CONS, Emma (1837-1912)
Plaque erected in 1978 by Greater London Council at 136 Seymour Place, Marylebone, London, W1H 1NT, City of Westminster
Philanthropist, Theatre Manager
Philanthropy and Reform, Theatre and Film
EMMA CONS 1837-1912 Philanthropist and founder of the Old Vic lived and worked here
The philanthropist and founder of the Old Vic, Emma Cons, is commemorated with a blue plaque at 136 Seymour Place in Marylebone, where she lived and worked from 1879 until 1889.
Although she trained as an artist, Cons volunteered at a young age in the housing projects of Octavia Hill. She helped to manage Hill’s properties in Paradise Place, Freshwater Place and Drury Lane, and in 1879 founded her own housing organisation, the South London Dwellings Company.
In the same year she moved into 136 Seymour Place in Marylebone. Formerly a public house called the Walmer Castle, Cons converted it into a coffee tavern and occupied rooms above the establishment until 1889. While there she also managed a block of cheap accommodation at the rear of the building.
THE OLD VIC
Cons was a lifelong temperance campaigner and in 1879 she founded the Coffee Music Hall Company with the aim of developing the coffee tavern as an attractive non-alcoholic alternative to pubs and gin-palaces. Her first venture was the Old Vic in Waterloo Road. It opened as the Royal Victoria Coffee Music Hall in 1880, and nine years later also became the venue for Morley College’s evening classes for working-class men and women.
In 1899 Cons passed the management of the Old Vic to her niece, Lilian Baylis, who transformed the venue into a theatre. In the same year Cons took her seat as one of only three female members of the newly formed London County Council.