Today we’ll look at some lesser-known artistes of the music hall and beyond. The work wasn’t always a choice as young girls could be pushed into singing in pubs and rough drinking establishments, often working very long hours cleaning and waiting at tables for very little money. One can only guess at what they had to put up with. More established performers worked on various circuits, some more prestigious than others. Once they had signed a contract with one of the syndicates that controlled the circuits they were not allowed to work in halls on other circuits. At one point artistes could not work on other circuits even if their engagements with their own circuits were months ahead or they were offered work in a nearby hall. It was virtually impossible for an individual to set up a new music hall as performers would be barred from working there. In established halls artistes were obliged to work matinées for no extra pay if the management put a formal advertisement in the trade publication called ‘The Performer.‘
This is a photo of Malvina Dunreath who is described on the card as an instrumentalist, singer and long boot dancer. It’s hard to tell how old she is but she’s dressed as a young girl. From a distance and with poor lighting the audience might have believed she was very young. I would be grateful for any information on her, having found only brief references to her over a few years. She appeared at the Gem Picture Hall in Tring in 1914 billed as a comedienne and dancer and at the Panopticon in Lanarkshire in 1915. In April 1917 she is at the Hippodrome, Chesterfield in an ‘Expensive Engagement, direct from London of the Revue of Revues.’ Malvina Dunreath is presented in ‘song and dance.’ The last reference I can find is of an appearance in Derry in August 1918. She is mentioned as ‘one of three first class variety numbers drawing crowded houses.’ Malvina Dunreath’s contributions ‘readily win favour for her.’ There is no mention of the long boot dancing.
Herculine, or Madame Herculine, performed feats of strength. She is wearing a garter in the photo and this seems to have been adopted by strong women as can be seen in earlier posts on Vulcana and Maud Atlas. It looks as if Herculine is wearing rather unsuitable shoes for her profession with heels and thin straps but maybe it made balancing easier. She was also known as the lady Samson and ‘Madame’ was used as a term of respect. In 1908 she was performing at Humber’s Waxworks in Aberdeen to large crowds. It was said she was the most marvellous person ever to have appeared at the waxworks. The pinnacle of her performance was lifting a barrel holding twenty-two gallons of water by her hair. January 1911 sees her in Kirkcaldy at the Olympia Roller and Skating Rink and she is there for one night only described as ‘La Belle Herculine – astounding and daring feats of strength.’ The advertisement goes on to say, ‘Madame will sustain upon her chest a local blacksmith’s anvil, weighing a quarter of a ton, while a horse-shoe is forged upon it.’ It adds, ‘Skating as usual from 7-11.’
In June of the same year Herculine visited Penzance Fair and was no doubt pleased to know that an R. Julyan George reported ‘I hereby certify that I have seen Madame Herculine’s performance and have examined her hair and head, and believe her to be genuine in what she does.’ Perhaps a wise conclusion as she was a strong woman. In August 1913 she was at Sunderland Town Moor Carnival lifting and firing a huge naval cannon. Finally, on the back of a card of Herculine, Percy writes to Walter, ‘Just a photo of my intended. What do you think of her? Expect wedding cake soon.’ Pity she couldn’t respond.
Thanks to the britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk and The Call Boy