Monday, January 27, 2020

Victorian primadonnas: mysterious Mary Anne from Manchester



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This article, penned a decade ago, as part of my Victorian Vocalists collection, originally read as follows:

ATKINSON, Miss M[ary] A[nne] 

‘This one is a disappointment. She started so well. I managed to sew together the various parts of her career … and get back, even, to exhuming tiny snippets about her personal life … and then: concrete wall. Which is a shame, because the lady was clearly a pretty fair vocalist. Well, not quite ‘fair’, it seems. Apparently she was a big lush voice on a rather fat, squat body. But if I know what she was, I’m afraid I don’t yet know who she was’.

The following was what I had managed to winkle out of the pages of the past.

‘She turns up first to my eyes, ‘Miss Atkinson of Manchester’, along with John White, her music teacher, in June 1830, in W J Hammond’s company at the Leeds Theatre. She is ‘first singer’ and was dubbed ‘a very clever girl’ with ‘a voice of most extraordinary power’. She and Mr Wilson sang in The Beggar’s Opera ‘weeded of its objectionable passages’, and concluded their engagement with a concert on 20 July. I suspect, however, that this might not have been quite the young lady’s first appearance, as the same month a duet ‘Gentle zephyr, appear’, was published, bearing the label ‘sung by Miss Field and Miss Atkinson’. Miss [Mary] Field (the future Mrs Belville Penley), from Bath, had been the previous, well-established first singing lady at the Manchester Theatre Royal. So, when did they duet together, I wonder. Odd.



I spot Mary Ann (assuming that’s what ‘M A’ stood for) singing with White, in July 1831, at Cheltenham (Guy Mannering), 3 October 1831 they are at Edinburgh doing Love in a Village with Miss Byfeld as Rosetta and Miss Atkinson as Madge ('her voice ... rather de trop for the simple ditties of Madge'). She stayed in Edinburgh until 'the spring of 1832' (Julia in Guy Mannering 'very prettily performed') ...


And then John White died. The Leicester violinist and dance coach, Charles Guynemer, took up the young lady with the big voice, allegedly for no payment, and, as far as I can see, he re-launched her in public at the Leicester Winter Concerts, 30 January 1833 (Mrs Waylett’s popular ‘Come, dwell with me’), and the York Subscription Concerts 19 February (‘Ombra odorato’, ‘With verdure clad’, 'Come, dwell with me’, 'Di tanti palpiti’). ‘[She is] highly recommended by the first professional characters in London and already a considerable favourite at the private concerts of the nobility and the gentry…’ Really?. Anyway, she fulfilled hopes. Leicester nodded ‘[she] has a splendid voice and is a correct and ladylike singer. She does not aim at those prodigious flights of execution so common to the stage but rather seeks the higher qualifications of sentiment and grace’. York gave her a small audience but a rave review and told us ‘she is the daughter of the late Mr Atkinson, architect … her father was an amateur of no mean proficiency’. Great! Not great.

To speak of ‘Mr Atkinson, architect’ in York or Manchester, at this time, was like speaking of a Mr McGregor in Glasgow. Half the top architects in the area seemed to be Atkinsons. The Peter Atkinsons of York and their descendants, the peculiar Thomas Witlam Atkinson of Manchester, a William 'of Manchester' ... well, I dug. No Mary Ann anywhere. A Martha, but she married. Eliminate Thomas the elder. He died 1798. Eliminate Thomas W, because he was still alive. Eliminate the sons of the second Peter, for the same reason, but could she be a sister? But hang on, is Peter II dead? Wisdom says he died in 1822, but when his wife died in 1825, she was not a widow! Sigh. Eliminate the elder Peter, unless he had a daughter at 80. Maybe eliminate the Manchester William, too, he seemingly didn’t die till 1839. And is this another Peter? But I know this Peter. He married the very considerable soprano singer Joanna Goodall, in 1826. A second marriage, perhaps. But if Mary Ann were a step-daughter to the well-known Miss Goodall, surely someone would have mentioned the fact. Especially as, in the same week of Miss Atkinson’s York debut, Mrs P Atkinson (late Miss Goodall) was giving a Benefit in the same city! But, sigh: he died in 1843. And he was ‘of York’. Eliminate … everyone? Like ‘Miss Chambers the Banker’s Daughter’, she’ll just have to be ‘Miss Atkinson, the architect’s daughter’. For now.


She appeared in London at Guynemer’s concert (‘great promise’), she sang at the York Assizes Concerts to great predictions, she sang ‘delightfully’ at Dr Camidge’s Benefit with local tenor Elijah Walton, she sang at the concert given by the Queen’s Pianist, Mrs Anderson (10 May), who was somehow connected with Guynemer, she sang at Henri Herz’s concert (‘a very promising young lady’), and then her teacher shot for what seemed to be the stars. In October, he apparently took her to Covent Garden to audition for Alfred Bunn. It was reported that she sang the Sonnambula scena, indelibly connected with Malibran, and was successful.


Miss Atkinson, however, was already out in fine company. I see her in December 1833 giving a concert in Windsor with Bochsa and Mori!

Bunn duly gave her a 'debut', 31 December 1833, as Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia alongside Phillips, Seguin and Templeton, and the occasion was pretty much of a success. She sang rather loudly (‘squalling’) with sudden drops into softness, she interpolated the entire ‘Non più mesta’ and made other alterations (‘all the original music’) to the already musically-mangled Bishop version of the opera, but, largely, it was agreed that when she was good she was very good. The Atheneum, however (who knew perfectly well who her teachers had been) was making no allowances


On 10 November she made a second debut in the inevitable Artaxerxes, with Phillips, Wilson and Harriet Cawse at her side. This time there was no doubt: ‘her performance of Mandane was a most successful one’ and her ‘The Soldier tir’d’ was judged by more than one critic as better than anyone’s … excepting only Mary Ann Wood.


But, her short and not unsuccessful engagement over, Miss Atkinson left Covent Garden, for Bath, and the management of Davidge, never to return to the Bunn boards.


Advertisement: 'The Hunter of Tyrol' sung at the Theatre Royal, Bath by Miss Atkinson where her reception has been most enthusiastic... delighting crowded and overflowing audiences by her exquisite singing'.


I suppose she sang in the provinces over the next years -- I do see it mentioned in 1835 that she was allegedly in treaty with Davidge, for the Surrey Theatre, and 9 November 1835 she is back in Edinburgh singing Diana in Rob Roy  -- but I don’t spot her in London again until she turns up at the English Opera House, in May 1836, featured as the Countess Lannoy (‘Let us be gay’, ‘Come to the dance’) in a rather weak George Linley operetta entitled The Queen and the Cardinal. Her ‘very clear powerful soprano and neatness of execution’ were praised but the material judged ‘vulgar’. Curiously, in October, when she appeared in concert at Aylesbury she was billed as ‘from the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden’. Er … not recently.

In November of the same year, however, she spent some time at the Surrey Theatre performing Love in a Village, Love or Hate or the Exile of Genoa, Rob Roy and Malvina with Leffler, Sinclair, Lenox and Edwin. ‘This young lady sings well in tune and has a good round soprano voice which tells well in concerted music. If she could show more passion in her manner and singing it would be an improvement’. ‘We are glad to perceive the rapid progress of this young lady. She exhibits in a high degree that fine cultivation of voice which particularly distinguished the pupils of Crivelli … great power and brilliancy’. She exhibited them, on this occasion, alongside ‘the Bedouin Arabs in their surprising Evolutions’.

From the Surrey, she moved on to Salisbury (Sweethearts and Wives, The Bottle Imp, Apollo in Midas), Elisha Walton’s Leeds concert (12 April), and to Newcastle and, there, the local press (as so often in the provinces) gave us a delicious wee pen-picture of the lady ‘whose bust is stout and high, and her neck short withal, [and] would hardly lead a stranger to suspect she was possessed of an organic development so capable of producing tones of not less force than delicacy ... volumes of pure sustained sound .. remarkable compass ... perfectly under control … liquid sweetness ...’. Miss Atkinson spent much of the next year at Newcastle (Guy Mannering, Der Freischütz, Perfection, Philharmonic concerts etc), and then, after a period at Birmingham, where she starred in opera with Templeton (Sonnambula, Cinderella), returned to London for an engagement at the Olympic Theatre (March 1840), to play Mrs Major Mortar in The Ladies’ Club, a role which sounds as if it may have been better physical casting than the juvenile lead, Cicely, in The Gentleman in Black. That piece over, it was back to Newcastle, now billed as ‘of Drury Lane’, for Guy Mannering with Templeton and another long engagement, leading to a season at the Theatre Royal, Carlisle … In 1841-2 she seems to have been a part of the company at the Theatre Royal, Windsor.

In 1842, she was hired as second soprano to Miss Forde at the Grecian Saloon, but she stayed only three months, leaving her spot to the Misses Mears and Crisp, and continued on to the Manchester Theatre Royal, where she repeated her Amina and Zerlina alongside Donald King and Lenox. ‘A full round voice and a fair share of flexibility; its tone is not first rate, that we cannot expect, or Miss Atkinson would not be here, but it is far from being disagreeable and she sings with firmness and discretion…. Her figure is against her in parts of this cast’, wrote one decidedly unchauvinistic critic about the ‘native of Manchester … daughter of a highly respected inhabitant for many years’. For her Benefit night she played the title-role Bishop’s Maid Marian.

From here on, Miss Atkinson seems to fade away. In 1843 a report from Ludlow says ‘business has been bad, notwithstanding Miss M A Atkinson and Mr Mahon have been singing in opera’. I spot her singing at Gravesend in 1845, in Barker’s Benefit at the Olympic (13 July 1846), in October 1850 at the Holborn Vocal Concerts, and then – for heaven’s sake – in 1850-1, back at the Grecian, where Julia Harland was now prima donna and Mary Ann Crisp well installed as second. I see her appearing as Clorinda in Cinderella, First Fairy in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in the burlesques The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood and Jason and Medea, in the Bishop operetta First Love

It was over twenty years since the lass from architectural Manchester had first hit the platforms … it now was apparently, the end of her career as a vocalist.

What became of her? Is it she at the Dramatic College Fete in July 1862, presiding at a stall? Surely not the Miss M A Atkinson sentimental vocalist at Liverpool’s Oxford Music Hall in 1863. Why can I find her in no census, even that of 1841 when she was surely in Newcastle, or 1851 when we know she was singing at the Grecian? No birth notice, no death notice, no family, no identification … just ‘Miss Atkinson the architect’s daughter’, ‘from Manchester’. Pupil of White and Guynemer. And Crivelli?. And, I assume, not to be confused with Miss Eliza Mary Atkinson RAM ‘pupil of Crivelli’ who sang at the oratorios of 1828 ...
I’ve looked. I’m still looking’.            


Well … ten years later I decided to redig and … a clue! Which led to another clue. Which unravelled a whole heap of other clues ...

STOP PRESS. Sudden Decease of an actress. Died December 25 (1863), Mrs Henry Lindon, sister of the late Miss M A Atkinson of vocal celebrity …. ! Will it be another concrete wall? Well, ‘Lindon’ was evidently a nom de théâtre, so it could be ...

Mr and Mrs L were, from 1856, in evidence at the City of London Theatre. Mrs seems to have been better value than Mr. But I see that, at her death, Mrs was playing Fairy in panto at the Pavilion, Whitechapel, the cast of which also included the little Misses J or I Lindon (Cat) and A Lindon (Humpty Dumpty), aha! … and yes!! there they are in the 1861 census: 216 Hoxton Town, Henry W Lindon actor 37 born Norwich, Martha W 30 actress born London (not Manchester!), Isabella 9, Agnes 8, George 5 (b Plymouth) … they all seem to have the same W middle initial, which I suspect is their real surname …. Hope is not entirely lost. I plug on!
Oh, with them is dwelling a something-in -law (Sharpen your quill, man!) Mary A Penson … widow, 52 from Manchester … Ohhhhhhhhhh! Is it she …?


Mary Ann Penson (sic) born 1811ish, died 1863 106 Carlton Road, Kentish Town, aged 55; buried All Souls, 17 February 1863 … Penson? How come Penson? Widow?

1871 census 12 Union Place, Lambeth: Henry Lindon comedian 47 widower b Norwich, Isabel and Annie musical artistes, George scholar. The Ws are gone …

died George Lindon, brother of the ‘Sisters Lindon’ aged 28, 17 February 1883 …

1886: The death is announced of Miss Agnes Lindon of the Sisters Lindon, the well-known character duettists … died 17 February 122 Hainton Street, Cleethorpes, buried 19 February Cleethorpes as Agnes Lindon Wilson … Wilson! gotcha!

1851 census: 4 Villiers Street yayyyyy! Henry Wilson 27 comedian, wife Martha 21 singer, Alicia Benson (oh! Penson?) b West Indies. .. ? 40 mother, servant, Mary A Atkinson 30 (!) teacher of music b Manchester … Whaaat!? That muddles things up! But I’m a bit suspicious of this entry … We’re not there yet. West Indies be blowed. Mother? Whose mother? And who is the thirty-year-old?



Died 28 December 1876 at Charles Street, Sheffield Henry William Wallace Lindon aged 53 … (registered as Henry Wardlaw Lindon Wilson aged 54).

Henry Wardlaw Wilson married Martha Cranmer Penson 29 September 1850 … Whaaaaaa …. Ah! Of course. Mary Ann was daughter of the LATE Mr Atkinson … Martha clearly is at best a half-sister! Twenty-two years younger …? Er … sister? Something is buzzing ‘[illegitimate?] daughter’ in my ear.

Henry Wardlaw (sic) Wilson baptized Norwich 3 May 1823 son of Robert Wilson, draper, and Henrietta ..

Martha Cranmer Penson, by George Penson, music master, out of Mary Alicia, born Cumberland Market, London 10 March 1830 … Oh, damnation. Mary Alicia? ‘M A’.



1861 Shoreditch census: Henry Lindon, actor b Norwich, wife Martha, children Isabelle, Annette, George. And Mary A[licia] Penson, independant, b Manchester 52 ... 

Died Martha Cranmer Wilson aged 33 ...

Died 26 April 1897 7 Borough Rd, Birkenhead, Isabel Lindon, late Sisters Lindon (registered as Isabel Mary Lindon Wilson, aged 44) … her death notice was posted by her buddy Lizzie Villiers (clog dancer and vocalist) with whom she had been playing in dates such as the Ilkeston Poplar Palace of Varieties. Isabel sang ‘with taste and precision’, but I would guess nowhere near as well as her .. er ... relation, Mary Ann. Or was it Mary Alicia? Or each, in turn …

End of dynasty. And, I think, end of my search.

But wait! George Penson ... oh, blimey! Not the George Penson, vocalist and musical comedian, the celebrated Figaro of Covent Garden, the English Opera House and Drury Lane, son of John Penson of the Salisbury, Lymington, Blandford and Newport Theatres, who drowned himself in Dublin, March 1833, aged 38 … it must be!
Of course! He was playing at Covent Garden when ‘Miss Atkinson’ arrived from the north … did they marry at some stage? Did they dally? And was Martha Penson, as I divined, not Mary Alicia/Ann’s sister but her ?illegitimate daughter. But that would have meant that they would have to have connubed at the end of 1829, when Miss Atkinson had supposedly not yet made her first appearance, anywhere. And was theoretically in Manchester studying with Mr White. So, was that bit about ‘[She is] highly recommended by the first professional characters in London and already a considerable favourite at the private concerts of the nobility and the gentry…’ not just puff, but true ..?  And SHOULD I, then, be 'confusing' our 'Miss M A' with Eliza Mary Anne Atkinson RAM (pupil of Crivelli) of Manchester, born 15 January 1811, daughter of William and Eliza Lindon Atkinson …


William Atkinson, architect, married Eliza Rawlinson Manchester 26 February 1809 …



Christened Manchester 31 January 1810, Mary Alicia Atkinson ...
Christened Manchester 18 April 1811 Eliza Mary Ann Atkinson ...

There are TWO of them? Does this explain the 1851 census entry? Does this explain the punctilious 'Miss M A Atkinson' ...

Argh! Christened Manchester 31 January 1813 Emmeline Spencer Atkinson ... THREE of them!


Sob. Christened 29 January 1819 Charlotte Maria Atkinson (Mrs John Twiddy d 1848) and William Rawlinson Atkinson (d Uckfield 8 June 1888) and Richard Latham Atkinson (d Bishop's Walk, Lambeth September 1834) ....

Wait …. Eliza LINDON Atkinson? Well, that's where the 'Lindon' bit came from.

Oh, hell!  Do I have to start all over again ...?

Anyway, I have to amend my article's header. But which sister is which? It now reads:

ATKINSON, Miss M A [ATKINSON, Mary Alicia] (b Dobcross, Manchester, x 31 January 1810;  ? d 106 Carlton Road, Kentish Town February 1863) 'Mrs George Penson'

or [ATKINSON, Eliza Mary Ann] (b Dobcross, Manchester 15 January 1811)

And which sister is this the tale of?

And I have to tack a half-dozen years of additional material on to the beginning of my career summary…

Admitted to the Royal Academy of Music 1823, soon after the opening of the institution’s doors. Sang at the RAM concert 5 July 1823. Aged thirteen.

16 May 1827: Madame de Vigo’s concert chez Sir Francis Burdett. Pasta sang ‘Di tanti palpiti’. Miss Stephens, Miss Wilkinson, Mme Brizzi and Miss Atkinson were the lady singers. Braham topped the male list.

26 May 1827: The London Eisteddfod. ‘pupil of Crivelli’ 'her first appearance in public' who sang ‘On Logan Banks’ and ‘Should he upbraid’ ‘most sweetly’.

11 July 1827: Surrey Theatre. ‘The delightful opera of Rosina afforded great amusement, and was rendered peculiarly interesting by the debut of a young lady named Atkinson … her success was complete. Her voice appears to be one of rare excellence. It is a true soprano: rare in tone, extensive in compass and combining brilliancy and sweetness in a very eminent degree. Many of her tones reminded us strongly of Miss Stephens when she first appeared at Covent Garden … Miss Atkinson is of the middle stature, with a fair complexion, and light brown hair; looks to be about sixteen years of age, and is very Lady-like in her appearance. She has evidently had a musical education and adds to a splendid voice, considerable cultivation … On the whole, we should be at a loss to account for so promising a debut at a minor theatre did we not remember that the Manager [Elliston] is himself one of the first actors of the day. (Morning Post)

5 September 1827: Surrey Theatre: Paul and Virginia, 13 September: Rosina

19 September 1827: Surrey Theatre The Padlock Leonora: Miss Atkinson Leander: Mr Benson Mungo: Mr W West

18 October 1827: Surrey Theatre Paul and Virginia. Paul: Miss Graddon, Virginia: Miss Atkinson Dominique: Mr W West

October 1827: Surrey Theatre The Siege of Belgrade Seraskier: Mr Philipps Lula: Miss Graddon Catherine: Miss Atkinson

November 1827 'Mrs Atkinson, the mother of Miss Atkinson of the Coburg Theatre was charged by the driver of hackney coack no 533 with refusing to pay her fare ..

30 January 1828: Drury Lane Concert under Henry Bishop, with Pasta, Feron, Misses Love, Cawse and Grant. ‘Her first appearance’. ‘Miss Atkinson sang ‘Angels ever bright and fair’ with considerable success. She has a promising voice, but as yet she is without style’. ‘This lady promises well, but she wants cultivation’. 'much delicacy and distinction'



22 February 1828: Covent Garden. The same team, with Paton replacing Feron. Arne's 'Hymn of Eve'.


28 July 1828: Brighton: ‘Miss Corrie closed her engagement at the Marine Library to return to the Theatre Saturday. Miss Atkinson is to be her successor, a pupil of Crevelli (sic) who is highly spoken of .’

August 1828: Brighton ‘At Tuppen’s Marine Lounge Miss Atkinson is in high favour; where she has been recently joined by Mr Yarnold, and the duets between them, with the piano accompaniment of Mr Bond, have been in the first degree pleasing, and skillfully performed’

1828 ‘Miss Atkinson, the young lady who sang last season at the Surrey Theatre is at present delighting the fashionable world at Brighton. Tuppin’s Library is crowded whenever she appears. She has been most successful in a new song by [Robert] Guylott called ‘The Fairies’ Invitation’, which she is always obliged to repeat …’ 'Miss Atkinson maintains her vocal celebrity there '



‘The vocal talents of Miss Atkinson and Mr Yarnold … continue nightly to crowd the Library with elegant company…’

And, then, I suppose, came Mr Penson. Penson was playing at the English Opera House in the summer of ’29. The female side of the company was strong – Abby Betts, Harriet Cawse, Miss Goward/Mrs Keeley, Eliza Jones, Fanny Kelly – but, apparently, no Miss Atkinson.

1829 July Brighton: Rosina with John White as Belville
1829 September Brighton: Concert with Miss Atkinson, Miss Pearson, Mrs Bland, Mrs Evans (late Miss P Glover), Messrs White and Newnum ... 'the whole of the operatic performers ..'

I’m wary of 'supposing' anything about this story. I ‘supposed’ that ‘Miss M A Atkinson’ began her career at Leeds. I ‘supposed’ that she wasn’t the same person as the RAM lady in 1823. I scorned, wrongly, the suggestions which claimed Drury Lane and Covent Garden and the posh concerts as her teenage credits. One is so accustomed to false claims (‘prima donna, La Scala’) in these years. But in among the thistles, there are sometimes flowers to be found, and an historian mustn’t reject anything that just might be a clue. So I’m feeling slightly chastised. But, at least, I didn’t go public with the story of Miss Atkinson until I’d sorted her out. Or have I?

And, fancy, she was the grandma of the music-halls' Sisters Lindon! Well, one of them was ...

I notice in the 1881 census brother William (clerk) and his wife Mary Jane née Duplock (milliner) living in Church Street, Uckfield. Their daughter Leila Evelyn [Mrs Jonathan Corbett Neale] is listed as 'pianoforte teacher'. In 1891 she has a little Leila Alicia Corbett Neale ... there's that Alicia again ...

Ummm .. which Mrs Penson is that at the St James's Theatre for Braham in 1836-7 ... ? Alicia!!



























1 comment:

Sheena P said...

I’ve just come across your blog today while researching my family history. The M A Penson who died at 106 Carlton Road, Kentish Town was the first wife of my great-great grandfather, William Sudlow Penson. Her maiden name was Mary Anne Slater. His father was William Penson, who was a musician and music publisher and according to the records I have, his brother George died unmarried. That’s the only information I have about George. However, having found a blog written by somebody whose family tree inter links with mine, and as you yourself have found, nothing is ever straightforward and there are many twists and turns in this research process. I have only just dipped a toe in the water so far, but I am now hooked and determined to find out more.

Best wishes,
Sheena Penson