Saturday, April 28, 2018

Who WAS 'Little Buttercup' ?


When I got up this morning, it was my intention to write just one more article to top off my little spurt of Gilbert and Sullivan biographies. 

You know how you get favourites among people you’ve never seen or heard or met? I check the international tennis results first thing every morning to see how Quentin Halys, Calvin Hemery and Manon Arcangioli are doing! And the cycling results for Lilian Calmejane and his team. 

Well, during my 40 years wandering in the Victorian musical theatre, I developed a devotion for, among others, the lady who called herself ‘Harriet Everard’. And, bit by bit, I put together a record of her career, culminating, as everyone knows, with her creation of the role of Little Buttercup in HMS Pinafore.

So, today, I would write up Harriet, that ‘plump and pleasing person’.

Now, anyone who has read my biographies … in my Victorian Vocalists and on my blog … knows that I do not just reel off a list of credits. Oh no. I like to investigate the background of the artist, his or her life out of the theatre, their family …

So, before I started in on ‘Miss Everard’, I did a morning’s digging. And so fruitfully did I dig, that the article on her darling career never got written. Instead, here comes some fascinating detail on her background! Well, fascinating to me!

Everybody knows that ‘Miss Everard’ or later ‘Miss H Everard’ was actually born Harriet(te) Emily Woollams. I can’t remember whether I was the first to reveal that, a hundred years ago, but anyway it is true. And attached to the bald facts, daughter of John Woollams – variously described as a builder and a decorator – and his wife Harriet née Graves. Doesn’t sound particularly interesting, does it? But it is.

‘Builder and decorator’ sounds like a local handyman. No. No way. Mr Woollams was a shining star of the British wallpaper world. His father was the biggest star. William Woollams of 31 Wigmore Street … ‘paper stainer’ … and he seems to have been around since the beginning of the 19th century!

I won’t detail his importance. If you are interested, there is a splendid book on the web detailing the Woollams influence on wallpaper:

William married a Huguenot-descended lady by name Mary Ann Aumonier … and, well, it all gets genealogically vast after that … but they seem to have had a bunch of sons (see 1841 census) all but one of whom went into wallpaper. That one was the youngest, David Woollams, who started life as a ‘carver and gilder’ but apparently became a singer ‘in the Opera’. Whatever, he died a rich man, so I suspect he had a day job.

The highway and byways of the Woollams and Aumonier families would fill a book. After grandad’s death, the next generation took up the wallpapering – son William at 110 High Street Marylebone, and a John at 69 Marylebone Lane – I think, maybe, William with rather more success. They won prizes at the Great Exhibition and other trade fairs … yes, well, the book tells all. Even if it is sometimes difficult to sort out the Williams and the Johns!

So, enough of that. Let’s get on to Harriet[te]. 

Harriet was the first child of John Woollams and his wife Hariet[te] née Graves. They would have a heap more. Which is perhaps why Harriet appears to have been brought up by her aunt, Emily, who just happened to have married, in his later life, the much older goldsmith Fredéric Gibson … Aumonier, who died in 1866. Anyway, Harriet can be seen chez Aumonier in the 1861 census … 

Well, I’ll do the career tomorrow. Or maybe not. John Woollams sired several theatricals … had I better cover them? 

Oh, as a final touch: I suppose Miss Woollams isn’t a doozy as a stage name. I’ve always supposed that Harriet became ‘Everard’ because it sounded aristocratic. Never presume. I now find her grandparents were Jean Aumonier and Marie … Everard!

Career, husbands and all that jazz,  tomorrow!

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