Sunday, June 3, 2018

Nellie Bromley, or, A breach of lots of promises

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Nellie Bromley’s name is still remembered today. She has made her way into all sorts of books and articles and even topped the exalted heights of Wikipedia. Fair enough. She probably (just) deserves it. But she is not included because of her career as an actress, under managers from such as Pattie Oliver to John Hollingshead, from Alexander Henderson to Edgar Bruce, or for her years of sophisticated comedy successes at the Criterion Theatre. She is there for one reason only. She was the first actress to play, for something over three months, the female lead in a little afterpiece, at the minor Royalty Theatre: the part of the Plaintiff in Messrs Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury.

So, apart from a slim list of credits culled selectively from The Era, does anyone really know anything about the beauteous (see illustrations) Nellie? Well, if you want to, read on. Oh. This is going to be a reasonably long one. And Trial by Jury and its mythology will take up just a few lines.


 Start in 1814. Miss Hannah Shailer married John Charles Bromley on the 5 July. And they bred. Fluently. I spot a William, a Hannah Charlotte, a Jesse, an Emily Bertha, a Hubert Algernon, an Eleanor and, good heavens, a Thaddeus … before papa gave up the ghost in 1839. Hannah, however, was tough. She carried on, and in 1841 we see her at Portland Plan, South Kennington, with Eleanor (15) and Thaddeus (14). I don’t know where the survivors of the rest are. But it doesn’t matter. It’s Eleanor (15) I’m interested in.

Eleanor went on the stage. Two years after that census, and a few concerts, she appeared at the Queen’s Theatre as Fanchette in The Soldier’s Secret and thereafter at the Adelphi, the Strand (Psyche in Cupid), the Olympic (‘Miss Bromley will be a favourite indeed if she continues to carol as sweetly … enough to seduce any but a spellbound one from all other allurement’), the Lyceum, the Surrey, at Drury Lane in pantomime, at the Haymarket, before, in 1854 settling in, long term, at the Olympic … My last sighting of her is at Christmas 1859. And for good reason. 15 December 1857, Eleanor had married Charles Henry Cook. In 1860, she gave birth to a daughter … and died in the attempt.


 Move to the 1861 census. Hannah née Shailer is looking after her daughter, Emily Bertha ‘professor of music’ (1833-1869), and two grandchildren, the fatal Jessy Cook aged one, and Eleanor Elizabeth Emily Bromley aged ... ten. Yes, that’s our Nelly. So we hasten to the birth records … born 30 September 1850. Mother Eleanor Bromley. Father … who? … Arthur Bromley? But I don’t have an Arthur amongst Hannah’s children.  This looks like an obvious case of virgin birth. I’m 90pc sure that Eleanor jr is the child of Eleanor sr. Wonder who ‘Arthur’ was. A myth?


 So, we arrive at ‘Nelly’. 1866. Young, like mother. And very attractive, like mother. She’s hosting a stall at the Crystal Palace, alongside the likes of Lydia Thompson. Already? How? Why? And by the December of that year she’s engaged at the Royalty Theatre playing Dolly Mayflower in Burnand’s burlesque on Black-Eyed Susan. She stayed at the Royalty for a couple of years, playing in burlesque (Bad Dicky, Claude Duval, Military Billee Taylor et al) and comedy (Humbug, The Boarding School, The Serious Family &c), went on tour for L J Sefton with Sothern in his repertoire, and … well … I’m not going to fill a page with credits, but she went from the Globe to the Court to the Royalty (with the odd matinee at the Gaiety), thence to the Olympic under Ada Cavendish, and to the Strand, where she scored a hit within a hit (1873) in H B Farnie’s new-style musical comedies Nemesis (Praline, ‘What are a lady’s wants today’) and El Dorado (Verdurette, ‘Forget not to remember’). Farnie’s next effort, the pasticcio The Black Prince found her playing sisters with Selina Dolaro (Flossie and Sybil), opposite the ill-fated C W Norton (see elsewhere), but that one was less successful.


So Dolly Dolaro went off and took the Royalty Theatre, to star herself as La Périchole and she also produced a little afterpiece by name Trial by Jury. And her friend Nellie came in to play it. I doubt that she covered Dolly in the main piece --the vocal power of the one was not equalled by the other – but anyhow, she got a plum part.

No need to dilate further on this much dilated upon episode, except to say that there is a myth perpetuated in G&S circles, that Nellie was ousted from the role of Angelina, in favour of Dolly’s ‘friend’ Linda Verner, after some three months, for cause of jealousy. Bunkum. Dolly and Nellie remained good friends, and in September 1876 can be seen holidaying together in Scarborough.


 By that time, Nellie had moved on to the heart of her career, at the Criterion Theatre, playing  Mrs Graham in the hit adaptation of Le Procès Veradieux as The Great Divorce Case. Nellie became a fixture at the Criterion, through the long-running French farces adapted as Hot Water, On Bail and Pink Dominos before moving back to the musical theatre as René in the Folly Theatre’s La Créole.

In 1879, she created the role of Amy Jones in another grand success, Crutch and Toothpick,and also took the title-role in the burlesque Venus, then returned to the Olympic for Hollingshead ..  in 1882 she took up Lottie Venne’s great role of Betsy at the Criterion … but, as we can see from the 1881 census, Nellie had now moved in with artist Archie Wortley of aristocratic descent. She would marry him in 1884, more or less retire, and bring her four children a father. 

Yes, the four children. Well, Nellie had a good time in 1870ish, and produced two daughters in double quick time. Lillian Bertha ('Lilian Eldée', but where does this insistent ‘Bertha’ come from?) and Zoe. Father unrecorded. Then she turns up in 1881, with a Valentine Robert (aged 2) and a John (aged 0). I mean, what? Who? The babies are ‘grouped’ so each pair looks like the result of a relationship …
Zoe’s wedding registration leaves the space for ’father’ despairingly blank. Mum clearly didn’t cough up her secrets!

One of her affairs, however, wasn’t a secret. In 1878 some little gossip journo posited her marriage with a Mr Baltazzi. She hadn’t married anyone, but … no smoke etc? And, suddenly, two little boys?


 The Baltazzis were big. They were the sons of a Smyrnese banker, educated at Rugby, and, I think, both married. Alexander raced horses, Hector rode horses (‘en gentleman’) and there were other brothers, too. And a sister who married a Vetsera and had a daughter who died at Mayerling … Anyway, I think it is Hector they’re getting at. But it’s just a guess. It’s ‘fake news’ as to the marriage … 

Nellie lived to a nice age, as Mrs Wortley, and died on 27 October 1939 at Lymington. More than half a century after the role which has made her wikipediable… 

Oh, this is the thinned version, but I think enough …

But I’m curious as to what the birth certificates of those four children might say! Anyone got a few quid to spend????



















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