Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Lisa Walton: why, wherefore and whence?

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WALTON, Lisa [WATKIN, Elizabeth Isabella] (b Newcastle upon Tyne, 5 December 1857; d 11 Priors Terrace, Tynemouth 26 August 1879)

Lizzie Watkin didn’t really have a career. She didn’t have time. But whereas some artists with long and solid histories are forgotten, ‘Lisa Walton’ survives in the memory of some. And for reason.

Lizzie was born in Tynemouth in 1857. Her father was Robert Watkin (x Tynemouth 6 February 1831; d 3 Hood Street, Newcastle 15 June 1860) and her mother Mary née Craig. Robert died when Lizzie was two, and her brother John Craig but a baby – Mary and her infants can be seen in the 1861 census – but, by the time 1871 comes around, John is being cared for by his grandmother, and Mary and Lizzie are gone.

When Lizzie surfaces again, in is 1876, London, she has become ‘Lisa Walton’ and is the prize pupil of vocalist and teacher Gustave Garcia.

Garcia put the eighteen year old Lizzie up in public for the first time 28 June 1876 at his own concert, alongside Marie Roze and Thekla Friedländer and, in November, the pair of them went on show at the Royal Aquarium concerts alongside another northerner, Carina Clelland.
The following year, I spot her singing at Exeter College Hall, Oxford, at the Covent Garden Proms, and performing Hoffmann’s The Legend of Melusine at one of Garcia’s concerts, She was praised for her ‘care and precision, although she appeared to be lacking in dramatic force’.

She made a first appearance at Crystal Palace (1 December 1877) tackling ‘On mighty pens’ and Beethoven’s ‘Neue Liebe’ and although her ‘fresh and sympathetic quality’ was liked, a certain ‘throatiness’ was criticised. From a Garcia pupil?

She sang at the Albert Hall holiday concerts, and at Irish night in Manchester, and then came the engagement for which she is remembered. Arthur Sullivan’s comic opera The Sorcerer was running better than had been hoped for at the Opera Comique. Leading lady Alice May was being switched to another (and hopefully even more successful) show, and Giulia Warwick was being upped from the ingenue role of Constance to take over the principal part of Aline. And the totally untried Lizzie was cast as Constance. She played the role, as well as the Plaintiff in Trial by Jury, for four months, till the end of the season.

Following the closure, she went on to appear with Garcia in concert, and then disappeared from the scene. A year later, the news came in a brief newspaper notice. Lizzie Watkin had died, aged just 21, back in Tynemouth.

I don’t know who lived at 11 Priors Terrace. Father and, seemingly, mother had predeceased her … maybe I’ll find out one day. It seems to have been the local MP. Maybe I’ll find out why she died so young, too, if one of the world’s Gilbert and Sullivan enthusiasts feels like splashing out on a death certificate. But I make them a present of the facts, free. Now they know why Lisa Walton didn’t play again for Mr D’Oyly Carte.









Cartesian couples: no4 Change for a (dud) tenor ...

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I wrote this a few years ago. I’m not quite sure why. If I were writing it today, I should turn it round. The (second) wife was the star … the husband was something of a mediocrity …

COVENTRY, Gerard  [REYNOLDS, Alfred] (b Nottinghamshire c 1849; d Westcliffe, Whitstable 1928)

‘Mr Coventry studied at Milan under the elder Lamperti…’
Did he? So many British singers claimed a Milanese education or experience which they never had. If he did go to the Milan Conservatoire, it would have been for a decidedly short  term,because Mr Alfred Reynolds first comes before my eyes in 1873, singing in the school concerts staged by George Lansdowne Cottell, to display his pupils to the public. I spot him on 19 November at the Eyre Arms on a bill topped by pianist ‘Juanita Prytherique’ (Miss Harriet Jane Prytherch, a doctor’s daughter from Ruthin) and 10 February 1874 with another pianist, the Australian-born Maggie Okey (later to be Marguerite de Pachmann) and a selection of ephemeral singers.

In 1874, Mr Reynolds married Miss Prytherch, and decided, like her, to give himself a more romantic nomenclature. He became ‘Gerard Coventry’ (so was he born in Coventry?). Mr and Mrs Coventry appear on the bill for another singing teacher, a certain Signor Torretti, in May 1875, but by the time he is engaged at Liverpool, next up, he is ‘of the Milan Conservatoire’. Well, maybe. For the odd week.

In the years that followed, he appeared occasionally at the Royal Aquarium Concerts (‘Once Again’, ‘Come into the Garden, Maud’, Ignace Gibsone’s ‘She sleeps, my lady sleeps’), at the Polytechnic, at various church concerts and in the Langham Hall recital of Glover’s The Deserted Village, and ventured onto the stage in the unfortunate operatic Bjorn, playing a Norwegian earl.

In August 1878, Wilfred Esmond, playing the role of Alexis in D’Oyly Carte’s The Sorcerer tour, caught cold. Was it the Aquarium connection? Mr Coventry was summoned, ‘studied the score on the train on his way from town in the afternoon’ and played that night at Sheffield. He didn’t get to keep the role, but when a single matinée was given at the Opera Comique, 24 August, he was again called upon, to play with most of the original stars. He would later claim to have played ‘in the original run of the show’, which I suppose technically he did. Was he some sort of a standby?

He appeared at Parry Cole’s concert, in Fridolin at Brixton, sang Fleetwood in The Puritan’s Daughterat the Alexandra Palace with Blanche Cole, at the Blackpool North Pier, the Polytechnic and a number of times at the Aquarium. He also sang in a semi-professional Lord of the Islesat Wickham Park, before landing his best engagement to date, playing the singing role of Amiens in Marie Litton’s production of As You Like It at the Imperial Theatre at the Aquarium. On 16 June 1880 he staged his own concert at St George’s Hall, with a modest bill featuring Alice Fairman and G H Snazelle.

In October 1880, he returned to the Carte management when he was given the part of Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance on tour, playing opposite the talented and already established young soprano, Laura Clement – they can be seen, already, sharing digs in Leeds in 1881 --  and in 1882, when Miss Clement was cast in the new and successful Les Manteaux Noirs at London’s Avenue Theatre, playing alongside Henry Bracy; Coventry and she played The Sleeping Queen as a curtain raiser.

On 2 August 1882, Harriet Reynolds-Coventry died, at the age of 33, and early in 1884, ‘Gerard Coventry’ married Laura CLEMENT (real name, b Brixton 1858; d Bronx, New York 4 November 1932 as ‘Laura Coventry’).


 In 1883, Coventry again stepped in, this time for John Child, in the touring Pirates of Penzance, after which he and Miss Clement joined Andrew Melville at the Birmingham Grand playing little pieces such as The City Guard and At the Seaside. In 1884, they toured for Harry Jackson in Nell Gwynne, Coventry initially in a small role but later taking over as principal tenor. At Christmas, they returned to Birmingham and played in pantomime, after which they joined forces with Howard Paul for a tour of holiday resorts (Locked Out, The Rose of Auvergne).

In 1885, the couple went to America, and Coventry advertised himself c/o D’Oyly Carte, at the Fifth Avenue Theatre. It was, however, only Laura who was engaged by Carte for New York. Instead, Coventry went to Washington to play twice-daily G&S, to Brooklyn in summer season and appeared in New York in Koster and Bial’s version of The Pirates of Penzance. In 1887, the pair went to California with a troupe starring Alice Harrison, and Laura was engaged to play at the popular Tivoli Theatre. Coventry, who had now virtually renounced performing, did some stage directing. One of the productions was a musical version of She written by a company member and musicked by W W Furst, with the beauteous Laura cast in the title-role. Al Hayman took the piece to Broadway, and Laura repeated her role to admiration there.

In 1889, Coventry produced Genee’s Nanon, a decided hit in America, in England, with Laura starred and himself as director. He launched the piece at the Birmingham Grand (16 September 1889) and it closed on the road, taking his investment with it.

Back in America, while Laura kept the family flag afloat with a fine run of successful comic opera roles, and repeated seasons of She, Coventry slowly launched himself as a director of burlesque and extravaganza (Off the Earth, 1999) and hit gold when he was hired to restage The Belle of New York for what turned out to be its memorable London transfer. For the next half dozen years, he navetted between America, England and Australia, restaging the London hit A Chinese Honeymoon for the Shubert Brothers at the Casino Theatre, Broadway’s Dolly Varden in London, lending a hand with the out-of-town closure Winsome Winnie, and initiating two shows for Broadway: The Runaways (which was restaged by Fredrick Ranken after an unpromising opening) and the successful Piff Paff Pouff (1905). He is said, in his potbiogs, to have restaged other pieces such as the very successful The Burgomaster, Madame Sherry and The Pink Lady, perhaps for the touring circuits, and … well … perhaps not at all.

This seems to have been his last effort in New York, for he then headed off to Australia where he re-staged The Merry Widow for its local premiere (1908) and established himself as ‘the Prince of pantomime producers’. In 1911 he returned to America and was reported to be ‘living in retirement on a farm in Long Island’.

He had long divested himself of the successful Laura, who remained in America, working as a singer and an actress, into her fifties, and had instead paired up with a new ‘Mrs Coventry’ by name Jessie Beatrice Hall (b Soho 6 July 1874), a singer and the daughter of a London builder, whom he ‘married’ in Washington DC in 1895, and by whom he had at least one child.

They settled at Whitstable in Kent, where Mr Reynolds-Coventry died (as Gerard Coventry) in 1928. Jessie is visible in 1935, living in Red Lion Square, and in that same year is registered as ‘insane’. She seems to have died in 1968.

Coventry’s two partially successful careers, maybe, made up into one satisfying one. Reynolds’s second wife, however, can be credited with a wholly successful professional life as a vocalist and actress, although apparently (she lists herself in 1915 as ‘single’) not a personal one. In 1930, she is censussed in the New York Actors Home, aged 72, and professing ‘widow’, and died two years later.




Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Cartesian couples: no 3 Together wherever we go … and go, and go …


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For thirty years, maybe nearly forty, the name of Richard Cummings decorated the programmes of the British and, briefly, American stages. And, for much of that time, it was accompanied by that of his wife, Theresa. Comic opera, pantomime, grand opera, operetta … their names popped up everywhere as performers, and Richard on several occasions tried his hand as a provincial manager, as well.

Except on those self-produced occasions, the couple rarely (usually in an emergency) appeared in leading roles, but they were clearly of that most desirable (to managers) breed – the ‘very useful company members’ who could and would play whatever they were asked and always with capable and well-liked results.

This breed, of course, is not really likely to attract biographers and, had they not entered into the service of Mr D’Oyly Carte, I imagine that even I wouldn’t have spent all of today on them. But their names have become old friends to me over the last 40 years, so when, yesterday, J Donald Smith sent me a photograph of Theresa … and another, unidentified, which I am fairly certain is Richard … I decided the time had come. And here is the result.

So first, who were they? 

I havent yet PROVED this is Richard but I'm fairly certain
Richard Cumming (no ‘s’) was born at Ryde in the Isle of Wight, the fourth of four sons of James Cumming (1809-1865), innkeeper in Ventnor’s High Street, and his wife, Sarah née Bird. George William (1838), Walter James (1840), Harry (1844) and Richard (1846). 


Richard's birthplace. Educated at a public ... house!
By 1861, they have moved to Fulham: father has become a builder, George has become an architect and wed and bred, and Richard is 14 years old. However, by 1871 it is just George, wife, children and mother. Richard is a 25 year-old schoolteacher down in Kent with – what! – a wife, Emily Anne née Walker. Yes, married 1867 … Cumming with no ‘s’… died Kensington 1872. Oh dear. Well, I guess that was the end of Richard’s first life. Pretty soon, he’d be on to the next bit, the theatrical bit.

Theresa as a decidedly young and pretty Hebe
Theresa Baetens was born in the Netherlands and she, unlike Richard, was of decidedly musical stock. Her father was the well-known viola player and composer Charles Nicholas François Baetens who, when Therese (b Hague, c 1849) was an infant, shifted his wife Maria and family to Lancashire and became for many years principal viola with the Halle orchestra. You can read all about Charles on the website http://harmonicorde.com/baetens.html. Theresa made her debut as a singer in 1869 at the Manchester Gentlemen’s Concerts (‘Voi che sapete’, Gumbert’s ‘Ye happy birds’).


By 1871 the family has shifted to Camberwell: Charles, born Leyden, Mary plus Theresa ‘vocalist 25’, Louisa, Charles and Francis … all from the Hague.

Charles Baetens

So, I guess it was around the singing spots of 1872-3 London that widowed basso Richard met soprano Therese …
For, the following year Mr R Cummings (with the ‘s’) and Miss R Cummings were on the comic-opera road, with Mrs Liston’s La Fille de Madame Angot company, he playing Louchard and she very little until star Pattie Laverne was off and Therese was promoted to the star role of Clairette. Very useful person!

At Christmas they went off to play Demon King (‘uses his fine bass voice to advantage’) and ‘Nancy’ in Robinson Crusoe at Leicester, then returned to Mrs Liston as the Pirate Chief and Pedro in Giroflé-Giroflà  for five months, and took part in a season of Geneviève de Brabant at the Park Theatre …

And here is the moment to post a warning. There are TWO Richard Cummingses around. Do not mistake the one with snooty academic pretensions for our one. Alas, I did so in my Soldene book, and I was wrong. The Park Theatre Richard is our one.

The engagements followed thick and fast: Vance’s Varieties, Leicester’s Temperance Hall, Richard South’s comic opera company, supporting Alice May, Amy Grundy, Ted Beverley et al in La Fille de Madame Angot, La Grande-Duchesse and La Belle Hélène, a season in town at the Royalty Theatre where Richard played the Burgomaster in Kate Santley’s production of La Marjolaine, while Theresa went to sing at Liverpool …

In 1878 the duo were cast in the first touring company of The Sorcerer. Theresa was Constance, Richard was the Notary and also played Counsel in Trial by Jury. When HMS Pinafore was added to the repertoire, Richard was Bobstay and Theresa was Hebe. While Theresa took time out to give birth to daughter Clara Adelaide (1879-1894), Richard Bobstayed on playing Pennyfather in After All until his wife returned, to complete what seems to have been, surprisingly, her last employment with the company.

Christmas brought Cinderella at the Liverpool Prince of Wales, with Richard as another Demon King, then another Cinderella at York, and then a tour with Mr Hughnott’s company in Der Fledermaus. Richard was Falke, Theresa was Ida, and the show not at all liked: ‘The union of a poverty-stricken and impure libretto with music more remarkable for inequality than ingenuity does not constitute a comic opera ... (the artists) strove but with little success to give the thing buoyancy enough to keep its head above water’. It didn’t, for long.

Richard continued to Manchester’s Theatre Royal to create the role of the Marquis de Brabazon in the new opera The King’s Dragoons, before they spent Christmas 1880 at Hull in Little Red Riding Hood. He was the Wolf, she was the Spirit of Good Humour, and the production featured the debut of one ‘Elsie Cameron’. 

1881 saw them touring as Casimir and Zanetta in the successful Joseph Eldred production of The Princess of Trébizonde and supplying the vocal values (Sir Peregrine Peppertop, Eulalie Duchess of Perpignan) to the low comic acrobatics of the Milton Ray troupe in a perversion of Les Cent Vierges entitled Blighted Bachelors. They took time off to play Babes in the Wood at Liverpool before rejoining the Milton-Rays, visiting Liverpool briefly for more Angot and a Benefit Trial by Jury (Richard as the Usher, this time), before Richard launched himself, seemingly for the first time, into management, in partnership with tenor W H Woodfield, with a musical entitled Innocents Abroad. Having seemingly got a taste for management he then produced La Fille de Madame Angot and Blind Beggars, and Theresa brought out her Clairette to the Lange of Duglas Gordon for a few dates.

They joined Eldred again for La Grande-Duchesse (General Boum) and he played Demon King at the Theatre Royal, Manchester, before, in 1883, Theresa produced another child, Richard. Father Richard rejoined Carte, touring again as Bobstay and as Samuel in The Pirates of Penzance for a few months.

Another Manchester panto, then they set out on tour with Gertrude Cave-Ashton, after which Richard mounted a Cloches de Corneville company: Theresa played Serpolette and Richard was Gaspard!

In early 1885 he apparently deputised on occasion at the Savoy, in The Mikado, but in October he was back on the road, playing Spread Eagle in The Noble Savage with Alice Barth, and touring with Theresa in a production of Fun on the Bristol, before the couple joined up with J W Turner’s English Opera Co. I see Richard playing Lord Allcash in Fra Diavolo, Devilshoof in The Bohemian Girl, and giving Operatic Gems at the Winter Gardens, Morecambe Bay. The company played at the Crystal Palace and the Standard Theatre in September 1886, and Theresa replaced Lucy Franklein as Lady Allcash in a comic team with her husband. In 1887 the company mutated into the Arthur Rousby troupe.

However, on the London revival of HMS Pinafore (12 November 1887),Richard returned to the Savoy Theatre to take up his old part of Bobstay. He was much liked -- ‘Nothing in the whole representation is better in its way than the Bill Bobstay of Mr R Cummings’ --  and followed up with more Samuel in The Pirates of Penzance (17 March 1888) and then as Pish Tush in The Mikado (7 June 1888) before being shipped off to America to succeed Fred Solomon as Shadbolt in Rudolph Aronson’s tour of The Yeomen of the Guard for a couple of months. I see that he also appeared for Aronson as the Chevalier de Brabazon in Erminie (1889).

Back at home, he put The Doctor of Alcantara on the road, played his umpteenth Demon King at Sheffield, toured with ‘Ilma Norina’, sent out another and then another Angottour with Theresa now a forty year-old Clairette, with time out for pantos at Glasgow, Bootle and Liverpool…

And then he returned (with Theresa to start with) to the Turner Opera. Monterone in Rigoletto, Montefiore in Maritana, Don Florio in The Rose of Castille, Devilshoof then Florestein in The Bohemian Girl, Hortensius in Satanella … I think she dropped out quite soon. He didn’t. He remained a comprimario bass with the company for ten years.  

Maybe there was more. But my last sighting of him is 16 March 1903 playing Don Florio at Crouch End. Although in the 1911 census, boarding in Ashton under Lyne, the couple both still list themselves as ‘operatic vocalists’. Son Richard ‘musician’, his wife Elizabeth ‘vocalist’ and their 4 year-old Patricia are down the road. Oh my gosh, there’s Richard with the Turner company at Coventry in … 1911!

Theresa died (as Cummings) in 1921. I’m not sure about Richard … I was given a date, but … 



And now, that little set of photos. Theresa as Hebe with Madge Stavart as Buttercup and Nellie Duglas Gordon as Josephine, Ryley as the Admiral … when in 1879ish did that lot all appear together … if I can find THAT out, then the four unlabelled photos ought to be identifiable… the photographer had studios in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Wrexham, Wigan, Bootle and Stoke-on-Trent. So I guess that’s our choice …








Sunday, May 20, 2018

'I'm called little Buttercup' (haha! no, I'm not!)


Madge Stavart has come into my life before. 

She played at the Gaiety Theatre with Emily Soldene, briefly, so she makes an appearance in the pages of my In Search of a Singer. But Madge spent many more months and years working for Mr D’Oyly Carte than for Emily, so I thought I had better look into her properly. I mean, ‘Madge Stavart’ had to be her real name (who would choose it?), so the facts and figures ought not be difficult to find.

Well, the reason that there was no article yesterday was that I spent the entire day trying to solve the ‘who was’ of Miss Madge Stavart. For that was not her real name, at all. Not by a long way. Did I solve it? Half. I can tell you when and where she died, and under what name. I can tell you where she was born, but … well, she was calling herself something different then, and I’m fed up with trying to put salt on her tail, so I’m going off half-cocked in the hope that someone else may work out her truth … (addendum: they did!)

‘Madge’ first came to theatrical notice at what was said to have been seventeen years of age (she was 22) as a ‘clever, vivacious’ Denis in the panto, St George and the Dragonat Manchester’s Theatre Royal at Christmas 1872. There, she came under the eye of Mr Henry Brougham Farnie, and when Angelina Claude took time off from the leading role in his hit musical Nemesis, it was Madge who was whisked into her London debut (7 July 1873) as Rosalie Ramponneau (‘a young lady who has been well received in the provinces made her first appearance in London at the Strand...) for two months. From there, it was the Gaiety to play Charles Martel in Geneviève de Brabant (‘good looks intelligence and very agreeable voice’), and off to another Gaiety, in Dublin, to play Prince Amabel in Turko the Terrible, alongside Annie Sinclair (‘My Mary of the curling hair’).

Panto done, she went on the road as Clairette in Joseph Eldred’s La Fille de Madame Angot company before returning to town to feature as Medor in a sloppily mounted version of Hervé’s Les Chevaliers de la table ronde. The production may have dreadful, but the cast was quite good: Mr J H Ryley and his wife were beginning their transformation from ‘Dancing Quakers’ into comic opera players, and they were supported by one Fred Sullivan.

Christmas 1874 was spent as principal boy at the Liverpool Prince of Wales (The Invisible Prince), before what seems to have been a less interesting few seasons in which, apart for her 3-months chunk of annual panto (King Arthur in Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star at Manchester, Sinbad at Birmingham, Prince Bonbon in Sleeping Beautyat Manchester, Robinson Crusoe at Liverpool), I see her only at the Alexandra, in concert in Margate and playing Clairette and Wanda for Elliot Galer at Leicester. 

She would later call herself a widow, so maybe this was when she was being married.


 In 1879, she was back in view playing Polly Peachum to the Macheath of Frank Celli in Birmingham and London, Feramoz in Lallah Rookh in Plymouth and advertising for a pantomime. But she wasn’t going to need one. Mr Carte hired her for a few weeks of Little Buttercupping at Birmingham, and when that was done, transferred her to the Opera Comique production, to cover Buttercup and play Mrs Nankeen Worcester in Cups and Saucers. After a couple of months she was again transferred to the road, playing Buttercup and Lady Sangazure for the next fifteen months. And after a little break for illness (or salary increase?) she joined up once again.

Madge as Buttercup, courtesy of J Donald Smith
1881 was of course census year, the company was at Preston, and though many of the company don’t seem to have been censused, Madge was. As Madge Stavart, aged 26, born London. Huh! And look, with her is Mrs Henrietta Stavart, 60 born … India! Well, I wasted a lot of time on the Indian lady. If Madge was born in London in 1855, I would expect to find mother and child in the 1861 and 1871 censi. And I can’t. 

The Pirates of Penzance was added to the repertoire, with Madge as Ruth, before a little break. It was paragraphed that she was to play Lady Betty in Claude Duval but she returned briefly to Carte before leaving to take the role of Buttercup in the disastrous attempt to stage The Wreck of the Pinafore. It closed after four nights.

She played Queen Isabella with Richard Barker’s Manteaux Noirs company, joined Ethel Pierson in London’s Prince Methusalem and did one more round as Buttercup and Ruth before, on 8 September 1883, she played her last performance in the Savoy repertoire.

Not yet thirty, she was next cast in the plum role of Palmatica in the vast Alhambra production of The Beggar Student (12 April 1884), played Christmas as the Queen in the extravaganza Ching-ma-ree at Brighton. She went down well in Brighton: the following year she played Cups and Saucers and sang the Rossini Stabat Mater there ..

When Les Manteaux Noirs was revived at the Avenue Theatre she was again cast as the Queen, but the next month she was seen in Battersea Park singing ballads alongside the exhibition of the ‘Blondin Elephant’ and ‘extraordinary jumping feats, twice a day’ by a lady who could manage 6 feet. She seemed to have taken a turn for the ballads, for she followed up at Hastings’s Pier Pavilion, the Eastbourne Floral Hall, the Brighton Aquarium, the Royal Aquarium with the Vaidis Sisters on the Revolving Trapeze, the Palace of ten-thousand lights, and Miss Nydia Bleiken and her French chansonettes …

She played Martha in a Mephisto which topbilled Connie Gilchrist, returned to Manchester for the 1886 panto Bluebeard, and went again on the road with Les Manteaux Noirs, as Bianca in two versions of Count Tremolio, as Lady Alicia in Marjorie … and Marjorie’s producer, Carl Rosa, engaged her for a single performances as the Marchioness in La Fille du régiment given at Balmoral, but now the advertisements for ‘Miss Madge Stavart, disengaged’ were becoming rather frequent. My last sighting of our lady is playing a musical sketch, The Jabberwock, at Gatti’s Music Hall in December 1897 and the advertisements stop at the end of 1900.

But they had one advantage. They had given an address. Brooklyn Road, Shepherds Bush. 16? 12? Now, looking for a place in Shepherd’s Bush is like … well … looking for a shepherd in a bush, because according to the census takers and transcribers, it doesn’t exist. It’s just shoved in, latterly as part of Hammersmith. Happily, however, as a young singer, I briefly lived just down from Shepherd’s Bush Green, so I knew to follow the Goldhawk Rd. When I could find it. 


 That’s what took the time. I finally lighted on 1901. George A Highlander actor and his wife at number 1, Florence Perugini, actress … but at no 16 were a mechanical engineer and a confectioner’s foreman, and at number 12 an elderly cabinet-maker named Wippling and his family. No Henrietta. No Madge. Oh. There are three apartments at no 12. A widow ‘living on own means’ aged 43. Violet H M Rowe. H? Henrietta? M? Madge …

Not quite. Violet Henrietta Mary Rowe. It is she. She had simply retired. Violet I can now tell you died 28 Marloes Rd, Kensington 5 March 1921 aged 66. And she appears living with a lady friend, Selina Baker, in the 1911 census at 2 Benbow Road … where Violet tells us that she was born in the parish of All Saints, Margaret Street. Yes, dear, but under what name? And who and when was Mr Rowe? And what happened to Mamma? And Papa, for that matter. And why ‘Madge Stavart’? And was Mamma really born in India?

Lots of questions. But I’ll leave them to you. I’m Madged-out …

STOP PRESS!!!!!! A problem shared is a problem solved! Andrew Lamb has rocketed back with the truth. To wit!  Violet(ta) Henrietta Mary Postlethwaite born September quarter 1850 (I should have known!) in Marylebone. Daughter of Henry James William Postlethwaite of HM 26th Cameronians (d 1861) and Henrietta née Nelson Richardson, married Calcutta (yes!) 2 February 1839. Married Richard Rowe 'artist' 29 June 1887 ...

'Madge' indeed!!!!!

Saturday, May 19, 2018

A Kitty's Life ...

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Some years ago, on a summer's eve, Wendy and I were sitting in our living room when a visitor walked in ... a big, handsome kitten.

He was a little tentative, but looking for love ... and, I imagine something to eat. He had obviously been well-cared for as a child, so what was he doing wandering the fields of Gerolstein? He must belong to someone ...



But nobody had lost a cat ...

We couldn't keep him. Our two dowagers were past the age of playing tag. Minnie's arthritis means she doesn't scamper up trees any more. She just wants to be left in peace. And leaving the ageing aunties in peace was not on this young feller's agenda. No, Socks would have to be found a home.

Minnie: Grands Duchess of Gerolstein

Yes, we'd committed the fatal error. We'd given him a name.

He found a home. He lives in Wendy's house. The girls live in mine. And they share the 35 acres. When Wendy goes out in the morning to clean the paddocks, Socks goes to supervise. Minnie and ChiQi are still snoozing. When 10am strikes the girls are let out, while Socks retires to his personal private quarters ... It's a cat's life.


Maggie Paterson: provincial Britan's Yum-Yum



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Ethel Pierson. A short life but a glad one. Her name is a familiar one to me, and I’m sure to most fans of the Savoy operas, because in the 1880s she covered Great Britain singing the leading soprano roles in some of the greatest shows of that era. And that in spite of repeated bouts of ill-health which, I am guessing, contributed to her death, aged 29, from influenza, leading to bronchitis, leading to ‘rapid consumption’.

Ethel, of course, was not Ethel. I’m not quite sure what led to the sudden popularity of the name Ethel in, mostly, the 1870s, but our ‘Ethel’ was born, seemingly, in 1862. I say ‘seemingly’, because her real name was Margaret Paterson and she was born in – so she said in one census – in Glasgow. In another, she said she was born in Liverpool. So with no other clue than the fact that her mother, too, was Margaret Paterson … I leave it there! Too many Patersons and Pattersons. I’ll plonk for born Glasgow, brought up Liverpool. But who knows.

Somebody has said that she began by singing in concert in Liverpool. Well, I’ve looked. Under Paterson and under Pierson. And unless she’s the Miss Pierson playing piano at Framlingham in December 1876, I don’t see her. Anyway, she would have been a child. She was still only fifteen or sixteen when she made her stage debut. Where? Under Mr D’Oyly Carte (unofficially) in London’s West End. Carte, who was managing the Opera Comique for the Comedy Opera Company, was also masterminding poor Charlie Head’s efforts to revive his Philharmonic Theatre, Islington, after the departure of its big drawcard, Emily Soldene. The superb French opérette Le Petit Duc was glowing on the horizon as the next big hit in the musical theatre world, so Charlie (to whom, at this stage, money was no object) bought the English rights and staged it at his theatre. It bombed. The publishers snatched the rights back, largely recast the show, and re-staged it at the St James’s Theatre. Alice May retained the role of the little Duke, but the role of his very young Duchess was re-cast. Who was this 16 (?) year-old ‘Ethel Pierson’?

Whoever she was, she was liked (‘just that spirit and so much of the taste that, taken in combination, are so valuable or comic opera’, ‘charming and fascinating’) in a restaging that wasn’t otherwise much better cast or staged than Charlie’s. And didn’t run.

Anyway, little Miss Pierson wasn’t slow to find another job. She zoomed off the Dublin to play in the Theatre Royal panto Gulliver as someone called Malevoli. Doubtless with a song. In Dublin, you were expected to play anything, and I see Maggie appearing as Grace Curry in The Chimney Corner, Agatha in The White Horse of the Peppers, Emily Mervyn in Partners for Life …but that was not the way that she was to go. For her next job, she was hired to play Josephine in HMS Pinafore for Mr Carte on the British road.

She played the role to great satisfaction from June to Christmas, when she took time out to appear as Cinderella at the Prince of Wales, Liverpool, and then it was back to Carte for a long run of Pinafore, Sorcerer and Patience … then a break, due to her ‘constitution’. However, she was back at Christmas, playing Cinderella at Nottingham (‘I know my love is true’, ‘Dreaming’). She was prescribed another rest, but by May 1883 she was back, playing Gertrude in a London production of Prince Methusalem under the management of the B-Grade Francis Fairlie. And this Christmas, she took her Cinderella to the Grand Theatre, Glasgow.

In 1884, she was seen mostly in London, playing Alice Fitzwarren in the musical Dick (try calling a show that these days) at the Globe and again at the Empire before she emigrated to Leeds for the pantomime Bo Peep. The musical director/composer of the show was a certain young J Sidney Jones, and two of his panto pieces (Bo-Peep valse, and the cigarette song ‘Whiff whiff’) were published with Maggie’s portrait on the front. Anybody got them …?


In 1885 she played in a second-rate musical, Dr D, with Emily Cross at the Royalty Theatre, and then re-joined Carte to take The Mikado round Britain. She Yum-Yummed for eighteen months.

It was her last Carte engagement. I presume there could have been more but … there weren’t. She appeared as Geraldine in two tours of versions of the not unsuccessful Count Tremolio (‘Pretty, pleasant face and a fresh sweet voice … She has a delightfully quaint way of uttering an absurdity .. and she sings like a consummate artist’), she visited Liverpool as Aladdin, and in late 1888 she took over the title-role in Erminie from Esme Lee, and toured it into 1889. Another star role in a hit musical.

The following years she was a little less in evidence. There was more talk of ill-health, even though she continued to advertise for work. She sang on the Clarence Esplanade Pier in Portsmouth in an (already!) gems of Gilbert and Sullivan programme, she played for Charles Wibrow in the role of Frédérique in the opérette La Girouette, she starred in Jakobowski’s Paola, returned to Nottingham – which had claimed her for their very own – as Sinbad and to Huddersfield as Aladdin …
And then she got the flu, and died at 38 Hart Street Bloomsbury 5 February 1892.
Maggie was, I should say, a married lady. Her husband was Frank Edward Randell (spelt thus). Frank came from a well-off family in Reading and was described in the census as a ‘mining engineer’. He’d been married in 1879 to a Miss Allice or Allace Seymour who had died from marriage or its consequences the following year. She was buried in Brighton. And so was Maggie, whom he had married just over a year later. What’s the Brighton connection? Frank died in 1898.

You don’t even have to read between the lines to know that Maggie was a sweet person (Nottingham insists on this), a pretty good lightish soprano, a charming actress … a veritable light comic opera leading lady. What she would have become at an older age … well, maybe a very happy Mrs Randell. As it was, she became a star forever in Nottingham, where forty years after her death she was still remembered in the papers …

Friday, May 18, 2018

Cartesian couples: no2 the baritone and the contralto



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Day two of Cartesian couples. This time the baritone and the contralto. And a complete contrast with yesterday’s tale of the prima donna and her tenor. This couple (well, they were for a few years) certainly did not have the joyous careers, the happy married lives, children … nobody wrote, when they died, the sort of splendid obituary that was the lot of ‘Ethel McAlpine’.

The pair have resisted nearly all my efforts at tidy packaging, my efforts at rendering up their real names and family background, but I have nevertheless managed to extrude some of their story, together and separately, from the fables and fibs of their past. So here goes.

Oh, thanks to David Stone, I do – however – whatever else I lack, have photographs of both of them: ‘Miss Elsie Cameron’



And Mr George Byron Brown or maybe ‘George Byron Browne’



Yes, I know they are playing character roles in these shots, I know they are ac-tors, but do they seem just a little .. um …

The two met when appearing in D’Oyly Carte’s touring company of Patience. George was playing Colonel Calverly, Elsie was cast as Lady Angela. This was just after the 1881 census, so the two can be seen, separately, making their only known appearances in any census: George in Torquay with the Carte company, and Elsie up north, touring with Alfred Hemming’s company in Crutch and Toothpick and the burlesques Cruel Carmen and Corsican Brothers Babes in the Wood. Back in New Zealand, I have a programme from that tour which might tell me what she played. Oh, she tells the census taker that she is nineteen, which may very well be true. She tells him her name is ‘Elsie Cameron’, which is not true. George admitted to 28, and declared that he was born in America. Maybe he was. Maybe he wasn’t. I’ve no idea, anymore than I have any idea whether the name under which he worked for twenty years was anything but a stage name.

Of George, in fact, I know nothing, prior to his becoming the Pirate King with Carte when already in hid later twenties. Of Elsie, I know a tad more. Some proven, some not. But in 1890, Elsie gave a large interview to the Australian paper Table Talk, in which she said that she was born in Leeds on Christmas Day 1862, and that her father was a Superintendant on the railways. She said she was heard as a child by Sims Reeves (oh! not again) who said… she then had lessons from Dr Spark (highly probable) after which at the age of sixteen Reeves got her into the Royal Academy of Music. She stayed, she said, for two years and mentions an odd list of fellow-pupils including Miss Etherington (‘Marie Tempest’), Marion Hood (Mis Isaacs), Ben Davis, Orlando Harley, Hilda Wilson and Ellen Orridge. Well, Ellen Orridge was a star pupil at the RAM in 1876-7, at which time the Academy also housed Mary Davies, James Sauvage … and Leonora Braham! Orlando Harley didn’t arrive from America till several years later, and I think the Miss Etherington date is out too. Anyhow, I see no sign of Elsie in any of the Academy concerts, under whatever name …

Oh yes, the name? It seems as if her correct name was Elizabeth Fowler. So I’m opening a bottle of French rosé, putting this ‘on hold’ and going to look for Miss Fowler born Leeds 1862 … no luck! And no railwayman to be found, either. Why do I insist on Fowler? Because when ‘Elsie’ wed Browne in Dublin in 1882 she was listed as ‘Elsie Elizabeth Fowler’. When their daughter was baptized, the mother was listed as ‘Elizabeth Browne’. I wonder if that Irish wedcert has parent’s names on it. Or the RAM archives … they used to, in Bridget’s day, answer queries from me in the vein of ‘any Miss Fowler from Leeds admitted c 1877?’.

Well, the next bit of Elsie’s story, guess what!, has her going off to Milan to study with Lamperti for six months. So be it. After which she came home and got a job with daddy’s friend Wilson Barrett (who was running the Leeds Grand) who got her that job the Hemming-Walton troupe…

But hang on. Did you forget something? Who is the Miss Elsie Cameron (already) singing in the Hull pantomime Little Red Riding Hood, at Christmas 1880,with Richard and Theresa Cummings (already!), Rose Lee, Carry Nelson .. oh, it is she, all right …



So then she joined the Waltons, got censused, got into the Patience troupe, which at Eastertime 1882 played Dublin, where Miss Fowler and Mr Browne were married. Baby and baby death, aged 18 months, to follow.
Here, I leave you in David’s hands, to detail their fine work schedule of the next years, a schedule which peaked in their voyage to New York for Carte’s Mikado. Mr and Mrs G B Browne were advertised as cast for Pooh Bah and Katisha… so, what happened? When the show opened in New York, ‘Elsie Cameron’ was Katisha and Fred Billington was Pooh Bah. George took over later as Pish Tush .. what? Why? And then he departed … personal reasons? Professional reasons? After all, he had been six years a praised baritone lead player in Carte companies … there has to be a story here. But all I know is that George went steadily down from here. Oh, he worked, but in less and less reputable companies. I have a list. In 1898 he is trouping with the 5th-grade Marie Bell ‘opera company’.

I don’t suppose he and Elsie were ever divorced, but right there in New York their marriage seems to have fallen apart. I think I know who was to blame, but it’s a guess!

So, George gone off into the one-night stands, Elsie … back to David Stone , for the summary of her following years .. She played in London and on tour for Carte until 1890, before crossing to Australia. She was now ‘Mrs Harold Russell’, or so she and the papers said. I think that was Harold Russell the actor rather than Harold Russell the singer, but it doesn’t really matter because Mr Russell went home to England after a couple of years, and Mrs Russell didn’t. She became ‘Mrs Cowell’ and, until 1896, continued to perform lead contralto roles in comic opera on the Australian stage.



She was referred to as ‘massive’ in 1895, which, at 34, doesn’t sound very healthy.
Mr James R Cowell was a well-known Victorian (as in Melbournian) sportsman. Heavily into cricket, hunting and racing, so undoubtedly a bit rich. And with, clearly, special tastes in ladies. So he became the new, rather older, Mr Cameron. Elsie and he zoomed off to San Francisco, where that impeccable authority, Emily Soldene, reports helpfully on her soirées …

In 1907, Mr Cowell was found on the beach at Boulogne, his throat cut …

I wonder where ‘Mrs Cowell’ was ..

So, as I said, no tops and tails in this tale. But we’ve started, and if I don’t find the answers, I’m sure one of you will!





















Thursday, May 17, 2018

Cartesian couples: No 1 the prima donna and the tenor



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I  have been frolicking around for the last day or so amongst the early stars of the D’Oyly Carte touring companies. Mr Clowes alerted me to the fact that I really didn’t know a whole lot about these folk, who, after all, were playing leading roles in major cities for, sometimes, hugely extended periods: as much the backbone of the worldwide explosion of the popularity of the works of Gilbert and Sullivan as were the Opera Comique team.

Well, I daresay if I should live through the winter, I’ll get to them all, in time. But today I started in Torquay. Why? Because that’s where the Carte tour was playing on 1881 census night. And I lighted on Mr John W Beckwith and Mr George W Morgan, conductor Patrick Halton (of blackmailing memory), and the performers Mr George B Browne (‘born America, 28’), and Mr and Mrs King … all in the same hotel. Well, that was enough to start with. I would ‘do’ the very newlywed Kings, and … well, Mr Browne married (yes, actually married) a company member the following year, so two pairs …

Two pairs that could not be more different. One clear, correct, honest, monogamous, fruitful … the other, oh! What a tangled tale of lies, fakes, intrigues and weird fortunes.

So, of course, we’ll start with the straightforward pair. Would you believe it – the tenor and the leading lady! ‘Ethel McAlpine’ has a very special place in Cartesian history. From the moment that she, a widow lady of 27, took to the stage as deliciously soprano Josephine in HMS Pinafore until her ‘retirement’, as a komische Alte, 27 years later (Lady Vernon in Haddon Hall, Barbara in The Belle of Cairo &c), she worked widely as a singer and actress in the British musical theatre, to largely splendid reviews. Her husband, ‘James Sydney’, was not as durable, but he too was a long-time member, as performer and company manager, in the Carte companies.


Once again, I’m going to refer you to the David Stone pages for the details of the pair’s careers, but we’ll just tidy up my ‘who was?’ department.

‘Ethel’ never made any secret of the fact that she was born Edith Jane Murray, 2 February 1853, in Rutland Street, London, daughter of William Murray (professor of music) and his wife, Eliza Ann née Sanderson. What she didn’t explain – why should she? – is why and how, in 1874, she married Captain (to be) James Robert Yule (b Inverleith 24 February 1845) of the East India Company, in Edinburgh. Mr Yule, ‘one of the Udn[e]y Yules’, had been employed, like so many of his family, by John Company since 1859, but he seems to have spent sufficient time in the mother country. Whether Edith went to India with him, I know not, but the marriage was not destined to last. James died in London, 22 March 1878, aged 37. And Mrs Yule went from being an army wife to being a stage performer (Asbestos, a pirate in Liverpool's Robinson Crusoe) and then a comic opera leading lady. And, pretty soon (2 April 1881) she married her tenor. They had a son Sidney Graham Murray in 1882, and a daughter Edith Margaret 4 April 1884 …

And here David steps in with his lengthy career details …

‘James Sydney’ was Sidney James King, son of Thomas Graham King (1814-1896), silk warehouseman, of Teddington, Mddx. I see in the 1851 census that he was 3 months old, so he was born circa 1850-1851. His career began before 1876, at which time he was advertising ‘having just returned from America … agent Mr D’Oyly Carte’. I see him appearing in Carte’s Happy Hampstead with Kate Santley in 1877. From there on he was muchly with Carte’s companies.

Sidney died at just 48, in 1898. A death certificate at 10 quid would tell us why. And Edith trouped on for another decade before settling up Blackpool way …

Son Sidney did a stint in the Carte chorus, and later switched to the management side. I haven’t looked for daughter Edith …
Edith-Ethel died in her son’s house at Lytham St Anne’s 6 January 1933, aged 79.


So, that’s the straightforward couple. As for the baritone and the contralto ..,. oyyyyyy! ... they can wait till tomorrow … I’m bracing myself …











Tuesday, May 15, 2018

'Duglas Gordon': another prima donna 'outed'!


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Nothing’s perfect. Today I solved one of the biggest ‘who was…’ mysteries in the Gilbert and Sullivan canon. Yes, it really was as big a mystery as Fred Clifton, and it’s been puzzling me for  many decades, just as Fred did.

Who just exactly was that little lady who scored so wonderfully, all round Britain, right at the beginning of the musico-theatrical era of Cartesian domination, as Aline and Josephine …? Who was Miss Duglas Gordon?

Well, now I know. And it has led me into another mighty muddle. But I’ll get the bit that I have worked out down in print, and then try to get up enough steam to work out the rest.

Obviously the lady wasn’t any kind of a Duglas Gordon. It was just another of those silly pseudo-aristocratic stage names so popular at the time. Lord Duglas Gordon was a well-known inhabitant of Burke’s peerage.

Her birth name was Ellen Louise Thomas, and she was the eldest of what seem to have been six children of Edward Henry Thomas (b 13 November 1815; d 1878) of the Wellington Iron and Coal Company, and his wife Mary or Minnie from Barrnstaple. Mr Thomas was the son of Moy Thomas, son of Moy Thomas, solicitor, so I think they were ‘comfortable’.

Anyway, Edward and ‘Minnie’ bred Ellen Louise, Edward Moy, Herbert Moy, Amy Blanche, Rhoda Mary, Walter M and Florence E – you can see the up-to-date family in 1871 at Clifton Villa, Acre Lane, Brixton -- before Edward's death in 1878 …

And at the same time, daughter Ellen, with the lovely soprano voice, put on her new name and went on the stage, seemingly without any public preparation, playing Brigitte in Charlie Head’s misguided attempt to bring back the Philharmonic Theatre's huge hit, Geneviève de Brabant, under the aegis of Mr D’Oyly Carte. Alice May, star of The Sorcerer had the unenviable task of trying to ‘be’ Emily Soldene, with Alice Burville in the title-role, and 19 year-old Miss Gordon in the third female role.

Mr Carte was evidently pleased and little Miss Gordon was plunged straight into his first provincial touring company as seconda dama, singing Constance to the Aline of a confirmed star in Pauline Rita (otherwise Mrs Maggie Phillips) and the plaintiff in Trial by Jury. When Madame Rita decided, pretty soon, to move on, Nellie was quite simply promoted to prima donna. And she remained thus. When HMS Pinafore set out for its first provincial tour, Nellie was outer England’s first Josephine (‘captivatingly represented by ‘,‘looks acts and sings the part well nigh perfectly’).


Between Pinafores, she visited Nottingham to play Maid Marian in Tom Charles’s Babes in the Wood (‘I know that my love loves me’) for the festive season.

She gave her Josephine at the Standard Theatre (‘a pleasing appearance on the stage and an excellent voice’) and finally, in early 1880, at the Opera-Comique …

And now things get tricky. Nellie, amazingly, seems to be out of work. Had she offended the Carte club? Had enough for a bit? Out of work purposely? My next sighting of her is in the 1881 census at 87 Ferndale Road – Mama Minnie Thomas, Edward, Rhoda, Martin, Walter … Herbert is ‘visiting’… oh! where is 16 year-old Amy?

But the curious thing is that Nellie is listed as Nellie Morgan, 22, widow. Really? There is no sign of a marriage in the British records.

Amy. It seems as if 14 year-old Amy went out on the Carte tours with Nellie. Maybe she was also the child actress ‘little Amy Gordon’ of circa 1873? While father was alive? Maybe not. But Amy is a nuisance. It’s my theory that she stayed at home and had a tiny career until, in 1907, she became Mrs George Chaplin, mining engineer. But there is an Amy Gordon who pops up in the USA theatre at the end of the '70s. She appeared with Willie Gill in his hit show Our Goblins, and went on to run the Amy Gordon opera company round mostly no3 dates for a number of years. She also apparently married. A Mr William A Morgan.

Confusion! So, is the fat, sweet-voiced Amy Gordon of the American stage our Duglas? Our Nellie Morgan? You see what I mean about out of the stewpot into the flames! It would explain to where she vanished! But I think it’s a pink herring with blue spots. William A Morgan, actor, of Philadelphia, didn’t die till 1888. ‘Amy’ promptly remarried Arthur G Miller, as ‘Emma Morgan’. He divorced her as being a perpetual drunkard round about the time little sister Amy was, strangely, apparently back under the Carte management.

But Nellie? I’m pretty sure she isn’t American Amy either. But who was her Mr Morgan, why did he die or ‘die’ so quickly, leaving no trace. And where is she after 1881? Well, she turns up in Dublin in September 1881, at the Queen’s Theatre, playing in drama (with ‘Come back to Erin’ or the like interpolated) and burlesque (‘left nothing to be desired in her singing’), then went on the road in La Mascotte, Geneviève de Brabant and La Fille de Madame Angot (as Lange rather than Clairette) in a less than top notch company, and ended up at the Liverpool Rotunda at Christmas playing Cinderella for eight weeks. 13 February 1883 was her Benefit. She and Constance Moxon (née Smith) played the Balcony Scene and the Gens d’armes duet from Geneviève … and …

In 1891 Minnie is still living with Martin (‘stockbrokers clerk’), Walter and Rhoda; in 1901 she is housing Walter (‘hay merchant’), Amy (‘actress’) and Florence … Edward (d 1927) got into advertising; Herbert (d 2 October 1950) became a kitchen engineer, Martin (d 1923), Amy (d 1925), Walter (d 1937), Rhoda (Mrs Graddon d 1932), they all stay in view. But where died Nellie – ‘Miss Duglas Gordon’ – go?

I’ve cracked the nut, but I can’t get the kernel out. Help, somebody!



Sunday, May 13, 2018

Isabel Reddick or, The Baker's Daughter of Islington

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It’s all David Stone’s fault. I’ve got stuck in letter ‘R’ of his archive …

But it’s also the fault of that shipping list. The one of the vessel taking the D’Oyly Carte company to New York, to play Utopia (Ltd), and including Reddick, Miss Isabel aged 20, who was to play Princess Zara, and Reddick, Mrs Isabel aged 40, clearly her mother. Miss Reddick was very much liked as Zara, on both sides of the Atlantic, so I was a little surprised to find nothing about her before her D’Oyly Carte experience, and very little after. That ‘very little’ was basically a job in the hit musical An Artist’s Model, playing a supporting part and understudying Miss Marie Tempest in the piece’s title-role, after which she was supposed to head the Edwardes company to South Africa ... end of story. Died? Married? It’s usually one or the other.

Well, of course, I couldn’t let it stay that way. Isabel became today’s mission. All I had to go on was that shipping list, and this little article which appeared in The Era newspaper.


Both are a load of codswallop.

Her name wasn’t Reddick … why on earth choose such a stage name? It sounds like one of Aristophanes’s frogs … she was almost 30, not twenty, when she went to America, and she had been around the ultra-minor London concerts for some eight years. As for Lamperti and Marchesi … hmm … when? And if so, why didn’t she splash them over her pre-Zara concert ads? As for ‘being heard’ by the likes of Grossmith and Sullivan. Yes, that is undoubtedly true, even if the circumstances given are not. Isabel had figured on concert bills with such as Rutland Barrington, Decima Moore, Charles Manners, John Child, Lucille Saunders … she would scarcely have been unknown in D’Oyly Cartland.

So lets dump all the ‘biography’ as given, and start from zero.

St John's Street Road

Isabel Rayner was born at 127 St John’s Street Road, Goswell Road, on 14 March 1865. She was the second daughter of the family: her elder sister, Mary Ann, dating from 3 February 1862. Their father was a Ramsgate-born baker named Edward Rayner (1828-1869), their mother Mary Ann née Hutchison (m 1859), and the couple can be seen baking at the St John’s Road address in the 1861 census. After the birth of the two girls, however, Edward died, aged 38, and mother ‘remarried’ a Mr Bell. The marriage seems to have been mislaid by officialdom. Anyway, by the time she went to court ‘confectioner of St John’s Rd’, in September 1870, to bear witness against a lassie who had tried to pass her a dud half-crown, she was Mrs Bell. And by 1871 they have gone from St John’s Street Road. She would later give up baking for running a boarding house (1881 she’s in Gower Street, 1891 in Upper Bedford Street, so pretty fair quality).


The girls are with her in 1881, and soon they are out in the music world. My first sighting is in January 1885, when they appeared in Orsett alongside some musical Scruby children, and then in 1886 (7 December) Isabel turns up at Kensington Town Hall at a concert given by a pianistic Edith Bell. Lindsay Sloper played and Edith Marriott and Percy Palmer were on the short list of singers. I spot Isabel again 16 May 1889 at Stroud, singing ‘The years at the spring’ alongside Eleanor Rees and Thomas Brandon, and then at Henry Leslie’s promenade concerts on a bill with no less than Edward Lloyd, in 1892 (29 June) at Mr Graham Price’s concert at St James’s Hall Banqueting Room, with Belle Cole and Hirwen Jones, and 16 November in a charity performance of a mainly amateur The Statue of Albermarle at the Trafalgar Square Theatre (‘deservedly encored for her sweetly expressive treatment of a song’) where the professionals included Claire Solomon and Sylvia Grey. Rutland Barrington gave a W S Gilbert scena to follow.

During 1893, she turns up for Wilhelm Ganz at then Society of Female Artists, at a flash bazaar at Whitehall in fine company, and at the home of the social Mrs Ronald Taylor’s, pianist, composer and cookery writer, amid aristocratic amateurs, including Edmond Deprêt and ‘Marie de Lido’ …

And then Miss Rayner became Miss Reddick, and went on the stage. I shouldn’t imagine that mama, with her boarding house, nor widowed sister objected!


David has summarised her brief but successful career with the Carte organisation, which was followed by the highly promising engagement with George Edwardes, and I presume the trip to Africa, then … yes, she married. On 23 July 1896, Isabel wed Scotsman William Dalrymple. Mr Dalrymple was into gold. In a fairly big way, I understand. Whether he was already on his way to becoming Sir William Dalrymple KBE, deliciously rich, social, globe-trotting and glamorously-living, already at this stage, or whether that came later, I am not sure, but there will be a South African book somewhere..

Isabel, thus, became Lady Dalrymple of Johannesburg, and glamorously globe-trotted with her husband, producing four or five children on the way (all scrupulously recorded as the children of the ‘aristocracy’ are) into the happily every after. Splendid! And a long way from Orsett and the Scruby children, and the bakery and confectionary in Islington. Isabel died 30 December 1938. William survived her by some three years.

Sister Mary Ann, who remarried, one of her mother’s boarders, Senjiro Watanabe, from Yokohama, survived them all and died 24 November 1951.

Still looking for Mary Ann Bell ….













J H Ryley: setting at least some of the record straight ...



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‘John Handford Ryley’ was perhaps the biggest star of the Gilbert and Sullivan operatic stage in American history. He’s been biographized in brief many a time, not least by me, in my Encyclopaedia of the Musical Theatre. But all the biographies, yes, including mine, skip over his date and place of birth, family background …. Why? Because we didn’t know the answers. There was no one to copy. And even I was stonkered. Because his real name was just simple, plain ‘John Riley’.



Well, now that we are into the computer age, with all its multitude of research facilities, I can usually do something about such cases.

This morning, I was wandering through ‘letter R’, putting Miss ‘Roosevelt’ back (terminally, I hope) in her box, and I chanced by Mr Ryley. Had anyone, by now, pinned down his birth, and the ‘who was’ of Jack before he became a married man and a Dancing Quaker? No. Seemingly not.



It took me twenty minutes, so I can only assume no one has really tried. So here’s tidying up his ends.


John Riley was born in London’s Cook’s Row, Camden Town, on 11 September 1841, the third (?) child of John Riley, a solicitor’s clerk from the city and his wife Elizabeth née Perry. Father and mother and their first two daughters – Elizabeth and Ellen -- can be seen in the 1841 census living at that address, with an elderly servant. By 1851, father John has risen to ‘solicitor’s managing clerk’ mother-in-law and sister-in-law have moved in, three more children – John, Rosina Anne (b 1843) and Constantine (b 1848) – have been added to the family, who are now living in Goldington Street North.



At first glance, I can’t see any of them in 1861. But what is this? Constantine is registered at birth as Constantine Lambertini Perry. Oyoy … what’s going on? Has the unmarried sister-in-law been up to no good? And there is the little nine year-old boy, in October 1857, immured in the Cleveland Street Workhouse, before being bundled off the Australia…

What has happened? Perhaps … I notice a burial record for one John Riley of Sparrow Corner, the Minories, Aldgate, 19 June 1859 … I fear the family fell to bits. But I’m guessing.

But back to our John. Wherever he is in 1861, he’s up singing comic songs at Deacon’s Music Hall, Sadler’s Wells and Price’s Music Hall, Caledonian Road by February 1863, then at Bedford Camden Town as ‘the comical comique’ … and he’s on the way to the career we know about, his first wife, and a place in musical-theatre history …


So, that’s done, and I’m off to a home-made boeuf bourgignon with French (chilled) rosé, courtesy of my neighbour. And while I’m disporting myself gastronomically, all those websites which have (b c 1841) for John Riley-Ryley can now fill in the correct information.




Oh, and I’d really like to know the truth about little Constantine Perry, and what happened after he and the British Trident got to Melbourne (7 March 1859).