Saturday, October 17, 2020

The history of Madame Rivers and Little Emmie


Publishers don't work on weekends, so there was no heap of proofs on my desk top this sunny Sunday morning. I always work weekends, so I copyread someone else's proofs, and took a stroll down ebay lane to see if anything caught my eye ... This did:

Madame Rivers and Little Emmie. On the back, we are told that Madame is Madame Pauline Rivers. So, what are they? A music-hall act of some sort? And why is the younger lady 'Little' Emmie. She don't look very 'Little' to me. Curiosity piqued, I dug a little, and found all sorts of bits and pieces, mostly to do with the 1910s and 1920s ... Madame was a producer and choreographer during those years (and more), Emmie was her 'daughter' and star pupil, and their principal playground was the Blackpool Tower and Winter Gardens ... Fine, but who were they? I contacted old friend Barry J Barnes, as I do whenever I need to know something about Blackpool, and he came back with this ...

And I was off and away ...

'Pauline Rivers' was not born as such. Neither was she a Madame, nor a Mumsie. She was born at 12 Mount Pleasant, Bath, at the turn of 1867-8, the daughter of Henry Edmund Adams (1846-1904), a journeyman tailor, and his wife Annie, and baptised 5 January 1868 as Annie Caroline Adams. Some time in the 1870s, the Adams family left Bath, and removed to Newington, and Caroline became a pupil of Paul Valentine's Dancing School ('256 Westminster Bridge Rd, opposite the Amphitheatre'). Mr Valentine was a prolific ballet-master, teacher and supplier of troupes of dancing girls -- juvenile, adult and barely-adult -- to the spectacles, pantomimes and music-halls of London, and I'm am sure that little Caroline appeared with various of these troupes before, at age fifteen, she became featured and principal danseuses. As 'Pauline Rivers'. Well, she could hardly be 'Annie Adams': that name had already topped many a bill in the music hall thanks to the popular Wightish serio-comic of that name.

My first sightings of Pauline are in 1883. She is dancing at the Oxford Music Hall in Valentine's troupe in the ballet Dollytoyiana..

Come Christmas, she was engaged for Mrs Lane's Britannia Theatre pantomime. The well-known dancer, Lily Wilford, late of the Alhambra and the Philharmonic, was principal girl, so Pauline got to dance Columbine.

Quickly promoted to featured, then solo, then principal dancer, Pauline remained a solo dancer with Valentine's troupes for several years, dancing for an extended period in the Oxford ballets, appearing in his spectacular Britannia and Jubilee and, come Christmas, in pantomime --Daddy Long-Legs at the Britannia, Cinderella at the Brighton Aquarium, Robin Hood at Plymouth (with a certain J A E Malone as the Baron!), The Yellow Dwarf at the Liverpool Shakespeare. In 1889, aged all of 21, she was engaged to choreograph the Glasgow pantomime.

Pauline's career as a performer was almost entirely under the aegis of Mr Valentine. In 1891, his agency placed her, for the only time in her life, in a musical comedy when she toured in the dancing role of Margery in a revival of Randolph the Reckless. Census time came during the tour, and we see Pauline in Leeds with her colleagues -- Hetty Benson, Lilian Totherington, Charlotte Westfield, Florence Cambridge, Evelyn Margaret, Florence Vincent ... but she was swiftly back in her natural habitat, dancing the jockey hornpipe at the Canterbury, featuring in a grand ballet at Liverpool and the Paragon Music Hall, in the Manchester pantomime, in a Valentine tarentella at Blackpool's Winter Gardens and in his Carnival electrique, at Cardiff ('in a diaphonous robe of lustrous sheen, she dances with exquisite skill a serpentine dance'), in Valentine's El Dorado at the Canterbury, in his flying ballet in Leicester's Robinson Crusoe ... all the while continuing to stage dances at Glasgow, Blackpool, Exeter ...

It was Blackpool which proved the stayer. Pauline moved in to the area which she had got to know so well with Valentine; putting together, training and choreographing troupes of little and not so dreadfully little girls for spectaculars and pantomimes. 'The Pauline Rivers Sextette' Pauline Rivers's Twelve Little Sunshines, Pauline Rivers's Twelve Amethysts, the Twelve Tower Girls. In the 1911 census Pauline and her youngest sister, Lottie Beryl, can be seen in digs at Salford with Bessie Howarth, Nellie Langley, Viva Lynn, Mary Mellor, Gertie Dawson, Nellie Wilkinson, Nellie Hawley and Emmie Tweedale, aged 14 ...

Emmie Tweedale (1896-1994), otherwise Little Emmie 'the most wonderful child toe dancer' was born in Manchester, the daughter of hackney cab-drive Edwin Tweedale and his wife, Elizabeth née Davenport. The family moved to Blackpool and Emmie became Pauline's star pupil, the leading lassie of her troupes, and her unofficially adopted daughter. She was still billed as 'Little Emmie' in the 1930s, still Blackpool's leading lady ...

Pauline and Emmie featured at the Blackpool Tower up to Pauline's death, in 1938. Emmie inherited her 'mother's' L2739 18s 2d, and erected a fine monument over her tomb 

The funeral (with a little bit of mythology attached) made the papers as far away as Australia ..

Emmie married music-hall tenor Lewis F Coates in 1939 and live to a great age. At her death, she was buried alongside her beloved Mumsie.


Taxibiker said...

Hi Kurt. Just wanted to say Thank you for your blog from May 2nd 2018 on “The singing grocer of the Savoy Operas”. My 90-year-old uncle played the piano at the Waldorf Hotel in London until late last year when his Parkinson’s and other illnesses meant he couldn’t do the travel in from Twickenham any more. He loved Gershwin and everything to do with the arts and music and literature and was showing me some things he has collected over the years, and his late wife left him a couple of things too. SHE said a Davidoff cigar in its box was given to a relative of hers by the then Prince of Wales (who went on to become King Edward VII) after he had performed in Ruddygore at the Savoy, as he was so impressed with his performance. My uncle told me this relative’s name was Montelli, but in scouring the Internet I only found one female Montelli linked to any of the performances at the Savoy. I thought there must have been some error in the story as it was passed down over the years, but then he showed my a copy of “Songs of a Savoyard” by W.S. Gilbert with a hand written note inside that reads “Montelli. With the Author’s kind regards and sincere thanks.” Then it is signed by a name that looks like “Francis Ogle, Harrow Weald 30th October 1890”.
After some more digging around I came across your article, which has thrown a whole new light on the situation! My uncle has found the family Bible with the family tree which I am going to view soon, but he has confirmed that the surname Horne is part of her side of the family! It’s a shame it wasn’t Gilbert who signed the book himself, my next step is to find who the mystery Francis Ogle was, and there is no proof of provenance of the Davidoff cigar. There is also a black hand fan that she told my uncle was from the original production of the Mikado two years before Ruddygore... thanks for this enlightening blog! I’d love to take this further, if you would like to see the pictures of the items please be in touch! Regards. Rob Hutchings


Oh wow! Another direct hit. This is wonderful! I shall investigate some more .... Best wishes, Kurt

Susan Brownrigg said...

Thank you for posting so much information on Pauline Rivers - so much I didn't know! I am a children's book author and Pauline, Little Emmie and the Blackpool Tower Children's Ballet were the inspiration for my second 1930s Blackpool-set mystery series.Gracie Fairshaw and the Trouble at the Tower is published October 7th.

Regards Susan Brownrigg


Hi Susan Delighted! Yep. Ive got a couple coming out in October as well! Fruitful month :-)

V. Armstrong said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
V. Armstrong said...

Hello and Thankyou for this Post about Madame Rivers and the Blackpool Childrens Ballet.
My Great aunt was a member of this group and you mention her in this Blog (Mary Mellor)
Its wonderful to see the pictures from the time and indeed the grave which I Presume will be Layton Blackpool cemetery?
I will go and visit the grave.
Several of my great aunts were taught by this lady and indeed danced along side Little Emmie.
This is Wonderful information to have in my family history documents. I hope you don't mind me including it in my family tree?
It would be helpful to know the address in Salford where they were boarding in 1911.
Kind regards