Monday, October 7, 2019

Almost billable: or, who played the small parts?


During my recent, inhabitual wanderings in the pre-Victorian musical theatre world, I bumped into all sorts of people who tickled my curiosity. And, typically, they weren’t the stars of the period. Anyway, curiosity must be assuaged so, I dug into a few of them, yesterday and today, between visits to my favourite Yambanese spots ...


Boden. Not a very common name. But, for thirty years, it featured in small print on many, many a London bill. Those for Covent Garden, for a good few years. And sometimes it featured multiple times (with slight variations) on the same bill: Miss Boden, Miss R Boden, Miss C Boden, Miss H Boden, Miss E Boden, Master Boden, Miss A Boden … so, who were they all these Bodens. Well, I’ve got four of them. Miss A is, I think, a typo. The title of plain Miss seems to shift among the family. And ‘Master’ was ephemeral and I’m still looking. But the other four?
They were the children of one Daniel Boden and his wife Maria Augusta Byard, who were married in London 2 April 1801, to wit:

Emma Elizabeth Boden  b Fullwoods Rents, Gray's Inn x 8 July 1806; d Wandsworth April 1890
Caroline Frances x 25 December 1807
Rosa Augusta Boden b Russell Square 4 March 1809; d Wandsworth 23 January 1888
Harriet Isabella b William Street Lambeth 12 September 1810; d Wandsworth 1886 

There’s a puzzle to start with. Why did they wait five years before starting to have annual children? The usual answer to that is that father is away earning money somewhere else … so who was Daniel Boden? Was he somehow connected with the theatre? I don’t know, but I suspect as much. There’s a singer, Mr Boden, in about in 1790, and a Mr Boden the viola player in Dublin in 1801, and, most particularly, a Mr D Boden who penned a ballad ‘Tom Larboard’, sung by Gibbon at Drury Lane, in 1806. Alas, I cannot find the family in the 1841 census, and Daniel apparently died just before the 1851 one, so that’s the best I can do.

My first sighting of ‘Miss Boden’ (presumably Emma) is 19 May 1817 at Astley’s Amphitheatre, in a ‘lyric melange’ entitled The Mutineer. She played an island maiden. However, she then moved to Covent Garden, where, in 1818, she appeared in the title-role of Tom Thumb the Great, played in Proof Presumptive with Macready and Mrs Faucit, sang in the chorus of Rob Roy, played the child, Zamoria, in the spectacle Zuma and another in Bellamira … and was joined by her two sisters: Rosa was cast as Gustavus in The Illustrious Traveller and joined Emma in the pantomime chorus, 11 year-old Caroline was the boy, Julio, in The Devil’s Bridge, then Julia in The Soldier’s Daughter. 
In 1821, Master Boden joined them. He and Rosa played the stranger’s children, while Emma appeared as Count Wintersen’s child in The Stranger, and he then went on to play the Czarevitch in The Exile, Adelbert in The Warlock of the Glen and in 1824 , with Harriet, in The Hunter of the Alps and William in Presumption and Peter in Free and Easy. And now daughter four has arrived to top up the Boden quotient.

Emma was still the most to the fore … taking part in Juno and Ceres, Twelfth Night, Cherry and Fairstar, as Prince Arthur in King John, but come The Forty Thieves, where she played the Fairy of the Grotto, Rosa was Gossamer, and Harriet was Sylph …

In 1823 I see Caroline has taken over Prince Henry, Harriet is Agib in Timour the Tartar, Rosa has a duet in William Tell, Emma is Hero in Much Ado and the maid in School for Scandal and in Love in a Village, Plumante in Tom Thumb … and one of them plays Miss Paton’s page in Native Land. 

Master and Harriet played the Babes in the Drury Lane Babes in the Wood in 1824, but Emma was now coming to adult roles. She featured as Selima in Tarare and a Bridesmaid in Der Freischütz at the English Opera House, and then settled at the Adelphi where she rose to Cecilia Crofts in Killigrew, Ceclia in The Pilot, Donna Anna in a burlesque Don Giovanni Julia in The Life of an Actor, Clara in Luke the Labourer, Lestelle Vanheim in The Flying Dutchman, with seasonal visits to the Lyceum, where she played Cecchina in The Freebooters, Balisa in The Oracle (‘Hast ne’er marked the flower’)Effie in The Vampire …

In 1827, Emma married coachbuilder Samuel Holman, and it was Caroline’s turn in the limelight. She became leading lady at the Coburg (Hut of the Red Mountain, One Hundred and Two, Vespina in Clari, The Outlaw’s Oath, The Launch of the Good Ship William). But now, things get a little muddly. Did Emma carry on after her marriage? Is it she as Julie in Military Tactics, as Claudine in The Hunter of the Alps, Alison in The Beggar of Cripplegate, and at the Surrey in The Broken Sword …

In 1833, Caroline, in her turn, was married. Her husband was one George Courtenay Matthews (1809-1843), who only lasted a decade or so. In the 1851 census, she is a widow, dressmaker, with her two remaining children …

Two Bodens, two Tetts, Mrs Allcroft et al

Rosa and Harriet did carry on, however. And on and on. They became frontline features of the chorus at Drury Lane. When Malibran sang Sonnambula they were ‘villagers’ along with Mrs Allcroft, the Tett brothers, and dancers Miss Thomassin, Lidia and Ryals ... Occasionally, one of them got to step out in a small part – I see Rosa as Marcella in The Bottle Imp and Harriet as Martha in Rob Roy …
When Jullien staged his 1847 season at Drury Lane, they were still there in the ensemble: Harriet in the first soprani and Rosa among the seconds.

I don’t know how long they stayed. They're still there in the 'fifties. They remained, unmarried, with mother, at their home at 3 Store Street, until she died in March 1871, at the age of 92. Harriet died in 1886, Rosa [Augusta] 23 January 1888 … Emma in 1890, having borne 8 children, and Caroline Fanny Matthews ..? I lose her. And I wonder what became of 'Master'.

MRS ALLCROFT [née BUTLIN, Ann] (b ?Willesden 7 April 1805; d Pancras 1869)

Mrs Allcroft was another almost-principal: a long-time chorus member who was allotted many a small role in big productions at the major theatres.

She was born Ann Butlin, apparently the daughter of 'James Butlin, surgeon, of New Road, Marylebone' (whom I later spot in the bankruptcy court and practising at Holborn) and his wife, Elizabeth, which I guess makes her the child of that name born in Willesden in 1805. She seems to have gone on the stage, initially, at the Tottenham Street Theatre, where I spot her in November 1829 playing alongside Mrs Waylett and Vining in A Bold Stroke for a Wife ('sang the songs allotted to her in a very pleasing manner') and singing 'Rest thee, Babe' as Mrs Leporello in The Field of Forty Footsteps. She appeared as Rosa in a version of John of Paris, Lady Charlotte in High Life Below Stairs, Wowski in a ripoff of Inkle and Yarico, Susan in A Fish out of Water, in A Woman and the Devil, as Mattie in Rob Roy et al. However, she did not continue in this way. She instead crossed to Drury Lane, where she contented herself with being a Bridesmaid in Der Freischütz and Marcellina in The Marriage of Figaro, Edda in The Ice Witch, and supplying the concerted music with such as Miss Byfeld, Miss S Phillips, Yarnold and Honner for The Emissary. She played a season at the Italian opera, where she was given the role of Thisbe in La Cenerentola, but soon returned to Drury Lane.

In 1832, Ann married Henry Francis Allcroft (b 26 October 1809; d 21 August 1835), also from the ranks of the chorus, and bore him a son, William Robert (1833-1908), before his death at the age of 25. Henceforth, she was billed as Mrs Allcroft. She would remarry, in 1839 (9 May), George Brannan (1813-1871), heraldic painter, and bear him three daughters. She continued, however, to work as 'Mrs Allcroft'. 

As Mrs Allcroft, I see her as Iniz in Masaniello, Thisbe to the Clorinda of Sally Forde, the gipsy girl in Guy Mannering and Annette in La Sonnambula at Drury Lane, as Miss Schemer in The MP for the Rotten Borough, Gianetta in The Love Spell, and Elizabeth in Presumption at the English Opera House, as well as leading the chorus in such pieces as Catherine Grey, The Gipsy's Warning, The Maid of Artois, The Siege of Rochelle  ...  The credits would often read: 'Maids: Mrs Allcroft, Miss Boden, Miss R Boden etc'

She took part in the 1834 Westminster Abbey Music Festival, in 1840 she is at the Olympic, acting alongside Mrs Glover, and I see her, as late as 1848, singing Clotilde in Norma, at Covent Garden.

The name of Allcroft became prominent in the London music and theatre world through Ann's brother-in-law, Frederick William Allcroft (1811-1858), who produced large concerts and theatre seasons, and who is a whole other story.

I didn't succeed nearly as well in my chase after the lady known as Mrs East. In fact, I've plumb failed to find out who she was, where she came from, and what became of her. She arrives on the playbills of the Theatre Royal in the chorus of the first British Masaniello (4 May 1829) and she remains a presence in the West End for twenty years, creeping frequently out of the small print into the lower reaches of the principal cast list .. without dropping a hint as to her identity.
At the time she pops up, there is in the chorus a Mr East. So, I assumed that this Mr East had married a fellow chorine, and ... So I looked. I chased all the slightly featured singing ladies of the period, and drew a blank. Misses Gould, Purton, A Tree, Nicol, Russell, Anderson, Allen, Somerville, Webster, Jackson et al were all in the Masaniello cast. So she wasn't one of those. I checked all the Mr Easts who wed round about that time. How to tell? So, for the moment, failure, on that count.

Mrs East was quickly up to a named role. She was Sacha in A Bold Storke for a Wife, Luminaria, the Spirit of Light in the pantomime Jack in the Box, a Bridesmaid in Der Freischütz, Hebe in Midas, Jenny Diver in The Beggar's Opera (Mr got to play Robin o'Bagshot), Clotilda in Leipsic Fair, Abigail in A New Way to Pay Old Debts, Janette in The Adopted Child, Betty in The Hypocrite, Urfred in The Ice Witch, a maid in Lionel and Clarissa and in Love in a Village, Jessy in The Falls of Clyde, Mary in The Nervous Man, Iniz, now, in Masaniello, Martha in Rob Roy, A Gypsy in One o'clock, Julia in Teddy the Tiler ... When Don Giovanni was staged the two of them were in the chorus, but when The Marriage of Figaro went on, Mrs got to play Marcellina.
And so it continued, with time at Covent Garden, the Adelphi and the English Opera House, and the occasional role, such as Thisbe, alongside Abby Betts, in Cinderella, Arwedson in Gustavus, Ursula in The Black Domino, and when the original Lady of Lyons was produced, she created the little part of Janet, the innkeeper's daughter. She was Lelia in Amilie, played Curiosa in The Cabinet, Barbarina now in The Marriage of Figaro ... after a decade of mostly walk-ons progress was coming.

In 1839, she took at break from Covent Garden and visited Edinburgh, where Mr and Mrs Wood were starring. She got to play Lucy Bertram, Lisa in La Sonnambula, Rosalie in The Climbing Boy, and when Mrs Wood had a night off, she sang the role of Elvira in Masaniello. Progress, indeed.

She returned to Covent Garden, but in 1840 she departed for the Theatre Royal, Bath, where Adeline Cooper was first singing lady. But she got to sing Lady Allcash, Ännchen in Der Freischütz ('a sprightly, clever actress, possessing a good voice, evincing considerable skill in its management, and is a very useful member of the operatic corps ... warmly applauded'), and in The Freebooters. But this time, she did not return to Covent Garden. 

I'm not quite sure where she did go. Maybe Wales. Is it she at Cardiff, and singing Diana Vernon at Swansea? Anyway, Mr East seems to have been gone for some years .. so, where is she in the 1841 census? And after.
Well, maybe I have the answer, and maybe not. In 1844, a Calcutta actress named Mrs East was burned to death when her dress caught fire ...
That's the best I can do. But I will keep trying.

And one more.

If the Bodens were ubiquitous on pre-Victorian playbills, what to say of the Tetts? Oh, you won't spot them  very often. Not without a magnifying glass, anyway. I don't think they ever emerged from the ranks of the also-sangs. But they sang, oh did they sing! For nearly half a century, the musical-theatre bills of the patent houses almost always featured one, two, or often three Mr Tetts among its cavaliers, peasants, villagers, servants et al. That is, when the theatres bothered to list the principal choristers. They became somewhat of a West End feature, and when the last of them died, he was given a little obituary in the theatre press.  So, who were they? Well, there were five of them. From two, and maybe three, generations.

One Mr Tett. Assuredly Joseph.
Benjamin Tett (d 4 February 1807) who, at his death, was described in the press as 'the oldest chorister' at Drruy Lane. Highfill and co, in their mammoth work on 18th century London theatre, say that he may have been a brother of the Joseph who follows, but I'm not sure. If he really were the 'oldest' chorus singer ... he may have been even from one generation further back ... but I imagine he was, somehow, from the Tett family of Hinton St George, Somerset, which produced

Joseph Tett (b Hinton St George, x 19 September 1761; d Hinton St George April 1828). Like Benjamin, Joseph belonged to an era in which usually didn't credit choristers on the bills, but Highfill gives a list of.  1790s shows in which they appeared. I, I'm assuming (like them) that any 'Mr Tett' on a Covent Garden programme in the 1800s ('a lad' in Love in a Village etc) is Joseph. And when his three sons join him, he is 'Mr' and they are Messrs C, S and W.

1807 and two Misters Tett ... Joseph and who?
Now, Joseph and his sons, had long careers on the stage, and apparently took part in the Oratorios, the Ancient Concert and other like performances, but it was not their career. Each of them had a 'day job'. Three of them, the same one. They were involved in the paper-staining trade, and later expanded into painting and paperhanging. They must have stained and hung well, for Joseph left a comprehensive will, which is housed in the British National Archives, and from which we know that his second wife, Elizabeth (née Tuesley), the three singing sons, and one daughter [Jane] Louisa (Mrs William Wood) were his whole family. The music, it seems, unlike the Bodens, flourished in the male side of the family. His first wife, and the mother of his children, was Ann (née Tyrrell) (d 28 July 1798).

1814: Mr and Mr S: 'a priest'
Charles Tett (b Soho 29 November 1790; d Kensington 28 July 1864) was the brother who got noticed in The Era. Paper-stainer, paperhanger, painter, and latterly corn-dealer from 38 Dean Street, he was also the most often seen on theatre bills, often, indeed usually, in the company of brother Sam. He also became secretary to the Choral Fund.

1833: Mr C and Mr S
Samuel Tett (b Soho c 1871; d 1861) latterly called himself a 'house decorator' while continuing a parallel theatrical career to that of his brother. He too became involved with the New Musical Fund as a committee-man and a steward. He christened one of his childen Joseph Haydn Tett (1824-1841). His first wife, soprano Mary Russell, was a member of the ladies' semi-chorus at the Ancient Concert and sang in the Birmingham Festival of 1817. She died soon after and he remarried Sarah Mitchell (1823) by whom he fathered several children. Mr S Tett and Mr Tett are in the choir for the 1820 Norwich Festival, Messrs S and C are among the 'professional amateurs' at Worcester in 1842, and in 1831 I actually spot Sam listed for a named role in Covent Garden's The Miller and His Men. In 1833, the two are singing in The Tempest, Artaxerxes and Macbeth at the Adelphi.

1838: Mr C and Mr S.
William Tett (b Soho 1796; d Hanway Street, August 1847) was much less frequently seen on the boards. He had a business as a plumassier and artificial-flower in Hanway Street, Oxford Street, a wife Julia née Luffman, and that's all I know. I see him, with his brothers, in the chorus at the English Opera House (The Freebooters) and later at Covent Garden.

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