St. George’s Hall
by Anne Davenport and John Salisse
During the first third of the 20th century, London was generally recognized as being the focal point of the magic world. It could be argued that St. George’s Hall was largely responsible for this claim.
Anne Davenport and John Salisse invite you to join them backstage to peek into the Maskelyne workshop where so many classic illusions first saw the light of day, to eavesdrop on board meetings where egos and personalities often clashed, and to watch from the wings as the world’s top conjurors entertain generations of London theatre goers. The story of St. George’s Hall is the history of magic in England during its glorious golden age.
On the top floor of John Salisse’s home in Hampstead, England there is a room that contains the results of one man’s passion. John has spent decades collecting not just magic related ephemera but, more specifically, memorabilia pertaining to the Maskelynes’ theatres. The material is kept in this room because it is the one room in the house large enough to contain what has become a monumental archive.
John is not a collector of “pretty things” although the lithographs that adorn the walls of the room will most assuredly take the breath away from even the most ardent collector. Rather it is the wall of black binders that forms the heart of the collection. Here, meticulously arranged, are hundreds upon hundreds of programmes, photographs, letters, playbills, reviews, advertisements, post cards and legal documents, all pertaining to the Maskelyne’s theatrical ventures in London. Another shelf holds business records, including a Maskelyne’s Ltd. minute book that reveals the sometimes rancorous tone of the board meetings.
When you consider that J.N. Maskelyne and his friend George Cooke opened at St. James’s Hall in 1873 and that twenty-eight of the next sixty years were spent at St. George’s Hall and that three generations of Maskelynes employed scores of noteworthy magicians, you begin to realize that the history of the Maskelyne family is actually the history of magic in England. One can only wonder if Anne Davenport knew what she was getting herself into when she decided to document the Maskelynes’ tenure at St.George’s Hall. The complete story would have to include not just the wondrous view from the front of house, but also the often acrimonious interaction that occurred behind the scenes between brothers, sons and partners. At the very least, it was a daunting task.
Herself a member of a multi-generational family of magic (Anne married John Davenport, son of Gus Davenport and grandson of Lewis Davenport, in 1977) she was not intimidated by the enormity of the task and threw herself into it wholeheartedly. Anne’s research took her far beyond the room as she delved into the Davenport family collection and tracked down elusive newspaper and magazine articles. Months turned into years as the story of St. George’s Hall slowly took shape.
Only through the confluence of Anne Davenport’s skill and persistence and John Salisse’s remarkable collection could the complete story of St. George’s Hall be told. Their book will serve as your backstage pass and it grants you full access to all areas of England’s Home of Mystery. Take all the time you like and enjoy the tour.
(Hardbound with dustjacket – 474 pages)
(Note: Due to increased postal rates and the large weight of this book, international shipping and handling will be charged according to US Post Office rates. See: www.usps.com for details on international rates.)