‘Act on the Square’

Pictorial music covers became common from the middle of the nineteenth century following the invention of colour lithography which enabled multi coloured printed work to be produced in quantity and cheaply.

At the same time a change in the regulations governing theatrical performance led to the development of music hall. The first purpose built music hall was opened in 1852 and by 1875 there were 375 music halls in London alone and many more in provincial cities. Songs formed the largest part of the entertainment at music halls and singers were amongst the best paid performers. They often appeared at several different halls during the course of an evening. The artist featured here, the Great Vance (the stage name of Alfred Peck Stevens), was one of the great stars of Victorian music hall in the 1860s and 1870s, one of the so called “lions comiques” . He was a singer who adopted the persona of a “swell”, a fashionably dressed person, as can be seen by his picture on the cover./—/

“Act on the Square boys” is one of the songs most associated with the Great Vance. It was published by Hopwood and Crew. The song has four verses, the first and final verses are as follows:

Thro being fond of acting right,

Straightforward, just and fair

I try to make my troubles light

And little do I care

As happy as a king I live

On just what I can spare

And from experience I give this hint,

Act on the square


Act on the square boys

Act on the square

Upright and fair boys

Act on the square

(repeated once)

I never liked a round game, nay

Round tables cannot bear

And in a Circus I can’t stay

So I live in a square

Now brothers all and Masons too

Of good let’s do our share

And when a chance presents itself

We must act on the square


Act on the Square Boys