Tag Archives: The Kebbles

Wherever I lay my hat


The Kebbles

The nature of music hall life meant that the theatrical landlady was a figure looming large in the lives of performers. When lodgings were found, the artistes were dependent on the landlady for food and comfort. As early as 1864 a writer in the Newry Telegraph tells us the British landlady nourishes a general spite against mankind and that she reminds her lodgers of the soft settees they have left at home  by the painful contrast of a few flinty chairs and a horse-hair sofa, on which to snatch an interval of slippery repose. The landlady was often portrayed as ruling with a rod of iron, out to make as much money as possible by providing as little as possible. However, an article in the Manchester Courier in 1887, paints a much more glowing picture in which the landlady ‘obliges’ in different ways. She prepares late suppers, provides newspapers which might have ‘notices’ in them and could even supply a loaf of bread for the lodger of a less diligent landlady.




Madeline Rossiter

Performers often finished an engagement in one town and travelled to the next on the same evening. The Kebbles write that they will leave Southport on Saturday night and arrive in Edinburgh at seven the next morning. They add they are staying with Mrs Shaw. Annie Laurie, a refined comedienne and dancer, travels from Leicester to Middlesbrough and writes to Mrs Nicolson that she will arrive on the Sunday night about ten. She apologises for not having ‘wrote’ sooner. Madeline Rossiter thanks Mrs Brown in Cardiff for sending on a handkerchief and sends ‘best love’. These performers seem to know their landladies and feel comfortable with them.



Annie Laurie

There is a story of an artiste providing a landlady with eight sausages to be cooked but only six appeared at the table. The landlady boldly stated sausages do shrink so in cooking. Vesta Tilley tells of lodging in Manchester over the Christmas period in the same house as Dan Leno and his family. They were both very young and were looking forward to the Christmas Day feast provided by their families but cooked by the landlady. The meal was to be on the table by six o’clock at the latest so that they could return to the theatre for the third and last show. When they arrived for the turkey and plum pudding they found the landlady and her husband had been celebrating enthusiastically and had forgotten to cook the dinner. The Christmas feast descended into tea and boiled eggs.


Vesta Tilley




In 1887 Alexina Anderson was appearing in Robinson Crusoe in Leeds and was charged with assaulting her landlady, Mrs Wilcock. The defendant asked her landlady for some hot water and some unfriendly words passed between them with the pantomime star applying a forceful epithet to Mrs Wilcock. Miss Anderson was said to have struck her three times with a portion of fishing rod and was found guilty with a fine of ten shillings. In 1895 in Blackburn Mrs Hyland, a landlady, was summoned for using abusive language. Miss Doris, a cast member from the pantomime Babes in the Wood, was lodging opposite Mrs Hyland but visited other cast members at Mrs H’s house. The landlady was asked to serve a cup of coffee but Mrs Hyland brandished a poker and threatened to brain the lady if she didn’t leave the house. The police were called and she locked the officer and the others in a room together. Mrs Hyland was fined five shillings and costs.


The landladies had photographs displayed of their lodgers and kept a visitor’s book in which the artistes wrote their opinions of their stay. A couple of  newspaper articles of the time point out that that the comments were always complimentary as they would probably need to stay there again. The performers were always complaining about their lodgings in private. Landladies had a constant stream of performers with different wants and needs, sometimes staying for as little as two nights but expecting decent food, a comfortable bed and a clean room. Sometimes they found it, sometimes not. This is an advert from the Sussex Express which lists theatrical lodgings alongside adverts for church roof shinglers and ferrets.



Thanks to the British newspaper archive.co.uk,   Recollections of Vesta Tilley









Who sent the cards?

Sometimes the comments on the back of the postcards can be quite intriguing. On turning over a photo of Vesta Tilley we find a message from Ernest to Miss Eva Cooper in Dublin, sent from Glasgow in 1906. It says ‘we broke all previous records here yesterday. Had two of the biggest houses we ever had. Had a postcard from Holmes and one from Quigley...’ This sounds like music hall or theatre performances. Was Vesta Tilley involved? Was the postcard from Sherlock Holmes? The realms of fantasy are endless. Whatever the answers, it’s a wonderful photo.

Ernest's card of Vesta Tilley

Ernest’s card of Vesta Tilley

Then, as now, there were avid collectors of postcards but no short-cuts to finding that elusive special card. Nelly writes in 1906 apologising to her aunt, Mrs Thoruley in Bolton, as she can’t get the Vesta Tilley card she wants but instead sends one of Vesta with a cigar in the uniform of a soldier. Annie sends a card from West Hartlepool to Miss Turner to say it is the only one she can get of Vesta Tilley, this time holding a cigarette dressed as a young man about town. In 1905 Charlie is pleased to be able to send a card of Vesta at all as he has had to try several shops before being able to get it.

According to Norah in 1906 Hetty King has rather a nice face and Miss Greenhalgh of Southport receives a card from GS which says, ‘I believe you like sailors?’ This is written on the back of a card showing Hetty as a pipe-smoking sailor.

Hetty King - for anyone who likes sailors

Hetty King – for anyone who likes sailors

Bert also sends a card of Hetty the sailor to Aggie in 1907. It is rather touching as he writes, ‘you may expect me home on Fryday (sic). The boat leaves here at 9 o’clock but we don’t know what time we will get to Nottingham.’  

The card writers often apologise for their poor writing, explaining it is a ‘wretched pen‘ or they are writing while standing-up. Experience of trying to decipher these messages has taught me that handwriting was as varied then as it is now and was by no means an art form which has now been lost. I have a few cards sent to Seddon Cox Esq from Babs which are in mirror writing. They all feature Gabrielle Ray and Miss Craske and Babs remarks on the sauciness of the card shown here. I’ve included the back of the card as well for translation by the keener among you. Click on it and you should get an enlarged picture.

Mirror writing

Mirror writing

Gabrielle Ray and Miss Craske

Gabrielle Ray and Miss Craske

Performers used their own publicity postcards to communicate with boarding-houses and arrange meetings up and down the country. The Kebbles sent a card from Southport to Edward Stream telling him they will travel overnight to Edinburgh and asking him to call on them at their lodgings at Mrs Shaw’s.

The Kebbles card sent to Edward Stream

The Kebbles card sent to Edward Stream

Madeline Rossiter thanks Mrs Brown ‘in haste’ for sending on a handkerchief and Ruby Rowe asks God to bless Mr & Mrs Stream in 1921. Miss Effie Fellows ‘the one and only perfect boy’  uses her postcard to tell us she is the ‘one and only male impersonator who has dared to visit Scotland Yard, London, England in male attire without being discovered. She has repeated this stunt in every large city throughout the universe.’ 

Effie Fellows - the one and only Perfect Boy

Effie Fellows – the one and only Perfect Boy

Last, but not least, is Phyllis Broughton who was a Gaiety Girl and appeared on the theatre and music hall stage. She addressed and stamped cards of performers to herself and asked them to sign and return them. I have a Vesta Tilley card and one of Sybil Arundale, an actress and star of pantomime and musicals, with Phyllis’s address on the back.

Postcard addressed to  Phyllis Broughton

An example of Phyllis Broughton’s self-addressed postcards

Phyllis Broughton was at one time engaged to a colliery owner, John Hedley, but sent him a telegram to break off the engagement when she received a marriage proposal from the heir to Earl Cowley. The heir subsequently jilted her so she sued him for breach of promise, winning the case and a substantial sum of money. John Hedley had built a house for Phyllis and he kept this empty but in good repair as a shrine to her. It is said he sent her a basket of fruit and flowers from the garden every week. When he died he left most of his estate to Phyllis but she had pre-deceased him. The house became a home for distressed actors and actresses.

Phyllis Broughton

Phyllis Broughton