Monday, July 30, 2018

Home. What little difference half a century makes!

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I've lived .. I mean, really 'lived' not just stayed, in quite an array of places in my seventy-plus years. Wellington, New Zealand from one to ten, Nelson, NZ from 10 to 16, Christchurch, NZ through University days, then off to Britain for a couple of years until ...

Monaco. The Principality of. It was just starting to 'go off'. Rainier and Grace, it was said, took backhanders to allow the local building entrepreneur, whose name I have now momentarily forgotten, to build that ghastly tall building (seen on TV every year at Grand Prix time) on his 'yard' near the Casino ...  The beautiful old buildings of the Monte Carlo heyday were being replaced by tax-haven high-rises ..  but the Condamines still had a bit of real-life flavour and shopping in the market at Beausoleil (where I, aged 24, became the chouchou of the market ladies and learned my impeccable French :-) ) was a joy.


Ah, well. All that's a very jolly old story, which I suppose I'll tell one day, if and when I finally stop saying 'no' to an autobiography. My mother kept every weekly letter that I wrote home for twenty years ... chuckle, I could iron out the euphemisms?

Anyway, enough.

The point of this wee post was to say that fifty years later where am I living? Lord forbid it  should be 21st century Monaco. Although I could renew my 'friendship' with young Albert, who used to chat to me over the wall of the Royal Box at the football in those days. He looked as if he would grow up to be a grand Prince: and he has.

OK. Where am I living? Summer: back in my native land. Gerolstein, Wendy ..  well, you know all that stuff. Winter? Bah-boom! Yamba

And well, Max Bell posted this great picture from his aerial device yesterday.



That's my place. The smaller beach in the middle.

OK our hill isn't quite as lumpy as Monaco's 'Rocher', and it hasn't got a Prince and a Castle on top. Just the run-down Pacific Hotel. And, of course, it isn't tax free. But, there are similarities. And, tell you what, I like here better.

So, Prince Albert, my little pal from 1970ish, come and visit! But I supposed you're a reigning monarch now ...


Saturday, July 28, 2018

TRIAL BY JURY: and that jury is a trial!,

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Part two. The gentlemen. A mixture of the to-be-famous, the eternal choristers and bit-part players, and the veritable amateurs … with, it seems, a dash of nepotism thrown in.


 I said in part one that I wasn’t going to deal with such well-known and already covered (by me) players as Fred Sullivan and Walter Fisher, nor with Charley Campbell who started on the juror’s bench and rose to be Soldene’s leading tenor. Nor, indeed, with an even more to-be-famous gentleman of the jury: W S Penley. I have also written comprehensive articles on two of the principal take-overs, William Courtney (Defendant) and Edward Connell (Foreman) which are too consequent to include here. If you are interested, I will blog ‘em later.

So that leaves Mr Hollingsworth (Counsel), B R Pepper (Usher), Charles Kelleher (Foreman), J B Husk (Foreman), and Messrs T Healey and Cairns (Associate) plus choristers Messrs T Cheen[e]y, Bradshaw, West, Grundy, Fraser, Marshall, Walsh, Nolan, Plating, Blackworth and G Paris. And I will tell you right away, that – although the first four present no problems, few of the others mean anything to me. So here I go. I’ll see what I can find. This may take a day or two.


Let’s start with HOLLINGSWORTH. He’s not ‘J Hollingsworth’ as I mistakenly recorded (in the days when I believed other folk!) in British Musical Theatre. If anything, it’s C for Charles Hollingsworth. But he wasn’t Hollingsworth either. He was born in Wokingham and christened plain Charles Hewett. Hollingsworth was his father’s middle name. As far as I’m aware, this was the only time that Charles worked in a name part in the musical theatre. He began in life as a miller in Berkshire (Marcham near Abingdon), where 28 October 1861 he married Sarah Reading. And the registration for that marriage holds a curious item. Most of the witnesses are members of the spreading Chesham family of Reading or Hewetts. But one is the teenaged Richard D’Oyly Carte. Why? Is he a connection of the Carte side or the Reading side? There is a suggestion that the two men were cousins. Well, I have yet to discover that evidence: Carte’s mother was Eliza née Jones, Hewett’s was Mary Ann née Shepherd, Sarah’s mother was Elizabeth née Humphrey …




Charles, as a young man, sang and played the flute in the Reading penny readings (‘Why are you wandering here I pray’, ‘The Plough Boy’, ‘Flow on thou shining river’), he underlined his affection for music and the stage by naming his first child Adelina Patti Hewett … and then suddenly he turns up at the Royalty Theatre, playing – perfectly soundly, it seems – in a ‘dramatic cantata’. How? Well, the theory of consanguinuity is as good as any, especially as Carte later employed two of Charles’s sister’s children.
Anyway, by the 1881 census Charles was back in Berks, a ‘bleacher and dyer employing nine men’. But he must have got the theatrelust, for by 1891, while his wife and children are plaiting straw in Luton, he is in Amwell, insisting he was a ‘vocalist’. I don’t know where. He began calling himself Hollingsworth, went into the millinery manufacturing trade, married a second wife, Fanny Meller, after Sarah’s death, and continued making hats up to his death at Islington’s Gibson Square 2 August 1911. He left 12 pounds 10 shillings and 6d.

In contrast, Belville Robert PEPPER (b Marylebone ?October 1850; d Manchester September 1888) was a thorough professional. He was born into a family of wood-carvers, the son of Montague Pepper and his wife Sarah (née Carden). Orphaned in his teens, he seems to have made his first theatrical appearances at Great Yarmouth in a 2-month summer season of potboilers stage by one George Ashton. I see him the following year in concert in a Mlle Forckell’s concert and then in 1872 I spot an advertisement for the 44th week of Messrs B Booth and R B Pepper’s London Comedy and Burlesque Company. Oddly, I can’t spot any of the other forty-three. 



Mr Pepper then changed tack. And name. As ‘Mr Belville’ he joined up with the Soldene company. Originally a chorister, he rose to playing the Burgomaster in Geneviève de Brabant and Cadet in La Fille de Madame Angot. After which, he decided to become Pepper again. He played at the Royalty, then on tour with Kate Santley, rejoined Soldene in the little part of Bonaventura in Madame l’Archiduc.After that I lose him for a bit (perhaps he swapped names again? Or is that he in rep at Gravesend in 1877-8?) until 1879 when he surfaces in Glasgow in concert, Paul Pry and Trial by Jury with J A Shaw and Lucy Franklein. Unfortunately, the theatre burned down.
That Christmas he was King Rat in Dick Whittingtonwith Alice May and the Lupinos, played the Usher in yet another Trial by Jury, this time with George Mudie and Alice Burville, and joined the company for a tour of Cellier’s The Sultan of Mocha. The company includes, also, ‘Miss Pepper’: Robert’s dancer wife, née Elizabeth Mary Wilkinson (m 11 September 1877). He toured with Wyndham and D’Oyly Carte’s Olivette company, with a little piece called Innocents Abroad, then joined up with a Fille de Madame Angot/Geneviève de Brabantcompany led by Duglas Gordon. He was 31 years old. What happened? I see him again only at Christmas 1883 in pantomime in Todmorden. And five years later, he was dead.

Charles [Joseph] KELLEHER (b St James’s London c 1851; d October 1878) survived Trial by Jury only a short time. Three of the sons of Irish tailor Francis Keller, Kellard or Kelleher (b Macroom, Cork, 1815) and his wife Jane (?1816-1899) became vocalists, and while the eldest, Alfred, married Susie Galton, niece of Louisa Pyne, and disappeared off to America, Charles and Louis made promising careers in the British musical theatre before early deaths.
By the 1871 census, Charles is already claiming the surname Kelleher, and describing himself as a singer. My first sighting of him on the stage is in 1874, as a minor member of Fred Sullivan’s operetta company touring The Contrabandista, Schöne GalatheeCox and Box et al in the midlands. He followed up in the good role of Fernando in Kate Santley’s Cattarina company, then rejoined Sullivan at Royalty for Le Périchole (Pedro) and Trial by Jury. He played Nicolo when Miss Santley brought Cattarinato town, toured again with her, and ended up at the Criterion Theatre with Walter Fisher and then at the Royalty with Carte once more in The Duke’s Daughter. He repeated La Périchole with Dolaro, joined Soldene in La Fille de Madame Angot and Trial by Jury, toured with more Angot(as Larivaudière), La Grande-Duchesse (Boum) and Happy Hampstead, and ended up back at the Royalty playing John Styx in Kate Santley’s very approximate Orphée aux enfers. All that between 1874 and 1877. But there wasn’t much more. I see him at the Aquarium, giving once more his Usher in Trial by Jury … and the next sighting is in a littler written by D’Oyly Carte to the Era newspaper. Kelleher had gone ‘for some time’ insane and around the end of September 1878 he died, ‘aged 27’. Carte was arranging a subscription for his wife, Emma Mary née Anderson, and children. 
Opéra-bouffe was, it seemed, bad for the health. Already that original Royalty company had lost the flamboyant 25 year-old Charles Wilton Norton (d 60 Osney Crescent, Camden Rd, Kentish Town, 17 February 1875) to insanity and delirium tremens …

But some of the chorus were a little more stable and durable. And the most stable of all was Mr Husk. James [Baker] HUSK (b Somerset 7 March 1811; d London 18 May 1879) was a basso profondo vocalist who plied his trade from the Isle of Wight to Edinburgh, from the concert platform to the music halls to the theatre. And he did it (when not teaching music, bricklaying like his father, and/or producing eight children) for more than three decades. When he joined the Royalty company, he was 64 years of age. 
I have spied Mr Husk – still officially a bricklayer -- singing in minor, suburban and provincial concerts in the 1840s and 1850s, and in 1855 (3 April) he sang second bass to Tom Lawler in the London Sacred Harmonic Society’s Elijah. The soprano was the great Charlott Anne Birch and, when the oratorio was repeated the next year, the ‘Queen of Northern Song’, Susan Sunderland. However, that kind of shop was not Mr Husk’s usual. In 1857, I see him singing at Stirling, in 1858 down a bill with Sam Cowell at Edinburgh, in the 1860s at Ryde, Southampton and Dover .. and all the time he was a bass chorister and sometimes soloist in the music-halls of the capital. At some – including the loftiest of the all, he acted as chairman. It seems to have been only later in life that Husk too to the stage. His wife, Mary Ann Charlotte (née Taplay) and one of his five sons, William, were in the chorus of Little Faustin 1870, but often the chorus were not listed, so this probably wasn’t the first or an isolated case. James joined Augusta Thomson’s Chilpéric tour, doubtless playing the Druid, and, after Trial by Jury, moved to the Alhambra where he was in the cast for Lord Batemanand for Soldene’s La Fille de Madame Angot. He seems to have been ‘in the saddle’ right up to his death at the age of 68. 
Several of the Husk children followed their parents into vocalism. William as we’ve seen, and
daughter Rosa Alexandra (d 28 January 1913) who sang some time with Carte’s companies and married singer Alec Ewing.

And on to Mr T HEALEY. Disappointment. He’s a rather boring character. And the Royalty job seems to have been his only engagement of interest in a ‘career’ of small parts in stock companies from Newcastle to Southampton but mostly in the smaller venues of Liverpool. I see an occasion in 1878 when, cast to play a bit in Hamlet with Charles Dillon, he didn’t come on, wasn’t to be found … well, we’ll forget about Mr Healey.

So. Messrs T Cheen[e]y, Bradshaw, West, Grundy, Fraser, Marshall, Walsh, Nolan, Plating, Blackworth (or is it Hackworth, see Soldene troupe) and G[eorge] Paris.

Well, I know G S Bradshaw, Joseph West, Tom Grundy … and that perennial chorus singer Mr Paris. Is it they? I had hoped to unwind some of these … but the sun’s dipping over the delicately pink yardarm … maybe I’ll have another go tomorrow. Or when I get back to my books and programmes and sheet music and pictures in New Zealand in October.

Likewise, the fellows didn’t get photographed as the girls did … so if you can help? 

Pop dat cork! 

PS Well, it isn't G S Bradshaw, as he's elsewhere doing other things, and it seems it is Tom Grundy, unless it's his father who was also called Tom Grundy when he wasn't being Mr Badzey ...  There are several other 'Mr Bradshaws' .. George Paris isn't to be found in the censi unless he had a day job as a theatrical printer .. we press on. 'West', I think must be Joseph, because 'Miss [Annie] St George' joins the cast too. She was his wife. Later, they toured for years with Soldene ...

PPS Feedback on Mr 'Hollingsworth' tells me that there is illegitimacy involved in the Carte and Hewett families, and that  we have to go back to one grandmotherly Sarah Bartlett (later Shepherd) to find the link between them -- which apparently is one. Also that Charles did make another appearance: in Carte's produc tion of The Broken Branch at the Opera Comique  'as Prince Isidore'. Isidor[e] was played by tenorino Johnnie Chatterson. The other male principals were J H Jarvis, Thomas B Appleby and Mr Clifford. Understudy maybe? Ah! There he is! Replacement ... He played for the last five performances of the run. Well spotted great-grandaughter .. who as I write this is playing the Counsel for the Plaintiff in Trial by Jury at Bournemouth!

And here is documentary proof!























Friday, July 27, 2018

TRIAL BY JURY: a bevy of (original) bridesmaids

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 In Victorian times, the little pieces which acted as makeweights, alongside the main show of the evening in theatres round Britain, were pretty much ‘trifles’. Little farces, and 1-act comedies, or ‘operettas’ with a handful of songs, manufactured largely to get the audience ‘in’ to the night’s entertainment, and out again in a merry state of mind. Even if they had watched a gruesome melodrama for most of the time.

Sometimes, these pieces featured a ‘star’ actor in a well-worn show-off role, but mostly they were just little or reasonably little pieces of fun, or nonsense, or burlesque. With or without songs. And they were cast accordingly. The stars were in the big piece, and unless you brought in Julia St George or her like to star in a burlesque, the afterpiece gave opportunities to the second-string players. Including the understudies, if the theatre ran to such a thing.

Which brings me (almost) to Trial by Jury. A slightly unusual combination. A sung-through 1-acter. Miss Dolaro (in theory) and Mr Carte (mostly in practice) had put together a company for La Périchole, the main piece of their season, and the accompanying playlets. The banner for the Royalty Theatre’s opening under its new management included the names of Dolly Dolaro, Linda Verner, Miss Leblanc, Miss Lassalle, Fred Sullivan, C W Norton, Charley Campbell, Charles Kelleher, Walter Fisher plus Lin Rayne, W H Stephens and Miss Bessie Hollingshead. An ‘opera’ with Dolly and Nelly Bromley, was announced as ‘in preparation’. Norton and Miss Verner appeared in the play along with ‘little Miss Elliston’, a ‘Miss Douglas’ was fourth lady in Périchole, and B R Pepper played a tiny partMiss Leblanc gave way to Mdlle Louise Verdoni from the amateur dramatics, and Julia Beverley replaced Miss Douglas, Misses Mortimer, Nellie St George and Edward George Osborn flitted across or onto the bills … some of them staying around for very short periods.

When Trial by Jury was produced, the cast was largely taken from the company already hired: Miss Bromley, Sullivan and Fisher at their head. But the piece requires a fairly large supporting cast. We all know who Nelly Bromley, Fred Sullivan, Walter Fisher and Charley Campbell were, or became. If you don’t, I’ve written them up already. Nelly and Charley on my blog, the other two in my Encyclopaedia, but who were the rest of them? 

I was curious. So I have spent a day or two looking. The Gentlemen of the Jury and the People in the Gallery, for the moment aside, the supporting cast seems to have been Mr Hollingsworth (Counsel), Charles Kelleher (Usher), B R Pepper (Associate), Mr Bradshaw and Mr Husk ‘and others’ (Jurors). With the odd swap of parts! The ladies – bridesmaids all – were Linda Verner, Amy Clifford, Julia Beverley, Cissy Durrant, Annie Palmer, Misses Lassalle, Villiers, Graham[e] and Lee ‘and others’. Julia Barber and Laura Carthew were not originals, but joined during the run.


Cissie Durrant
Well, I had a bit of a start. Some of the more professional folk among these had crossed the path of Emily Soldene so, while researching my biography of that megastar, twenty years ago, I looked into them a little. Or, in one case, a lot. And that case was ‘CISSIE DURRANT’ who turned out to be more than your average chorine. She ended up a wealthy wife and mother …
I worked really hard on Cissie 20 years ago. The Australian papers and her 1878 Australian marriage certificate said she was Cissie King, widow, daughter of James M Davett organist at the church in Spanish Place. It was just inaccurate enough to keep me 20 years off her track. Until today. 
‘Cissie’ was born in London, as Caroline Cicely McDavitt (yes, that little dot that looked like a fullstop was a ‘c’), in early 1852, one of the seven children of a Glaswegian engraver, James McDavitt, and his wife Rosa Caroline née Nash. I see her, aged 19 and unmarried, with her family in 1871, and I can’t find any record of Mr King .. Father pops up occasionally in the musical world: I see him in 1856 in concert at the London Mechanics’ Institute, and perhaps he is the Mr McDavitt conducting at the Phil in pre-Soldene days. However H C Nixon was organist at the Spanish church …
So, in 1873 Cissie joined the chorus of Emily Soldene’s famous company, playing in Geneviève de Brabant and La Fille de Madame Angot and later La Grande-Duchesse. She played Bacchus in Amy Sheridan’s Ixion Re-Wheeled at the Opera Comique, rejoined Soldene for more opéra-bouffe, but instead of doing the Soldene American tour, joined Dolly at the Royalty and became a bridesmaid. She toured with Dolaro – now promoted to 1st Bridesmaid and a Cousin in Périchole – but turned back to Soldene, playing good supporting roles, for the famous 1876-7 tour to America and Australia. She flitted before New Zealand, though. Not to another theatre, to marriage.



Cissie wed wealthy Sydney landowner, Harry McQuade, they had three children, and lived then comfortable life, until Harry’s death in 1898. That left Cissie as the ground landlord of Sydney’s Her Majesty’s Theatre, which she teamed with J C Williamson to rebuild after its destruction by fire in 1902.  Cissie died 14 August 1938, aged 87, of cancer, at 3 Hans Crescent, Chelsea, London. Her daughter, Amelia Rose, was the wife of the celebrated ‘cellist, Jean Géraldy.


Linda Verner
The ‘most important’ of the girls at this stage was however ‘LINDA VERNER’ who got to play the 1st Bridesmaid and, later, took over as the Plaintiff. Linda (who also played in the other support pieces at the Royalty) would have a proper theatrical career, of nearly twenty years, as a supporting singing actress.
Hannah Sarah Palmer was born in 1855 the daughter of Thomas William Palmer and his wife Hannah née Newton. I imagined it were she playing in Dublin in 1874 with the Julia Mathews/Catherine Lewis La Fille de Madame Angotcompany, but it may not be. For the Erareview of the opening night of the Royalty Theatre credits both ‘Miss Verner’ and ‘Miss Linda Verner’. And Linda seems to be at the St James’s Theatre playing with Dolly Dolaro in The Black Prince, alongside Norton and Miss Hollingshead. Annoyingly, there are a number of ‘Miss Verner’s over the years to come – in jobs ranging from music-hall to the drama – so I just have to stick to the Lindas.
Linda took over the lead in Trial by Jury allegedly because Dolly had with got jealous of, or fallen out with, Nellie Bromley. I suppose it is possible. It is always tough when a supposedly supporting piece becomes the big attraction. But Dolly and Nelly had just co-starred in The Black Prince, and when Dolly, months later, staged her Benefit night, she chose to play Clairette in La Fille de Madame Angot opposite the Lange of … Nellie Bromley. So…?

Anyway, Linda played the Plaintiff at the Royalty and on the road, then took part in the bowdlerized The Duke’s Daughter. She joined Emily Soldene to play in Geneviève de Brabant, played Princess Sabra in the panto at the Alexandra Palace, Princess Balroubadour at Liverpool … and if she took some time out it was understandable For ‘Linda’ was Mrs George Potier, wife of a ‘wheel band manufacturer’ and between 1876 and 1885 she would bear him 5 daughters and a son.

When Dolly brought her Périchole back to town in 1879, Linda was there, and when Dolly produced Another Drink to follow, Linda was still there. She (and Misses Barber, Clifford and Carthew) travelled to Dublin with Lydia Thompson, played more pantomime and ended up back at the Opera Comique Theatre in Lila Clay’s all-woman troupe playing An Adamless Eden. In 1884 she took a tour with the Princess Ida company, playing Lady Psyche, in 1886 appeared in Herne the Hunted and as Arabella in Billee Taylor at Toole’s Theatre and then took on the role of Madeleine in Le Postillon de Lonjumeau at the Empire! She supported Florence St John in La Béarnaise and then found herself a job at the Gaiety Theatre, playing Madame Gondelaurier in the second edition of the burlesque Miss Esmeralda. She became a fixture in the new burlesque productions, going on to play in London, the provinces, America and South Africa with George Edwardes’s companies (Carconte in Monte Cristo jr, Ruy Blas and the Blasé Roué, Jolande de Bar in Joan of Arc, Little Jack Sheppard, Cinderellen-up-too-Late, Carmen up to Data). She died of the weather in Johannersburg while on tour 24 August 1892.
Fred Leslie’s biographer relates that Leslie raised 100 pounds to aid her five children and her ‘long incapacitated’ husband. Incapacitated? Not wholly. He promptly remarried and had four more children before his death in 1908.

Death intervened rather earlier in the case of JULIA BEVERLEY. Julia Cecilia Beverley (b Leeds 26 February 1854; d Clonmel 1885) was one of the brood of illegitimate children of a commercial traveler, George Beverley, and a Liverpool grocer’s daughter, Ellen Emma Bankes. Three of the daughters, Louise (the most successful), Julia and Blanche appeared on the London musical stage. Julia started as a teenager at the Alhambra in Le Roi Carotte, and later toured with Joseph Eldred’s comedy and burlesque company, and played, after her bridesmaid stint, at the Olympic. In 1883 (28 March) she married Assistant Commissary-General Alfred Ely, Commissariat and Transport Staff, and died two years later in what appears to have been childbirth.

Julia seems to have been the only one of the original bridesmaids to have worked under her veritable name. ‘Miss Lassalle’ and ‘Miss Villiers’ are as instantly recognisable as stage names as would be Miss Cholmondely or Miss Paunceforth-Brown. It was even known, in the Victorian theatre, for such monikers simply to cover whoever played a certain role (witness the midshipmen in HMS Pinafore). Thus, finding out who such ladies were and what became of them is almost impossible. ‘Miss Lassalle’ comes from nowhere to play third cousin in Périchole with the equally ephemeral ‘Miss Leblanc’ being no 2 (the cousins were noticed as being equipped with pretty weak voices – all right when they sang at the same time -- but looking decorative). And she is a bridesmaid. And that, as far as I can see, is it. ‘Miss Villiers’ is a tad more problematic. It was a popular pseudonym. There was ‘Kate Villiers’ (née Elizabeth Spencer) who sang in English opera, there were two Miss Villiers, one ‘sentimental and Scotch’ and the other ‘serio-comic’ on the halls, and a dancing one who appeared at Sadler’s Wells as Columbine. I think our one just might have been the Miss Villers who toured in burlesque with the Gaiety company in 1872, and appeared at the Opera Comique in The Wonderful Duck and at the Princess’s in Manfred.She was probably the ‘Miss L Villiers pupil of Mabel Brent’. But Miss Lizzie Villiers was a song-and-pedestal-dance act … and I would guess that none of them was a kosher Villiers. Anyway our one played a bridesmaid in town and country and …

‘Miss Lee’ is quite impossible. There were more ‘Miss Lee’s than there were ‘Miss Villiers’, the most famous being the one who became Jennie Lee, and among the possibles her sisters Ada and Kate. Until I find an initial, I’m not even going to attempt her. And ‘Miss Graham’ or sometimes ‘Grahame’? Well, there are possibilities. Although the irregular spelling also hoots ‘pseudonym’. But she seems to have had the name of Clara. Well, I haven’t got my hoard of programmes any more, but if it isClara (and I don’t think it’s her sister Nellie, who was a long-serving actress in the provinces), she was a West End wonder. For fifteen years, Clara Graham went from one hit and/or West End show basically without a break. She never played leads, she played ‘supports’, she was always billed, she played the best theatres with the biggest stars … what was her wrinkle? Was she related to someone, was she living/sleeping with someone (for fifteen years?) this is more than just being ‘useful’. In the 1881 census, she is living ‘actress, unmarried’ ‘aged 25’ in Curzon Street, with a cook and a housemaid … if this were Paris, I’d say oyoy, somebody’s mistress. But …
Anyway, when Nellie married, later in life, she said her name was Nellie Susanna Rosalind Boyce. Yeah. Miss or Mrs? So maybe our Miss Graham is a ‘Boyce’. Presumably not Miss Clara Boyce of the Theatre, Coatbridge … arggggh!

Clara Graham
So. That leaves ‘Miss Amy Clifford’ and ‘Miss Annie Palmer’. Who have, at least, the kindness to have a first name. Some of the time. Both, also, were not ephemeral. 

AMY CLIFFORD. Real name or not? But she worked under that name for something like a decade. Again, ‘Miss Clifford’s were numerous. There was a persistent amdram lady who called herself ‘Zoe Clifford’, there was a Miss Clifford in Marshall and Snelgrove’s shopgirls’ theatre company ... but the first time I see ‘Amy Clifford’ mentioned as such is as a member of the Thespian Literary Club’s amdram company in 1872. She hadn’t learned her lines. But in 1873, Amy turns up in the cast of Black Crookat the Alhambra, getting a pretty mention in the little role of Florican. And there she is (surely there can’t be two Amys?) singing serio-comic numbers at Crowder’s Music Hall (‘A young lady with a clear placid countenance and a gentle graceful carriage … sang, and danced beautifully’), then back in the amdrams playing, good heavens, Pauline in The Lady of Lyons! Next, she appeared at the Charing Cross in W H C Nation’s company (The Last of the Legends), before being hired for the Royalty Theatre. She was one of the number of the Royalty cast who followed Dolly and Carte into their production of The Duke’s Daughter, after which she joined Kate Santley in her touring company (Princess Toto, Cattarina, Orphee aux enfers, La Fille de Madame Angot, Trial by Jury). IK see she was cast as Cupid in Orphée.In 1878 Amy shows up (with Julia Beverley) in The Two Orphansat the Olympic, in 1879 in Alcantaraat the Connaught, and in pantomime at Exeter where she remained for a season. And in 1880 she was back at the Royalty, appearing in Kate Lawler’s Don Juan jr
And then … is she the Amy (serio-comic) doing the halls in 1890? Or the one touring in The Shop Girl in 1897. Probably not. But if I persist with this one, I may sort her out in the end.


Chorus ... girls from Don Juan junior ... is one Amy?
ANNIE PALMER. Real name or not? It seems strange that, while Miss Hannah Palmer changed her name to Linda Verner, another member of the same cast decided to be Annie Palmer. Odd, too, that ‘Linda’ actually had a sister, Annie. Odd too, that a ‘Miss Verner’ appears briefly in Périchole (unless she is a typo) before vanishing, and Miss Palmer appears. But I’m just guessing. She could be the Selina Annie Palmer, actress, from Weston-super-mare who can be seen living next door to actor-singer Francis Gaillard in 1881. Or the Mrs Annie Palmer (née Annie Elizabeth Hall), 28, music teacher, mother of Patricia Annie and Florence Lydia in Southwark in 1881. Born Rotherhithe. Rotherhithe? Linda’s sister Annie was born in Rotherhithe! 22 March 1846. Oh. But she was Mrs [Charles Hilton] Palmer, had six children and died in 1889. Sigh. Forget the who, and get onto the what?
I spot a Miss Palmer in the cast of The Bohemians at the Opera Comique in 1872, but ‘Annie Palmer’ turns up at the Charing Cross in W H C Nation The Irish Belle/Last of the Legends before, like Miss Clifford, continuing on to the Royalty, then to the provinces with Dolly, a second round at the Royalty. She may have, in between, also appeared at the Lyceum with Soldene and Dolaro in Emily’s season of La Grande-Duchesse and La Fille de Madame Angot, and she was certainly in the cast of Madame L’Archiduc with Soldene and Charley Campbell when Charles Morton produced that piece at the Opera Comique in 1876. She played in the opener The Hornet’s Nest, was Giacometta in the opéra-bouffe, and since the afterpiece was Trial by Jury, with Fred Sullivan, Campbell, Connell and Penley in the cast, I imagine she donned her bridesmaid’s dress once again. She certainly donned it at the Crystal Palace, and made up part of the Carte company for The Duke’s Daughter, before joining the fine company put out by Richard South, playing La Fille de Madame Angot, La Belle Hélène, Pom etc on the road. And that seems to have been it. Off went Annie to wherever chorus girls go when they stop being chorus girls.

I’ll finish this wee survey with a glance at the small number of replacement bridemaids whom I have managed to suss out. Just five of them. Of Miss Amherst I know absolutely nothing except that she had had a little part in Le Roi Carotte at the Alhambra. But the other four all have points of interest. Two had showbiz connections. Josephine Russell was a sister of ‘the prima donna of the music halls’, Charlotte Russell, and thus a connection of the famous Henry Russell. She had a modest stage career before retiring as Mrs Leo Engel, and died at 90 Great Russell St 6 July 1888. Josephine [Maude] Corri (1858-1937) was one of the myriad young Corri girls – all descended, one way or another from the great Domenico Corri. This Josephine, too, daughter of Pat of the Grecian, had a modest career and retired to marriage (Mrs Sam Sykes Turton Bright) in 1878. Her sister [Mary] Kathleen (1857-1936), on the other hand, had a splendid career in light opera, and played leading roles including the Plaintiff in Trial by Jury. The Corri girls were briefly sisters-in-law to the Kate Villiers mentioned above.


Julia Barber. Later.
JULIA BARBER I knew already. Because Julia, like Cissie Durrant, belonged to the comic opera company that goes down in history as the greatest in the Antipodean theatre: the Soldene troupe. Julia Grace Smith or Barber was born in Lambeth 24 July 1855, daughter of Samuel Taylor Thompson Barber and Emma Isabella (née Smith) as a dancer. She joined the Soldene outfit and can be seen as 'Miss Julian Grace' at the Opera Comique, playing one of the four Maids of Honour in La Grande-Duchesse (Misses Durrant and Carthew who two others) at the Lyceum, before she visited America with the star, toured Britain and then made the famed voyage to Australia. This fidelity to the corps was the result of her relationship (ten years and four children) with ‘Johnnie Wallace’ (John Henry Clark), the stage director of the troupe and Miss Soldene’s ‘left hand’. The Wallaces returned to Australia after the main trip, but in 1884 Julia married a much younger man by the name of Edwin William Stidolph ‘of the acrobatic Faust family, well known in vaudeville and minstrelsy in America and Australia’ and quit the Antipodes for America. I didn’t think I’d ever find out what became of her, but a tiny comment in 1911: ‘Ted Faust of the Faust Brothers, musical act, and Julia Faust, proprietor of the Lewellen Hotel, 73 East Street, Columbus, O …’.  And on 14 October 1914 .. died. Mrs Ted Faust. ‘Loved by the profession the world over’. I wonder about the Wallace-Clark children.


Laura Carthew
‘LAURA CARTHEW’ was one of those chorines everybody wanted. She worked solidly through the 1870s, in the best companies with the biggest stars, often in tiny featured parts, but never anything more demanding. Yet it was she whom Soldene chose to replace the beauty queen of her company, sister Clara Vesey, in her pants role, when the latter was too ill to appear on New York opening night. So she clearly had something. A photograph would probably show what it was. Sadly, I haven’t been yet able to unveil her real name etcetera, but I can rattle off her career! When she came to the Royalty, Laura had simply been four years at the head of the Soldene chorus.At the Philharmonic, on the road, at the Opera Comique, at the Lyceum, on tour in America, and playing Geneviève de Brabant(Isoloine and in emergency Oswald), Fleur de Lys, La Fille de Madame Angot (Babet), La Grande-Duchesse (Maid of Honour), Chilpéric (the dancing role of Fana and the breeches part of Clodomir).
And when she had finished her bridesmaid interlude, she went right back to the Soldene/Morton management to play more of the same. She didn’t go on the big trip, but instead stayed home and joined up with the other most visible company of the day: Lydia Thompson. She appeared at the Folly Theatre in Robinson Crusoe and Oxygen and I see her playing Mrs Coaxer in The Beggar’s Opera, in The Babes in the Woodat Manchester, in A Night of Terror (alongside Clara Graham), and above all in a wee featured chorus step-out in the record-breaking Les Cloches de Corneville. When the show went on tour, she played her little bit again, behind the Serpolette of … Kathleen Corri.
In 1878 she played Sir Terence St Patrick, veritable leg-role, in the Covent Garden pantomime, then joined up with Miss Thompson (plus Misses Verner, Beverley and Clifford) in her Carmenburlesque ... and after that I’m not quite sure. ‘Miss Carthew’ turns up on odd occasions. But she’d been ‘Laura Carthew’ for years. So, alas, I lose her. 

I’d love to be able to supply photos of all these girls. I dug up some for my Emily Soldenebook. I’ll add the pictures as I find them.

‘Why am I always the bridesmaid’ is running through my head as I end this best-I-can-do of the girls of the Royalty Trial by Jury. I’ve gone on too long. The gentlemen can wait till tomorrow’s article. 

Hope you’ve enjoyed this visit to the ‘chorus line’ and any adds or identifies much welcomed!


Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Most Beautiful Woman on the British Stage...

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SHERIDAN, Amy [HUNTLY, Sarah Bellamy] (b Westminster Rd, London 10 December 1838; d 11 Broad Street, Brighton 11 November 1878)

‘Amy Sheridan’ was something of a phenomenon. When she died, in 1878, at a Brighton boarding house, aged 39, of massive heart disease, newspapers from one end of Britain to the other carried a little or even larger obituary. Overseas newspapers, in countries she had never even visited noted her passing. ‘Amy Sheridan’ had become, rather like Pauline Markham in America, a symbol. ‘The most beautiful woman on the British stage’. ‘The embodiment of glorious womanhood’. Sex on a stick. And she had a short(ish) life, but apparently a decidedly gay (in the C19th sense of the word) one.


 Amy (we will call her ‘Amy’, short for Bellamy) was a creature of London’s high life, high night life. And maybe more. A snide little paper called Reynolds’ Newspaper took, in the mid-1870s, to making very broad allusions to Amy’s private life, which, amazingly, no one seemed to have done before. Yes, she was seen on the arm of this gentleman or that, towering above him in her furs on some glamorous evening – Emily Soldene pictures her thus – but there was no husband, no steady, no Duke, no Rothschild … well, if there was a mention I haven’t found it. 
Until I came upon a campy piece written near the end of her life in the said Reynolds. The Prince of Wales needed attendants for a trip East. Mr Reynolds suggested Amy, Lardy Wilson .. ‘so appreciated by the royal family’. Not once, but several times. The Princess of Wales was visiting lordly friends in Scotland. ‘Where was Amy Sheridan?’ he questioned in print.
And Lardy Wilson. Emily Soldene and Clement Scott, in my annotated copy of Emily’s Recollections confirm that she was the mistress of Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, and the mother of his child. So, to speak of Amy in the same phrase clearly suggests that she was a royal mistress, too. So maybe she was. 


 Anyhow, she didn’t start off as anything royal at all. She was born Sarah Bellamy Huntly (no ‘e’) in London’s Westminster Road, where her father, Matthew Huntly (1796-1872), operated as a ‘van proprietor’ (later ‘coal dealer’ and carman’). Mama was Elizabeth née Bellamy, and she had three brothers, two sisters … They are all visible in the censi of 1841 and 1851 in Oakley Road, Lambeth, but, by 1861, mum and dad are alone in Waterloo Rd, the kids have flown the nest, and I can’t find the grown-up ‘Amy’ anywhere. Which is sad, because I’d like to know what a 6-foot (?) blonde of hour glass proportions did, for a job, before she broke into the theatre, at a decidedly, leisurely rate in her twenties.

One thing she apparently did was take lessons. The actress Mrs Charles Selby had set herself up as a teacher of young ladies ambitioning the stage. Many answered the call – most (in)famously the jolly Misses ‘Pelham’ who backed and premiered the soon-to-be-celebrated Ixion– and one of those was Sarah Huntly. I imagine it was at this stage that she became ‘Amy Sheridan’. An obituary says that she made her first stage appearance at the St James’s Theatre in an amateur production of the popular comedy A Game of Romps, but this I cannot find, and I propose the 5 August 1861 as her ‘debut’.
The occasion was a Benefit of Mrs Selby at the Strand Theatre and the lady took the opportunity to give some of her gals a chance, of one sort and another, on a real stage, on the same programme as such established performers as Marie Wilton, Patti Josephs, Eleanor Bufton and Walter Tilbury. ‘Miss H Henry’ got the plum: she was allowed to play Lady Teazle in two scenes from A School for Scandal, Misses Amy Sheridan, Stella Vivian (oh dear, Mrs Selby, couldn’t you do better than that?) and Miss G Denford got to support Ms S and Lavvy Lavine in the petite comedietta Married Daughters.
Mrs Selby’s strike rate was pretty feeble. None of the others were heard of again. But Amy? Six foot, gorgeous and blonde? She had to be usable for something. But nobody leaped. It isn’t until 15 March 1863 that I spy Amy on stage again, and, yes, this time it’s at the St James’s Theatre. Under the management of Frank Matthews.
Amy was cast in Deaf as a Post, the successful old comedietta from the Haymarket Theatre, which was played as an afterpiece to the new and ragingly successful drama Lady Audley’s Secret. Sam Johnson, Gaston Murray, Charles Fenton, Ada Dyas and Patty Josephs played with the beginner until it was replaced by The Two Gregories in which she also featured. In May, when Mrs Selby felt the need of another Benefit, this time at the Princess’s, Amy was promoted to Mrs Candour in The School for Scandal. ‘She has appeared several times at the St James’s Theatre and given every satisfaction’ noted the press. In March A Game of Romps became the afterpiece, and one can assume this was the obituary’s false ‘first performance’.
After Whitsun, the St James’s revived the burlesque Perdita, or the Royal Milkmaid, with Patty Josephs and Adeline Cottrell, to supplement Lady Audley, and Miss Sheridan had, seemingly, her first taste of burlesque.
Why and wherefore had Sarah chosen her nom de theatre? Or Mrs Selby chosen it for her. There were, during her lifetime, at least two other ‘Amy Sheridan’s active in music and theatre: the first in England, a minor contralto vocalist with the National Choral Society, the other, a vaudeville player in America. Of course, our Amy eclipsed the others into outer darkness, but I assure you, if you see ‘Amy Sheridan’ singing Elijahat Exeter Hall it is not Sarah. Too start with, our Amy was just a fair vocalist and, as one journalist commented, she had a high voice rather like a peacock or a guinea hen.


 From the St James’s, Amy moved on to Horace Wigan’s Olympic Theatre where, on Whit Monday, she opened playing the role of Charity, one of the seven daughters of ‘Sense’, in Tom Taylor’s curious ‘Morality’, Sense and Sensation. The piece was not liked, although Amy and Kate Ranoe were, as newcomers, singled out for some mention (‘the graceful winning style of Miss Sheridan made her embodiment of Charity one of the marked features of the piece’).
Amy was to spend three years at the Olympic, playing dashing young widows and boys in burlesque in pieces such as The Girl I Left Behind Me, My Wife’s Bonnet, Always Intended (Mrs Mowbray), The Ticket of leave man (Emily St Evremonde), Dearest Mama, The Quiet Family, The Atrocious Criminal (Mamie van Rosen ‘the perfect realisation of a gay, young and handsome widow’), Human Nature, Fanchon the Cricket (Madelon) and the extravaganzas Cupid and Psyche (Mars),Glaucus (Proteus), Prince Camaralzaman (Queen Maimouné, later Badoura), Princess Primrose (Turfi), a hashed-up Barbe-bleue (Prince Saphir), . Her notices were usually short, sometime good, never really bad: she was a fair and attractive member of the Olympic company. The press was seemingly more interested in who, of she and Annie Collinson, was the tallest of London’s burlesque actresses.


 In October, she visited the Adelphi Theatre for a rather preposterous piece entitled Maud’s Peril, before moving on to Covent Garden, where she was to play Robin Hood in the pantomime, The Babes in the Wood, and then to the mecca of burlesque, the Strand Theatre. Her first two roles were in the 1-act comedietta Sisterly Service (Rosalie de Valmont) and in the burlesque The Field of the Cloth of Gold (Duke of Suffolk ‘shows all the graces of her figure and obtains a large share of the plaudits’), starring Lydia Thompson. Both pieces had long and successful runs.
Finally, at Easter 1869, The Field of the Cloth of Gold was replaced by Brough’s Joan of Arc, with Amy in another ‘darling of the ladies’ role as Lionel an esquire, then, after moreField of the Cloth of Gold, in October, by Ino (Chromos)
She appeared at Easter 1870, at the Globe Theatre, as Charles in Robert Macaire and ‘had a reception which suggestively indicated the intimacy of her relations with the public. She was charmingly attired (if that is the correct word) as Charles; wearing a bewitching hat with bewitching perkiness and carrying her hands in marvellous pockets with a swagger marvellously seductive’, andreturned to the Strand once more for The Idle Prentice to a similar reaction: ‘Miss Sheridan who always shines to most advantage when she has little else to do than to dress smartly, is a passable Sir Rowland’. She ‘looks gloriously handsome in white satin. We gallantly admit the abundance of the lady’s personal attractions but take leave to observe that even in burlesque the characters require more intelligent rendering than can got out of a beautiful lay figure or speeches given with a careless nonchalance, that says in dumb language “I’m to be looked at, I’m too handsome to talk properly”.’



It did rather seem that Amy had given up most of her acting ambitions in favour of being London’s number one showgirl, and the post-theatre activity that went with that title.

But in 1871, she went further. After a turn at the Alhambra as Fogfiend in A Romantic Tale, she took an engagement at Astley’s equestrian Theatre. Mazeppawas on the bill. But Amy didn’t play Mazeppa. A Miss Marie Henderson took that task. Amy played the second half of the bill. The title-role of the pantomime Lady Godiva. And since this was Astley’s, yes, she did ride across the stage on a gloriously caparisoned white horse, and yes, in a semblance of nudity. The advertisements insisted it was ‘beautiful and chaste’ but the public evidently came hoping that it wasn’t too chaste. The reviews agreed she ‘looked the character well’ but also that ‘she wants voice for a singer and animation for an actress at Astleys’. Amy’s nonchalant style wasn’t really right for the vast auditorium. And more than one print was found to pout that the horse acted better than the lady. 


After the pantomime was over, Amy returned to the Strand (The Last of the Barons) but then she made what seems like a strange decision. She signed to go to America as a replacement in the new and triumphant Lydia Thompson troupe. I suppose she thought that if her old colleague, Ada Harland, could be something of a ‘name’ over there, she might too. Maybe she just wanted a holiday. But she went.

America had already heard plenty about Amy. The Clipper had been paragraphing her for years, and had nominated her ‘the woman’ of the London stage. And now she was coming.
It was a disaster. She opened in one of the company’s weakest burlesques Robin Hood, playing Richard Coeur de Lion … ‘a very tall lady…Her bust appeared well-rounded and her waist symmetrical but her limbs, though well-turned are disproportionally long … Her face is handsome, but her reading was weak and undramatic..’ When they switched to Ixion she, of course, was Venus and was abruptly summed up as having ‘little ability’. Next they complained she was ‘not up in her lines’ in Kenilworth.
I suppose she could have ‘taken’ in America. America was the same as any other country in, just as often, preferring to look rather than listen. But what America was used to was definitely not ‘nonchalance’. America liked big, broad performances and Amy was big only in physique. Anyway, she got the message quickly and of 3 February 1873, when the vessel Spain docked in Liverpool, Miss Sheridan was on board.

She was soon back on the stage. And after Astley’s it was that other mausoleum of the London theatre … the Alhambra! And in which show? Why, (TheBlack Crook. But London’s Black Crook was altogether a better piece of musical theatre than America’s tired hotch-potch. Its libretto was based on the famous French féerie spectacle La Biche au bois and its music was freshly composed, it was cast with excellent performers and by Easter Monday it had already been running healthily since Christmas. Amy was advertised to take over as ‘the Queen of the Bells’. Since there is no role of that name in the original cast, I imagine it was fabricated and inserted to feature her. Another reference has her at one stage playing the principal boy, Prince Jonquil, a third, less believable has her succeeding to the very vocal title-role played heretofore by patented vocalists Cornélie d’Anka and Louise Beverley.
On first night her bodice came (dear, me!) loose, and one clench- buttocked paper remarked ‘her first costume charming enough in its general effect betrayed sad evidence of bad taste in its scantiness’, but others found her perfect: ‘much admired’ ‘magnificent dresses’…
As had been her wont as the Olympic and the Strand, Amy stayed on at the Alhambra, featured behind the stars of the establishment, Rose Bell and/or Kate Santley, as Orestes in La Belle Hélène, Spalatro in Don Juan, Belfort in La Jolie Parfumeuses, Picknick inThe Demon’s Bride through till late 1874. Quite what she did as all these musical-theatre boys is hard to establish. She doesn’t seem to have sung much, or danced much, or even spoken an awful lot. As the reviewer had said, all those years ago, it did seem to have become a case of being looked at rather than being listened to.

It was murmured that Amy was wealthy. Maybe because of the diamonds and the furs from unnamed admirers, or just one super-wealthy admirer. But I can’t find any reference, except for those hints about the Prince of Wales, to who he, or they, might have been. Emily Soldene, in her superb memoirs, ‘outs’ all sorts of folk but concerning Amy she is (as she knew how well to be) coyly unspecific. Was that because there was no one ‘regular’, or because that ‘regular’ was too mighty to ‘out’, even for the queen of opera-bouffe?

Well, she either had some money or access to someone else’s because in November 1874 Amy Sheridan (or someone in her name) took the Opera-Comique Theatre and there produced a new version of Ixion. She brought in Richard Temple to stage the piece and play, she (or he) hired a fine cast, topped by the splendid Patti Laverne in the title-role, Louise Beverley, Temple as Pluto and lots and lots of nymphets in gauzy fragments. Amy, of course was Venus as whom she ‘had little to do but to look handsome and commanding’.  
The production apparently went rather further than before in the scantiness of the ladies’ costumes and roused a few would-be-witty paragraphs in the press, but it lacked nothing in stage design and its worst crime seems to have been a large degree of under-rehearsal. The Saturday Review lead the anti-Amys, the audiences were thin, and the whole exercise came to bits on 15 January. The moral minority cheered that it was the ‘state of undress’ that had caused the failure. I think, perhaps, more likely it was inexperienced management. Anyway, Amy ended up in court sued by the property maker for the manufacture of Venus’s car in which Amy had made her sensational entrance. I daresay he was paid. Amy didn’t even turn up to answer the case.

And Reynolds’ Newspaper continued: ‘Disraeli wants some half dozen of his followers created peers … he has positively refused creating Amy Sheridan, Lardy Wilson and Cornélie d’Anka peeresses in their own right, notwithstanding the high favour these ladies are held in by certain members of the royal family …’. Amy first …


Amy doesn’t seem to have appeared on stage again until the pantomime season when she appeared at Park Theatre playing the Queen of the Green Ants in Sinbadalongside Lizzie Robson, Rose Lee and Harry Moxon. She caused a few eyes to widen when she then played the part of an Irish peasant woman in The Fairy Circle, but she did not take up acting again..

In fact, from this time onward, her name appeared rather in the gossip columns than in the theatre ones. ‘Miss Amy Sheridan takes a dip in the Thames’. She slipped while getting into a boat. By the time the papers had finished, she had all but drowned and been saved by a gentleman from Staines whom she subsequently married …

She didn’t. Amy never married. I don’t doubt that, if she was not Mrs Arthur Preston in law, she was de facto. But how long had he been in the picture? Was he a beard for the undefined royal, or was he a successor? We have a little, somewhat biased, picture of him which made the press (‘Miss Amy Sheridan and the stockbroker’) when he was sued for some monies owing. The picture was of a ‘brillant oisif’ who spent half his time on the river, the rest in homes in Regent’s Park and Chertsey, and who only worked when the urge came upon him. The rather strange Mr Beal of (briefly?)  46 Queen Victoria Street, City, who sued him seemed to know quite a bit about him. And about Amy. He referred to Arthur as a man ‘who could afford to keep Miss Amy Sheridan…’.

Regent’s Park? Amy’s permanent address for the last few years had been 50 Albert Street, Regent’s Park. Or Camden Town. Her house or his? In 1871 it was occupied by a Baroness Karl von Lippmann and her two infants …

He didn’t keep her for very long, it seems. In late 1878 she (or they) went to spend time at Brighton. They/she didn’t stay in a hotel but lodged in the boarding house of a Miss Matilda Morganti in Broad Street. And there Amy was taken with chest pains. The doctor was called but she died, as he later explained after the autopsy, from massive heart disease and internal bleeding.

Amy’s remains were buried in the Brighton Parochial Cemetery. Preston (‘husband’) led the cortège … and then vanished again into oblivion. Amy left a will. A will, at 39? She must have had a lot to leave. Her will was executed by her brother, not Preston. She left less than one hundred pounds. Odd. The contents of Albert Street were auctioned off …

Amy Sheridan was a phenomenon. The photos that remain of her range from the glorious to the what-was-all-the-fuss-about. But, of course, ideals of female beauty have changed. Todays scrawny, painted, dyed Californian beach babes wouldn’t have got a second glance in Victorian times.
But she leaves the odd question too, this ephemeral Blonde. Was Reynolds’ Newspaper right? But would a royal concubine live in Albert Street? And just who was ‘Arthur Preston’?

Anyway, as I said. ‘A short life but a gay one’.

Whales! Whales! Oh but my heart is at sea ... or, the Triumph of the Wobbly Man

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I used to be a tramper, a climber, a long-distance walker. Right into my sixties. Especially in my seagoing days. When we arrived at a new island, and my companions hurried down to the High Street to drink coffee and buy stuff, I put on my boots and headed into the surrounding countryside. Ten, twenty kilometres ... more, if the ship was in port for more than a day. It was heaven, and has left me with a welter of colourful memories .. sleeping rough on the top of a Madeira mountain, circumnavigating St Maarten ... and when we had a whole week in Dumagete, the local street-seller ladies christened 60ish me 'Mr Walky-Walky'. And the construction workers wolf-whistled at my tree-trunk legs.


And then, on the eve of my 65th birthday came 'my stroke'. For a few days my right leg and arm were useless ... and, although Brett the acupuncturist has since restored some of their mobility and strength, I'm afraid I am these days 'damaged goods'. Can't handwrite, one-finger typing, inelegant gait, and my sense of balance is shot to pieces. Which makes walking on any uneven surface (including stairs) hell. Even with my stick. I topple over, and then -- as I'm on blood-thinners -- bleed or bruise copiously. So for the last seven years the marathon walks, the climbs, the tramps have been out. Until today.


This weekend the Fahey family (or a portion thereof) came to stay at the Cove. Now, I've walked all the nearby beaches, so they decided to take me further afield. Shelly Beach. Beaches are good. Flat. And soft to fall on. So we parked and headed for the Angourie Walk track. Lovely. Brought back memories of childhood tramps around Lake Rotoiti, NZ


The 12 year-olds gambolled on ahead, Captain Joe led the adult parade, I waddled along behind, and Renée followed me. Just in case of a wobble. Before long, we reached the sea ..


And a glorious view along the sands back towards Angourie


But we weren't going for a beach walk. We were going along the cliff tops!

It is an excellent track, with some boardwalk portions. But it seems to have been installed some years ago and, for someone such as I, could do with a wee upgrade. But I managed with just the odd stumble over a wayward rocklet (LIFT that right foot, don't SHUFFLE!), remembering to STOP to look at the view and to otherwise keep my eyes on my feet ...


We were aiming for the Dirrangan Lookout from where, 60 metres above the beach, one can survey the ocean and its wildlife, plunging, hungry seabirds, dolphins and, yes, whales. People are fascinated by whales. Having spent several years of my life at sea, I've seen enough Mobydickheads to last me, but somehow it's always fun to see one more. Well, the wildlife saved me the final metres of the steep climb to Dirrangan: Mia and Hannah sat down on a rock to wait for me, and pow! the show began. Whelsh spoutings and cavortings galore.


The way back seemed much shorter! I had got into my stride, and bounced along like a pixilated crab. When we reached the car, the signs told us we had walked nearly 6km.


That is by far the greatest distance I have managed, above all in nature, in some eight years. Mr Walky-Walky may not live again, but I'm not ready for the knacker's yard yet!

We celebrated at the French Pan Tree -- beetroot carpaccio, sucking pig, French cheeses and (for me) an entire bottle of French bubbly -- before heading for early bed and a sound, sweet sleep ...

Life is good, even with a bit of a wobble.