A Charming Presence

Lil Hawthorne was an American singer and comedienne, born in 1877. After various childhood acting roles she headed for the variety stage, aged fourteen, as one of the Three Sisters Hawthorne. There was a fashion for ‘sister’ acts at the time but, unlike many, the Hawthornes were three real sisters. They came to London from New York and in June 1898 the Music Hall and Theatre Review enthusiatically proclaimed they achieved ‘an instantaneous success’. One of their successes was in an operetta The Willow Pattern Plate performed at the Oxford, the Tivoli and the Pavilion – all London halls.

Despite their popularity, two of the sisters returned to America while Lil tried her luck as a solo performer. In 1900 she was starring on the Moss and Thornton circuit travelling to South Shields, Hull, Liverpool, Manchester, Bradford, Glasgow and Edinburgh. The Edinburgh Evening Dispatch described her as ‘the original warbler of several world-known medleys’ adding that she had a sweet voice with due regard for modulation. Sweet Rosie O’ Grady was her most popular song with another favourite being I’ll be your Sweetheart, a song my grandmother sang after a glass or two of Guinness. Reviews suggested she marked a step forward in the entertainment of the music hall, being both charming and refined. The owners of the halls were struggling to cast off their less than savoury image and Lil appealed to their vision of the future. She was also a popular principal boy in pantomime for some years.

Belle Elmore

In 1899 Lil married John Nash who became her manager and they later became involved in the case of Dr Crippen and Belle Elmore, an aspiring music hall performer but with little talent. Lil Hawthorne and Belle Elmore were both members of the Music Hall Ladies’ Guild where Belle was treasurer. They became friends and the two couples would visit one another and dine together. The Nashes were visiting America when Crippen’s secretary, Ethel Le Neve, visited Melinda May, secretary of the Ladies Guild and gave her a letter. The letter was written by Dr Crippen saying that Belle had gone to America owing to the illness of some relatives and that a new treasurer should be elected for a few months. Nothing was received from Belle herself.

On their return Lil Hawthorne and her husband were told the story of Belle’s illness and death in America. They were worried by the turn of events and John Nash tried, unsuccessfully, to find out where Belle had died and where she was cremated. By this time Ethel Le Neve had moved into the Crippen’s house and was wearing some of Belle’s jewellery. Others in the music hall world were worried and Vulcana, the strongwoman, had approached the police with her fears. John Nash talked to Crippen and was so disturbed he took a taxi straight to Scotland Yard.

Dr Crippen and Ethel Le Neve were arrested en route to Canada on an ocean liner with Ethel Le Neve dressed as a boy. They were posing as father and son but aroused suspicion and the newly invented telegraph was used to relay the information to Scotland Yard. Human remains were found buried in the basement of 39 Hilldrop Crescent, the Crippen’s home. Crippen was found guilty and given the death sentence while Ethel Le Neve was exonerated. Lil Hawthorne and John Nash gave evidence at the trial in 1910 and in 1911 the Treasury authorised payment to them of £100 to cover expenses incurred and loss of earnings. A few years later they moved to America where Lil Hawthorne died of heart problems in 1926, aged forty-nine.


Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive and the Monomania collection.

A Good Night Out

Music hall audiences had a reputation for rowdiness, often well deserved, as they didn’t attempt to hold back their feelings about an artiste. However this was mild compared to theatre in the Georgian period when the gentry would invade the stage during a performance causing the actors the indignity of elbowing their way to the front to say their lines. Spitting, bottle and orange peel throwing and sword-fighting were also audience pursuits, while the singing of popular songs competed with the thespians speaking from the stage. There was a fashion for the wealthier patrons to use their footman to save a seat, which meant the servant could be sitting next to ‘a lady of the first quality’ – just not done.

In the earlier part of the nineteenth century Song and Supper rooms in public houses, known as Free and Easies, were a form of popular entertainment. Entry was free but the audience were expected, nay encouraged, to buy alcoholic drink. Originally only men were admitted and the entertainment came from within the audience with amateur singers strutting their stuff. A reporter tells us ‘the entertainment given at these pothouses are of a low order. Songs are badly sung, mumbled or bawled with an earsplitting accent.’ This didn’t put off the punters and gradually landlords added rooms for the entertainment nights which could be two or three times a week. The Free and Easies developed a reputation for drunkeness and bad behaviour. A letter to the Fleetwood Chronlcle in 1876 tells of the writer passing a Free and Easy in Blackpool ’out of which four boys were coming, and into which two were going; one of them was smoking a short pipe and the others were using profane language; the ages of these boys were from twelve and fourteen years.’ In the same year the chief constable of Preston described a Saturday night where five to six hundred young persons, half of them apparently under the age of sixteen, were to be found in a Free and Easy. Women and girls were now enjoying this kind of entertainment and young women would often take their babies. Groups of women, unaccompanied by men, were common with work-mates and neighbours meeting up for a good night out. The Manchester Evening News in 1877 reported the Chief Constable of that area proposed there should be Free and Easies without intoxicating drinks but which instead would sell cocoa. This seemed doomed to failure.

Wilton’s Music Hall 1859

As the popularity of this form of entertainment grew the halls increased in size and professional acts were engaged. In the early halls the audience sat around tables, some facing away from the stage, and food and drink were served by waiters. There was much coming and going and the performer, without the luxury of a microphone, would battle to be heard above the general hubbub. Gradually music halls were built as separate buildings with audiences sitting in rows on various levels with bars for the the purchase of drinks. The main bar of the Metropolitan, Edgware, had a wide glass panel through which the entertainment could be viewed. The top tier, the gallery, was usually the rowdiest with the ’gallery boys’ hurling rotten fruit and veg, dead cats and even iron rivets at the stage to show their displeasure. The orchestra pit was often covered in wire netting to protect the musicians. The music hall managers were constantly engaged in trying to make their halls respectable with licence renewal a major worry. A contract from the Parthenon Music Hall Liverpool, signed by Adelaide and Oswald Stoll, contains the rule ’Every artiste must stringently avoid introducing any obscene Song, Saying or Gesture’. They were up against such reformers as Mrs Ormiston Chant who saw the halls as dens of depravity with predatory prostitutes and crude performers from whom the lower classes needed protection.

Marie Lloyd

In 1909 the unfortunate Miss Charlesworth appeared at the Islington Hippodrome (later Collins), the Canterbury and the Paragon. On each occasion a gentleman introduced her and took a long time over it, to the displeasure of the audience. When Miss Charlesworth finally appeared she was greeted with a cacophany of boos and hisses and declared herself too nervous to to sing. She bowed to the audience before leaving the stage to the sound of sarcastic laughter. Fortunately this was not the experience of all music hall performers although their reception could vary from hall to hall. Marie Lloyd, much loved in London, was given an unenthusiastic reception in Bradford but gave as good as she got by not responding to an encore at the finish. TS Eliot noted that he had seen Nellie Wallace ’interrupted by jeering or hostile comment from a boxful of East-enders’ but he had never known Marie Lloyd to be confronted by hostility. He also notes that Nellie Wallace made a quick retort that silenced her hecklers.

Vesta Tilley
Ada Reeve

When postcards became the rage in the early 1900s music hall artistes were well represented and their fans collected the cards and sent them with messages of their everyday lives. In 1906 Mrs Baldwin hopes to see Vesta Tilley a week on Monday while a couple of years earlier Miss Gordon looked forward to seeing ’this Lady’ in all her latest successes. Ted saw Vesta Tilley at the Hippodrome (postmark blurred) and sends a card saying ’this girl was one of the soldiers who sang some songs.’ Ada Reeve is described as a nice girl – ‘not half’ by THH when writing to Miss Caley in 1905 and Florrie writes to Ethel to say she went to the Palace in Hull and bought the postcard of Gertie Gitana, ’the star artist.’ These audiences probably restrained themselves from throwing rotten food at the stage but showed their feelings nevertheless by joining in with chorus songs, wild applause and a bit of heckling. They had their favourites and sang and whistled their songs as they went about their business, secure in the feeling they had found a place where they belonged.

Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive, The Victorian Music Hall – Dagmar Kift

Marie Lloyd and Music Hall – Daniel Farson, Marie Lloyd – Richard Anthony Baker

The Popularity of Music Hall website

Gertie Gitana

Ballet Girls

She was ‘only a ballet girl’ was a term often used in theatre circles to cover everyone from the flying fairy to the corps de ballet and its principal dancer. Ballet girls were seen as having easy morals and were treated with scant respect. Albert Smith in the Natural History of the Ballet Girl, published 1847, points out that a gent imagines he has but to wink at a fairy on stage to be immediately received as her accepted admirer. Ballet girls were employed in large numbers to look decorative as well as to dance and would often be placed as ‘extras’ around the stage. Their dancing skills were often found wanting. Opera and pantomime were originally a good source of employment for them and in 1877 Davenport & Wright, Musical and Dramatic Agency, required 150 young attractive ballet ladies for pantomimes in London and the provinces. Music hall managers, always looking for something new, began to stage ballets as part of their programme and in 1866 the Canterbury Music Hall in London advertised a grand ballet spectacle with a fairy orchestra and upwards of fifty ballerinas.

The ballet girls were often mocked for their lack of training and poor skills but it was a hard life with little romance. In the 1860s a dancer paid for her own petticoat, tights, fleshings (flesh coloured tights) and shoes and much time was spent repairing and re-covering worn shoes. Wages were low and sometimes dancers were not paid for rehearsals, which were long with only an hour or two off before the evening performance. This could last until midnight and occasionally a rehearsal could be called after the performance. Those in the front line were paid more than those at the back so competition was fierce with ballet girls dreaming of working their way through the ranks to become principal dancer or coryphée. Things had improved a little by the end of the nineteenth century but dancers were still responsible for buying their own shoes and tights and were encouraged to take professional dance lessons at their own expense.

The Star Trap

It could be a dangerous occupation with newspaper reports of dancers sustaining serious burns when costumes caught fire when moving too close to, or falling into, the limelights along the edge of the stage. They ran the risk of scenery falling on them and those dancers propelled from beneath the stage fervently hoped the star trap would open for them to make their dramatic appearance. The vagaries of the licensing laws were also a problem. In Edinburgh, Henry Levy applied to renew the license for the Southminster Music Hall in 1872. A petition had been received from ninety-five working men who were dissatisfied with the entertainments provide by the Southminster with many of the songs and dances being of a mischievous and immoral tendency – – also of a significantly suggestive character, exercising a corrupting influence on the young of both sexes who so largely frequent this place of amusement. The can-can ballet was their main target which had been put on nightly for a few months and enjoyed by the gallery boys and girls. The license was renewed on the understanding that the can-can would no longer feature in the programme.

The Empire
The Alhambra
Nelly Power



The status of ballet changed over the years but music hall kept it alive and introduced audiences to a a different form of entertainment. In 1870 the burlesque actress and music hall star Nelly Power appeared at the Canterbury Hall, London, in a Grand Ballet entitled Four-leaved Shamrock. She played the roles of several characters and imitated the most popular comic songs of her day – with no advance in the prices. The London halls, the Empire and the Alhambra were renowned for their ballets which took over one half of the programme. We can assume there was a rivalry between the two as a former Alhambra dancer opined they were expected to dance, unlike the corps de ballet of the Empire, who merely held up the scenery. The managers of these two halls became aware of the Diaghilev Ballet and the attraction of supremely talented artistes. The Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova and the Danish Adeline Genée were engaged and changed the public opinion of ballet forever.

Anna Pavlova
Adeline Genée


Thanks to The British Newspaper Archive, vintagepointe.org, The Natural History of the Ballet Girl -Albert Smith, My theatrical and Musical Recollections – Emily Soldene, Monomania collection.

A market for vice and drinking

Mrs Ormiston Chant

In late Victorian times music halls were a countrywide institution and had moved on from grimy rooms at the back of public houses to full blown palaces of entertainment with elaborate architecture and lavish interiors. However, they still had their critics with the foremost among them being Mrs Ormiston Chant of the Purity Party whose view was that the halls catered for people who had a small proportion of brains. She began a campaign to remove the much appreciated Ladies of the Promenade from the Empire, Leicester Square, in London. This did not please a young Winston Churchill who wrote in his autobiography we were scandalised by Mrs Chant’s charges and insinuations. Churchill was filled with scorn when a canvas screen was put up to hide the exquisitely dressed prostitutes and was part of a crowd who later tore it down. The council closed the bars and the canvas screen was replaced by railings but the decision was reversed at the next licensing session and the discreet ladies returned. Marie Lloyd fell foul of the prudes on the prowl at the Empire when Mrs Ormiston Chant made a public protest by shouting out during one of her songs. Even the Empire’s footmen in blue and gold livery could not convince the purity campaigner that this was a respectable house.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, Marie Lloyd received a less than flattering description from Virginia Woolf after a visit to the Bedford Music Hall in Camden Town. We went to the Bedford Music Hall last night and saw Miss Marie Lloyd, a mass of corruption – long front teeth – a crapulous way of saying desire and yet a born artist – – A roar of laughter went up when she talked of her marriage. She is beaten nightly by her husband. This was at the music hall built in 1899 on the site of the original Bedford Music Hall (1861). The original being later known as the Old Bedford and providing the setting for a series of Sickert’s music hall paintings.

The dancer, Maud Allan, caused a stir in 1908 with her classical dancing and costume particularly when performing Salome which was banned from some music halls and theatres. The Palace, Manchester, received a visit from the Chief Constable who watched her performance and advised the Manchester Watch Committee to prohibit her appearance. He expressed a wish to go on the stage to get a closer look at her costume but was denied this by the managing director, Mr Alfred Butt. The Chief Constable was very anxious to accept Mr Butt’s suggestion that he look at the costume when Miss Allan had changed but was stopped by the official who was with him. Maud Allan agreed in some cases to dispense with the carrying of St John the Baptist’s head on a platter during her performance. I was amused to see that on one occasion she was followed on the bill by Juliette’s Sea-Lions.

America was not without it’s perils for the music hall star as male impersonator, Bessie Bonehill, found out during a season at Tony Pastor’s theatre in New York. She kept an anonymous note she received which quoted a passage from the scriptures, The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, for all that do so are an abomination. Bessie Bonehill had short hair, unusual for the time, and did not wear wigs unlike many male impersonators. The Daughters of America tried to have her expelled from the country but she was enormously popular.

Thanks to British Newspaper Archive, Marie Lloyd and Music Hall by Daniel Farson, Marie Lloyd Queen of the Music Halls by Richard Anthony Baker, England’s Gem – the story of Bessie Bonehill by Richard Bonehill


On the face of it

This post is a deviation from the music hall theme although it covers entertainment and celebrity. The subject is Professor Annie Isabella Oppenheim who lived and worked in London for many years. I have two postcards of her and was keen to find out more about the pleasant looking woman in academic cap and gown who appears in the photographs. Limited research could find nothing of her early life except that she was possibly of Austrian heritage. There seems to have been no interest in her life outside the cause of her fame. Annie Oppenheim studied, as she called it, phreno-physiognomy or scientific character reading from the face.


In 1894 the ‘special commissioner’ from the St James’s Gazette described character reading as the modern equivalent of fortune-telling, but was impressed when meeting Professor Oppenheim in her Bond Street consulting rooms. To invoke scientific gravitas she received clients in her cap and gown and displayed a human skull in the inner sanctum. Keen to show the popularity of her subject, Annie shared the fact that she carried out around 9,000 consultations at a recent Earl’s Court Exhibition. She was at pains to say there was no typical customer but that they were male and female and came from all walks of life. Facial features were looked at one by one and interpreted according to their position, size and shape. She put forward the idea that hair was an animal matter and that bald-headed men were the most intellectual as they had ‘through the exertion of their brains exhausted all that is animal in their nature.’


The Bond Street rooms displayed portraits of her clients, many celebrities of the time, including Annie Oakley and Buffalo Bill. The latter was delighted with his consultation and featured her reading in the programmes for his show.


Annie Oppenheim did not confine herself to her consulting rooms and in August 1898 was in the coastal town of Eastbourne in Sussex. She ‘delineated’ various high profile Eastbournians and the newspaper reported gleefully ‘how striking some of her remarks were.’ She pointed out the Rev. W. Scott’s fondness for argument while the narrow-headed Duke of Devonshire was a man who looked at things more from his own point of view but with every intention of doing what was right. Mr Carew Davies Gilbert J.P. had a large brain and a good physique and was found to be fond of art and refinement.

Although she was serious about her work, Annie did not talk down to people and in 1895 gave an amusing lecture on ‘Noses’ and had an ‘eccentric’ assortment of noses on a screen to which she referred. She could be found at a Forestry Exhibition, a theatrical garden party or at a theatrical bazaar. The latter seems to have been a huge affair with theatrical celebrities signing photos and manning stalls such as ‘Sweets and Cocktails’ and ‘Penny in the slot’. There was a touch of the theatrical about the Oppenheim face readings with well considered costume and presentation.


Annie Oppenheim wrote two books on her subject between 1900 and 1910, Physiognomy made easy and The face and how to read it, which were well received. One reviewer wrote that ‘Inexact science will always be the most popular’. The books were for the amatuer physiognomist who was implored not to stare at an unwitting suspect and if that proved impossible then to consider photographs and portraits as a substitute for the living person. I discovered she was active for at least twenty years, fascinating and entertaining thousands of people in a lively and interesting way.

Thanks to the britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk, Monomania postcard collection,

The William F. Cody Archive, ‘Physiognomical Studies’ Professor Annie I. Oppenheim B.P.A. 22/1/2021 <http://codyarchive.org/texts/wfc.nsp12807.html&gt;


The Latest Scourge

The latest scourge – a term used to describe the flu pandemic of 1918/19 when the country was already reeling from the devastating effects of the First World War. Theatres and music halls were a welcome escape for many of the population and the authorities saw them as a morale booster in difficult times. There was much debate as to whether music halls should remain open and which, if any, preventative measures should be taken. Local authorities took their own decisions. By October 1918 no regulations had been issued in Oxford as to the closing of places of amusement, even though influenza was rife. Audiences declined considerably and the military authorities placed music halls out of bounds for infantry cadets, although Royal Air Force cadets could still attend. In contrast, at the beginning of November 1918 the licensing committee in Birkenhead issued regulations covering the opening of music halls. The first performance was to take place between 6.30 and 8pm with the premises thoroughly ventilated until 8.45pm when the second performance began. Children under fourteen were not to be admitted under any circumstances and overcrowding should be avoided. Scrupulous cleanliness was expected.

In many areas the military of all ranks were forbidden to attend the halls which had a severe effect on their takings and led to calls for restrictions to be eased. Various medical experts shared their opinion that it was useless to close places of amusement while allowing travel on omnibuses and trains. Oswald Stoll, music hall manager, declared that the epidemic was much more likely the result of a diet lacking in fats and sugar than visits to the music hall. The London Palladium installed an ozone ventilating system and sprayed a strong germ killer all over the theatre between each performance. The Illustrated London News suggested there was no better preventative than a good sneezing fit once or twice a day and various manufacturers talked up the efficacy of their products.



Despite some measures to combat the virus it dealt a blow to performers as well as audiences with popular artists unable to perform. The trade papers sought to play down the seriousness of the outbreak but were reporting many stand-ins for advertised artists. Daisy Jerome, irreverent mimic and singer, cancelled her appearance at the Palladium after succumbing to influenza while coster act, Duncan and Godfrey, appeared at the Holborn Empire still suffering from the after effects of the illness. Anthony Burgess, the writer, tells us of his mother’s death from influenza in 1918 when he was two years old. He talks about her life in music halls and her marriage to his father, a pianist in the pit orchestra. I can find no other evidence of Elizabeth Burgess/Wilson appearing on the halls and would be grateful for any information.

Elizabeth Burgess Wilson

Music halls were perhaps more fortunate here than in the States, Canada and Australia where the halls closed for weeks at a time inflicting severe hardship on performers and venues. In her autobiography, Take it for a Fact, Ada Reeve talks of being hospitalised with flu in South Africa with theatres closed and the public warned not to go to places of amusement. All in all, many parallels with the current pandemic and then, as now the fervent wish was to get back to normal.

Ada Reeve


Thanks to British Newspaper Archive, thestage.co.uk, Take it for a Fact – Ada Reeve
Photograph of Elizabeth Burgess/Wilson reproduced with kind permission of the International Anthony Burgess Foundation


I’m an old hand at love

0FD29E9F-BBD6-42EC-A545-1BD413C1468AMinnie Cunningham was a music hall singer and dancer, best remembered for featuring in a painting by Walter Sickert. She was born in Birmingham in 1870, the daughter of music hall comic singer Ned Cunningham. He was well-loved and successful, being described by the Birmingham Gazette as the ‘greatest comic singer in the world.’ His daughter started her music hall career after his death when she was ten years old. Minnie Cunningham tells us she began as a male impersonator and sang her father’s songs, although reviews of the time don’t mention male impersonation, only her singing and dancing. She moved from the provincial halls to London where she performed at the principal halls of the day.

It was during her London success that Minnie Cunningham was introduced to the 31A333B7-D7C4-4610-B0B0-EAC59D94897Epainter Walter Sickert by the poet and music hall critic Arthur Symons. Both men were smitten by the popular artiste and Sickert arranged to paint her portrait. The figure of Minnie Cunningham was painted from life in Sickert’s studio in Chelsea in 1892. For this painting she stood on a raised stand as if she were on stage but when asking her to pose for a later painting Sickert writes that he had built a proper stage  ‘six foot square, with steps up to it.’ The background is thought to be the Tivoli on the Strand in London where Sickert had seen her perform. The painting was originally entitled, Miss Minnie Cunningham ‘I’m an old hand at love, though I’m young in years.’ This was one of her popular songs at the time and while singing it she dressed as a young girl which made the performance more daring. The painting became known as Minnie Cunningham at the Old Bedford. It was exhibited for the first time at the New English Art Club in 1892 to a mixed reception, with a reviewer in the Pall Mall Gazette writing ‘The red dress of Minnie Cunningham glows with refined richness in its setting, but the proportions of the figure and the feet and hands seem altogether absurd.’ The subject and setting were just too shocking for many at the time and it was said by some to represent degradation and vulgarity.

Minnie Cunningham remained popular for some years, performing, writing songs for herself and others and appearing in pantomime. She maintained it was very difficult to gauge the public taste in choosing a song but her compositions ‘The hen that cackles the most’ and ‘Give us a wag of your tail, old dog’ seem to have hit the mark. Minnie spent time in Ireland, calling herself ‘the Little Irish Gem’ and a tale is told of male admirers turning up with glass bottles to throw at the performer who replaced her at the top of the bill, giving us an idea of her popularity.

While in Ireland she claimed £500 through a court case for alleged breach of 9D63B80C-0979-452C-A9E1-EBFD29E749B3contract in which she was engaged as principal girl in the Jack and Jill pantomime at £30 a week. She refused to wear the costume for her part saying it was too short and offended her standards of decency. Discussions with management were unsuccessful, often ending in tears. Eventually another performer, Edith Fink, was appointed to the role and had no complaints about the length of the costume. At one point in the court proceedings the two performers removed their hats and boots and stood back to back on a table to see who was the taller of the two. Minnie Cunningham was undoubtedly the taller and was asked to put on the costume for the jury’s eyes only. There were rumours that she was worried that Dorothy Ward playing the part of Jack, an extremely well-known and talented performer, would outshine her. The jury could not agree on a verdict and were discharged.

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Dorothy Ward

Minnie Cunningham lived with her mother in Southgate Road, Hackney. Her mother died in 1916 and Minnie seems to have retired shortly after this. She died in 1954 at the age of eighty-four and her later life is a mystery. She remained in Southgate Road, but her obituary tells us only of Minnie’s performing life taken from her own words.

 

 

 

Thanks to britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk
                   monomania postcards (@monomaniablogs)
                   Walter Richard Sickert & the Theatre 1880-1940. PhD thesis submitted    University of St Andrews by William Rough 2010

 

An update on the mysterious relative

I’m very pleased to have found out a little more about the life of Marie Levison/Kate Toole who featured in the previous post. Thanks to the help of @heathertweed my enthusiasm was renewed for more research. Marie/Kate was born in 1859 in Worcester and her original name was Catherine Lee. She was one of nine sisters which included my friend’s Great Grandmother, Jane Lee. It seems the family cast her adrift when she went on the stage. This story had come down through the family but was still not really talked about. According to her obituary, Catherine started her career under the stage name Marie Levison, singing and acting with various companies until she was engaged by the D’Oyley Carte company. It seems she spent some years there and then as Kate Toole took to the music halls and pantomime where, for a time, she enjoyed success. She was said to have an excellent stage presence and a rich sympathetic voice.

While my friend found out about Catherine’s beginnings I looked into her death and burial guided by @heathertweed. Kate Toole, as she was still known, died of alcohol poisoning and had been found in bed by her landlady. She was living in Bermondsey and was buried on March 5th 1903 in Nunhead Cemetery. She was 44 years old when she died. Kate was buried in consecrated ground but in a public or communal grave along with twenty-one other people. This usually happened when the deceased had no resources to pay for a private grave or no relatives prepared to pay the costs. As Catherine had changed her name twice it’s possible her family had lost track of her – a better thought than that they refused to help. The site of the grave is now a nature reserve.

The obituary states that, in her day, Kate Toole was a popular and much appreciated artiste but that in later years her name had entirely disappeared from the London programmes. We will probably never know if her star faded and she took to drink or if alcohol was the cause of her downfall, as it was with so many music hall performers. I’m glad we could give her some recognition and I feel moved by her story and grateful to have had the chance to get to know her in a small way.

Thanks to @heathertweed, British Newspaper Archive, Nunhead Cemetery

 

 

 

The Mysterious Relative

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This photo is signed Marie Levison and is of the relative of a friend. Information is hard to come by and it seems Marie may have been the person in the family that no one talked about. Was she considered beyond the pale for embracing the theatrical life? We don’t know but would love to find out. The photo shows her as Dandini in the pantomime Cinderella at the Theatre Royal, Cardiff in January 1888. Marie Levison was not her real name, which could have been Kate Lee, and she changed her name again to Kate Toole in October 1888. It wasn’t unusual for performers to change their names if they took on a new act or hoped to leave an unsuccessful career behind, but why did she do it?

We know that Marie Levison had been with the D’Oyley Carte Company for some years and then switched to music hall. We don’t know why she did this. As Kate Toole she appeared on various bills and seems to have been well received although never appearing as the star turn. She was represented by Hugh J Didcott who was one of the leading agents of the time. Didcott had a dispute with the leading music halls which he lost and many of the music hall stars left his agency which meant he was left with the less popular artistes. When did he represent Kate? Did she stay with him? We don’t know the date of her birth but sadly we know how she died. The Brighton Gazette reported in March 1903 that Kate Toole was found dead in bed by her landlady. The cause of death was given as alcohol poisoning.

If anyone has any more information on Marie/Kate it would be wonderful if you could share it and I’ll pass it on to the friend with the mysterious relative.

 

Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive and the British Music Hall Society.

Roller-Skating: An Aid to Health

The general population in the early 1900s was as susceptible to fashion and new-fangled ideas as we are today. The craze for roller-skating came over from America and swept the country. As ever, the music hall reflected life in the outside world and took the opportunity to bring new delights to its audiences. Roller-skating acts were soon included in music hall programmes and managers were encouraged to update the halls with flooring to accommodate skaters, or rinkers as they were known. As seen below, the suggestion seems to be that rinkers could use the halls for skating between performances and managers could cash in at the same time.

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Specialist roller-skating rinks opened all over the country for the general public but were not universally popular among those already providing other forms of entertainment. In some areas publicans organised an anti-rinking campaign and billiard saloon owners met to discuss the way to combat the attraction of roller-skating. The trade paper, The Era, tells us that music halls seemed not to suffer a decline in trade and the manager of a large venue declared that skaters liked a quiet seat at an entertainment at least one evening a week. This may have been wishful thinking as Mr Alfred Graham, proprietor of the Hull Hippodrome and Middlesbrough’s Oxford Music Hall, was declared insolvent and blamed skating rinks for his troubles.

Health benefits were said to be gained from roller-skating with even the most BE3D3A36-13DE-4723-98BF-8BB09D9B57F6delicate people finding it beneficial. Headaches would become a thing of the past as the blood coursed more vigorously through the veins. Little is said about falls and broken limbs. Seeing the experts performing at rinks and music halls increased the popularity of the pastime with participants attempting dance steps and couple dancing, with mixed results.
326EEF08-1E76-4E68-9F79-BF0C1E4CB870Dolly Mitchell was a young Scottish roller-skater who teamed up with her American teacher, Harley Davidson, to give displays in rinks and music halls. Advertised as the greatest skaters in the world and giving a wonderful exhibition of trick, fancy, acrobatic, graceful and artistic skating. They displayed over £1,000 worth of gold and diamond medals won in competition. When appearing in Scarborough they cake-walked, two-stepped and waltzed on roller-skates before executing a perfect ballet dance. Harley Davidson described Dolly Mitchell as being sixteen years old, the daughter of a doctor in Aberdeen and the granddaughter of ‘old John Begg’ a whisky distiller. They visited London to have a portable maple floor made to fit any stage at a cost of £140 and Harley boasted they would be ‘the first roller-skating dancers and poseurs to travel with such a flooring’.

Rosey Anslow and Ella Grahame were working in Poland AB13BD1D-B9AD-4060-8092-EDBDB7E5C0E3and had this publicity photo taken by Léo Forbert’s studio in Warsaw. Ella writes on the back of the card ‘What price this for swank. Do you like me in pants? The people can’t get past the size of my bottom here’. Let’s hope the audience appreciated their skill as well.

Information worth sharing is that Mr H. W. Izod, manager of a roller-skating rink in Earls Court London had, on two occasions, entered a wild beasts’ cage in public. The first time he played a game of ping-pong in the presence of eleven lions and the second time he shaved another man with fifteen lions around him. He was said to be a sworn enemy of monotony.

The rinking craze was short-lived and by 1911 many rinks had closed with investors losing considerable sums of money. However the music hall soldiered on.