lütz [q. v. Suppl. II]. Hollingshead did not confine himself to burlesque. He produced serious new plays by T.W. Robertson, W.S.Gilbert, H.J.Byron, Charles Reade, and Dion Boucicault ; operas and operettes (in which Charles Santley, Cummings and Emmeline Cole sang) by Harold, Herve, Offenbach, Leeocq, and Supp^ ; while Shakespeare and old and modern English comedy were interpreted by, among others, Phelps, Charles Mathews, and Toole, Compton, Hermann Vezin, Forbes Robertson, Ada Cavendish, Mrs. John Wood, and Rose Leclercq. He produced 'Thespis' on 26 Dec. 1871, the first work in which Gilbert and Sullivan collaborated, and was the first English manager to stage a play by Ibsen ('Quicksands or Pillars of Society,' 15 Dec. 1880). Some of the work which he produced was from his own pen. He himself wrote the farce 'The Birthplace of Podgers,' first represented at the Lyceum on 10 March 1858, in which Toole acted the part of Tom Cranky for thirty-six years ; the plot was suggested by Hollingshead's investigations in early life into the identity of the house in which the poet Chatterton died in Brook Street, Holborn (Hatton's Reminiscences of Toole, i. 96) ; in 1877 he adapted 'The Grasshopper' from ' La dgale ' of Meilhac and Halevy. In 1879 he arranged through M. Mayer for the complete company of the Comédie Française, including Sarah Bernhardt, Got, Delaunay, the two Coquelins, Febvre, and Mounet Sully, to give six weeks' performances (42 representations) from 2 June to 12 July. He paid 9600l. in advance, and the total receipts were 19,805l. 4s. 6d., an average of 473l. for each representation.
With characteristic public spirit, benevolence, and success, he organised many benefits for old actors or public objects. At Christmas 1874, in addition to the 'Gaiety,' he took and managed for a short time the Amphitheatre in Holborn and the Opera Comique in the Strand. In 1888 he resigned the management of the Gaiety to Mr. George Edwardes. The receipts from the theatre, which contained 2000 seats, were, for fifteen years of his control, 1869-1883, 608,201l. The house was closed for only eighteen weeks in seventeen years. HoUingshead was responsible for 969 matinees in the period. In eighteen years Hollingshead made 120,000l. profit, after paying away about 1¼ million sterling. His salaries were on a high scale. He paid Phelps, Toole, and Charles Mathews 100l. a week each for appearing in a revival of Colman's 'John Bull' in 1873.
On 12 March 1888 Hollingshead started, at a hall near Queen Anne's Gate, Westminster, a spectacular panorama of Niagara, which he carried on till 29 Nov. 1890. In his later years he contributed a weekly letter to the 'Umpire,' a Manchester sporting paper, and lost the fortune which he had derived from the Gaiety in speculation in theatres and music-halls. He died of heart failure at his house in the Fulham Road on 10 Oct. 1904, and was buried in Brompton cemetery near Sir Augustus Harris and Nellie Farren. He was married on 4 April 1854, and had issue two sons and one daughter. Edward Linley Sambourne [q. v. Suppl. II] did an excellent drawing of Hollingshead for 'Punch.'
In addition to the works already mentioned, Hollingshead pubUshed : 1. 'Ways of Life,' 1861. 2. 'To-day: Essays and Miscellanies,' 1865, 2 vols. 3. Miscellanies,' 1874, 3 vols, (selections from earlier collections). 4. 'The Story of Leicester Square,' 1892. 5. 'My Lifetime,' 1895, 2 vols, with photogravure portraits. 6. 'Gaiety Chronicles,' 1898 (with caricature portraits). 7. 'According to my Lights: Miscellanies in Prose and Verse,' 1900. 8. 'Charles Dickens as a Reader,' 1907.
[Hollingshead's My Lifetime, 2 vols. 1895, and his Gaiety Chronicles, 1898; William Tinsley's Random Recollections of an Old Publisher, ii. 1-3; G. A. Sala's Life and Adventures, i. 41, ii. 179-181; Edmund Yates's Recollections and Experiences, i. 286-7, 335-6; Sir F. Burnand's Records and Reminiscences; The Times, 11 and 15 Oct. 1904.]