Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Emily Gresham: from Soprano to Vicar's wife ...



This is a little article which is probably for lovers of the Victorian musical world only. Its subject is not a famous singer. She was just, for a few years, a supporting artist in some good concerts, and more frequently in London suburban ones. But I’m interested in those people, those singers who made up the underside of the bills that the stars topped. So, if you are too, let me introduce ‘Emily Gresham’. Floruit 1858-1861.

I didn’t start out looking for Emily. I was trying to nut out the identity of ‘Madame El(l)wood Andrea’. She appeared quite a lot with Emily, so … connection? I think not. But then I sidewound to Emily, who, finally, rendered up her secrets.

But, first, the little career as a public vocalist.

Apparently Emily (soprano) took lessons from Jules Benedict, and that is probably why I see her first singing in concert with Louisa Pyne at the Surrey Gardens (May 1858), and then at St Martin’s Hall with Louisa’s sister ‘Marian Prescott’. Already aged 28. Why?

She was obviously more than acceptable, for I see her in 1859 ‘of the Sardinian Chapel’ singing ‘Softly Sighs’ at Anna Kull’s concert at the Beethoven Rooms and at the Vocal Association, for Lehmeyer, Mathilde Rudersdorff, the gala of Mr van Praagh, all over the place with tenor George Tedder (‘The Power of Love’, ‘Home, Sweet Home’), and her ‘clear, high tones’ were voted ‘extremely effective’. She appeared in the concerts of the Royal Society of Female Musicians, at the Crystal Palace, with Henry Leslie’s choir …


Emily was a capable, one length short of the top class, vocalist, and as such she gained plenty of engagements in the suburbs, and some at the Hanover Square Rooms and such venues.

But then it stopped. Death or marriage? Well, I knew it wasn’t death, because seven years later she resurfaced, just for one night, to sing at poor Tedder’s Benefit. Marriage, then. But that’s kind of difficult to find when you don’t know ‘Miss Gresham’s’ real name.
But now I do.
Emily was born as Emily Sophia Thomasin Steele and christened 3 September 1830. Her parents were one Robert Eaglesfield Steele, engraver, and his wife, Maria Sidney née Smith of Albion Road, Kennington. Mr Steele didn’t survive long, and, in 1838, Maria married again, this time to a ‘chemist, dentist and agent of the Norwich Fire Union’ by name John Gale. She quickly gave him two daughters, and then they moved to Berkhamstead, where, in 1851, Emily is listed as ‘a governess’. Then Mr Gale died, too. Maria was going through husbands ..

The Gale girls seem to have been farmed out on the aunts and uncles, but Emily went for a singing career. And she found it. As above. Until she, too, found a husband. The Reverend Frederic Schiller May, BA, Caius College, Cambridge, ‘son of Enoch May of Tewkesbury’ (m 21 January 1862), curate of Christ Church, Paddington.

Rev Fred later became Sunday Evening lecturer at St Mary le Bow Cheapside, and enough of a figure to rise from BA to an honorary DD (courtesy of the University of Hartford, Ct), and ended up as a country vicar at High Laver, Ongar, Essex. Where he and Emily lived up to their deaths, she 25 March 1903, he 6 April 1909.


Just to tie thing up, they had three sons: Laurence Sidney, Arthur Sigfrid and Vincent Schiller May. Daddy’s Cambridge education showing? Arthur became a lawyer, Vincent a stockbroker’s clerk before an early death, and Laurence … a dramatic author and comedian! Pardi?

So, there’s the tale of ‘Emily Gresham’, for what it’s worth. But, OK, now at least I know, Time to get back to that wretched ‘Madame Andrea’ …

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