Saturday, September 21, 2013


MEARS, Annette (?d Lewisham, 1850)

One of the reasons I started on this mammoth enterprise was that I was tired of reading theatrical and musical history where the names were just that: names.  And trying to find out what was behind those names – above all the lesser ones – has led me into some right muddles.

Mears. Not such a very common name. Annette? Sounds like a stage name. But I’m used to that. Six years, between 1842 and 1849, prima donna of a London theatre. Fine singer and comic actress. Why can’t I find her?

Well, guess just how many Mearses there were floating around at that time.

Only one other Annette though, and it isn’t our one, because she was transported to the colonies for shooting a soldier in Hyde Park while our Annette was still singing in London.

Another Miss Mears we can eliminate is Miss Mears of Bradford, soprano. She sued a local dignitary for breach of promise, won 1000 pounds, and limited herself thereafter to singing Messiahs in York and Bradford.

Then there was Mary or Maria or Martha Mears, soprano, who wed then operatic comprimario Francesco Chierici (d 1868) just as Annette left the Grecian, and for some years played little parts in Italian opera, mostly on tour but also at Drury Lane, before remarrying one Thomas Porritt. Surely that’s not she?

More seriously, there was a singing-acting Mr Mears of Covent Garden and Drury Lane Theatres, who played and even created numerous parts in operatic productions. He was at one stage solo tenor at Vauxhall, but he seems to have been mostly a Very Useful Person around the patent theatres.  At one stage he shared the platform at Vauxhall (1836) with a ‘Miss Mears’. Our one?

And then, most seriously, there was a Miss Mears who played at the Brighton Theatre in 1836-7. She sang a lot, and played Ophelia to the Hamlet of the visiting Charles Kean. She went from Brighton to the City of London Theatre (‘a sweet though somewhat powerless singing voice’). So I presume that she’s the Miss Mears at the Colosseum in 1837, playing Wilhelmina to the Tom Tug of Braham, and subsequently in his company at the St James’s. Or is she? ‘Miss Mears’ is at Bristol in 1840, as Lucy Lockitt and Lydia Languish .. 

Then we come to ‘Annette’. The first time I can be totally sure it is she is in March 1843 when ‘Miss A Mears’ turns up at Mr Beuler’s concert at the Crown and Anchor Tavern in East End company. Then, a month later she opens as leading lady, alongside Frazer, Horncastle, Baldwin  and Bedford, at the Grecian Saloon, appearing in opera, drama and comedy.

In the next six years she played major roles of every type, culling admiring notices for pieces including Lucia di Lammermoor, La Fille de regiment, Fra Diavolo, The Mountain Sylph, L’Eisir d’amore, La Gazza ladra, Gustavus III and Don Pasquale and including, she said, 50 performances of The Crown Diamonds and over 100 of La Sonnambula.. As well as the more ambitious and esoteric pieces which that admirable establishment mounted. On the odd occasion she seems to have sung, too, at the Adelphi (Diadeste). She took a Farewell from John Rouse’s theatre in 1848, but returned almost immediately and it was late 1849 before her name appears for the last time on a Grecian bill.

That was her career. Yes, I’m fairly sure it was. For although the odd Miss Mears pops up here and then thereafter, I have found an entry in the death registers for Lewisham in 1850. And this time it is quite clear. Annette Mears. I imagine it’s she. Only a death certificate would tell us more.

But I’d like to know whence she came, and who she was … I’ll bet no-one who has read or writte her name in the past 150 years knows.

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