Sunday, May 13, 2018

J H Ryley: setting at least some of the record straight ...



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‘John Handford Ryley’ was perhaps the biggest star of the Gilbert and Sullivan operatic stage in American history. He’s been biographized in brief many a time, not least by me, in my Encyclopaedia of the Musical Theatre. But all the biographies, yes, including mine, skip over his date and place of birth, family background …. Why? Because we didn’t know the answers. There was no one to copy. And even I was stonkered. Because his real name was just simple, plain ‘John Riley’.



Well, now that we are into the computer age, with all its multitude of research facilities, I can usually do something about such cases.

This morning, I was wandering through ‘letter R’, putting Miss ‘Roosevelt’ back (terminally, I hope) in her box, and I chanced by Mr Ryley. Had anyone, by now, pinned down his birth, and the ‘who was’ of Jack before he became a married man and a Dancing Quaker? No. Seemingly not.



It took me twenty minutes, so I can only assume no one has really tried. So here’s tidying up his ends.


John Riley was born in London’s Cook’s Row, Camden Town, on 11 September 1841, the third (?) child of John Riley, a solicitor’s clerk from the city and his wife Elizabeth née Perry. Father and mother and their first two daughters – Elizabeth and Ellen -- can be seen in the 1841 census living at that address, with an elderly servant. By 1851, father John has risen to ‘solicitor’s managing clerk’ mother-in-law and sister-in-law have moved in, three more children – John, Rosina Anne (b 1843) and Constantine (b 1848) – have been added to the family, who are now living in Goldington Street North.



At first glance, I can’t see any of them in 1861. But what is this? Constantine is registered at birth as Constantine Lambertini Perry. Oyoy … what’s going on? Has the unmarried sister-in-law been up to no good? And there is the little nine year-old boy, in October 1857, immured in the Cleveland Street Workhouse, before being bundled off the Australia…

What has happened? Perhaps … I notice a burial record for one John Riley of Sparrow Corner, the Minories, Aldgate, 19 June 1859 … I fear the family fell to bits. But I’m guessing.

But back to our John. Wherever he is in 1861, he’s up singing comic songs at Deacon’s Music Hall, Sadler’s Wells and Price’s Music Hall, Caledonian Road by February 1863, then at Bedford Camden Town as ‘the comical comique’ … and he’s on the way to the career we know about, his first wife, and a place in musical-theatre history …


So, that’s done, and I’m off to a home-made boeuf bourgignon with French (chilled) rosé, courtesy of my neighbour. And while I’m disporting myself gastronomically, all those websites which have (b c 1841) for John Riley-Ryley can now fill in the correct information.




Oh, and I’d really like to know the truth about little Constantine Perry, and what happened after he and the British Trident got to Melbourne (7 March 1859).













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