Monday, October 15, 2018


How did I get here? Well, little things can send you off on long and fascinating journeys … and, as usual, in my case, it was a photo. This photo.

Madame Lloyd’s choir and orchestra. Well, it depends what you call a ‘choir’. And an orchestra. Um … of three, or four? I guess that’s Madame in the middle. And perhaps Monsieur? Well, I’ve dug in my usual fashion and come up with quite a lot of fun bits. ‘Madame Lloyd’, whomsoever she may have been, and ‘Mr S Lloyd’, were showbusiness stalwarts for fifteen solid years of trouping. What did they do? Well, they followed the fashions in this era of changing ways in entertainment, and they entertained a lot of people, from 1889 till 1905, in British halls, theatres and on endless piers … whether as ‘the Italian Choir and Diorama Company’, ‘Madame Lloyd’s Musical and Scenic Company’, ‘Madame Lloyd’s Italian Choir’ or any of many more variations thereupon.

What entertainment consisted of at its conception was a diorama exhibition (the first seems to have been a canvas diorama of Canada), with an accompanying ‘guided tour’, given by Mr Lloyd, the remainder of the evening being made up by solo and choral vocals by a group of nine girls, who also doubled as the ‘orchestra’: a flautist, a mandoline-player, a guitarist, piano, bells and, when available, banjo, harp and an elocutionist. I have no idea what Madame L did. She never appeared. Maybe she sewed the costumes and chaperoned the girls.
Those costumes were the only thing about the show which was ‘Italian’. The girls came mostly from the north of England, but fashion deemed that a little exoticness was needed around the elements of what we might nowadays we might call a concert party. That fashion had been set rolling in the late 1870s by a successful group called the ‘Swiss Alpine Choir’. The group, run by Carl Leroux André, from Saint-Gallen, was in effect a girl’s orchestra with vocals. This photo looks as if it may have come from their earliest days. 

However, the ‘choir’ wasn’t just a nineteenth-century girl-group. As you may see, ‘Spice Girls’ these lasses weren’t. The choir had more insidious purposes. Its backers came from the Temperance movement, Christianity was obligatory, and musical ability (especially on such exotica as the gigilira) preferred. ‘Professor’ André headquartered himself in Hackney where he and his singing wife taught music and the virtuous life to the halt, the lame, the delicate, the female… and he obviously did it pretty well. But ‘the message’ was the important thing: their programme consisted of ‘temperance songs, recitations, dialogues etc’. ‘The voices blend well together in the choruses and there are one or two good soloists’ noted the Hastings press. 

The company manager, Arthur Brogden, turned out fresh words, not all bearing the message but obeying the ethic, the Professor composed yards of music, and the group became popular as they toured – in a fashion Brogden would later take a credit for pioneering – round the country. I have tried to discover the names of the artists, but alas, apart from Mme Andre and Mr E Collett, they are simple referred to as Mdlles Clémence, Alicia, Amy, Christine, Carry and Marie. But happily for me, the census man came round in April, and there in Blackburn, staying at – horror – an hotel. we see Amélie André, singer, 40, born Switzerland, Arthur Brogden (24) from Liverpool ‘songster’, plus the Misses Alice Hodson (22), Christine Smellie (22, Scotland), Edward S Collett (21, Stratford Essex), Marie von Waldeck (22), Amy Stothard (19), Caroline Brooks (18), Jessie ?Molt (16) and – I guessed it – le petit Eugène is Master Eugène André aged 9, born Liverpool. But down in Manchester I spy the Professor with the B team: Mary Emily Williams (22, Wales), Pollie Handley (19, Wolverhampton), Lily Marshall (18, Woolwich), Anna Lanner (21, Germany), Rebecca Brooks (13) … Temperance to music was evidently a growth industry!

 None of these names mean anything to me, but I see that Mr Collett, who won the best solo reviews is, by the 1891 describing himself, sadly, as ‘late vocalist’. The Professor having died the previous year, Amélie is, in the same year, now a boarding house keeper in Littlehampton, where she died in 1901, but Eugène continued as an instrumentalist through the decades.

The Alpine Choir continued, as ‘Arthur Brogden’s Original Swiss Choir’ (18 members). Brogden became the manager of several music-halls, married performer ‘Viola May’ and ..

But back to the ‘choirs’. Nobody of any importance (or just nobody) tried to copy the Prof in the early ‘80s. Maybe they were put off by the Temperance thing. But gradually variations on hos theme arrived. In 1887 there was something called Whitfield’s Spanish Choir, there was Huntingdon’s Italian Choir, and in 1889 the Scots accompanist ‘Marie Clifford’ (Maria Margaret Huntley, sometime Mrs Dr William James Garbutt, b Glasgow 17 August 1862), who had been playing piano for her second husband, magician ‘Dr Seaton’ (Richard George Reynolds), put together a troupe of ‘lady instrumentalists, those who sing preferred’. She started as the Marie Clifford Concert Company, with her husband magicking alongside Jessie and Kate Millar, Dorothy Heath et al, quickly metamorphosed it into Marie Clifford’s Spanish Choir and Ladies’ Orchestra (‘nine ladies, harp, violin, piano, banjo, mandoline, musical glasses …’), then into Marie Clifford’s Spanish Choir and Merrymakers … we’ll get back to Marie.

A year later ‘Madame Lloyd’ got into business. I don’t know where and when they started. My first sightings of them are in Eastwood, Notts, Town Hall, Heanor, and Alfreton in the very last part of 1890. So they clearly started very small. And finally, a review! Public Hall, Coalville, Leics. January 1891. Well, they may be doing the boondocks (and the docks don’t come any more boon than Coalville!), but they have a fair line up. Violinist Douglas Eley who would later start his own long-lived company (‘Eley’s Gipsy Maids’), Nellie Vaughan, contralto, of the J W Turner opera co (small parts) and her livelier sister Annie who would go on to be a ‘clairvoyant’ on the halls, ballad vocalist Violet Melrose of the music-halls, Rose Melville (Mrs François MacMahon) elocutionist, Maggie Jenkins from Dowlais who would be a featured soprano for some years. Unlike Mrs MacMahon, who jumped ship in favour of the ephemeral Sheffield team, ‘Mr Doubleday’s Royal American Choir’, after a few weeks. And Nellie Vaughan joined Marie Clifford!

But by February they are the ‘Italian Choir and Diorama Company’. And, like André, doing two ‘donation at the door’ concerts on Sundays. But … diorama?

And then comes that nice 1891 census. Well, the company seems to be in Heywood, Lancs. Eight of them anyway. Where are the rest? And where the mysterious Mr and Mrs Lloyd? Well, I know a wee bit about some of those present. The most successful would be James (16, pianist) and John (13, violin) Jackson, from Rochdale. After this engagement their father sent the boys and their wee sister Annie on the road as ‘the Jackson Family’, multi-instrumentalists. The family eventually took over the Rochdale Hippodrome and still owned it in the 1950s. 15 year-old Agnes Harvey, a miner’s daughter from Church Gresley, married a muso, Percy Glenelyon Stratford, and seems to have given up the business, Hilda Parker (1868-1926), of ‘the Parker family’ of Kentish Town, presumably went back there and became Mrs Robert Neish Davidson, and, like Alfred Oswin William Kirby became a music teacher, and went to the war as a RGA gunner …

The Parker Family

On into the 1890s … poor little Nora Bolzani the ‘reciter’ of the 1892 tour died aged 21, Tissie Cantwell, of the Cantwell sisters, seems to have been equally unfortunate … little Beatie seems to have become Beatie Edmunds … among the few names that are mentioned more than once, I notice the experienced elocutionist Fannie Sanderson, formerly of Dyson’s troupe … but then, in 1896, the world of entertainment changed.

The canvas diorama was doomed. The Kinematograph made its first appearance. Scenery was no longer painted, it was projected on slides and – wonder! – films which actually showed moving pictures. Animated pictures. I don’t know who first used the gadget as an adjunct to public entertainment, but the first mention of the kinematograph, by that name (there were many others), that I have seen is in October 1896, when the Grand Music Hall, Clapham offered ‘the wonder of the nineteenth century showing animated photographs’. Within weeks, columns of advertisements for various machines – German, British (R W Paul’s), French, American (Edison’s) – appeared in the pages of the theatre press – everybody wanted the machine, and the various versions (‘Anarithmosope’, ‘Motophotoscope’, ‘Vitagraph’, ‘Animatographe’ etc) were quickly to be seen in town-halls and music-halls all round the country.

The next step was to improve the quality. By Christmas the British Athletic Company was advertising ‘Gyngell’s Kinematograph is steady, clear and reliable…’. But the kinema was still just an item on a bill, an ‘act’ which you could hire, like a singer or a comedian, with the machine’s operator, by the week. It was not yet an integral part of a performance. But things were moving fast …soon, already, you could hire a machine for a year at a time ...

Marie Clifford seems to have been the quickest off the mark. William Turle’s Royal Cinematograph was touring as an adjunct to her Spanish Choir by September 1896! The Walford Family show soon followed suit. Herr Pareezer with his ‘Diorama and Prussian Choir’, Joshua Dyson’s Diorama and Gipsy Choir, Hamilton’s Excursions and others stuck with the old ways a bit longer. Madame Lloyd doesn’t appear to have resisted too long. By 1899 she, too, was featuring film in her show. Until a performance at Glasgow’s Camlachie Institute when the celluloid burst into flames. Madame’s machine was promptly advertised for sale and she went back to promising ‘the programme also includes the gramophone, classic statuary, meteor-chromatic sketches, and some splendid views of Wales. Also dioramic scenes of the war, the Dreyfus case etc,,,’ from ‘Madame Lloyd’s Musical and Scenic company’. But you couldn’t stop the tide: the movies were soon back on the programme and praised: ‘the cinematographic pictures were exceptionally fine’.

The personnel of the troupe had steadied somewhat. Mary Young, Nellie Miller, Jessica Stokes, Clara Kirkman, Beatie Edmunds, flautist Lillian Stoneley (surely a relation of Scots kiddie instrumentalists Ernie and Susie who also appeared with the company), xylophonist Alice Cleveland, Fannie Sanderson for the recitation, Ida Mildred McQualter (b Chelsea 5 March 1882; d Uxbridge 1951) and her cornet, Mabel Mavis on the mandoline and musical glasses, Alice Meier (b 16 August 1885; d 10 Palgrave Rd London 20 February 1983) on the dulcimer, vocalist Myra Bennett, violinist and musical director Howard William Galpin (b Dorset 10 April 1872; d Bristol 4 May 1954), sometime organist of Hinckley Parish Church …

In 1903, the company brought in not only Miss Gertrude Bradshaw, who sang ‘From Mighty Kings’, but three male performers, a yodeller, a comedian, and a vocalist. So we can see that our photograph is taken after that expansion. Actually, it was taken in April 1904, during a season at their favourite venue of Hastings. Because one copy is very kindly dated! And therefore we know who some of them are. The little fellow in Tirolean dress is clearly the yodeller. Gustave Tobler (b 1877). Madame hadn’t had to look far for him: he had been the husband of Myra Bennett (b Lambeth 14 May 1875) since 7 September 1901. The couple did duets in the show so I’m guessing that’s Myra in the frilly hat? The comedian? The one in the braided jacket? [George Ernest] Gilbert Childs. Yes, in spite of what ImdB and others say that is him. The famous Gilbert Childs. The one born in Balham is someone else. Young Gilbert also married within the troupe: the soprano Mary Harriet Young. I wonder which one she is. 

That leaves four men. One will be Mr Walter Adams, another will be Herr K Szynski or Cyznski (piccolo, xylophone), I presume one is the manager, and one the musical director. Still Mr Galpin. The musicians are probably the two in the tuxes. I’d pick the looming gent at the back as, what? The company manager? … I wonder who operated the film-machine.

There are supposed to be nine singing-playing women. So maybe that isn’t Madame Lloyd. Maybe there was no Madame Lloyd. The reviews mention, Mary, Myra, Ida the cornet, Cissie Senior from Hull, Cecilia Allington (pupil of Odoardo Barri!) and ‘little’ Beatie Edmunds. Well, I’ve found a photo which reckons to be Beatie (who had been 10 years with the troupe) what do you reckon?

 There are other names quoted in later dates: Miss F Robinson (drums), Lily Leighton, Eulalie Carl, Mary Beresford (piano), Dorrie Courtney, Marion van Flymen the reciter … but not very much later. The company seems to have closed down little more than a year after. Eley’s Gipsy Maids vanished about 1908. The fashion had changed.

But if the days of the diorama and its touring ‘choirs’ – Spanish, Italian, Alpine or Prussian – were dead or dying, some of the performers had good to grand careers to come.

From the Lloyd group, Gilbert Childs was the stand out. Born in Islington 1885, the son of Ernest Batten Childs, a piano-tuner, he went on the stage as a child as a member of the Mohawk Minstrels. He was in his mid-teens when he played with Madame Lloyd, and found himself a wife, and in 1906, he went on the musical stage touring for a long stint in Les P’tites Michu, before taking a turn on the music-hall stage. In 1911, he and Mary were engaged by Charles Frohman the play in The Arcadians in America. He stayed oure mer to follow up as Crion inThe Sirenand The Quaker Girl before returning to Britain where he toured in the revue Sugar and Spice, and then the Harry Day entertainments Funbeams andFlashes. When the famous Co-Optimistswas produced in 1921, he joined Davy Burnaby, Laddie Cliff, Melville Gideon, Phyllis Monkman, Betty Chester to head the troupe through three years until he was felled by heart disease. Such was his popularity, that when his illness was reported, he got the headline, above … Ellen Terry. He returned to the team, and to radio work, but it was only temporary. He died in Lambeth Hospital 24 September 1931.

Mary (b Wickhambreaux 15 April 1877; d Shoreditch 15 March 1956), eight years older than her husband, outlived him by a quarter of a century, but seems to have given up performing after Broadway.

Another member of the ‘family’ who went on to fine success was the lass who called herself ‘Mabel Mavis’. Mabel, by any other name, seems to have started off playing mandoline with the Walford Family troupe around 1899. But she was a clever lass. One minute she was playing fairy in panto in Kent, then next (1908) billed as the marvelous lady musician, on a multitude of instruments, with comedian Charles Coburn. In 1909 she was at the Jardin de Paris (France), in 1912 with Coburn again, in 1914 ‘La Pierrette diverteuse musicale’ was notes as ‘the last British artist to leave Brussels after the German invasion’, in 1918 she is still with Coburn. Hm. Was she his wife? His mistress? Or just a Very Useful Lady? After the war, where she can be seen entertaining the troops, I see her no more. But I’m sure she’s there: just without her nom de mandoline.

Dorrie Courtney, the fine banjo player, actually made it to the talking pictures.

Little Ernie headed the Ernest Stoneley String Quartet on Irish radio in the 1920s.

Now I have come upon a second photo of the company. The three in the back row, extreme right, look to me like the same three as in my photo – Myra, Gustave, and perhaps Mr Adams, then? The wild-eyed girl in the smock (Beatie?) is there again, and if that IS Madame Lloyd in the white ruffles, she looks rather older. Yet …. The sunhat is still there, and the costume of the seated lass on the left … I’ll have to dig a little more, into the era when the ‘animated pictures’ came to town.


Dan said...

Hello Kurt,

Is the H. Marshall cabinet card photo of Professor Andre's Alpine Choir in a private or public collection? I would appreciate it if you could indicate the source. Also, have you found any uses of the word "gigilira" for the instrument, other than in the Andre puzzle engraving (as shown here: )? Do you know anything about its etymology?
Many thanks,
Dan W.
New York, USA


Dan, I found the photo on ebay. It may be still there!
And no, in spite of my Austrian origins, I had never heard the word gigilira in my life..
Sorry not to be of more help