Wednesday, February 26, 2020

A century ago on Broadway. If briefly.


A glimpse back to three of perhaps not the best or best-known shows to tread the Brodway stage in the first decade of the 20th century ... prompted by the discovery of this little bundle of photos ... how splendid that they survive!

Sweet Marie (the title taken from a recently popular song) was a very shortlived musical comedy produced by Oscar Hammerstein at his Victoria Theatre 10 October 1901. It was initially credited to 'W Brown and R Jackson' as authors, but it was no secret that the real writer was the producer himself. The stars of the piece were two sketch artists known as the Russell Brothers who, here, played a pair of French sisters whisked off to Bombay, for reasons best known to Mr Hammerstein and the scenic designer, for the length of the second act. English vocalist Rhys Thomas (in brown-face) was cast as the Indian magician, Castafore. Since vaudeville singer-dancer Eleanor Falk appeared as someone named Nubiani, I preume that the lady here pictured is she, rather than one of the 'heroines'.

Sweet Marie seems to have been a 'filler' intended for no longer than its 28 performances, as the main participants were all booked into vaudeville dates for the week following its closure. Algeria, however, was definitely not. After an unimpressive first production (Broadway Theatre, 48 performances) it was actually revamped and tried again. But it had rather more craftsmanlike names attched to it. Book and lyrics by Glen McDonough, music by Victor Herbert, direction by George Marion, performers such as William Pruette, Ida Brooks Hunt and soubrette Harriet Burt as Millicent Madison M.D. Here is the last-named in olde Algiers with her troupe of trained nurses and what looks like Mr Pruette ...

From Rurarabia to Olde England. Someone thought it a good idea to drag out the very overused Peg Woffington tale for another round of the stage. William A Brady presented Grace George (Mrs Brady) as the lady in question at Bridgeton, NJ, 13 November 1902, and traipsed Pretty Peggy round the country, ending up 23 March 1903 at the Herald Square Theatre. Circus incidentals, miles of 'hokum', gimmickry and colourful staging kept the piece afloat until it returned to its natural habitat, on the road.

The 'big scene': rioters rush through the auditorium to sabotage Peg's play

The stage within the stage: Peg faints during As You Like It ...

The piece and its staging stayed alive (latterly without Miss George) for a number of years, and even peeked back into New York ...  well, let's face it, directors are still using the people-rushing-through-the-auditorium trick today, a century on ...

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Sisters Holman: 'dainty duettists and dancers'

This photo caught my attention today. I don't know why. Perhaps it was the name 'Holman', which once played a part in American and Canadian musical theatre ... anyway, they have provided me with a few hours sport, and now they can have their five minutes in the limelight.

Yes, they were sisters. And, yes, their name actually was Holman. And they were a little supporting music-hall act for almost a quarter of a century. My first sighting of them is in 1897, 'tyrolean vocalists' at the People's Palace in Sunderland. My last is in 1920, at Derby ...  I would imagine this Mancunian photo was taken in the earliest days of the 20th century.

My first job was to find out who they actually were and whence they came. And that proved easier than it might have. Because on one of the rare occasions that they advertised in the trade press, to show off the fact that they had been playing the Babes in Babes in the Wood at Sunderland, they mentioned 'Mr John Holman' conductor (available) as well. Brother? No, father. Perhaps the John Holman RAM (!!) who was conducting at the Hartlepool Alhambra in 1893? So I went looking up around Durham way and ... 1906. John Holman, professor of music, 116 Granville Street, Grimsby ..

From there, it unrolled. Father, born Greenwich, 1849, son of a journeyman baker, married Eliza Sarah Collier from Camden Town 9 February 1869 and had ... twelve children. Four died, but six of the survivors were daughters ... Edith (b Holloway, 1872), Florence (b Swansea 10 August 1874), Gertrude (b Walsall 17 February 1878), Lillian (b Halifax 3 May 1880), Blanch[e] (b Leeds 1885) and Beatrice Cornelia (b Leeds 1886). Father clearly was a minstrel who wandered where the work was. 

Well, to cut this tale to its minima, our Sisters are the two youngest daughters. Blanch and Beatrice.  Between 1898-1900, they were joined by Edith, working mostly as 'Ada Vest' 'ballad vocalist', but Edith went back to her job as a tailoress cum machinist, and left to the little ones to carry on as a duo.

There isn't a lot to describe. 'Charming song and dance artists, ''Sing in pleasant style ... dance neatly'. The notices never say what they sang or danced, they didn't earn enought space for that. But they did what they did for more than 20 years, on the lower regions of bills at Hippodromes, Palaces and Empires from Exeter ('always heartily received in the West Country') to Dundee. They got their biggest press notice in Dundee, when Blanche got into a girlie dressing-room squabble, got a slap on the face from her victim's gentleman friend, and it all ended up in court. From where it was smartly kicked out.

Mostly, they appeared on bills made up of minor artists, performing pigs, dogs, acrobats, blackface comics, comedy jugglers, trick cyclists, progressively larger bits of cinematography, but I have spotted one or two familar names, from Harry Tate (1897) in kiddie days, to Walford Bodie and to Lydia Kyasht, Will Hays, Toby Claude, Daisie Irving and Marie Lloyd 'in her Paris gowns' during the war years ...

I don't know what happened to the sisters after the act broke up. I've chased all the sisters ..

Edith went back to her sewing machine, married a plasterer's labourer from Bawtry, Notts (Alfred Marshall) and I see her last in 1911 living with her sisters
Florence also plied her sewing machime, married a Mr Oswald Desmond Mather, had a daughter, Dorothy (Newcastle 1906) lost him, and lasted through till the 1950s. 
Gertrude married a gent's outfitter from Chesterfield, Philip Sidney Smith. She too had children, of whom only a daughter, Margery (Chesterfield 15 August 1903) survived, and vanishes from my ken after 1911, when she is living with the Holmans and her husband is with his parents in Chesterfield. Doesn't look good.
Lilian strayed to Leeds to work as a waitress. She also strayed otherwise, too, and gave birth to three illegitimate babes before she married Harry Bowers, the father of the last two. Almost unfairly, she then had a long married life and died in Grimsby 24 December 1948. Harry lasted till the following year. Lillian's descendants have invested, so we actually have a photo of her ...

Blanche I quite simply lose after 1920 ... but the family also has a phot oof her. Match it with our one ..?

As for Beatrice ... well, the family says she died, unmarried, aged 60 in Leeds. So, maybe she did. She'd clearly dropped the 'Cornelia' ...

And that's them. The Sisters Holman. One of the thousands of 'acts' which provided popular entertainment to the music-halls of England in their declining days ...

Can anyone add any more information about them?

Saturday, February 22, 2020

The Macclesfield Diva: Fanny Ayton.


My version of the tale of Fanny Ayton ...

AYTON, Fanny [AYTON, Frances] (b Macclesfield 27 December 1803; d 12 Park Street, Dover 21 May 1891)

Fanny Ayton wasn’t precisely a Victorian vocalist. She could have been. She should have been. But she didn’t make it. By the time Victoria came to the throne, Fanny had thrown it in. Thrown in a career which, at one early stage, had been prophesied as likely to be something quite startling.

Frances Ayton was born, or at least christened, in Macclesfield, Cheshire. She was never quite honest about the date, and Messrs Brown and Stratton’s erratic 19th-century work on British Musical Biography insists that it was in the year 1806. For yes, in a work which isn’t focused on vocalists and which, thus, leaves out from its pages the majority of the Victorian age’s best singers, Fanny Ayton actually gets an entry. She was like that. Messrs Kutsch and Riemans in their Grosser Sängerlexikon have largely copied the above article, with a couple of variations and an extra German phrase or two tacked in. For, yes, they who are indeed focussed on vocalists, but who nevertheless omit from their volumes many truly important English artists of the nineteenth century, have her in too. Born 1806. And now I’m including her, too. She somehow demands it. So, Fanny has been being handed down to posterity all right. But, alas, in a rather inaccurate and incomplete state.

For, of course, to start with, it wasn’t in 1806 that she was born. It was 1803. December the 27th. Parents, William Ayton Esq and his wife Sarah, ‘youngest daughter of John Thompson Esq of Chiswick’, who had been wed at Chiswick, 16 January 1802.

I, unfortunately, know nothing more of William Ayton (‘a commercial gentleman’ ‘of Macclesfield’), nor of his wife Sarah. However, there seem to have been some rather consequent London-banker-descended Aytons in that place at the turn of the 19th century, and a silk manufacturer of means, but the biographer of the British painter, Richard Westall (d 11 December 1836) – the artist of ‘Sappho in the Lesbian Shades Chanting the Hymn of Love’ and ‘Cardinal Wolsey Seeking Refuge in the Abbey of Leicester’ – and drawing master to the Princess Victoria, has come up with some details which may help me to get there in the end. For Westall’s correspondence reveals that he was related to the relevant Aytons – his mother was Mary née Ayton, his closest friend and maybe cousin was John Ayton (‘of Russell Place, Fitzroy Square’, who died 24 August 1829 aged 47 on the sands at Eastbourne), and Fanny – whom he apparently painted at least once in her brief heyday – was a relation of some undefined kind. A niece, maybe, or so says Leigh Hunt, referring to her as ‘Miss Fanny Ayton, who once made a great fuss and a good deal of money as an Italian cantatrice’, or even a great-niece. But it seems, in any case, that she was reasonably well connected. So, I imagine her father wasn't the William Ayton of Macclesfield, cotton spinner, who went bankrupt in 1808. But maybe was the William Ayton Esq of the Macclesfield School Board.

When she was in her teens, Fanny, ‘a pupil of [Giovanni] Liverati’, was sent to Italy to study music. Brown and Stratton say ‘with Manielli in Florence’, so maybe so. The results were apparently highly satisfactory, and the young soprano soon made her way on to the Italian operatic stage. B&S say it was in the title-role of Carlo Coccia’s Clotilde at La Fenice in 1825, K&R mentions the same opera, but insists on the venue being the Teatro Communale, Bologna, the following year. And, just to contradict them both, I proffer the original cast list of Pacini’s Temistocle, produced at Lucca’s Teatro del Giglio on 23 August 1823, which includes, alongside Tacchinardi in the title-role and Pisaroni as Xerxes, Roxane: Fanny Ayton. So, it seems that Venice and Bologna weren’t the first after all.

But I have, nevertheless, spotted her at the Teatro San Lucca, Venice, in autumn 1825 (‘eine nicht starke aber angenehme Stimme und eine gute Gesangsmethode’, ‘[she] has a voice of no great power, but of a very pleasing kind, and she shows an excellent school’) where she did indeed sing in Clotilde, and Chiara di Rosembergh, at the Teatro fu Obizzi in Padua in 1826, singing in Eliza e Claudio with Teresa Picchi, and I can confirm the Bologna appearance, also in 1826, with Clotilde – reported to the home press by an English diarist who found Fanny ‘a pretty girl who sings well [and who] seems to be a great favourite with the audience’ -- and with a piece named La gelosa vilane (‘Miss Ayton much pleased in this opera and the Ferranti gives us hope of her becoming an actress, as well as a singer far beyond the common stamp’). But another voyager of the time, who heard her in Italy, described her merely as ‘an agreeable singer, but nothing beyond mediocrity’ asserting ‘she was well received at Venice and elsewhere, as an exotic’.

In December 1826, the news came that she was headed for England: that ‘the impresario at Venice had ‘very reluctantly consented to spare her’ and that she had ‘overcome the great obstacles thrown in the way of her quitting Italy, where her fame had rapidly spread’.

It seems that the Venetian credit was, in any case, the one she considered the most important because, when the 23 year-old singer finally did come home, after some well-publicised adventures: (‘She was detained in Italy by the severity of the weather and, in crossing the Alps, narrowly escaped with her life. The letters from Venice, Mantua, Bologna, Turin and Milan, speak of her singing and acting in the same unqualified terms of admiration […] as of the inimitable Billington ...’) she had herself billed as ‘from La Fenice, Venice’. 

The Morning Post obliges with much pre-puffery
The bill in question was a decidedly surprising and important one, for it was for no less a holy place than the King’s Theatre: London’s high and mighty home of Italian opera. A theatre not noted for hiring young English girls as its star sopranos (‘A Macclesfield girl of one and twenty performing at our Italian theatre’ gasped the New Monthly Magazine). But Miss Fanny Ayton had made it.

The opera opened its season with a sure and established value, Rosalbina Caradori in Spontini’s La Vestale and Pacini’s La Schiava in Baghdad, and then – after a pause in the performances, due to the demise of the Duke of York -- on 3 February, Laporte launched his new prima donna, as Ninetta in Rossini’s La gazza ladra, with De Begnis, Zuchelli and Curioni in support and Eliza Vestris as Pippo. The Times reported ‘The first appearance of Mademoiselle Fanny Ayton, from the Theatre La Fenice at Venice, attracted on Saturday evening a crowded audience. The expectation of the musical portion of the public had been strongly excited with respect to the talent of this young lady. Mademoiselle Ayton is certainly a vocalist of ability – but not perhaps of that extensive ability that ought to be possessed by her who aspires to the situation of prima donna at the King’s Theatre. Her lower tones are deficient in strength, and her upper tones are emitted with too much effort, but her middle notes – decidedly the best part of her voice – are pleasing. She is mistress of much science, and possesses many personal attractions. Mademoiselle Ayton is of the middle size of women, and extremely well formed. Her countenance is handsome and intelligent, but better adapted we think to the expression of lively than of serious sensations… Throughout the whole evening she appeared to more advantage in the concerted pieces than in the solos, although her opening air ‘Di piacer mi balza il cor’ was encored. The most touching and delicate solo which she delivered in the course of the evening was that which occurs when Ninetta presses on her friend Pippo the acceptance of the cross which hangs from her neck … Her reception was extremely hospitable...’

This critic went back on the second night and allowed himself a second volley of reservations: ‘Mademoiselle Ayton is a very clever woman. She seems, as an actress, to be entirely alive to the scene; she feels, and very properly feels that, in the performance of an interesting operatic character, something beyond mere singing is necessary. Perhaps she carries this idea a little too far. In the impassioned scenes her energetic action was true to nature – it accorded with the scene – and, of course, it told well; but when, in matter of a more ordinary character, we still saw the outstretched arms and uplifted brow, we were inclined to think that Mademoiselle had studied a little too much in the school of art. The vocal abilities of Mademoiselle Ayton deserve no inconsiderable tribute of praise. Her style of singing, whether the movement be melancholy or lively, is perfectly in accordance with good taste. She evidently knows what ought to be done, but her voice does not second the desire of her mind. The voice of Mademoiselle Ayton is, undoubtedly, not of the best description. When mingled with the organs of others in a concerted piece, it aids, not inconsiderably, in producing a strong effect; but when left to its own resources, with in solo or in dialogue, it is thin, almost tiny, querulous and very frequently becomes unpleasant. Ninetta’s beautiful air ‘Di piacer’ was encored, and deserved to be…’

On 27 February, Laporte produced his next opera of the season, and Fanny was again cast in the leading role. The opera was Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia, the role was that of the ‘heroine’, Fiorilla, and she was again teamed with Curioni, de Begnis and Zuchelli. This time, the Times man, who – like many another music and theatre scribe -- was spending incommensurate inches on his dissection of the talents of ‘Mademoiselle’ Ayton, started trying to rationalise his ideas of what was right and what was wrong with the new English prima donna, and he came up with what seems not a wholly coherent answer: ‘She displays great merit [in the part] though as a whole, especially as regards the vocal exertion, it is extremely unequal. The duet with Geronimo ‘Per piacere alla Signora’ in the first act, which by the way is a very difficult one, was deficient in that spirit of coquetry and elegant volubility Madame de Begnis used to display, but her portion of the celebrated quintet ‘Oh! guardate che accidente’ was charmingly sung, and he last air, ‘Ah se poco e il duol’, an effort of talent seldom surpassed on this or any other stage. It satisfied us, as it evidently did the audience, that Miss Ayton possesses the elements of a singer of the first rank; and that with such taste, precision and grace as she displayed in that song, time and cultivation, by improving her powers and establishing her self-possession, must advance her rapidly in the profession she has chosen. Her voice was often thin and weak and occasionally, when strained, harsh, but the correctness of her ear, which caused her notes to blend well with the harmony, made these defects less perceptible in her than they would have been in almost any other singer. It is unusual for a voice of that quality to tell so well as that of Miss Ayton does in the concerted pieces. Her conception of the character was good but very much under-acted…’

The next production at the King’s was Pietro l’eremita which served to introduce another newcomer, Giacinta Toso, who followed up in Ricciardo e Zoraide and Maria Stuart regina di Scozia, and finally Giuditta Pasta came in to sing Semiramide, Meyer’s Medea [in Corinto] and Mercadante’s Didone. In mid-season the bass Vincenzo Galli arrived from Paris and succeeded to the role of the heroine’s father in La gazza ladra, and the Times gentleman took a third bite at Fanny’s Ninetta: ‘Mademoiselle Ayton impersonated Ninetta in a manner not far removed from mediocrity. This lady attempts to do too much. Were she to be less ambitious she would please more. She is fond of ornament to a faulty excess, for by introducing it she frequently destroys the sentiment the composer meant to express. More than once on Saturday evening, passages intended to convey the idea of deep grief were made to assume quite a contrary character by a misplaced display of execution. Her opening air ‘Di piacer’ met with some interruption. It was encored, but not without considerable opposition’. She repeated the role on 19 July for her Benefit, and, maybe for that reason, the gentleman’s fourth bite was tastier: ‘... she very judiciously selected [the piece] for her Benefit because, in the character of Ninetta, she appears to more advantage than she does in any other part which she has essayed […] Madmoiselle Ayton sustained the character of Ninetta with much ability. She gave the admirable air ‘Di piacer’ with great skill… Her interview with her father and her rejection of the advances of the vile magistrate were marked by many proofs of talent … Mademoiselle Ayton led the sestetto commencing ‘Mi sento opprimere’ exceedingly well. This was, perhaps, her best effort during the evening. It was a ‘strain soft and melancholy’ and the sensations which Rossini’s music are here calculated to excite were not marred by any ill-judged effort to produce what is called a striking effect... Mademoiselle Ayton played and sang with feeling. Her performance was greatly applauded throughout the evening.’

More applauded, however, was the second part of the entertainment, he last act of Romeo e Giulietta, performed by Pasta (Romeo) and Caradori (Juliet).

In the meantime, while Toso (unsuccessfully) and Pasta (successfully) prima-donna-ed at the King’s Theatre, Fanny had not been idle. First of all, she turned up at no less a venue than the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. A new young writer by the name of Michael Rophino Lacy had fabricated an English opera out of Il Turco in Italia, under the title The Turkish Lovers or the Faithful Infidel, and Mr Price mounted it with the resident John Braham, Rosalie Geesin, Horn, Harley and Fanny Kelly, and with a guest prima donna: Miss Fanny Ayton in ‘her first appearance on the English stage’ (1 May 1827).

‘In this piece Miss Fanny Ayton, whose ‘native talent’ was a sin in the ears of the connoisseurs in the Haymarket, made an appearance and played off her foreign airs with éclat. She is a perfect prima donna in miniature – a pretty little English girl, with a thin fluty voice, and much clearness and gaiety, who has caught with singular aptitude the style and manner of the Italian school of singing and acting…’, judged one critic, while another wrote: ‘Her manner as an actress was pleasing and ladylike, but her voice in speaking was frequently inaudible and far from pleasing in its tone, while her songs for the most part were feeble and ill-executed. Some allowance must however be made for the novelty of the situation and the embarrassment of performing in a language to which she is unaccustomed in stage representations, though her native one. Her reception, as usual on such occasions, was kind and encouraging.’

This critic was even harder on the piece, for which he predicted a quick extinction, but I see that both it and Fanny were still there on 30 May when The Turkish Lovers was given its 9th performance. And it even reached its 10th on 23 June. It was dragged back for some makeweight performances, slimmed as a pantomime forepiece, the next season, but Fanny hadn't waited around for those.

During the season, Fanny also appeared on the concert platform. In May and the early days of June, she can be spotted singing in a number of matinees and soirees, notably at the one given at the Argyll Rooms by the singer Tomasso Rovedino and her singing teacher, Giovanni Liverati (8 June). Fanny gave her ‘original cast’ showpiece from Temistocle, ‘Tacete ohimè quei cantici’, joined de Begnis in a new duet by Liverati, and took part in a finale from the same gentleman’s opera, The Choice. Elsewhere, she was seen in Miss Stephens’ Benefit a Drury Lane, with the other 'Italians' at the Marquis of Hertford's soiree at Hertford House (10 April, Temistocle), in the concert for a New Musical Fund, in Bochsa’s concert, Linley's concert ('Ah! se poco il duol'), Mori's concert ('Di piacer' 'to much applause'), at Madame Cittadini's and at nine year-old Camillo Sivori’s performance, at the Academic Concerts, and almost always on bills where she was the only or a rare native artist.

When the London season was over, Fanny (‘prima donna of the King’s Theatre’) set out on the road, in the company of de Begnis, Torri, De Angeli, Giubilei, Rubbi and other artists from the King’s Theatre, and equipped with a King’s Theatre repertoire including Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Il Turco in Italia, La Gazza ladra, Don Giovanni and Il Fanatico per la musica, playing her way through Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and Edinburgh.

Manchester was all agog at the thought of a Macclesfield prima donna, and, if the local press found more to enthuse about in the performances of Torri, Giubelei and de Begnis, they were not disappointed in their Rosina. 'In singing she articulates distinctly, and there is much purity in her intonation: her style is truly Italian. The cavatina of 'Una voce' was warbled with much sweetness ...'

In Edinburgh, it appears, she encountered Sir Walter Scott who recorded in his diary: ‘December 21 [1827] A very sweet, pretty-looking young lady, the Prima Donna of the Italian Opera, now performing here, by name Miss Ayton came to breakfast this morning, with her father (a bore, after the manner of all fathers, mothers, aunts, and other chaperons of pretty actresses)! Miss Ayton talks very prettily, and, I dare say, sings beautifully, though too much in the Italian manner, I fear, to be a great favourite of mine.’

Back in London, Fanny returned not to the King’s Theatre but to Drury Lane (25 April 1828), to team once again with John Braham, this time in an English ‘opera’. The Times, of course, was half-fig, half-raisin about the exercise. ‘Miss Ayton appeared last night in Guy Mannering’, wrote the critic ‘as Lucy Bertram. It is the first time that she has undertaken a part the music of which professes to be unmixed with the foreign school, and we must say her Italian habits were rather too conspicuous throughout her singing. Scotch and English music of the character which is introduced in the opera will not bear florid ornament; it strikes the ear at once as being out of place. Nevertheless, Miss Ayton went through her part in a manner which rendered it highly interesting. We look upon this lady as an extremely valuable acquisition to any theatre; and although the Italian opera is far best suited to her talents, and we should have preferred seeing her there, it is a matter for congratulation to all theatrical visitors that she has not altogether ceased to grace the stage with her appearance’.

During the course of the season, Fanny essayed several further English roles. First came Love in a Village (Rosetta) with Braham, Dowton and with Miss Love playing Young Meadows, and then, on 14 May, to a number of raised eyebrows, she appeared as Katharine to the Petruchio of Wallack in The Taming of the Shrew. The response was surprising: ‘her acting was excellent throughout and the selection made of her to represent that difficult part has evinced just discrimination on the part of the managers. Besides the spirit and dramatic interest which she infused into the part, the vocal share which she had to sustain, with it, received justice at her hands, which reflected high credit on her musical talents’, or ‘Miss Fanny Ayton played Katherine most delightfully. This lady does not at first win upon us: a short period, however, elapses ere we discover in her a spirited and sensible actress and if not a first-rate at least a very efficient singer’. It appears indeed that the ‘great vocal additions’ (in a rather Rossinian style) had been made to the play by Messrs Braham and T Cooke, and Braham, cast as Hortensio, and Fanny took the bulk of it. Fanny’s share included Cooke’s ‘Wilt thou have music?’ and ‘Love and Music’, Braham’s ‘True Love is an ever fixed mark’ duet, sung with the composer, ‘On a Day’, and a Mercadante piece arranged by Cooke as ‘If Love Hath Lent you Twenty Thousand Tongues’.

When the Benefit season came round, several other pieces were given a showing and Fanny appeared as Kathleen in The Poor Soldier, as Morna in the ballad opera Malvina, as Jane, Countess of Brittany in The English Fleet and, at her own evening on 18 June, she played Lilla in The Siege of Belgrade alongside Braham, Cooper, Harley and Mrs Geesin. The Benefits were also an occasion for concert giving, and Fanny rendered ‘Bid me discourse’, ‘The soldier tir’d’, ‘Crazy Jane’, ‘La Biondina’ (inevitably, with variations by Paer), ‘Di piacer’, ‘The Mocking Bird’ and joined in many a duet and trio, notably ‘Echo in a sportive mood’ (with Braham and Miss Love) and, on the occasion of her own Benefit, duets with each of the other main members of the company – ‘When thy bosom heaves a sigh’ with Braham, ‘Tell me where is fancy bred’ with Miss Love, ‘Do you think by this to teaze me?’ and ‘When a little farm we keep’ with Harley – as well as a piece by Mayer with the Italian opera’s baritone, Pellegrini.

Come September 1828, Fanny again went to the country, this time playing her ‘English’ repertoire – Guy Mannering, Love in a Village, No Song No Supper and so forth – and in November, when she returned to town, an announcement went forth to the effect that she would be returning to Drury Lane as leading vocalist and that an English version of Le Comte Ory would be produced for her.

She didn’t and it wasn’t. In fact, as far as I can see, she didn’t get back into a London theatre proper for some two years. I spot her during 1829 singing at the Choral Fund Benefit (February 27) with Braham, the Knyvetts, the Phillipses and others of less note, playing a month’s engagement at the Vauxhall Gardens singing Il Barbiere di Siviglia (1 June) and Cenerentola (17 June) with some of the lesser lights from the Italian opera house, and singing at a Benefit concert at the Argyll Rooms in good company (De Begnis, Donzelli, Mlle Blasis, Nina Sontag &c). So, what happened?

Here, Westall’s biographer has, again, come up with an interesting letter. Westall writes to an associate in September 1829: ‘… Fanny is undoubtedly a perfect mistress of her art, but it would be far better that her knowledge that she is so, should be kept from the public eye … I will undoubtedly communicate the substance of your remarks to her; and I wish to have your permission to make an extract from your letter to show her because I am sure that your opinions cannot be conveyed in so forcible a way if anything is altered. I will of course take care she shall have no idea of the author.’ It rather sounds as if Fanny has been ‘pulling the prima donna string a bit tightly’ and making herself less than popular.

But Fanny did win one splendid engagement in 1829. She was engaged for October’s Birmingham Musical Festival, a distinctly prestigious affair, featuring largely an area – English oratorio -- into which she had not heretofore ventured. And which also featured Maria Malibran, Mary Ann Paton, Mademoiselle Blasis and Deborah Knyvett as well as old colleagues John Braham and de Begnis. It seems, however, that Fanny fouled up. Her friend on The Times reported on the performance of The Messiah on day two: ‘We cannot help noticing an instance of wretched taste in the allotment of the air ‘He shall feed his flock’ to Miss F Ayton, who, as if on purpose to place herself in the worst possible position, came into the orchestra too late for the first part of the song which was therefore sung by Miss Paton. Miss F Ayton, disdaining to take a lesson in the performance of Handel’s song from that lady, gave to the latter half of it her own reading, and nothing could be worse in every respect. We advise her never again to commit herself, and insult her hearers, by such an exhibition’. And he came back, in his summary of the event, to hammer that ‘her musical education could not have qualified her’ to sing Handel in the fashion required by an English provincial festival.

However, The Times festival critic didn’t bother to report on the dreadfully secular opera concerts which also made up part of the Festival, and he thus missed an event. One item was a selection from Rossini’s La donna del lago, in which Fanny took part. She shared a duet with a 19 year-old Italian who had been sent across by the composer Zingarelli to conduct the scheduled premiere of his cantata. The lofty Brums wouldn’t allow such a thing, but they allowed the young man to sing. The Times was not impressed ‘Signor Costa did not shine in his performance of Haydn’s ‘Gratias agimus’. He has the vice of many Italian artists, incorrect intonation, to a painful degree... while Curioni and Begrez were in England, there could be no need to bring from Naples a person so much their inferior.’ Signor Costa, who was reckoned, thus, along with Fanny as the other disaster of the Festival, remained in England, but he didn’t sing, he conducted, and he ended up as Sir Michael Costa, musical supremo of the Italian opera and a very mighty man.

Fanny spent much of 1830 in the provinces, and I see her, over Christmas 1829 and January 1830, guesting at the Theatre Royal, Dublin playing, in tandem with Braham, in The Poor Soldier, and as the Countess Sterloff in a new piece called Love in Wrinkles, Eudiga in Charles XII and Zelinda in The Slave. The Dublin press was not wholly convinced and she pulled bad press until the last named piece, when the critic allowed 'Miss Ayton wants melody, but her scientific and skilful management of a naturally slender voice, is perhaps unequalled. She was loudly encored in 'The Mocking Bird'. In Charles XII: 'Miss Ayton also pleased us much on this occasion. She sang 'Hide, gentle moon' sweetly and was encored twice -- in our opinion, once would have been quite enough'. 'In No Song, No Supper, Miss Ayton played Margaretta very creditably, and sang with much sweetness and splendid execution and skill 'The Merry Swiss Maid' and 'With Lowly Suit and Plaintive Ditty'. At the end of the season, the same critic apostrophised Miss Ayton: 'you are meritorious, but you are in too exalted a position', before concluding 'Miss Ayton's action, as an actress, is miserable; a cockatoo shake of the head - a dealing about of the arms -- her countenance exhibiting nothing but archness ... Miss Ayton's singing, like her acting, would be very well is she confined herself to a simple song, and delighted not in those cadences and flourishes, where her want of volume of tone is so apparent... In conclusion, we must most benevolently suggest, that she would be an agreeable and sprightly performer in parts of vivacity not requiring much expression or power'.

From Dublin, she proceeded to Belfast (Love in a Village, Turn Out &c) and to Glasgow where the report was that she was 'rapturously encored, beyond all praise' in 'Una voce' and the Echo Song, and made a perfect hit with her arch comedy…' and, in April and May, to the Theatre Royal, Newcastle. In August she was at Derby, in October at Leicester then Sheffield and in November at the Theatre Royal, Liverpool in The Slave, No Song No Supper, Charles XII, Englishmen in India and comedies such as A Husband at Sight.

In February 1831, however, she turned up again in perhaps the last place one would have expected. London’s Italian opera. When the prospectus went out, there she was ‘her first appearance at this theatre these three years’ amongst the soprani, alongside Madame Vespermann ‘from Munich’ and Madame Rubini, both making their English debuts, Mlle Beck from Paris, Castelli, Filiani and the big names, Madame Méric Lalande and Gulietta Pasta.

What Laporte had planned for Fanny, one cannot know. Whatever it was, it was not what she got. For, in the very first days of the season, emergency hit. On 8 February 1831, Katharina Vespermann was scheduled for Rosina in Barbiere, but she called in ‘sick’. Her replacement was Fanny Ayton. The following week, the same lady was to have taken the lead in a revival of Ricciardo e Zoraide, but she was still being sick. Again, Fanny went on. Even The Times was appreciative: ‘This young lady has made considerable progress as a singer and an actress since we had last seen her, There was no evidence of hasty preparation in her performance on Saturday, and, as on the preceding occasion, she played with considerable vivacity and sang with much spirit’. With the tenor, David, making his first appearance in London as Ricciardo, and Curioni and Mlle Beck in support, the performance turned out quite an occasion.

On 26 February Fanny came out in her third opera of the season. The occasion was a revival of Il Marimonio segreto with Lablache in the role of Geronimo. Vespermann was Carolina, Mlle Filiani took Fidalma and Fanny was Elisetta, and The Times did a sort of volte face: ‘Miss Ayton was an active, clever and bustling little Lisetta. The histrionic powers of this young lady are so superior to her vocal ones, that we should think the English stage would suit her better than the Italian.’

It was in May, with the arrival of Pasta, that Fanny got her fourth and last opportunity. Mayer’s Medea was brought back (12 May) for the star, and Fanny was cast, alongside Rubini, Curioni and Lablache, in the second soprano role of Creusa, previously sung by Caradori ('Caro albergo'). Performances of Medea, varied with concerts and Benefits (one of which at Drury Lane, for William Farren), kept Fanny occupied to the end of the season, but the end of the season at the Italian opera was no ending for Fanny. Days after the curtain fell on the last performance of Medea, on August 16, Fanny was up on the stage again. But on the other side of the river.

No Pastas and Lablaches here. This was the Surrey Theatre, the home of the transpontine melodrama, and their newest production was an old ‘operatic vaudeville’ entitled The Savoyarde. Star: Miss Fanny Ayton. And her co-workers were Mr C Hill, Mr Edwin, and two lasses who had graduated from the theatre’s kiddie shows, Miss Somerville and the little Miss Mattley who would one day find more fame than any of them as the music-halls’ Mrs Caulfield. The Savoyarde was followed by A Husband at Sight (Catherine) and The Sonnambulist (Ernestine) during the three week engagement, after which Fanny crossed back to the City side, and took up a like run of roles at the City of London Theatre: Donna Isidora in the comic opera Brother and Sister, Guy Mannering in which she ‘introduced a variety of favourite songs besides those belonging to the opera and was encored in several’, the musical farce Of Age Tomorrow, and Eudiga in Charles the Twelfth.

If it seemed that Fanny had found a new niche as a megastar of the minor theatres, that illusion was quickly dispelled. For, in February, she returned to town and to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The occasion was the production of a first English version of Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable given as The Daemon or The Mystic Branch (20 February 1832). A cast worthy of the Lane was assembled for what was left of the opera in this particular ‘adaptation’. Henry Phillips took Bertram, Joseph Wood (Robert) and John Templeton (Raimbault) were the tenors, and Mrs Wood (late Miss Paton) was Alice, with Fanny in the role of Isabella. She ‘sang so sadly out of tune and time, that the effect of the music was entirely destroyed. We never remembered to have felt so distressed at listening to any singer and the audience failed not to mark their disapprobation’ reported The Drama, and another referred to her ‘sharp face and sharp voice’ or, more kindly, ‘a pretty lively actress but she has no ear – she sings most outrageously sharp’. ‘Miss Ayton sang most wickedly out of time and was hissed accordingly, a hint which we trust will not be thrown away upon her against her next appearance’ agreed The Times.

But he was not going to get a chance to have another go at her. For there was no next appearance. Not in London.

Messrs Brown and Stratton simply report her playing in The Daemon and comment ‘the date of her death remains in doubt’. Herren Kutsch and Riemans gloss out with words to the effect that details of her subsequent life and career are lost. But they aren’t.

I spot her playing at the Manchester Theatre Royal 2 February 1833 for a week, in Nell Gwynne, The Rendezvous, Charles the Twelfth and her preferred comic entertainment A Husband at Sight; at the Theatre Royal Leeds for three nights 25 March in ‘musical dramas’, at the Liver Theatre from 8 April (six nights, Tit for Tat, or How to Gain 3000 Pounds, Cupid the God of Love, The Kiss or, Pay to my Order, Water Witch, Peccadilloes ‘La biondina in gondoletta’, ‘Through the wood and the bower’ ‘What a merry, merry life’, ‘Under the rose’), the Adelphi Theatre Edinburgh 25 May 1833, playing in a petite comedy The Bride of Ludgate ‘in which she will introduce several ballads’, Sweethearts and wives, John of Paris, Charles the Second, Nell Gwynne (‘exquisite simplicity and archness’), Abon Hassan and Wilhelmina in The Waterman, Caroline in My Cousin (‘Should he upbraid etc), Donna Isidora in Brother and Sister and Margaretta in No Song, No Supper opposite the rising John Frazer. And a fortnight later she became a wife.

Fanny Ayton didn’t fade away at all. She left the stage to get married, and the name of the man married she married was James Wilson Barlow, who, having been born in Islington, 5 May 1808 was, at 25, four years younger than herself. The couple were wed in his home-town of Liverpool on 12 July 1833, and the following year, on 18 April 1834, in Wigan, Lancs, Fanny gave birth to a daughter, Adela Fanny Barlow. In 1845, Mrs James Barlow (late Miss Fanny Ayton of Her Majesty’s Theatre) was advertising for singing pupils from 19 Clifford Street, Bond Street.

James, according to the bankruptcy reports, was at that time a coal merchant, by the time of the 1861 census, he was an agent for Normandy’s Patent Aerated Fresh Water Company (Limited), the manufacturer of an internationally reputed condensing apparatus invented by a certain Dr Normandy for making fresh water out of sea water.
James Barlow died in 1862, but Fanny lived on, with her unmarried daughter, until 1891. She died, ‘suddenly’, at Dover on the 21 May of that year. Fanny Barlow ‘formerly of 8 Meath Street, Battersea, now at 12 Park Street’ left in her will the sum of about seventy pounds. Adela lived on in Dover and died there in 1910.

Fanny’s short career was a strange one. As one contemporary mused, she was constantly expected to do something splendid in music and the theatre, but, somehow, she never fulfilled those expectations. Henry Chorley, in his not always reliable memoirs, spent more than a page giving his version of the reason. ‘She might’ he proposes ‘have done good service to the stage had not her natural powers, at first barely sufficient, prematurely given way’. He speaks of her as ‘Fanny Ayton, who was more in the form and order of an Italian singer from comic opera than any of my countrywomen whom I have since heard or seen attempt it. Her voice had been trained by good masters: it was a weak voice – not unlike that of Mlle Piccolomini, but more supple and flexible, and it had a certain sprightly life in it. She had considerable execution, a certain piquancy and taste of her own, and – what English artists generally lack – accent. Her appearance was pleasing; if it was not distinguished, not vulgar. Were such a singer as she was to appear now, I can imagine her succeeding in a certain range of parts. But the young girl had the misfortune to arrive here at the time when the great foreign artists were the rule … The new Rosina and Fiorilla excited some attention and a little wonderment by her clever ease on the stage, and her fluent Italian, but this was merely for the moment. Her voice had small charm and she had hardly sung here for three months ere its intonation gave way at once and for ever, the tone becoming at last too painful to be endured. She struggled on for a second season in what then passed for paraphrased foreign Opera on the English stage; she went down with Italian companies (in those days rarities) into our provincial towns, she fought up courageously against disappointment and the failure of means for a year or two, and then passed out of public sight.’

But, somehow, she still interests people today. She has even made it, in a rather skinny form, to Wikipedia.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

An old showbiz photo: "Famous funny juggling folk" (1904)

This came up on ebay today. Who were they, I wondered ...

Well, it wasn't too tricky. Faintly, on the verso, was scribbled Radford & Valentine. Yes, but I was still none the wiser. I had to go a-delving.

Radford and Valentine trod the music-hall stages of Britain (and, regularly, the Continent) for a quarter of a century, and they were considered good value as an amusing middle to bottom of the bill act. And their act ... basically, they were jugglers. I think he might have started out as a 'character comedian' (spotted at the People's Hall, Oldham in 1895) and she as a song-and-dance juvenile, but they were established as a pair by 1904, when 'Valentine' was fifteen, and they purveyed their act as 'the jolly festive jugglers' right through till to ... well, I spot them last performing in Bristol at the end of 1928 ('the jolly juggling jesters').

Who were they? Well, finally, they were a married couple. The wed in 1913, after nine years as a team. 'Valentine' was Miss Eva Brilliant (b New Cross 10 May 1890), the daughter of a Polish tailor. 'Harry' was ... well, we don't really know. He married as Henri (sic) C Radford. He died under that name, too. He even joined the Freemasons in 1905 under that name, and enrolled as a voter in the 1930s under that name. But no man of that name appears in the British birth records, nor in the censi of 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911. Was he foreign, or was 'Henri' (he was known as 'Harry') just an affectation? I have no answer. Except that the Paris press referred to him in 1910 as the 'celèbre fantaisiste américain'. When he died, in 1938, at Southwark (annoyingly, just before the 1939 census!), he was registered as 57 years of age. Henri Charles Randolph. 

So, the career? In 1904 see them at Nottingham (billed as 'famous' already!) and Manchester's Ardwick Green, in May 1905 and again in 1906 at Barrasford's Alhambra Paris ('Avec Radford et Valentine l'emballement est à son comble, rire davantage est impossible') and at Toulouse Bijou Concert, in 1906 again at Manchester, and 1907 at the Oxford Music Hall and the South London. In 1908, Nottingham reported 'appearing at the foot of the bill . some clever juggling, the manipulation of indiarubber balls being especially skilful, while the pair manage to create a great deal of mirth in thecourse of an act which has the merit of originality'. That year they appeared again in Paris, on a bill which featured a sketch by Les Seymour Hicks.

In London, they played the Pavilion, under Wilkie Bard, and the Metropolitan, the Paris Alhambra called them again in 1910 ... and so it went on. The 'maniacs of mirth' ... 'they introduce some neat juggling with humour as a prominent note, whilst the stage noises and effects are unique' ...
In 1920 I spot them at the Bristol Empire under Cecilia Loftus, at the Paris Olympia under Raquel Meller, in 1923 he is 'Happy Harry Radford', in 1924 they are in summer season at Bridlington ... in 1928 they are creeping to the lowest parts of the bill. Old hat, maybe, but still good value.

In the 1930s,after a long and full career, they retired to Spelthorne. Harry seems to have died there. Eva, if I am not mistaken, lived fifty further years: surviving to the age of 98, and died only 1989.

Addendum: Joe Carl White has come up with evidence of Harry and Eva performing in the USA in 1907... accompanied by a certain amount of American-style publicity and gimmicks. I wonder where else they got to ...
Strangely, this mocked-up photo is dated as 1904 ... 

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

American Musical Theatre hits Denmark!

Well, it might have taken a long while .. but look at this!  I wonder, was The Belle of New York the first American 'farce-operetta' to be played in Denmark. And when. And in what state the piece was in by the time its Danish version hit the boards ... I spot that awful word 'bearbeitet' in the credits ...


Gerolsteiner scrapbook: February 2020

The Grand Duc de Gerolstein goes shopping

February census of Gerolstein: three humans, four cats, eleven horses, too many peafowl

Minnie's dream
Chicken in a basket


Please sir, we want some rain

To make little pumpkins grow large

This is WHOSE dressing room?
My cool hidey-hole

After 17 years together, time to put TWO names on the letterbox!

It's my birthday. I don't get presents, I give them. One of those?

And one of those?

Out without mamma

Monday, February 17, 2020

Singers of Somerset: (3) The Ladies

Ah! The ladies. The Bath concerts of the turn of the (eighteenth) century years regularly employed and featured some of the top female concert vocalists of the era, Angelica Catalani and Elizabeth Billington at their head. But it is not of them that I intend to speak. That has been done, minutely, by others. I have been a-digging, mostly (but not always) with some success, into the backgrounds of those singing ladies who, for a goodly number of years, lived in Bath, or visited Bath in the season. Many of them made a living, as the male musicians did, from teaching, and a remarkable number of the most prominent taught not just singing, but piano, harp and the other musical accomplishments of a well-brought-up young lady. Several of them, indeed, hailed on the one hand as superior vocalists, made an even more outstanding career as instrumentalists … they were, indeed, a skilled and talented set of musicians.

Some of these ‘Zummerzet Zoprani’ have already fallen into my net – a lot of Loders, Mrs Ashe (née Comer), Mrs Penley (née Field), Miss George, Mrs Vaughan (née Tennant), Miss Anne Rivière (later Lady Anna Bishop) – so, having had already the benefit of my inquisitiveness, they won’t be included in this little survey. I’ve chosen, without any difficulty or real ‘competition’, the following eight, of whom you are less likely to have heard.

Miss Parke [PARKE, Maria Frances, b London 26 August 1772; d Bolton Street, Piccadilly 31 July 1822] [Mrs John Beardmore]

Miss Sharp [SHARP, Elizabeth Priscilla, b Great Yarmouth x 9 September 1784; d no 2 Ainslie’s, Belvedere, Bath July 1830]

Miss Bartlett [BARTLETT, Julia, b Bath x 3 September 1797; d 9 West Clifton Terrace, Bristol 1880] [Mrs George Pillinger, Mrs Harris]

Mrs [John] Palmer formerly Mrs [Christopher] Shell [HAVEZ, Laura ?Celicia Rosalie, b 7 July ?1798; d 21 Soho Street, Liverpool June 1848]

Miss Wood [WOOD, Sarah]

Miss Owens [OWENS, Eliza, b Bath x October 1803; d East Burrows, Swansea August 1852] [Mrs William Deere Farndell]

Mrs [James William] Windsor [née DANIELS, Alicia] (b Amsterdam c 1773; d 30 Park Street, Bath 14 November 1862]

Miss Willis Browne [BROWN[E], Elizabeth Willis, b Chard 29 March 1806; d Portishead 13 January 1904]

I could have added Miss [Fanny] Melville of the Festival circuits, the singing actress Miss Nash 

Miss Nash

Anyway, let’s start with Miss Parke. Maria Parke was one of those multi-talented ladies of whom I was speaking. So much so, that, to my amazement, she has not only has found her way into Grove and the DNB and, very thinly, on to Wikipedia. I shall try to do a little better.

Her pedigree is clearly marked out. Like so many such musical ladies, she came from a decidedly musical family. Her father was oboeist John Parke of the King’s Theatre, the Three Choirs Festivals and the Ancient Concert. Her mother was Anna Maria Burnett, daughter of Colonel Richard Burnett, a descendant of Bishop Burnett’, of the Strand. John’s brother, William, was also a well-known wind-player and apparently the partner of the star singer, Mrs Martyr. So, I imagine Maria owes her entries in the reference books of Britain much to her illustrious relations, although as the (female!) composer of several performed pieces she is clearly due some 21st- century attention from ‘Female Studies’ courses.

We are told that ‘she made her debut as a pianist and singer at the age of nine’. This I have yet to find, but it is possible. I first spot her on the bill, as expected, alongside father, at the age of fifteen, at the Liverpool Festival of 1787 (28 August) sharing the soprano music with Mrs Billington and Miss Harwood. Something, already, of a teenage achievement. I looked back through father’s engagements of the five previous years, engagements which included most of the major festivals, to see if Maria was hiding somewhere in the small print, but no. Miss Harwood, Mrs Kennedy, Mme Mara, Mrs Billington, Mrs Shepley, the Misses Cantelo, Phillips, Mahon, and a bunch of ephemeral boy trebles … However, I don’t imagine that she made a first ever appearance at a major festival, without having sung anywhere less important previously, so let’s just say ‘her first significant appearance’. Aged fifteen. 

I see her singing in the Three Choirs Festival (‘much admired’) in 1790, at Westminster Abbey in 1792, at the Manchester Festival of 1792 and 1793, at the Three Choirs Festival in 1793, 1794, 1795 and 1797, at Hampshire Festivals in 1784 and 1799, the Covent Garden oratorios et al, delivering endlessly Handel’s ‘Sweet Bird’ and ‘What tho I trace’, ‘Let me wander not unseen’, ‘Sing ye to the Lord’, ‘O magnify the Lord’, ‘Angels ever bright and fair’, ‘Farewell ye limpid streams’, ‘Let the bright seraphim’, ‘In sweetest harmony’ and the like from a position at the top of the bill. 

In 1801 (11 May) she gave a concert of her own at Willis’s Rooms. Father played the oboe, the ‘Misses Parke’ (the other was apparently pre-named Fanny) sang a duet, and the programme seems to have included, if I read aright, a manuscript scena by Mozart. This just may have been her home-made variations of ‘O dolce concerto’, the melody of which had once been by Mozart.

In 1802, she came to Bath, engaged as the lead vocalist for Rauzzini’s concert series. She also sang at a do sponsored by the Duchess of York. I don’t know what see sang, as the press seemed only interested in the amount of diamonds the said Duchess lavished on the singer at the end of the evening.

In 1803, back in London, she top-billed at the Covent Garden Oratorios and at the Ancient Concert, she visited Oxford as the star of a November concert series, but in 1804 she was back in Bath giving her favourite Cimarosa, ‘Ah serena il mesto Ciglio’, and the inevitable ‘The Soldier Tir’d’ and some instrumental and vocal pieces of her own composition. The season over, she returned to the metropolis and the salons of the Countess of Carnavon, the Marchioness of Hertford, the Marchioness of Stafford and others of the swell sisterhood, and to Oxford and Bury for music festivals, before the season at Bath called again.

She returned to Bath regularly, up till 1809, while turning over her repertoire at venues from the Hanover Square Rooms to the Norwich concerts (‘admitted on all hands to be the first female singer of Handel’s music in the kingdom’) and the Covent Garden oratorios (1810, ‘the great magnet’), before, on 31 December 1814, she became Mrs John Beardmore ‘Esq of Queen Street, Mayfair’. 8 September 1816 she gave birth to a son, John, an Esq in his turn, ‘of Uplands Hants’ who would make himself a position as a barrister, a county magistrate, sheriff of Hampshire et al… and the rest I leave to Burke’s Peerage.

Mary Beardmore died in 1822, at the age of 49, at her home in Piccadilly. A few journals remembered the ‘Miss Parke’ who had been one of the country’s leading vocalists a couple of decades earlier. The Bath press, surely, noted her passing, but I haven’t yet found a mention.

She left behind her a certain amount of published music (not always well noticed), and a further amount of song-sheets bearing the legend ‘as sung by Miss Parke at the Bath Concerts’.

Warning: Mary or Maria Frances Parke (sic) has been confused with Mary Hester Park[e], also named as Mary Margaret Parke and other variations … beware.

Miss Parke, although she starred as principal singer in the Bath concerts for some seven years, was never a resident of the city. Miss Sharp, the second of my chosen ladies, although she was not born there – she was born in Norfolk, where her mother was engaged at the theatre -- became a Bath girl and lived most of her life and did most of her work there.

By a strange coincidence, Elizabeth Priscilla Sharp, was, like Miss Parke, also the daughter of a prominent oboeist. In fact, I see that on the occasion of the 1793 Manchester Festival, the two featured oboe players were Messrs John Parke and Michael Sharp. Messrs R Sharp and F Sharp were the leading double-basses. The mother of the Sharp children was the well-known actress, Elizabeth née Hopkins, who, along with her husband is the subject of a detailed article in the remarkable (13 volume) Biographical Dictionary of Philip Highfill and colleagues, so I sha’n’t repeat their history here, but stick to the subject of daughter, Elizabeth.

Like Miss Parke, Elizabeth was multi-musico-talented and also precocious. My first sighting of her in public performance is, aged eleven, at a concert mounted by her father at Chapelfield House, Noriwch. She played piano works by Dussek and Pleyel, and a sonata and a concerto which may or may not have been her own composition, and she sang ‘To me a smiling infant came’, ‘Lord Remember David’ and ‘As wrap’d in sleep I lay’. No one else, except father and his oboe, seems to have got much of a look in. 

The following year the experiment was repeated (14 November 1796, ‘Left is my quiet’, ‘Sognai tormenti’, ‘O magnify the Lord’, ‘La Vendetta di Nino’) but at Mr Sharp’s 1797 concert, at the Theatre Royal, Elizabeth seems to have rendered up the singing to a Master Elliot, and instead displayed her skills at the keyboard.

In 1800, Michael Sharp died, and the following April (1801) Elizabeth made her first appearance in Bath. That was where she would stay. When she sang, top-billed above Mrs Billington, in the Norwich Festival of 1802 (October), she was referred to as ‘Miss Sharp of Bath’. One of the Mr Sharps took a turn at the baton.

From late 1803, Miss Sharp became one of the regulars at Rauzzini’s concerts, and at those of the Catch Club and its supremo Mr Windsor, with which she seems to have allied herself in preference to the Harmonic Society. She shared the soprano music of the local concerts, ‘with sweetness, delicacy and taste’, now with Miss Parke, now with Mrs Windsor, and, on occasion, a Catalani, Dickons or Mrs Ashe, for the next half-dozen years before, after the death of Rauzzini in 1810, announcing her withdrawal from the concert platform in favour of teaching (‘8 George Street’). She was evidently a popular choice, for I see an advertisement in 1817 where she announces a steep rise in her charges: 1/2gn a lesson or 10gns a quarter. In 1823, she removed her home and business to the Belvedere, where she died, a spinster, in 1830.

Miss Bartlett – first name, Julia – was a wholly different case. Unlike the Misses Parke and Sharp, she was a Bath girl born and bred, unlike them, she was not from a musical family (her father was a carpenter in Trim Street), she was not a player of concerti and sonatae, she was not a precocious talent, and she did not travel the country to sing at the fashionable Festivals … she stayed in Bath, all  through the years of her youth, at eighteen became the principal soprano of the Bath Harmonic Society, and was seen and heard in endless concerts around Somerset, Gloucestershire and Wales, as well as at the Eistedfodds of Carmarthenshire and other like musical gatherings, from 1815 up to and beyond her marriage to apothecary George Pillinger (21 November 1822), the birth of their daughter Julia Maria (b Bath 17 November 1823; d Clifton 30 November 1876), and the early death of her young husband (1829).

The name of Mrs Pillinger, teacher of singing (and piano)’ continued to be prominent through the 1830s (‘45 New King Street’), as a tutor and as a vocalist in the Pump Room Concerts, sharing a Messiah with Miss Turpin at Bathwick, at the Benefits of Mrs Palmer, Mr Croft, Henry Field and others of her fellow local musicians, before in 1840 (5 November) she remarried, a young carver and gilder named Richard Harris and relocated to Clifton. Mrs Harris and her daughter continued to play the trade of music teacher …

A family historian relates that they became friendly with the theatrical Macready and Chute families … I see nothing to substantiate that, but it may be true. In the 1871 census, Harris (65) and Mrs Harris (73) can be seen at no 9 West Clifton Terrace, each still professing their trade …

Julia died in 1880 at her home in West Clifton Terrace. Once last time she had been unlike the Misses Parke and Sharp: she had had a long life in music, during which, between 1815-1840, she had carved herself a niche as the first soprano of Bath Harmonic, and indeed of Bath itself. Richard Harris survived his wife and died in Clifton in 1886.

I should really follow Miss Bartlett with Miss Owens, her partner and successor as Miss Bath of Music, but I seem to have got these ladies lined up by year of birth, so I’ll briefly touch on the young woman known, for almost all her career, as Mrs Palmer. She began life as Laura Havez, one of two daughters of a Bath plumassier of apparently French origin (his first name was Julien) and his English wife Ann[e] (née Bailey). Annoyingly, while the name of sister Maria Francisca Rosa (Mrs John Lawley) appears in the 1797 baptism registers of Bath, Laura is nowhere to be found, but I’m guessing the two girls were both early-marriage children. 

Laura married, young (19 April 1819), a violinist-'cellist by name Christopher Shell. Mr Shell, one of a family of musicians, was a fine 'cellist, a fertile spouse, but otherwise a bit of a loss. He went bankrupt the year after his marriage, and turned up his toes a few years later (May 1824). And the widowed Laura, with a babe of less than a year old, took to the concert platform. I see her in the Bath subscription concerts in the company of Miss Goodall and Sarah Wood, at Henry Field’s concert with Miss Grant and Anna Riviere .. and then ‘Mrs Shell, soprano’ is seen no more. Laura had found a new husband. The widowed Mr John Palmer. They were wed in January 1826, with Laura’s father and sister as witnesses: after which those two both went out and married as well!

Mrs Palmer, of 3 Pierrepont Place, did not, however, retire back into private life. She continued to perform and with considerable success. I see her, later in 1826, singing first soprano at the Mere Festival, in 1827 at Croft’s Bath Concert … and producing two Palmer daughters to add to her two Shell sons, before Mr Palmer also checked out. Followed by father. In 1832 she advertised a Benefit for her ‘numerous family’, ‘under her peculiar circumstances’. They became more peculiar when sister Maria also died, not yet forty.

I last see Mrs Palmer performing at Frome (20 January 1835 ‘Angels ever bright and fair’, ‘O Had I Jubal’s Lyre’), I see her advertising singing lessons from a different address shortly after, but then … I don’t know exactly when she and the children removed to Liverpool, but they are there in the 1841 census, and mother is teaching music from 8 Benson Street, then 21 Soho Street …

But ill fate seemed to stalk the family. In June 1848, Laura Palmer died suddenly. Some of the local music folk, headed by Mary Whitnall, gave a concert (5 July) at Lord Nelson Street for the Benefit of the ‘orphan family’ (they were aged 20 to 28!) … It doesn’t seem to have helped them much. One son went as a draper’s assistant to Ireland, bankrupted, married and died in his forties, the other ‘went to sea’ and out of my ken. Celecia (or Cecelia) tried her hand as a fancy-work warehouse keeper, but shows up as an assistant housekeeper in a convent in 1871 (d 1877), while I spot Rosa as a Lancashire hawker in fancy goods in 1891 and 1901 (d 1908) … ‘after the music dies…’

Our next lady had a wholly different fortune, a long life, talented daughters … I thought that the history of Mrs Windsor was going to be a swift and simple affair. How wrong I was! Her decade and more as a top soprano of the Bath concerts was, I quickly found out, only a tiny piece of her tale. And it is a tale which has, to my horror, been mixed up even by my respected Mr Highfill. Why, mixed up? Because there was more than one little Miss Daniels, and more than one Mrs Windsor, and I’m having the devil of a time sorting one from the others. I’ve ended up with pages of references to the lady’s early life and career, prior to her settling in Bath (aged 30ish) and becoming the wife of a well-behaved music teacher and pianist and the mother of eight. And some of that early life was decidedly colourful.

First of all, Alicia Daniels (possibly, actually Daniell) was not English-born. She was, as was her brother Samuel, of Dutch birth. And seemingly born about 1773. Although the family historians claim 1778. Thomas Dibdin relates in his memoirs a tale of sharing digs with Alicia and her mother and tells of the young lady’s heavy Germanic accent.

Brother Stephen gives a concert ... under his real name?

Allegedly, she first appeared on stage at Drury Lane, and had a one-night trial 26 May 1791. Unfortunately, the Times listings for that night show no performance. There’s also a suggestion, I know not why, that she danced in the chorus (a Miss Daniels was an ‘attendant female’ at Drury Lane in 1795, and Columbine at the Royalty in 1801), which seems unlikely given that Alicia’s trump card (accent, or none) was always her voice. I’m slightly puzzled by the first bit of real evidence: a newspaper advertisement for Keyner’s Pavilion, Norwich (1792, 8 August) topbilling ‘Miss Daniels of the Haymarket’ (theory coming up), but soon after that I pick up what is indubitably she, taking a Benefit at Chester (29 November 1792). She played the title-role in Rosina, and sang between the items. Over the next four seasons, I see her playing annually at Chester (The Sultan, Sylvia in Cymon, Miss Gorger in The Camp, Anne Page in The Merry Wives of Windsor, giving ‘The soldier tir’d’ as Caroline in The Prize, several pants parts, Floretta in My Grandmother, ‘How to die an old maid’) with little brother Sam in children’s parts. However, she clearly played at other northern houses too, and reference is made to her having played at Lancaster, Manchester et al. Reference is usually made because Miss Daniels became a pendant to actor G F Cooke (they were briefly even married in 1796), from whom she soon escaped. Engaged at Dublin, with Cooke, she simply fled the alcoholic actor, back to England. By 1800, she was a member of the Bath and Bristol company, and the following year she had her unfortunate marriage annulled. 

It has been asserted that she sang at Vauxhall Gardens between 1799 and 1804. Well, she certainly sang there for several seasons, and became extremely popular, but my sighting are all in 1801-3. A bushel of sheet music bears witness to the songs she introduced there:

‘The Match Girl’ (W P Cope), ‘The Ballad of Little Sue’, ‘Sigh and O Nony’ (James Hook), ‘In Glasgow Town my mither dwells’ (Sanderson), ‘Annie and Jemmy’, ‘The Rose, the Sweetly Blooming Rose’, ‘The Fair Huntress (Costellow), ‘Content in my Cot’ (Hook), ‘The Female Sailor’, ‘Ah! Could my flowing tears avail’. ‘Damon and Phillis’, ‘The Invitation’ .. ‘Miss Daniels, ci-devant Mrs. Cooke, is much improved in science since last year, and bids fair to rival our greatest favourites’.

In between Vauxhall periods, she returned to Bristol and Bath where I see her in March 1802 taking a Benefit in The Haunted Tower and in 1803 (December 30) as soloist, alongside Mrs Second and Miss Sharp, with the Catch Club. Both she and brother Sam (tenor), who seems to have become organist at Frome, were listed with the Harmonic Society in 1804. Pianist, secretary and leading light of the Catch Club was the 22 year-old John William Windsor (b Holborn x 23 February 1779; d Bath 28 January 1853). They were married 13 May 1804.

This time, Alicia had got it right, but when she returned to London shortly after for a season at the Haymarket Theatre she, carefully, still billed herself as ‘Miss Daniels’.

At the Haymarket, between June and September 1804, I see her appearing in Foul Deeds Will Rise (Lorenzo, ‘highly applauded in some of the airs’), Lingo in Love (Mrs Flaw), The Enchanted Isle ballet (singing spirit), a version of The Barber of Seville, rechristened The Spanish Barber (Rosina), Love Laughs at Locksmiths (Lydia), as Rosetta in Love in a Village for Mrs Gibbs’s Benefit, and in George Colman and Michael Kelly’s musical play The Gay Deceivers (22 August).

Returning to Bath, her husband, and the first of a row of pregnancies, Alicia Windsor began the second part of her life, less as an actress and more, purely and simply, as a concert vocalist. 

She did not abandon the stage – I see her playing Adela in The Haunted Tower, Kathleen in The Poor Soldier (1805), The Cabinet (1807, ‘of the female singers the affected and Italianised Mrs Windsor is certainly the best’), Rosetta in Love in a Village (1807, Loder’s Benefit), The Duenna and Lionel and Clarissa with the visiting Mrs Dickons (1809), Rosina (1809) giving ‘Dancing Days’ 'sung at the Theatre Royal' – but it was the Catch Club, Rauzzini’s concerts, the Loder family’s concerts, and the Bath and Somersetshire Festivals (1809-1813), billed second only to Mrs Billington or Catalani, where Mr Windsor played piano and brother Sam led the viola section. She sang in Rauzzini’s production of The Messiah (13 June 1808), sharing the female music with Nancy Storace, and later post-Rauzzini (24 December 1810) with Miss Hughes. At Bourton (23 September 1811), she sang the whole female music. After Rauzzini’s death, she continued to feature, for several years, in the Bath concerts proffered, instead, by Mr Ashe, but after the 1813 season she retired from the lists to family life, and, as fare as I can see, only re-emerged in 1819 (17 March) to perform, with Windsor, at a concert for Miss Woods.

Now, this is where the pundits foul up. She did NOT die in 1826. Obviously, she didn’t. She can be seen in the bosoms of her family in the censi of 1841, 1851, 1861 …. In 1825 an actress of some quality, also trading as ‘Mrs Windsor’ was hired for the Bath Theatre. She was 5-6 years older than our Alicia, ‘of the Theatre Royal, Liverpool’ and she expired from an aneurism which occurred during a performance. (30 April 1826). The episode made the international press. As papers do and did, some immediately equated the two Mrs Windsors … one London one congratulated itself on, rightly, not equating them … and so fake history began. And a curious work titled Women of History and even Highfill, fell for it. Wrong.

Alicia Daniels lived out her life after music in comfortable surroundings in Bath, with her husband, four unmarried daughters: Elizabeth (b 18 June 1805; d September 1890, music teacher), Mary (b 26 November 1806; d 8 March 1878, music teacher), Alicia (b 19 March 1810; d 14 November 1866, concert harpist, teacher), Harriet (b 22 October 1815; d 18 November 1847) and her widowed brother Samuel (d 1855, m Mary Ann Lowder). The fifth daughter, Lucy (1813-1899, Mrs John Lowder, Lady John Rutherford Alcock) moved on, and the three sons … well, James (b 19 April 1808, is that he? Stationmaster in Shipton?) I haven’t certainly traced, and John (b 28 February 1812; d March 1813) died as an infant, but youngest son Samuel Bampfylde Windsor turned out the grey sheep of the family. Christ’s, Oxon, MA, Reverend: he was hauled into court for ‘unnatural assault’, which I assume means homosexual 'offences'. He got off, is next sighted in Hobart Town being married to a lady named Dumaresq, absolved his penance by fathering five children, and ended up as an army chaplain (2nd class) in the south of England. You can’t win them all.

Alicia lived to be nearly ninety. Her younger husband predeceased her by over a decade. And the ‘versions’ of her life story (mostly the Cooke episode) started filling memoirs …

On we go. And having triumphantly set Mrs Windsor to rights, I have to avow a probable total failure with Miss Wood. Oh, not what she did. She had thirteen years as a much-liked soprano soloist in the Bath concerts and Festivals, between 1812 and 1825. But … who was she? A 1822 directory of Bath tells me that she was Miss Sarah Wood of 49 New King Street. In 1819 she is of ‘3 Walks’, in 1824 of 14 or 18 New King Street … then what?

One clue only. An advertisement in the Bath press ..

So, is she Sarah, daughter of the late John Esq architect? The John Wood II (1728-1782), architect, who supervised the building of the Assembly Rooms? In 1769! Possible … but, according to the family historians he had for daughters only an Elizabeth and an Anna. And the dates… ? Dead end.

Sarah (she billed herself as Miss S Wood initially, later as plain Miss Wood … why?) comes into sight in 1812, is quickly up at the head of bills in the principal concerts with the Misses Parke, Sharp, Bartlett, Nash, the Mesdames Ashe and Windsor .. and listed alongside visiting stars such as Catalani or Corri. She appears, perhaps, to have been a mezzo-soprano, for I see her winning great praise for her ‘Una voce poco fa’ (fair meat, however, for anyone from basso to bat), and appearing with such as Catalani and Mrs Salmon in a Messiah, from which I imagine – in the absence of a boy treble – she sang the alto music. A fine notice after a Bristol concert, which featured Caradori, de Begnis and Torri read: 'contemplating [Henry Phillips] and Miss Wood, rank and file with the elite of the foreign school, it could not but excite a strong feeling of the equality at the heart of British talent. We stake our reputation (little of much) upon the taste and science of Miss Wood in ‘Una voce poco fa’ and heard as much elegance and more originality of decoration it than we recollect for a very long time previously’. To be spoken of in the same gasp as the impeccable Caradori …!  In 1820: ‘Miss Wood sung an air of Handel’s in a highly elegant and polished manner and is advancing fast in excellence – an event we always anticipated and which has never been retarded by any consideration but by her own diffidence in her superior powers…’ In 1821 she sang second only to Catalani and Mrs Salmon.

All in all, she was a popular and very regular performer through a fine period is Bath’s musical history, and my last sighting of her is in August 1825, singing at a glossy party chez a certain Mrs Whalley. After which (unless she is the Miss Wood singing ‘Tell me my heart' in Cardiff 10 years later), she disappears from my ken. One lost singer.

Miss Owens was kinder to me. I know enough about her. She was a local girl, the daughter of one John Owens and his wife Elizabeth, born and christened in October 1803. And it looks very much as if Elizabeth’s maiden name was Shell (m 10 April 1792). So, perhaps young Eliza was related to music from birth.

Sydney Gardens
Anyhow, she seems to have made her first appearances as a vocalist aged sixteenish at Bath’s Sydney Gardens with the George Loders (June 1819), and at the Harmonic Society where she swiftly became the companion of Julia Bartlett as the two principal lady soloists in the group’s concerts and tours in Wales. Over the next decade her name was seen on many a south-of-England-and-Wales bill, latterly in company with that of William Deere Farndell, a sometime boy chorister become tenor and then teacher. They were married 28 September 1829. The couple continued to perform around Bath for several years, then moved to Swansea where they carried on their profession up till Farndell’s death in 1852. Eliza died a few months later.

I notice that Eliza featured on Mrs Palmer’s concert bill in 1829, so maybe the Shell connection is a fact. As for the ‘Owens’ one … well, a Mr Owens played a violin concerto at the Rauzzini Bath concerts in 1805 ..???

I’m going to end with Miss Elizabeth Willis Brown[e]. Contralto. ‘Daughter of John Browne Esq of Bath and his wife Sarah’. She was another multi-gifted and well-trained young lady who, ultimately, gave up the vocal side of performing in favour of a career as a concert pianist. She studied at the Royal Academy of Music and at Leipzig, was at one stage billed as ‘pupil of Liverati’, and sang in the Bath concerts from 1825 (‘Come dolce’, ‘A Soldier’s Tear’ &c) between her studies in London (‘pupil of Moscheles’) and Bath (‘pupil of Henry Field’). I see her in 1841 and 1842 giving Bath concerts (with her duet-partner brother) and I see her still visiting the city for the season and proffering lessons in the 1860s. Miss Brown[e] lived through till the 20th century, and died at the age of 97 (ish)’.

So there they are, my Somerset singers of the first decades of the 19th century. Decades when Bath and its music mattered in the greater scheme of things … it’s been fun investigating them.