Saturday, June 20, 2020

Cartesians: The other Messrs Gilbert

William Schwenk Gilbert was not the only 'Mr Gilbert' to be active in the D'Oyly Carte companies of the 19th century ... Sam and Bill, leading tenors, and Charlie, baritone, all served their time and the first two went on fron the Carte companies and the Savoy to long, long careers in the theatre ..

Let's start with Sam. Sam called himself F S GILBERT (no one ever knew what the F stood for) but he was born plain Samuel Gilbert (b Mansfield 1860; d Herne Hill April 1927) in Nottinghamshire, the son of William Gilbert, coal dealer, and his wife Eliza, and younger brother of Henry, Joseph, Harriet Ellen, Emma, Betsy and Thomas, all of whom were sent out from an early age to earn a menial living. Sam became a boot finisher in a boot factory.

I was a little dispirited when I followed the course of his career via the censi. 1881 boot finisher 1891 Operatic singer 1901 theatrical manager 1911 professional chours singer ... but the bits in between colour up his life in music more than a little. Some time in the 1880s, he quit footwear and got himself and his 'light, high tenor voice' a job in the Carl Rosa chorus. I don't spot him in a role until 1887, when he joined the Carte organisation playing first tenor roles in Europe and England.
In 1888, he joined the J W Turner company, playing the lead tenor parts that Turner, himself, didn't want and deputizing for the manager from time to time. For more than a year, he toured with Turner in roles from Thaddeus to Manrico (in those days sung by a lighter voice than nowadays), and praised for his extensive range and easy high notes. He appeared with Turner at London's Princess's Theatre and the Crystal Palace in 1889. And, between dates, he sang The Messiah at Sheffield.
He took a turn back into comic opera in tours of Girouette for Charles Wibrow, and in Paola as Lucien to the Paola of Leonora Braham, but he soon returned to the opera world, as first tenor in the Arthur Rousbey company (1890-2, Faust, Lionel, Edgardo, Manrico &c). 

In 1892, he organised a little opera company to play some dates in his home region, took the role of Peter to the Dolly of Agnes Molteno in a revival of The Sultan of Mocha, and the rejoined, first, the flourishing Turner company (1892-3) and then returned to Rousbey for another three years (1895-7).
Next, he joined baritone Neilson in mounting a small English opera company which played such as The Bohemian Girl, Maritana, The Daughter of the Regiment, The Lily of Killarney, Il Trovatore, Fra Diavolo et al with artists like Constace St Bride, Charles Cowlrick and Walter Greyling through mainly minor dates, and when that company came to grief, he set up the F S Gilbert Grand Opera Company, playing similar dates, with a similar effective and an enlarged repertoire (Satanella, Faust, Rose of Castille &c), and fair success. The Gilbert company held the road for some eight years, before it collapsed in bankruptcy in 1906 ...

I see him but little thereafter: in concert with Sophie Harriss DOC (who?) and Lulu Evans DOC, billed as 'of the Carl Rosa' and with daughter, Doris Gilbert in the small print; I see him attempting a quickly vanished United English Opera Co (1907) and singing at the New Hippodrome, Porter Street, Hull, and I have a note saying he attemped America as a variety turn ,,
But comes 1911, and he and Doris are professing 'chorus singer' from 113b Kennington Rd. Wife, Edith, is managing a sweet shop. Of their other two daughters, Evelyn Maud is a music student and Phyllis Margaret is but seven. I don't know what became of them. I only know of Sam's death via a small para in a local paper ..

Then there was Bill. Bill wasn't a kosher Gilbert. William James JONES  (b Tunstall, Staffs 1855; d Millo, Pitfold, Scotland 6 August 1931) became Walter GILBERT for his career in the theatre. Which doesn't make him any the easier to track down. By the time I find him, in 1891, in a census he is already 'Walter Gilbert' and his wife is 'Madge Gilbert' (operatic vocalist). Well, we know her real name was Matilda Mary Anne Land (b Norwich November 1860; d 4 Forbesfield Rd, Aberdeen 3 August 1940), daughter of Henry Land, baker, and his wife Mary Ann. I can find no marriage record for them. They had had a son two years earlier, in Edinburgh. They are touring in Dorothy at census time. Maybe she is the 'Madge Johnson' playing Mrs Privett. No! There is 'Miss Madge Gilbert' as Lady Betty (1892).

Now, before we start on the career of 'Walter Gilbert', one word of warning. I have presumed that he is not (unless he can be in two places at once) the Walter Gilbert minstrel, music-haller and songwriter who flourished in the 1880s, and who was a few years older and born in Devon. But I haven't tried to prove it.

I assume he was still Willie Jones in his days as a choirboy at Lichfield Cathedral and St Augustine's Edgbaston .. where his obituary has him singing the Joseph Maas music in Gaul's The Holy City 'after its production at the Birmingham Festival in 1881. I was just about to search for him in the 1881 census in Birmingham where I realised there was no Festival in that year. The Holy City was premiered at the Aug/Sept Festival in 1882.
The same obituary (printed below) has him joining the Savoy chorus for the production of The Mikado in 1885, and he was on his way. He was plucked from the chorus to play the role of Nanki Poo on the road, a role he filled for some two years, moved on to feature opposite Esme Lee in the other megahit of 1885, Erminie, in 1888, and then in the less triumphant Carina with Josephine Findlay, before ducking down to Swansea for pantomime. But another hit show awaited. Gilbert (and wife, both billed as 'of the D'Oyly Carte') joined W B Redfarn's Dorothy tour. He would play the role of Geoffrey Wilder, round and round the country for more than five years. 
In 1896 he went out with Cissie Grahame's A Gaiety Girl tour, playing 'hero' Charlie Goldfield. I suspect he may also have been a silent partner in the management, for when the company came to blows with a provincial theatre (name and shame ... Ipswich!)which cancelled the well-loved musical on moral grounds, it was he who was cited in the papers, and he who went to court... and came away with the cash. 
From this time, he turned his eyes and his feet north. He appeared in Rob Roy and Cramond Brig in Scottish theatres, he sang in concert and even variety from Blairgowrie to Paisley, and in 1898 played in an Edinburgh musical comedy The Indian Prince which toured successfully. But that was the end. He took a job as acting manager and secretary at the Aberdeen Palace Variety Theatre. Once again I think he was a sleeping partner, for when, after twelve years, he left the Palace the transfer of the license was in his name. But he was not retiring. He had put together a syndicate to buy the old Aberdeen Her Majesty's Theatre building, and so divested himself of the Palace and took on, in 1910, what was going to become the Aberdeen Tivoli. Twelve further years on, he 'retired' from the Tivoli and took on the new Theatre Royal ... He didn't make it a third slice of twelve years: 'Walter Gilbert' died in Aberdeen in 1931.

Looks a fine fellow. Shame I don't have a nice photo of him as a younger performer. Anybody have one?

So, a long and pretty glorious theatrical career. Now, about that marriage ...

Mr Gilbert number three has been less forthcoming. Charlie. Charles GILBERT arrives on the visible scene in 1886, playing Baron Poncho in a second-rate piece named Rhoda, from where he continued to the Carte management, for which he played as an understudy at the Savoy, the role of Don Alhambra in The Gondoliers on tour. He also played in the Savoy forepiece Mrs Jarramie's Genie. He went on to play in a sanitised version of La Plantation Thomassin at the Prince of Wales Theatre, in The Mountebanks (Luigi Spaghetti) and Incognita (Baldomero) in the West End ... and thereafter, in 1893, vanishes from Britain theatrical annals.
Half a dozen reasonable years et puis s'en va. Was it his real name? What became of him? Who was he? Questions remaining to be answered... Oyyyyyy! The Charles [A] Gilbert Opera Company on the American road, starring Addie Cora Reed, 1893? Charles Gilbert, baritone, of the Metropolitan Opera House?  Melba tour with Charles Gilbert, baritone! Charles Gilbert, Victor recording artist ... oh, Charles Gilbert the widely known French baritone died suddenly at the Hotel Gregorian, New York 11 October 1910 ...  Ach. Too many Charles Gilberts ... I shall leave this one till I run into him ...

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