Tuesday, February 23, 2021

A curled darling of the salons: Who was 'Léonce Valdec' and what became of him?

This morning I came upon a photo which set me wondering afresh on a mystery I had tackled a few years back...  so I thought, while the drills are drilling, and my kitchen arising from its ruins ... try again, Johnny. 

Well I'm sad-happy to report that I found nothing new ... and I don't suppose I'll get round to tackling Mons Valdec again .... so I post my findings here, in the hope that someone, somewhere, one day will find it useful or, better still, fill in my gaps ...

VALDEC, Léonce (aka WALDECK) (b Cognac c1841; d unknown)


For fifteen years, the light baritone known as ‘Léonce Valdec’ was the darling of the Paris salons. I would have expected his history to have been paragraphed by the fashionable papers, his death garlanded in obituaries, his name to have appeared in many a memoir … but no. Hardly a mention, outside his concert reviews. Very little clue as to who, precisely, he was: and when there is, the clues are contradictory.


Clue number one comes from an unlikely place. The 1871 British census. He (as Waldeck, which just may have been his name) happens to be in town, and tells us that he is 30, born in Cognac, has a 27 year-old wife named Maria who comes from Herne Bay and a two year-old son by the name of Albert, who was born in Paris. 


An issue of Comoedia from 1933, talking of the colourful Count Max de Waldeck, assures us that the singer was his son, and that he committed suicide. Both pieces of information, if true, would surely have been mentioned before. The allegedly 85 year-old count (who, equally allegedly, lived to 110) did apparently have a son by his 17 year-old English wife, and that son did indeed sing, but he was named Gaston not Léonce, was a basso profondo, somewhat younger, and when he gave a concert one kindly journal commented: ‘M G de Waldeck, qu'il ne faut pas confondre avec le gracieux baryton Valdec, est fils du célèbre peintre de Waldeck qui vient d'accomplir sa cent-huitième année…’. So we’re back where we started.


There are other, possibly misleading, little ‘facts’ dropped here and there. I see him called a pupil of Romain Bussine, and a ‘lauréat du conservatoire’. The two fit together, but both are mentioned only once, that I can find, and I don’t find him in the Conservatoire lists. In fact, the only Cognaquois mentioned are an actor and a bassoon player.


He first comes to the fore in May 1868 when he mounted a concert at the Salle Erard. ‘Le bénéficiaire, un baryton d'avenir, M Léonce Waldeck, n'a pas eu à se plaindre du public qui lui a largement prodigué ses applaudissements, ainsi qu'aux frères Lamoury. à Mlles Louise Mürer, L Duval et Blanche Bragel …’. However, I don’t see him in public again until February of 1870, when, at the same venue, he hosted another concert with Anna Fabre, Louise Mürer, MM Leon Desjardins, Paul Bernard and Castel. He sang Schubert’s ‘Le Roi des Aulnes’ and Madame de Grandval’s ‘Le Bohémien’ and the press nodded ‘on a pu apprécier la fraîcheur de la voix, et le style elégant du jeune chanteur ..’. When he sang a few days later at Bernard’s concert they confirmed ‘‘un baryton très sympathétique de goût irréprochable’.

Whether the 'handsome' Waldeck had yet begun his conquest of the salons of Paris and its countesses and duchesses, I do not know, but in 1870 he crossed the channel to partake of the London season. He began singing for Benedict at a Dalston Hospital Benefit (30 March), then at Clara Schumann’s concerts, as featured vocalist alongside Edith Wynne. I’ve picked up a good number of appearances during the season – Amy Perry’s concert with the Doria sisters and the pupils of Lansdowne Cottell, the New Philharmonic concerts singing Gounod’s ‘Le Vallon’ alongside arias by Pauline Lucca, a Benefit for a Day Nursery, or Marras’s at home (‘O Lisbonne’, Mireille). ‘This gentleman is likely to prove a great acquisition to the platform’ quoth the press, ‘his pronunciation is pure, his intonation pleasing, his style gentlemanly, and his voice both rich and sympathique’. He sang for Kuhe, Madame Celli, Cottell again, at the concerts of Annetta Zuliani, Emma Wildish (Gounod’s ‘Voulez-vous aller’), Mary Elizabeth Walton, Julius Benedict, Antoine de Kontski, Henry Holmes … ‘pure tone and admirable expression’, ‘a pleasing French baritone’ and on 6 July gave ‘his second morning concert’ (I seem to have missed the first) at Cromwell House. He sang, a selection of top instrumentalists played, and Emily Muir came in to sing the Noces de Jeannette duet with him. He seems to have closed his season 16 July, singing ‘David Before Saul’ at Store Street.

‘M Léonce Waldeck, a baritone of considerable merit, gave a song from Martha very pleasingly. He has a sympathetic voice of good quality, and sings accurately and with judgment, barring a tendency in forte passages to force his tone into a passionate vibrato’ wrote The Examiner after Lansdowne Cottell’s concert. That passion (and vibrato) would help him to become a favourite of the ladies …


I don’t know whether the Waldecks went home after the London season. The Franco-Prussian war had just exploded into action. Anyway, I see no trace of our ‘baryton martin’ until April of the new year, when he turns up in Dublin, equipped with two songs by Charles Salaman (‘I would tell her’, ‘A Voiceless sigh’) and giving a concert (21 April) at Cramer and Wood’s Rooms.

Back in London, he sang in more public concerts (Silas, Billet, Romano, Mme Celli, Alfred Gilbert, Henri Logé, E Guerini), and doubtless as many private ones, as well as revisiting Dublin (Gounod’s ‘Noel’ and Chanson du printemps, The Scented Vine’ &c) and appearing in London with Salaman as guests with the Dublin Glee and Madrigal Society.

H appears to have stayed over this year, for he turns up at the Albert Hall in December singing with Lemmens-Sherrington and Edward Lloyd in a performance of Carter’s Placida and in February of 1872, he gave a concert with Salaman in Brighton.

London during the war of 1871 proved a grand place for linking up with the high society French, and, during 1872, Waldeck appeared regularly with Juliette Conneau, sometime lady-in-waiting to the Empress Eugénie, as well as with the high society lady who called herself ‘Haydée Abrek’, pianist de Kontski and such associated persons as Jules Lefort, basso Monari and Irish amateur William Maitland. At de Kontski’s concert they performed his opera Les Deux Distraits (11 March 1872). During the season of French plays at St James’s Theatre, Waldeck was engaged to sing between the acts (‘La Romance de Boabdil’). The concert engagements proliferated, ranging from charity dates, to the concerts of such as Wilhelm Ganz and Luigi Arditi (‘Vainement Pharamond’, Joseph). 

He also, round this time, got to know the London-based Gounod and his singing girlfriend, Mrs Weldon, and performed with them regularly.  On 7 June 1873, at Tavistock House, together with Mrs Weldon and Werrenrath (another hanger-on of the composer) he took part in the first full performance of the composer’s ‘Biondina’ songs. The curious Mrs Weldon refers to Waldeck (and others) dismissively in her biography, but at the time they were only to happy to use him and his rising fashion. On 28 June 1873 Waldeck (‘an agreeable and accomplished concert singer with a sympathetic baritone voice and a cultivated style’) gave a concert at the Olympic Theatre. Gounod played piano, Mrs Weldon sang, Waldeck sang Gounod music and duetted with the lady. In July, they returned to Paris, where Mons Valdec (as he had no definitively become) was seen again in concert with Mrs Weldon.


It seems that the change of name came along with a change of status. Instead of being a charming amateur (and the word ‘sympathique’ litters his notices) he was now singing professionally. 

From March 1874, the press speaks of him in a different tone: ‘Un jeune artiste français, M. Léonce Valdec, doué d'un remarquable talent de chanteur et d'une excellente diction musicale, est en ce moment à Paris, de retour d'Angleterre, où il vient de faire une brillante saison et a su se conquérir de chaleureuses sympathies …’. And there is a mention of ‘la voix sympathique et parfaitement stylée du baryton Valdec, encore un amateur devenu artiste, et des meilleurs…’. ‘On parlait de son prochain engagement à l'Opéra-Comique.’.


They only spoke of it. And this ‘incident’ gives us the one (apart from Mrs Weldon) ‘picture’ of Valdec that we have. The writer Henri Maréchal recounts in his memoirs the tale of the abortive Opéra-Comique affair. He describes: ‘Un baryton mondain don’t le succès était alors très vif dans beaucoup de salons parisiens. D’aspect agréable, elégant, doué d’une toute petite voix, prenante par le charme de son timbre, il soupirait avec goût les cantilènes amoureuses à la mode …’, before going on to tell of the singer’s haughty demands (a letter from Jules Barbier reprinted long after give a comical picture of these) and the quick deflation of the idea of casting him on the stage. He also added that the singer was living hand to mouth, and had billeted himself on a rich friend … er.. what about the wife and child?


In the years that followed, Valdec knew his greatest vogue. He appeared again and again at the Salle Érard, the Salon Pleyel and the Salle Herz in concerts of his own (6 May 1874 ssq), and as the frequent guest of others. He made a considerable success with the song ‘La Fauvette’ by Louis Diémer ‘qu'il détaille de la façon la plus intelligente’, ‘remarquablement rendue’, gave new songs by Widor, Clemence de Grandval (including an aria from her Stabat Mater), Faure (‘Le Message’, ‘Alleluia d’amour’), older ones by Gounod (‘Le Vallon’), Schubert (‘Ave Maria’, ‘La Truite’), occasionally touching on the operatic with Le Medecin malgré lui or, a favourite, the Zauberflöte duet. When the Paris season ended he headed to the provinces – Nantes, Le Mans, Limoges, Valenciennes, Arras, Orleans – returning as ever for the high season with more songs with which to delight the fashionables and the critics into reviews such as ‘Valdec a chanté avec son goût accoutumé deux romances délicieuses de M. Magner, qui, lui-même, l'accompagnait … On ne peut dire mieux que M Valdec, et sa voix exquise en fait un des meilleurs chanteurs de salon que nous ayons jamais rencontrés’.

Faure’s ’Dans les ruines d’une abbaye’ and ‘Fleurs du matin’, Paul Bernard’s ‘Faucheuse’ (‘un véritable succès’), Niedermeyer’s ‘Le Lac’, Pergolesi’s ‘Tre giorni’, Joncières’ ‘Invocation du Dimitri’, Diémer’s ‘Adieux à Suzon’, Pessard’s ‘Dites, la jeune belle’  … Valdec had his sphere. But he apparently had others ambitions: ‘Malgré ses succès dans les salons, M. Valdec aurait l'intention d'aborder la carrière théâtrale et serait prêt à accepter un engagement pour une de nos scènes de genre’. It didn’t happen. Back to the country, and the material he had made his great successes with: ‘Le concert donné le 8 septembre à Étretat, par M. Léonce Valdec, le baryton des soirées parisiennes, a été, sans contredit, le plus réussi de la saison. À M Valdec, on a bissé la Truite, de Schubert, dont il a fait une chose à lui, et ‘Bonjour Suzon’ de Faure’.

During the season of 1877, Valdec was seen regularly on the Paris platform: for Albert Sowinski, Luisa Valli, Pauline Boutin. Alice Sydney Burvett, Doquin Ardiun, Louis Breitner, Therese Castellan, Léopold Déledique, Mlle Fanchelli and doubtless many others, as well as his own soirée (‘Très remarquable le concert du sympathique baryton Léonce Valdcc qui sait aussi bien dire que chanter. Rappel après chacun de ses morceaux’). He seems to have been a favourite with Mme de Grandval, whose songs he continued to give, and at who concert he appeared singing the composer’s duet ‘Le Forêt’ with her.

At the end of the season this year, a notice appeared: ‘M Léonce Valdec, le baryton si souvent applaudi dans les concerts, donnera cet hiver des leçons de chant chez lui, 4 rue Bochard-de-Saron (Avenue Trudaine)’. 


But he didn’t reduce his performing: the Concerts du Châtelet, the Concert Carvalho with Mme Carvalho singing Gounod and Shubert, the Concerts Cressonnois at the Théâtre Porte Saint-Martin (‘La Romanesca’, ‘Guide à bord ta nacelle’) … He scored a new success with Madame de Grandval’s ‘Scrupules’ (‘avec charme exquise’), gave Meyerbeer’s new ‘Poème d’Octobre’, Diémer’s ‘Les Ailes’ … and only Orléans was heard to mutter ‘Il manie habiliment une voix qui manque, malheureusement, de sonorité’. Orléans, it appears, wasn’t into the ‘baryton de salon et charme’.


Paris was. When he gave his concert of 1879 it was adjudged ‘une des meilleures de la saison’, in 1880 he was simply dubbed ‘le chanteur de salon par excellence’ and toured in concert for impresario Ullmann. And the chansons kept coming, from the pen of Mme de Grandval (‘La vase brisé’, ‘Au bord de l’eau’), Diémer (‘nouvelle Sérénade espagnole, délicieusement chantée par M. Valdec’), Nadaud (‘Insomnie’), Delibes (‘Regrets’), plus the usual dose of Gounod (‘A Venise’, ‘Gallia’).


In the first months of 1882, Valdec presented a series of eight Parisian matinées, and in June he paid one more visit to London. However, I spot only two professional appearances. 1883 brought a second series of matinees, and an announcement that he was starting a concert and touring agency. It seemed he was running down his career. When he sang for Lebouc in December 1883, the usual review was slightly muted: ‘M Valdec, chargé des intermèdes de chant, a rendu avec succès le charmant air de Suzanne de Paladilhe, et le Départ, scène de Gounod, puis des mélodies de M Albert Renaud qui ont produit bon effet’.

His appearances got less frequent in 1884. His own concert was held not in the old venues but in the Salle Flaxland, he was still paragraphed as ‘le chanteur attitré des salons parisiens’, but it seems to have been more by habit than actuality.

My last sightings of Léonce Valdec are 30 March 1885, giving a concert at the Salle Duprez, and in May the same year singing at the concert given by George Hesse at the Salle Érard. And then … simply no mention. No advertisements. Nothing.


I suppose he died. Sooner rather than later? Was he indeed the one who committed suicide? Or did he simply, as Maréchal says rather indefinitely at the end of his Opéra-Comique tale ‘die in poverty soon after’.  You would have thought some music journalist would have noticed. But I have just these two (contradictory) references … one in 1920 and one in 1933. Half a century after my last real sighting. 

Monday, February 22, 2021

The Army, the Navy, the Church, and the Stage ... and carpenters in my kitchen


Well, three out of four ...

Tuesday 23rd February. 8am, the first tradesman (electrician) arrived to do his bit towards the transformation of my kitchen. The carpenters and due any moment ...  outside the sky is white with several varieties of floating vegetable matter .. so I am being chef de chantier for the day while amusing myself with the past. Little bits of the past, because I don't want to get into something longwinded, only to have the proofs of the GILBERT AND SULLIVAN book land on my desk ...

Today's investigatees ...

Arthur Manley Hil and wife, Alice

Francis Knowles

A G Girdlestone

Two churchmen and one army ...

There's not a lot of story in Arthur Manley HILL (b Chapel Allerton 21 January 1843-d Roborough 14 November 1933). Son of a Devonshire military man (eventually a  General), John Thomas Hill (1811-1902), A M Hill was launched on the military by the purchase of a commission as an Ensign in the 5th Fusiliers in 1860. He purchased a lieutenant's rank in 1864, while stationed in Ireland, where, in 1866 (1 August) he married Alice Honoria [Laura] Browne, daughter of James Arthur Browne of Browne Hall, County Mayo,  In 1868, he got out of the army and moved eventually back to Devon, where he lived out his life as a 'gentlemen' at the family home of 'Good-a-meavy House'.
The handsome young couple pictured above were to have eight children, of whom five survived to adulthood:

(1) Reginald Charles James (b 26 June 1867; d 15 April 1942) of globetrotting propensities. He married Elizabeth Robertson Savage in Bloemfontein in 1899, fathered a son, John Adrian Aimé (1900), and moved to the plantations of Colombo where John ran the Remuna Estate in Horana. John died in 1930 and the elders returned to Britain.

(2) Arthur Lloyd St Leger (b 1869; d Roborough 23 August 1921) gent seems to have just been a gent. He didn't marry.

(3) Frederick Thomas Cecil (b 17 July 1874; d Gallipoli 7 August 1915). The disadvantage of being a career army man, is that you sometimes get killed in battle. Frederick, a major in the 6th Yorks and Lancs Regiment fell at Gallipoli. He was married to Marie Joséphine Elizabeth Léontine de Foresta.

(4) Gerald Ernest Montague (b 21 February 1876; d 2 October 1954) was awarded the DSO in his capacity as an officer in the 2nd East Lancashire Regiment. He retired with the rank of Lt-Col.

(5) Lillian Helen Gwendoline (1877-1955) married a somethingth son by the painful-sounding name of Ricketts by whom she had two children. When her husband succeeded to a baronetcy she acceded to Burke and Debrett, but without him. He promptly walked out. She finally and very publicly divorced him in 1936. Her son, [Sir] Robert Ricketts married a daughter of Stafford Cripps. 

Diving for cover from all those titles, I happend upon plain Francis KNOWLES (bapt 4 June 1848; d The Rectory, Gimingham, Norfolk 24 October 1931) son of grocer/draper William and Martha Knowles of Hoyland Nether, Yorks. Well, he became not just plain Francis. He was 'the reverend Francis Knowles MA (Cantab)'. Yes, a clergyman. St Catherine's College, Cambridge. Subsequent posts at Ely, Pererborough, curate of Christchurch, Leicester which he left in 1879, allowing us to date our photo, curate/vicar of Silsden, finally coming to rest at Gimingham, where he officiated for some 40 years.At 50, he married vicar's daughter Mary Tatlock (d 25 November 1922).

And so to my third gentleman. This one would surely be someone cute and curious ... but ... Arthur Gilbert GIRDLESTONE (b Alderley, Cheshire 1842; d Vicarage, Brixton Hill 13 December 1908) was another clergyman!  And not just a clergyman, but a clergyman son of a clergyman. Father Charles was rector of Kingswinton and Arthur, an only child, became curate there. He later became vicar of All Saint's, Brixton. He was a serious alpinist and wrote a book on 'The High Alps without Guides' in 1870.

My father, my grandfather and my great-grandfather, mountaineers all, would have loved this gent. I also, I feel ..

Well, there are carpenters all over the kitchen (I personally disposed of the mummified rat!) ... the whirr of battery-screwdrivers resounds in the air ... I guess its time to come back to the 21st century ...

The stage? Well, I researched a couple of Edwardian performers this morning for folks on the grand Family Treasures Reinstated (https://www.facebook.com/groups/352948975739214/?multi_permalinks=474659476901496) site ...

The Navy? Well, maybe I'll do sailor lads tomorrow!

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Ephemera from the fires of hell...


I don't shock or amaze easily. But when I saw this piece of 1917 New-Yorkish music sheet on ebay this morning I could scarce believe my eyes


1917. When America's youth were in Europe fighting alongside the British and the French to save civilisation as we knew it, and the songwriters of the day were turning out patriotic ditties by the ton ..

a 'working class' Polish Jew chose, instead, to indulge in that favourite American pastime of meddling in other countries' business, and published, under the banner of the Hebrew Music Company, this tirade ...

See the dreamy picture of the idealised Bolshevik yiddish lady, with her ancient Greek gown and her wedge-heeled shoes, as she plays piano in her middle-class drawing room, while middle-class mamoushka and papouschka look benignly on, and I suppose that's the boyfriend in the background. Are they supposed to be Russians? Jews? Americans? Or all three?

Dream on, Mr Morris Rosenfeld! Well, dream is all he had the time to do. Mr Rosenfeld, who became the trendy-drawing room-socialists' token yiddish poet of his time, didn't live to see the horrors that Russland's Freheit would bring, not least to the country's Jewish population. He died in 1923, aged 61. By which time, I imagine, he was no longer a presser in a sweat-shop .. but having his photo taken. Yes, that moustache woul have gone a bit limp in the ironing room!

I guess there is a heap of ephemera in existence .. both hopeful and deliberatly deceptive ... from what history has shown to be 'the losing team'. From Perkin Warbeck to Oliver Cromwell to Marot to Barry Goldwater. But ephemera from the actual moment ... well, I find it particularly chilling.

E-bay has just e-mailed e-me. Offering me a 20% reduction on this lot. I should buy it, and donate it to the Black Museum ... but paypal won't let me join, so I can't.  Perhaps Arthur Scargill or Ken Livingston would like it ...  or the Grand Duchess Anastasia? ... after all, it is a fascinating piece of ephemera!

Friday, February 19, 2021

Ordinary people ... or, filling in a few hours ..

Friday is market day here where we live. Each Friday, at 8.15am, we head for the glorious market at Ohoka -- 25 minutes drive away -- and stock up the pantry for the next week ... cucumbers, kale, cos lettuce, carrots, baby potatoes and beef tomato (one does me for a week!), classy avocados, broccolini, berries, fish, salami ... even a home made cottage pie ... not to forget the best rose bushes ever for $25, and every kind of vege seedling you could wish for for just $2 a big punnet ..   Every week, we come home with the boot bulging ...

Of course, by the time we get home, put away out trophies, dive into some lunch ... with its obligatory post-prandial nap attached ... there's not much time left in the day to start on any serious work. And, anyway, at the moment I haven't got any serious work on. For a few weeks. So, I pull a weed, water an acre, and I play ... 'find the C19th folk'.

Today I pulled out three nice looking folk ...

My choices turned out to be, in one case, a well-documented and lofty personage, but I managed to avoid the clergy and the Indian army ...

So number One. Miss Bentley. 1887. But on the back it says Mrs Branagan, so that helped. Fine lookin' gal, ain't she! Black Irish? Jewish? Well, Irish it was ...

Sarah Joanna BENTLEY (b Liverpool 22 January 1869) was apparently the daughter of William Bentley, a house painter from near Rochdale, and his wife Joanna or Anna née Leonard from Stockport. Both were of Irish families, both Catholics, and Sarah was duly christened in Latin ... 

She seems to have had brothers William Henry (1866) and Richard (1876), but I don't see the family until 1891, when Sarah is working as a housemaid and waitress for a Dr Wearing in the Wavertree High Street. On 14 July 1893, she became the wife of William Richard Branagan (b 21 March 1867; d 3a Fairfield Crescent, Newsham Park 10 May 1953). Mr Branagan was from a family of workers on the Merseyside Docks, but from a young age he took a job as an assistant to a bookseller. He would remain in the book trade for his whole working life. And Sarah bore him seven children. 

There is no descendant of those seven children alive today. Four of them died as children, eldest son Ralph Reginald Bentley died in the Great War, aged 21, and daughter Ursula (1904-1960) remained a spinster. Only Blanche Evelyn (1901-1998), who wed James Frederick Lindell (1906-1941), had issue. Lindell, a seaman, was killed in a shipboard accident. Their daughter Barbara Marie died in 2016, unmarried. Perhaps that's where the photo came from.

I'm not wholly sure as to when Sarah Joanna died. She and William can be seen in the 1939 census in Fairfield Crescent ... but I imagine she was the Sarah Branagan who died at 10 Willow Avenue, Lytham in October 1946, aged 77. She lies in the Yew Tree Catholic Cemetery, plot 4B 59, if there is a Liverpudlisn who would like to visit her.

Number two. William Boyd DAWKINS (b 26 December 1837; d 15 January 1929). I hadn't heard of him, he just looked like a nice old gent. Well, he was a nice old knight: Sir William. Geologist and archeologist. And his impressive story has been told in the DNB and other reasonably reliable volumes. To which I refer you.

Number three. Carefully labelled 'Me aged 4', and Mrs Louisa Bailey née Janes.

Well, I have identified 'Me'. He is Arthur John Marson BAILEY (b Maidenhead 26 June 1913; d 45 Denham Crescent, Mitcham 15 June 1995). How do I know that? Dint of digging ...

Louisa JANES (b 15 Brydges Street, Drury Lane, c1848; d Uxbridge 15 July 1918) was a pure product of the public house system. Papa John [Webb] Janes was publican of licensed premises in Brydges Street, mama Harriett Marson (b 22 April 1821; d 7 February1877) was the daughter of a shell-fish monger. Their marriage had had a slight hiccough ..

but they eventually got the niceities of the situation together. Now, when I saw that address, a pub in Brydges St, opposite the stage door of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, I shivered. Because the great Lydia Thompson was also born in a pub in Brydges Street! I hastened to my old notes ... alas, Lydia was born at no12, Louisa at no15. Two pubs within a few doors!? Well, number 15 was the Sir John Falstaff (it is now 29 Catherine St). and to say it was a house of dubious fame is being polite. Yes, there is Mr Janes (as usual, misspelled 'James') in 1846, listed as publican ...  By 1851, John had given up the pub and was working as a brewer's traveller. The 'irregularity' of his marital position had evidently been cleared up, and the couple had been officially married in 1848. Around the same year that they had given birth to a daughter ... not named Louisa, but Clara (14 May 1849).  They would go on to have a bundle more children, but not a Louisa. Curious. Because there is the birth entry Louisa Janes, Strand district, second quarter of 1848 ... 
Well, it seems that while all the subsequent children stayed at home with mum and dad (who swapped beer for fisf, and became a fishmonger), Louisa was brought up, at least partly, by grandmother Marson. In the 1871 census she can be seen with the 80 year-old Ann Leah Marson in Uxbridge. Ann died in 1879, and Arthur Bailey executed her will: connection proven!

On 2 August 1874, Louisa married the said Arthur Bailey. Arthur worked in groceries, as his father had done: I don't know for how many years they had a grocer's shop and sub-post office in the High Street, Uxbridge: but it was decades. Arthur and Louisa had two sons. Arthur Thomas Bailey (1876; d 12 November 1952) and Charles Marson Bailey (1877-1916). Both sons married, but ... look at our photo. Dated 1917. Arthur married twice but not till 1918 (Margery Elizabeth French); so 'me' is not a child of his. Charles had left Uxbridge and the grocery, became a railway clerk in Maidenhead, married Edith Annie Staniford and ...in 1913, Edith (b 20 May 1880; d Maidenhead 15 February 1961) gave birth to the boy in our picture. 

To round off the story, Arthur III became a pharmacist, an analytical chemist et al. He married twice: Jessie W Frey (b 2 December 1919) and subsequently Winifred S Luckett. And there the story and the family seems to end.

Well! I was going to go and water the gardens .... but, guess what. The pump which was working perfectly well last night is now refusing to function!  So while I'm waiting for the Man Who Fixes Such Things to arrive ...

This little picture from the 1860s caught my eye 

It is clearly labelled, so didn't present too many problems ... Moses, Joseph Thomas and Harry, the three sons of Joseph, from Rochdale, and Emma Dickinson from Liverpool. Emma was née Thomas.

Moses, on the left, was the eldest. Born 1852, christened 8 December, seemingly for his uncle, Moses D of Old Swan and a 'victualler' (a pubkeeper), like father Joseph. Moses was educated at 'Mr Botham's Boarding school' in Walton on the Hill before following, ar first, in the family footsteps as a publican. He later took up farming. He married 'of Chirkdale Street' in 1874 Annie Grant, and they would have three daughters (Catherine, Annie, Emma). He died in 1918, and lies in Livepool's Tosteth Park Cemetery, alongside his father and a number of members of the family who died in childhood.

Joseph Thomas must be the one on our right. Looks a bit fey. But he, after also passing by Mr Botham's establishment, took over the publican's role from his father, who died in 1880, and his mother, who died in 1896, most notably for many years at the Black Horse in Walton-on-the-Hill's Rice Lane ...

The Black Horse still exists today .... I wonder if it is the same building ... 'modernised' tactfully?

Joseph married Jane Dawson Clarke (27 July 1884), they, similarly, had three daughters (Emma, Elsie, Barbara), Joseph retired from pubkeeping after his mother's death, settled in Melling, and died in Ormskirk in 1923.

Littlest brother, Harry/Henry (x 24 April 1856) also took a turn in the pub business. We see he and Joseph in the 1881 census being barmen for mother at the Black Horse. He married Jane Thomson (29 April 1881), and produced three sons (Harry Richmond, David Thomas, Osmond Spencer), before an early death, 13 September 1890.

Six girls and three boys ... there must be survivors from THIS family ... but the Pump Man has fixed the exploded pressure tank on the water supply, the heat of the day is fading ... and the flowers are gasping for a drink. 

Actually, so am I ...


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

"Heigh ho! If love were all ... ", the sad tale of a 'British Blonde'


Beautiful mild summer's day. Still on a high after reaching three-quarters of a century, in relatively good shape, a couple of days back. Intended to spend the day titivating the gardens and getting a gentle tan. But.  With my first coffee of the waking day I flicked on ebay. Pretty bad photo of Emma Grattan. Yes, I know who Emma Grattan was. She spent some time as one of Lydia Thompson's troupe. And I, of course, am the author of the definitive biography of Lydia.

In the course of writing that book I, naturally, investigated the histories of my heroine's supporting troupe. Several of those histories were published as an article in a learned Franco-German manual a few years back, but the rest are still on my computer.  And as my birthday reminded me ... tempus fugit. And Andrew Lamb's words, engraved in my earlobes, echoes .. 'and so you'll die, and all that work is lost'.

So I pulled up my piece on Emma. And here it is. 


GRATTAN, Emma [HUNT, Emma Margery] (b St George’s, Southwark 28 February 1835; d Hospital for Incurables, New York 8 August 1893)

The pretty dancing actress who elected to be known as ‘Emma Grattan’ could and should have had a gentle and safe career at home as a soubrette in the theatres of England. But, instead, she travelled half way round the world, in and out of the law courts, in and out of the newspapers and their scandal columns and of theatres of all types on three continents, including a stint as a British Blonde on Broadway, suffered tragedy and slander … Why? There’s only ever one answer. A man.

 Emma was born in Bermondsey, the daughter of one Joseph Hunt, surgeon, and his wife, Amelia (Hunt, not Arndt). That’s what her birth registration says. Joseph must have died soon after, for by the 1851 census, at no 4 Stangate, Amelia is Mrs Francis Baker, ‘chorus singer’, wife of a Lambeth carpenter and mother of a two-year-old half-brother for Emma. Emma is a 16 year-old dancer. 

I first spot ‘Emma Grattan’ on the theatre bills of the Royal Amphitheatre in Liverpool.  On 25 April 1854, the theatre opened for a new season with the comedian George Honey topping its bills, Miss Swanborough as leading lady, and neophyte Emma teaming with Honey in ‘several amusing farces’ (The Married Bachelor, Katherine in The English Fleet, Don Giovanni burlesque, later A Loan of a Lover, The Swiss Cottage). The company also included a juvenile man ‘of considerable promise’ who called himself Courtaigne or Courtaine or Courte, or other approximations of ‘Curtain’, which was his actual name (William Henry Young Curtain). Before the season was over, Emma was ‘Mrs Courtaine’ (Emma Margery Grossmith (!) Curtain) and her troubles could begin.

Harry was not bad boy. And definitely not a bad actor. Helped by an exceedingly handsome physique and a winning way. But Harry had a weakness. He was an aggressive drunk. And, as Emma would discover pretty soon, he was very often drunk …


The couple played a second season at Liverpool (Love Laughs at Locksmiths, Blue Beard, Osbaldistone and Diana in Rob Roy, Lydia Languish in The Rivals, Robert le diable burlesque, The Siege of MontgateThe Sleeping Beauty etc), produced a son, William Frank Curtain (b Bolton 5 September 1855), and Henry notched up a first conviction for drunken assault. 


In 1856, I spot them at Norwich, at Leicester and then at Bath and Bristol where Harry was Laertes, Emma played Nina Gordon in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and they teamed in The Swiss Chalet and as Jack and the Giant in the panto Jack the Giant Killer. 1857 saw them touring with a Templeton/Wadham company labelled ‘Drury Lane’ for the summer (A Wonderful Woman, A Rough Diamond), until a Mr Butler of Bow Street brokered the pair an American deal. But not for the marginally civilised east coast: Mr Butler was representing Thomas Maguire of Maguire’s Opera House, San Francisco. Was the wild west with its roaring saloons the wisest place to send Harry and his little weakness? The answer was ‘no’.

The pair made their first appearance 23 November 1857 in the musical farce The Little Treasure and were much liked ‘really a pleasing actress’ ‘Miss E Grattan who came among us in the humble capacity of a vaudeville actress, possesses much native vivacity and a good voice, sings cleverly, and enacts her roles fully up to her modest pretensions in her art … They came among us, not as stars, but after being ‘featured’ three times passed into the stock’.

Harry would fulfil his promise and become something of a star in California, but that was not the only promise he would fulfil. Less than a month on, Emma had him up in court for ‘assault’. Drunken wife-beating? The next time it was for ‘threatening to kill her’. In July 1859, she instituted divorce proceedings. And again the following year. And in between times Harry had been dragged to the lock-up for more drunken fights or just plain public drunkenness. But he was a good boy, and popular with audiences when he was fit to go on, and Maguire renewed his contract again and again, in spite of his misdemeanours and disagreeable press comments. And when Harry-boy promised Emma that ‘he would be good’, she weakened and took him back. And they played Mr and Mrs White and danced together, and sang ‘Pit a pat goes my heart’ together, and the papers mused how nice it would be if their on-stage personations could be carried into real life.

1860 US census

And Emma played the Princess in The Invisible Prince, Conrad and Medora, Fluvia in The Naiad Queen, Lazarillo in Don Cesar de Bazan, Pluto and Proserpine, Lucidora in The Fair One with the Golden Locks, Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Helen in Faust and Marguerite, Susanna to her husband’s Figaro in The Two Figaros, Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, now billed not as ‘Emma Grattan’, but as ‘Mrs Harry Courtaine’. Until he was picked up drunk in the streets of San Francisco and she reinstated the divorce proceedings.


What followed, is ‘unclear’. It depends on whether you’re one Californian paper or another, and on Harry’s side or Emma’s. One version was that Emma did a moonlight flit with a ‘fiddler from the Melodeon’ the ‘home of obscene shows’, who was named Emonds or Edwards or something, heading for Australia on the Robert Passenger. The other version was that Emma had plotted to take a couple of actors and go to China and India and had actually booked passage. But the lady actor changed her mind, so the plan was aborted. Except that Harry was currently having one of his bigger battles with the booze, so Emma took her savings and her son, staved off the vultures, and went anyway. 

Which she provenly did. Whether a third person went with them, only a ship’s list would tell for sure. She arrived in Hong Kong in May with … a brother? The Californian press snorted at the ‘subterfuge’, accused her of using fake reviews for advertising, ‘reported’ that she had fled Hong Kong for Singapore … and then found someone else to have a go at, while a temporarily dried-out Harry climbed back on the stage…


My next sighting of Emma is four years later. In Edinburgh. Starting over again. Where, I wondered, had she been? Australia? No sign. And then I came upon a christening registration from Byculla, Bombay. A late christening. Little Willie Curtain aged 7. Byculla. Why? Well, a gentleman named Simin Patel wrote a DPhil dissertation (at last I’ve discovered a use for those terrible things!) in 2015 in which he says ‘Among the well-known guests that Rustomjee Framjee hosted at the Imperial Hotel, Fort, were the Grattans, an English family of theatre actors. The star of the company was Emma Grattan, her father, Henry, served as both manager and lead actor. Her brother was also an actor…’. Father? But father was a dead surgeon named Joseph. Well, wasn't he? Mr Patel continues wisely ‘The shield of a family-run concern, under the watchful eye of the patriarch, allowed unmarried young females to perform and tour without serious aspersions being cast on their respectability’. Unmarried? If only they knew! Anyway, there’s that ‘brother’ again. And no sign of a fiddler. I think he was a red herring. One of those journalistic inventions so popular in the time and place.


Emma was back in Britain, by one route or another, by early 1865, and back on the more conventional stage in the company of – just as a decade earlier – the grand George Honey. Honey was touring Miriam’s Crime (Emma was Miriam), The Flying Dutchman and a repertoire of burlesques – Mazourka, Orpheus and Eurydice, Turko the Terrible -- and Emma and the Bourke sisters were his assistants, through a good tour. She played Luciana in A Comedy of Errors at Bradford, Phoebe in As You Like It, Bianca in The Taming of the Shrew and Diana Vernon with ‘Professor Anderson’ at Birmingham, she played in the burlesque Sonnambula, A Wonderful Woman and, this time, really did play Drury Lane as Mrs Derby, opposite Charles Warner, in The Ladies’ Club. Drury Lane’s F B Chatterton was also running the Theatre Royal, Hull, and thence Emma was next deployed to appear in Lydia Thompson’s role in Magic Toys, in Under the Gaslight, The Hunchback, Lady Audley’s Secret …

Emma as Lydia Thompson

She seemed to have re-kickstarted her English career nicely. But then came another offer from America, and, in late 1868, Emma joined Elise Holt, Eliza Weathersby and the Pitt sisters on The City of Antwerp heading for Boston and a tilt at the hugely successful Thompson troupe.

The Elise Holt season was a flop, and like the Pitts and the talented Eliza, Emma ended up transferring her services to the bigger and better company, opening at Niblo’s Gardens as ‘Orchobrand, the enchanting enchanter of the Silver Forest, ground-landlord of the 40 Thieves’. She was delightedly received, played her role throughout the some three months of the run, and then departed to Tammany Hall to star opposite Myron Leffingwell as Fra Diavolo in Byron’s burlesque of the opera and Dandini in Cinderella.


The gossip press hinted that she was ‘on her way to California for the delectable purpose of arranging certain little matrimonial and professional affairs’, But she turned up, instead, in Chicago, in Pittsburgh, in Boston, then back in New York in the bills at the Theatre Comique. She appeared in burlesque and variety here and there, was seen at the Union Square with Felix Rogers’s troupe, at Wood’s Museum in The Silver Demon, which reassembled a number of the original Blondes to limited effect, Blood Money, Nobody’s Child, Young Jack Sheppard et al, she sang on the bills at Barnum’s and with Dan Shelby, and then, in 1874 she joined the fine stock troupe at Booth’s Theatre. There she played roles ranging from the Gentlewoman to Charlotte Cushman’s Lady Macbeth to Mrs Micawber in Little Em’ly and Olympe to Clara Morris’s Camille over four seasons …


Then, in 1877, tragedy hit. I don’t know in which order but, 1 July, 23 year-old William Frank was murdered in Port Clinton, Ohio, in a payroll robbery. And back in San Francisco, Harry had gone once more too often to the pub and was now said to be dying. And what did Emma do? She threw in the best job she’d ever had, and set out for California.


As the tale was told, eighteen years after leaving him, she nursed her sodden husband (the divorce had never eventually happened, just Bombay) back to a semblance of health, back to the stage in the company at the Bush Street Theatre … and there they are, in 1881, touring together in Steele Mackaye’s company in A Fool’s Errand…

Emma in 1883

 In 1885, she is Jemima Boggs in The Wages of Sin .. 


I’m going to stop there. It seems unfair that Emma died in 1893 in a Home for Incurables (I wonder from what she was unable to be cured), and Harry, after 18 years institutionalisation, at Randall’s Hospital, on 18 August 1910. He was buried in the Actors’ Fund plot at Evergreen Cemetery, Brooklyn. Alongside Emma.


Post scriptum: During my later research, I have happed upon a photo dated 1880, signed by Emma (in Boston) to my dear brother Frank from his devoted sister, Emma Courtaine. There’s that brother again!  As far as I have so far found, Amelia (who was eight years older than her carpenter) had only the one child, John Baker, after her seeming widowhood. In 1881, she and Baker, and a widowed sister named Margaret Anderson are at 5 Esher Street, Lambeth with no children. 

Ah! Here we are 4 November 1837, Union Place, Southwark Bridge Rd, born Joseph Hunt son of Joseph, surgeon, and Amelia …  But that’s not Frank …. So where are all these folk in the 1841 census? And why has someone scribbled out the dedication on this photo?

There is more, much more, to discover about Emma and her family. But this, at least, is a start. 'What I did for love' eh?



Monday, February 8, 2021

A miraculous find! CAFFERATA ...


You never know ... you just never know ..

Over the past years, I have researched, compiled and written nearly a thousand biographical articles of Victorian singers: the great, the good, the mediocre, the embarrasing ... A hundred of those articles were published in my book Victorian Vocalists. Some have been 'published' on this blog. About seven hundred are still sitting on this computer, regularly updated as I come upon extra crumbs of information.

However, what I come upon much less frequently is photographs of my singers. Particularly those who had short or unstarry careers. There was jubilation in my heart the day I found a portrait of Isabella Amadei (wrongly spelled) on ebay ...


And today ... on rootschat ... 'possibly Eliza Cafferata' ... there can't be two of them!

CAFFERATA, Louisa Eliza (b Liverpool 5 September 1839; d 98 Cochran Street, London, 21 April 1875).


Like so many would-be vocalists, of some talent, Miss or Mdlle Cafferata had a struggling career …


The family of Joseph Cafferata (d 53 Everton Rd., 10 August 1871), a Liverpool brewer, and his wife Frances Elizabeth née McQueen (d 9 July 1878), was a large one from which seven children survived to adulthood. And five of those would make – for some of their life, at least -- a career in music. Four sons, Joseph Raphael (1832-1913), Charles Edward (135-1893), Arthur Frederick (1853-1933) and Julius Francis (1855-1918) -- who stayed in Liverpool and contributed local music-making, while the fifth, and one daughter, Louisa. Louisa went to London.


Now, many a time and I’ve had cause to damn the amateur genealogists who infest the WorldWideWeb with their semi-imaginary family trees. But the Cafferatas are well-documented and the family have come up with some fine photographs and, best off all, an autograph letter written by Louisa, aged 31, freshly down in London and trying to make a go of a singing career. It is a wonderful letter … well, it speaks for itself, so I hope the family won’t mind if I quote from it…


I am glad to be able to send you the intelligence that this morning my “Impressario” gave me the good news that I am fit to sing, tomorrow if necessary. I have worked hard, you may be sure and I can see what an immense deal I have yet to learn and obstacles to overcome, but I feel inspired with a faithful belief that if I steadily keep for the goal, I shall win the crown.

You see how much I have to thank Mr. Helsby for. Only today Mr. Mori told me I owe my quick preparation to the five years I have worked under him, for he says all Italian schools stipulate for six years training, before excellence can be attained, and he told me I had learnt so much before I came to him that the rest of the way is easy, though you may be sure it seemed very hard to me.

I daresay it will interest you to know that I was kept entirely to exercises for the first month, and these were trying, that although I was in the habit of every-day work, I suffered much from exhaustion, but I persevered and can now go through my three hours, per diem, with comfort. Besides studying a new Oratorios and the principal airs from Figaro I have learned about sixteen songs by Mendelssohn, Hubert, Beethoven, Mozart, Rossini, Handel, Haydn, Gounod, Mozart, Benedict, Weber and Mori. You will imagine that my time has been fully occupied for I am compelled to study Italian and French and the strain on the mind is very great when so many different authors have to be interpreted. Of course, I suffer a good deal from headaches but I must expect that….’


She ends with ‘I shall be up to the eyes in business now until my debut…’.


Mr Helby was the Liverpool music master William Helby, who had evidently been teaching the Cafferata girls in Liverpool. Mr Mori was Frank Mori, a prolific teacher, who died in 1873. He lived three doors from Louisa’s lodgings. In 1871, he was teaching at the London Academy of Music, where Louisa was a student. Not a prize one, though, for although the Academy handed out many a medal and award, she was not amongst the winners.

As for the ‘debut’ .. well, she didn’t leave the Academy for over another year, but in the meantime I see her performing at the National Orthopaedic Hospital (13 December 1871), with another Mori pupil, Mr Graham, alongside the recitations of Amy Sedgewick, at the Swindon Mechanics Institute (9 April 1872) and at the Beethoven Rooms with the Schubert Society (9 May). At her last school concert she sang ‘Softly Sighs’ and was ‘in every way excellent’.


Her real debut came about in autumn 1872, and it was a dream of an engagement. The great Liverpudlian baritone Charles Santley was heading out a top drawer concert party for a considerable tour. He was supported by diva Florence Lancia, top mezzo Eliza Enriquez, the rising young tenor Edward Lloyd, outstanding concert singer Michael Maybrick … and the unknown 32 year-old Louisa Cafferata. Agent, George Dolby. Who was the manager of the tour.

Louisa gave ‘I’ve been roaming’ and Pinsuti’s ‘I love my love’ or Mendelssohn’s Swedish Winter Song’ while Miss Lancia did ‘Qui la voce’ and got pretty well passed over in the notices, except in Glasgow, where the critic took a hatchet to her: A more unsophisticated appearance we have never seen. Her style is crude in the extreme’


She seems to have picked up very few concert engagements in 1873. I spot her in Belfast singing ‘The May Song’, ‘The Nightingale’s Trill’ and ‘Crudel perche’ with J L Wadmore at the Monday Pops, and at Hastings in the Lobgesang, but she was instead engaged for a theatre job: playing Clairette in a touring La Fille de Madame Angot company run by one ‘Lasseur de Tremblay’ alongside Knight Aston and Charles Campbell (both future international leading men in opéra-bouffe) and Annie Beresford. She was announced as ‘from the Bouffes-Parisiens’ but they really should not have tried that on Liverpool. She was easily recognised and mocked.

It seemed that, in opéra-bouffe, she might have found her niche (‘she possesses a voice of much sweetness and power while her arch and pleasing byplay and her graceful carriage proclaimed her an actress as well as a singer..’) but when the tour ended, in 1874, she didn’t follow up.

She went to the Brighton Aquarium, got herself a new agent – Mr R D’Oyly Carte’ – and went to the Leeds Theatre Royal to play principal boy, Prince Precious, in Hop o’ my thumb, opposite Emily Leng and Fourness Rolfe. She returned to the provinces, acting in comedy (Lillian Vavasseur in Now Men for Old Acres) …

She was back in London, in April, disengaged. On the 18th her advertisement appeared in the week’s Era, three days later, she was dead.

A death certificate would tell us why.


One fine engagement as a concert singer, one good one as an opera-bouffe player, one pantomime  -- in descending order – then a small acting job in the provinces. Poor Louisa Eliza, it wasn’t what she’d hoped for, you can tell …


1913: Which panto are you?


Liverpool. Christmas 1913. Well, I looked for clues, but ... which pantomime story fits that eclectic bunch of costumes? Hungarian headdresses, hussars, Napoleonic hats, a fairy prince in kneebreeches and ... is that a clergyman in the spot I would have expected to find the 'dame' of the affair? And who is the plump lady/principal boy with the curious Egyptian apron?

Well, if you guessed, you know more about pre-war panto than I!  The answer is The House that Jack Built. The fairy prince is Fred Barnes, the plump lady is Jack as played by Gwladys Soman 'of Dillon and Soman', the principal girl is Daisy Yates, and Billy Merson was Sammy. Which? What? So who is the clergyman? Or is it the dame?  Surely ... the principal boy is Jack Durden, and we all know Dame Durden... And who is the gent in the cross-gaiters? and the one in the dressing gown?

Billy Merson [THOMPSON, William Henry] (b Nottingham 29 March 1881; d Charing Cross Hospital 25 June 1947) was the success story in this production. The son of a joiner, 'Nottingham's own' started as a music-hall comedian ('droll songs and quaint patter'), and rose to become a star of the London musical comedy stage (Hardboiled Herman in Rose-Marie). 

The rest of the cast knew varied fortunes in careers of different lengths.

[Katie] 'Gwladys' Soman, who had started her career in 1908 as a grisette in George Edwardes Merry Widow tour, became Mrs Robert H Dillon in 1918, after extended rehearsals apparently caused by a previous encumbrance. The couple visited Australia in 1916 with their comedy and pantomime act. 

I see Daisy Yates [ELLIS, Ellen Maingay] playing principal boy in Dick Whittington at Dover in 1909, doing impersonations ('comedienne and dancer') at the Hull Hippodrome in 1910, and leading the dances in What Ho! Ragtime in 1913. She also ended up in Australia, during and after the war, where she seems to have made more noise in the law courts than on the stage. She won her divorce suit against Mr Thomas Henry Daniels, and her breach of promise suit against Mr 'Sydney Yates' (ie Culverhouse), but lost when she tried to sue Williamsons for not re-employing her. She stayed Down Under, married Charles 'York Gray', performed in musical comedy and revue through the 1920s .. Daisy Ellen Maingay Gray was still to be seen in Parnell Rd, Remuera in 1981 ... 

Fred[erick Jester] Barnes (1887-1938) 'light comedian' ('son of a Birmingham butcher' [Thomas W Barnes]) can be seen singing 'The Black Sheep of the Family' at the Nottingham Empire in 1909. 'He sings popular songs in taking style .. good voice'. He made his biggest headline to date when he helped an 'American heiress' with a broken-down car, fell in love, announced the wedding ... but the 'heiress's' parents insisted he leave the stage, so ...  Next he got himself hit on the head by a falling stageweight, then stood in the street selling banknotes for tuppence, raced in his car to put out a fire, tried the banknote trick again, 'Fred Barnes on his experience in prison'  etc .. and finally 'Former Star of the Music Hall' aged 53, found dead in his lodgings at St Ann's Road, Southend. Star? Well, it is a loosely used word ...  and the tales continued: 'Fred Barnes was told he had only six months to live.. tuberculosis ... '. It seems that he got drunk and gassed himself. 'The tragedy of Fred Barnes', 'Triumphs and Tragedies'

Well, one day a programme will turn up .... or the other photos from the set of at least seven ... but I'd still like to know about those costumes ... perhaps out of the theatre's wardrobe?

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Rest in Peace, dear Glennie

Last night my dear pal 'little Glennie' passed away.

Well, she wasn't really 'little'. She was my age. But she was alway 'little' Glennie to me, I suppose because the first time we met, on the occasion of the Elmwood Players production of Lawrence and Lee's Inherit the Wind, I was cast as Bertram Cates, the juvenile man in the piece, and Glennie played .. a child.

As teenagers with a common interest do, five of us became close friends ... Me, Mike, Helen, Shirley and Glennie ... and shared little adventures and theatrical times ...

In 1966, aged all of twenty, I (aware of my incapabilities as an actor) had virtually retired from performing, and instead took on the direction of a one-act play for the Players. Tired of reading through the banal stuff to be found on the library shelves, I sat down. one evening, at my dining-room table, with my portable typewriter, and quite simply wrote one myself. Elektra shared a bill with Wilde's Salomé and Shaw's Dark Lady of the Sonnets (directed by Helen), so only Shirley ended up in my play, as a very effective Chrysothemis

to the remarkable Elektra of a young lady who very definitely had the seeds of a professional in her, and who was then Mrs Judy Scollay

Suffice it to say that Elektra stood up splendidly alongside Wilde and Shaw, and that the following season I was asked to supply another 1-acter for the company. My experience of Real Life being, at that stage, somewhat limited, I again took refuge in Ancient Greece, and turned out a Women of Troy. Not quite the Euripides version (my two main characters were inventions) but including the traditional Cassandra and Polyxena. Once again, I had to 'share' the company's forces when casting came around, and the parts I had written 'for' the members of my Elektra cast -- especially my dazzling Klytemnaestra, Chris Joyce --

ended up being played by others. Last year's Salome played Cassandra, and -- best of all -- I got Glennie to play the other, younger princess of Troy ...

She was perfect as the teenager who rejected her kingly nurse's maxim 'better death than dishonour' and let a more malleable maiden become the victim in her place

I didn't direct Women of Troy. I had recognised that my limitations as a director were as great as those as an actor. I still don't think it was as good a piece as Elektra. But ... it took second prize in the British Drama League Playwriting competition and when, for some nefarious reason, the winner wasn't able to be published (part of the prize), I got my first published book!  And some people actually did the play. I heard of it being performed in a girls' school up north ...

By the time the next one-act play season came round, I was no longer in Christchurch ... I was in London, preparing to stun the opera world with my basso-too-profundo. Which, of course, I didn't. I had found my niche -- writing -- but it took me ten fun-filled years to find my way back to it. So, our little group was broken up ... Shirley was lost to a tragic end, Helen and Mike ended up in Australia ... and only Glennie, in latter years, remained in Christchurch. So, when I came to live nearby, we met up again ...

More than half a century on...

I was to see her only once more, when her son Richard and his wife Lori took me to see her last week. The cancer she had carried in the last years had done its devastating work. I held her hand for half an hour and chatted intermittently about old times. She did not have the strength to respond, but she heard and knew me ...

And now she is gone. But 'little Glennie' will always be an ineradicable memory of my teenage years.

Avonia Bunn in Trelawny of the Wells