Sunday, June 14, 2020

Cartesian curiosities

Downhearted with my failure in the post offices of Cheddleton and Leek, and drowned in Baptist clergymen from all parts of the globe, I hastened back to D'Oyly Carteland where there is, at least, always something amusing to exhume ... and found a jolly little lot, hiding in the corners of the David Stone archive...

I mean, it has to be an oddity to dig up someone's date of birth and yet not know ... his name! It happened thus.

W[illiam] R SHIRLEY evidently wasn't born under that name. Before I knew his date of birth I investigated all British W R Shirleys within a reasonable span of time. They had all died or were otherwise disposed of when he was still alive and singing. So, the obvious answer, as so often, was 'stage name'. I didn't give up easily. I established from one tiny mention that the 'W' was for 'William'. No result. Clearly it was the 'Shirley' that was the problem.  I put his identity aside, and delved, instead into the career...

His first theatrical engagement, under that name at least, was with the Carte organisation, on tour and at the Savoy (see, as always, the Archiver, for details), a job which lasted from 1887-1891, after which he joined the company at the Criterion Theatre, replacing George Giddens in the hit F C Burnand adaptation Betsy. 

He fulfilled engagements with Hawtrey in The Sportsman and Tom, Dick and Harry, before travelling to America (1894-6) as juvenile lead for Charles Frohman (The New Boy, The Gay Parisians ie L'Hôtel du Libre Échange).

On his return to Britain, he toured for George Edwardes in The Circus Girl (1897-8). A spell in the drama The Great Ruby, a short season in a botched version of Banès Le Bonhomme de neige, then back on the road opposite Ada Blanche's Demoiselle du téléphone, before a return to London to play Sonny in The Thirty Thieves. 

George Musgrove of Australia picked up The Thirty Thieves for export, and he picked up Mr Shirley too. William would spend 1902-3 in the antipodes, playing The Thirty Thieves, A Chinese Honeymoon, The Fortune Teller, The Serenade and Fra Diavolo. In the Auber, he played, not the title role, but the comic one of Lord Allcash. Mr Shirley the jeune premier actor-vocalist, had become Mr Shirley the somewhat bulkier comedian in the decade since The New Boy. He returned to Britain and, before long, he was off again, to America, to play for Edwardes and Frohman in The School Girl ...

A long career as a classy singing character man seemed in prospect, but that is the last time I see him on the stage. Yes, he came back to Britain. And on the shiplist theoretically revealed his year of birth (age: 34). He was alive in 1907: he was on the guest list at a Cartesian party in 1907. And in 1917, the faithful Australian papers said 'happy birthday' to him, on 9 January. So, born 9 January 1870. But vanished from the stage and from my ken. Odd.
Oh, I went to the records for January 1870 and ploughed through all the William Rs ... tested the 'possibles', but no luck. Sidney never married, so no clue there ... I give up!

Smith? Well, there's one thing about 'Smith'. It is surely not going to be a stage name. So, I've got more chance of finding the right person. Even if he's 'born London'. And I did.

Jesse SMITH (b 13 Fountain Gardens, Lambeth 5 November 1858; d Ilfracombe 18 March 1946) born to George Smith, waiter at a masonic lodge, and his wife Emma Caroline née Lock 'maker of masonic aprons'. I don't know what he did before he became a singer -- his brothers were -- printers, in 1871 he is still a schoolboy, and by 1880 he and his big bass voice are on show at Southend's Cliff Musical Lounge. The following year, he made his first appearance with Carte, and between 1881-5 I see him playing in the occasional forepiece, as well as such as the Notary in The Sorcerer and the Usher in Trial by Jury.
During his Carte years, he also sang in music and concert halls ('a voice of very much more than average music-hall quality') and played in pantomime -- Davy Jones in Liverpool's Robinson Crusoe (1882), The Wolf in Newcastle's Little Red Riding Hood, singing, of course, the classic 'The Wolf' (1884), Alf Atkins in Bristol's Robinson Crusoe (1885). Whether he returned to the stage chorus therafter, I do not know, but I see him singing on Rhyl Promeande, and at the celebrated Oxford Music Hall (1886) and in the 1891 census he is still professing 'vocalist lyric'. He shares that census wife his wife, Sarah Elenaor née Maxey (b 30 October 1856), a farrier's daughter from Chelsea, whom he married (11 February 1883) in his Carte years. I wonder if she were one of the company.
They apparently toured South Africa together, so ...

Oh! There he is in 1893 playing the innkeeper in The Mountebanks on tour for Horace Sedger alongside George Willoughby, Louie Rene and Clarence Hunt. And, wow! in 1897-1900 as the Patriarch Flavius ('a fine piece of acting') in William Greet's The Sign of the Cross company ... but by 1901 he is professing 'insurance agent' in Isleworth. However, the good god Apollo must have been watching, and snatched his good and faithful servant from the jaws of insurance industry, and Jesse got a job as a house manager in a theatre (alas, I know not which one) which served him till he retired to the Elysian fields of Barnstaple. There, he and Sarah passed their Golden Wedding together. Sarah died in 1943, and Jesse, aged 87, a few years later.
I wish I had a photo of him. I envisgae a big, tall, bearded man, gentle and smiling ... and a basso voice ... there's something Biblical about the name 'Jesse'

The Sign of the Cross brings me to another youthful-days Cartesian ...

Agnes SCOTT (b South Norwood 24 February 1867; d Manhattan State Hospital 20 October 1943) said she was born in England, but of Scotch (ie Scottish) nationality. Well, that means I'm Austrian. Agnes's father was a Scotsman, John Scott, who ran a bakery in Croydon, her mother his wife Margaret was English and there near Croydon, Agnes was born.
She was describing herself as 'vocalist' by 1891, and it is apparent that she had become a Cartesian chorister. When she played in the occasional forepiece she was very well liked, and she occasionally depped for Rosina Brandram. But her career was just beginning. Marcus Superbus was a few years away.
She played in Birmingham's pantomime, she went on tour as Hannah Slammer in Little Christopher Columbus  and the Duchess in La Cigale ... and then she and her fine contralto were cast as Ancaria (with a song 'very effective') in William Greet's Britain-storming The Sign of the Cross. Half a dozen years later, she was still playing The Sign of the Cross but after her fourth trip to America with Greet, now promoted to the major role of Berenis, she decided not to go home.
She played dramatic roles in stock, then went into vaudeville playing a piece, Drifting, of her own writing with considerable success, she was photographed, she was featured, in the 20s she even ventured into film, and she lived staunchly alone in the West 111-112th area ..
In 1938, she finally became a US citizen ... 'actress' ... it was a little late.

Ada dramatic, Ada comic, Ada en famille 1916

Well, since we're in the 'S' department, here's a rather ephemeral Cartesian ...

George Herbert SHEPHERD (b Sheffield 1861) came from well-off stock. He might have been born in Sheffield, but his family lived in Cheltenham, then in Harrogate and in between, papa Malin Shepherd advertised from Windermere for 'a five bedroom house near church and respectable boys' day school ... elevated and picturesque locality ... large kitchen, scullery, cellars .. well drained ..'. Mr Malin Shepherd 'landed proprietor' and his wife Clara Ann née Woodhouse had two sons. Charles Woodhouse Shepherd of The Ferns, Cheltenham, went to Christ's, Cambridge ... Herbert became articled to a solicitor ... married (Katherine Emilie Fisher 14 February 1885), was widowered ... but all the time he had yearnings. He published his writings. He published his music. And finally he pushed soliciting to one side and joined the D'Oyly Carte. I don't see him mentioned in any reviews, but he was captain of the Ruddigore cricket team.

He followed up his stint as a Cartesian, by becoming a lecturer and vocalist with Hamilton's Diorama, then with W C Stanley's Diorama ... he married again, one Theresa Annie D'Alton, who took advantage of her husband's trips to his occasional singing engagements to entertain select men (until Herbert found out and divorced her) ... and finally he found his niche. Proprietor of the Rose and Crown, Trowbridge (and vocalist), Manager of the Pier Hotel, Clevedon (and vocalist), the Plough Hotel, Tewkesbury (and vocalist),  by 1911, Manager of the Swan Hotel, Bolton ...

By 1911 he had a third wife, Leila [George or Harwood] several children ... by 1918 they were living at Barmeston Rd in Catford ... we know that, because their 18-year-old son died in uniform ... but that's all I know ...
Just time for one more 'S'.... maybe I'm going off half-cocked with this one, somebody in America must surely have written up this family before .. but I've just dipped, and here goes

Agnes [Eudore] STONE (b Worcester, Mass 25 March 1855) was one of three musical daughters of well-off 'bootmaker' Timothy S Stone and his wife Lucy Ann née Macfarland. The other two actually made more fame for themselves than Agnes. Marie Stone [STONE, Mary Hamilton] (Mrs Macdonald, b Worcester 13 July 1847; d Steubenville, Ohio 1899) won her main fame as leading lady of the Boston Ideal Opera Company, Betsy ka Blanche Stone BARTON (b Worcester 1852; d 20 December 1920) made a career as a concert singer. I always wondered about Blanche's name. A husband? But it appears that a certain Mr Barton was appointed 'guardian' to the younger Stone children at some stage. But I'm not going into that.

Agnes married a fellow (amateur?) singer from her home town, Harry Clay Pyne, who seems to have been a relative by his first marriage to one Sarah Macfarland, in 1880. He died very shortly after the marriage which raises a wee doubt as to whether it was a legalo-tactical marriage. Agnes did not remarry. Professionally, she played in London in Nell Gwynne (Claire), in America in several Gilbert and Sullivan productions, as Lydia to Lillian Russell's Dorothy at the Standard (1887), replaced Miss Russell as Inez in The Queen's Mate when the former was promoted to replace Camille d'Arville, and as late as 1906 played Dame Durden in Milton Aborn's Robin Hood tour. 

Ah, well, we can't have excitement every day. But there were a couple of curiosities in there. Maybe tomorrow ...  oh, today ... 12.16am ...

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