Monday, March 29, 2021

A Payne-ful puzzle: or a theatrical family pieced back together ...

Over the past fifteen or so years, I have amused myself by researching the lives and careers of Victorian Vocalists. Nearly a thousand articles and blogs have been the result, plus a large volume containing the hundred most resounding ...

I made a particular point of -- and had particular fun in disrobing -- hundreds of the lesser singers and wannabe singers of the C19th -- the Signors Browni and Jonesvitch and their mates, and dragging various pseudonymical artsites from behind their Italian or Germanic nom de théatre ... Of course, these little essays of discovery have never been published. They sit on my hard drive, occasionally referred to, occasionally used to answer correspondents' questions ... but, just occasionally, something happens ..

Like this week. A jigsawpuzzle. Four of my articles proved to be connected! So I've stitched bits of them together to make up one coherent mass of musicians, and even followed one strand of the tale of the Payne family up to ... 21st century New Zealand!

And it all started with a real wannabe. A real loser.


LOCKSLEY, Arthur [PAYNE, William] (b Shoreditch 25 May 1821; d ? 1881)


In Victorian years, as in our time, there were folk who stayed doggedly in showbusiness, after an inkling of early success, for far, far too long. ‘Mr Locksley’ was one.

William Payne was born, according to his say-so, in Berne, Switzerland, the son of a gilder, Thomas Payne and his wife, Agatha de Geneve, who said sometimes that she was born in Jamaica, others in Bath. Little Willie was, in fact, actually born in London’s East End. He was sometimes highly imaginative about ‘when’, but when, in 1848, he married Ellen Silk, second daughter of George Silk (1787-1844), an attorney from (latterly) Hertford, he said he was ‘of full age’. Which the 1841 census doesn’t seem to confirm. But it’s a bit faded and scribbly, so maybe it's the scribe's fault. In 1851, Ellen ‘aged 22’, her firstborn son and two of her siblings can be seen staying with grandma (Maria Adelaide French, born West Indies…), in Somerstown. Funny, she had said she was 16 in 1841 … which seems to be right. William is admitting to 25. Five years shorn off. Sigh.

William studied singing with William Howard Glover of Emily Soldene fame, appeared as Pylades in that gentleman’s selection from Iphigenia in Tauris at the Hanover Square Rooms (19 December 1848), and under him at the Glasgow Proms, and made an unpromising start to his career as a theatre tenor when he ‘fell ill’ when he was supposed to have been playing Albert in The Night Dancers for Glover at the Glasgow Prince’s. Then, having been engaged for an 1849 season of concerts in Manchester, ‘of London, his first appearance here’ he disappeared, seemingly, after the first one.

In 1852 (5 February) he emerged again, at a concert given by Glover’s pupil Julia Bleaden, at the London Tavern, and failed again. ‘'The Death of Nelson’ by Mr Payne was distressing, extremely so …’.

It is Easter 1853 before I see him out again. And, this time, in grand company. ‘Mr Arthur Payne’ is engaged for his ‘first appearance in London’ at the Haymarket Theatre. Well, I don’t know when that first appearance was, because I have never found his name on a playbill, but I suspect it was somewhere in the ‘a villager’ category.

In 1855, he got his big chance. Joseph Stammers and J H Tully were giving an unpretentious season of English Opera at Drury Lane. Elliot Galer was principal tenor and ‘Mr Herberte’ (ie John Burnett Gadsden) and ‘Mr Arthur Locksley’ were his alternates. ‘Locksley’ was Mr Payne under a new name. He got to sing a witch in Macbeth, Eustace in Love in a Village and the leading tenor role, with Rosalia Lanza and Lizzie Dyer in Der Freischütz. The reviewer was politer this time: ‘a tenor of small pretensions but a sweet and tenable voice’.

The following year he got hitched to Mrs Pyne Galton’s little team, and appeared with her in concert, and in small-scale operatic performances in the provinces, billed as ‘principal tenor, Drury Lane’. He played the tenor roles in The Mountain Sylph, La Sonnambula and Maritana with her, Edmund Rosenthal and poor ‘Augusta Costantini’ (Mrs Jane Blundell) from Liverpool, and Newcastle huffed: ‘the sorriest piece of lugubrious burlesque ever witnessed’.

I spot him in 1860 at the Pavilion Theatre singing La Sonnambula with Rosenthal and Rebecca Isaacs, with Tully as conductor, and then at Easter 1862 at Sadler’s Wells, as tenor (Pierre Chase) to Catherine Lucette in an operetta, All’s Fair in Love and War. The press mumbled that ‘he sang with considerable merit’ and would doubtless get better. But it was disaster time. He got a cold, was off, and Captain Morton Price (‘Mr Lucette’) took his place. He came back and then he was sacked. He sued.

So it all came out in court. The managers said he was incompetent to be ‘first tenor’ in a theatre and the audience ‘goosed’ him; Tully, the leader, and his fellow actor, Forrester, both came to the stand and said he was no good. A bit unfair of Tully, who’d employed him a number of times. But evidently, whatever his voice was – and it was clearly small to very-small – Mr Payne suffered from perpetual stage fright. Anyway, the judge awarded him 50 pounds. And the managers insisted, in that case, that he come in and play!

The 50 quid would have been useful. William Arthur Payne (sic) had just been declared bankrupt.

In 1861 the family can be seen at 1 Canal Terrace, Marylebone with father Thomas, still gilding, and mother Agatha, brother George (24) is a professor of music .. while he is seemingly based in St Albans. Ellen is 37, he is ‘absent’. There have been five children … one of whom was (temporarily) named Zerlina.

I, truthfully, didn’t think I’d see any more of ‘Arthur Locksley’, but, lo and behold!, in 1865 he surfaces at Drury Lane again, taking the role of Amiens in As You Like It, starring Helen Faucit.

In the 1871 census, he admits to being 34 and still insists that he is a musician, Ellen to 29. And a vocalist. In 1872, father Thomas (78) and mother Agatha (72) of 1 Canal Terrace are to be found in St Pancras Workhouse. Both died soon after.

The press of the country, and its vital records, took their time to render up little further mention of the couple. ‘Arthur’ is said to have died in 1881 aged 60. Ellen lived to the age of 84, and died in Harringay in 1911.

The name of ‘Arthur Locksley’ did feature again in the British theatre. A Moore and Burgess Minstrels chorister by right name Ernest Dillon Shallard apparently chose to borrow the stage name of his not very illustrious predecessor in the last part of the century. Here, originally, this little biog finished. But … a few years on ...

... I wondered, who is the ‘Arthur Locksley Hamilton’ who surfaces, with wife ‘Ellen Vining’, partner ‘Captain’ Henry Perry Overend (1831-1907), a blind pianist, a ‘youthful American negro comedian [and his] magic donkey’ and a panorama at Coventry in 1872, Belfast in 1873, Guernsey in 1874, Ipswich at Christmas 1875 and on and on round Britain for more than a decade? Well, well. It is our couple’s eldest son and it looks to me as if he ended up far from London. Mr and Mrs Hamilton and their panoramas of ‘London by Day and Night’ and ‘The Franco-Prussian War’ (‘the Hamilton-Overend Exhibition’) were spotted just recently, by my friend Terri, in Pittsburgh in 1892. They are suing William Daly for unpaid wages. Mr ALH, the local press confides, ‘was a well-known opera singer in England’. Hum. And Mrs ALH was the daughter of Frederick Vining and was the aunt of Fanny Davenport and the niece of James Wallack. Really? Well, according to me, Vining of the Haymarket Theatre had four daughters. By 1892, three were dead, and the fourth was Mrs Charles Steyne, wife and mother of reputable thespians. The one named Ellen, mother of musician Charles King Hall, was nearly thirty years in her grave. Apparently the real Mrs Payne was a Miss Clara Jane Welstead. Maybe. Anyway, from America they progressed to Australia where Arthur [Frederick Hamilton] jr died, at Footscray, in January 1924. 

But there was another and bigger surprise to come from my diggings. Payne is an awfully common name in the musical theatre, so I’ve never investigated Mr H[enry Charles] Payne (b Hastings 1859) who has come under my eye in musical-theatre small parts in the 1880s (Alice in Wonderland, La Cosaque, Lily of Léoville, Stage Dora) and in small dramatic and opera companies … well, guess what!, he was Mr Locksley’s third son! His wife, Clara Sarah Willis (of Kate Santley's Co) was a dancer. And now I’m wondering about the ‘Arthur Payne’ who was a sometime member of a D’Oyly Carte company: could it be [Thomas] Arthur Payne ‘operatic artist’ of 8 Alderney Street (b London 29 September 1853; d London 1897), ‘operatic artist’ in Tottenham (1891) with wife Lottie ‘operatic vocalist’ and sons ... is he son number two? Lottie? Yoho! Yes, indeed! This is the Cartesian known as Arthur LORRAINE, whom I 'outed' last year, and his Cartesian wife ‘Lotti Carlotta’ (Charlotte MOORE 1853-1941).

The grand surprise, however, was their mother: Ellen Silk! For years I have unknowingly been writing about her, and I never made the connection, nor identified her, till now. Ellen worked as Ellen PAYNE, and she had a considerable career as a supporting soloist and character woman in touring operatic companies (Manley’s, Henry Haigh’s, Cooke & Addison’s, Loveday’s, Florence Lancia’s, National Opera Co) from the 1850s. 

And one of those two daughters of hers, Eleanor Mary Payne (1853-1916), became a genuine provincial prima donna under the name of Madame Adelina TELMA. Adelina’s sister, Mary, also sang, in a more modest capacity. Seems they all did!

‘Madame Telma’ married William Tweddell (b 1848) from Newcastle, who worked as Henry WALSHAM … and who had a considerable career as a tenor and an impresario … and to whom I've devoted a long article in my Collection. They in turn had children Harold William (b 15 February 1889), Isabel Hilda (b Wexford 1890, Mrs Edward Pugh Aston) and Joseph Henry B (b London 1892), before Walsham-Tweddell’s death at the age of 50 … Walsham died in want (15 September 1898), and in the 1901 census his widow and her mother can be seen working as sewing-machinists in Tottenham. Isabel Aston is last sighted in … New Zealand (1945). And, heavens, HER daughter Mrs [Isabel] Mary Wright died at Hautapu in the Waikato, 11 May 2011 …

Tweddell’s sister married scenic designer Walter Brooks Spong, and became the mother of Australian actress Hilda SPONG.

Poor Mr Locksley. Just about the whole of his extended family had, at least, some success, at some level, in the world of music and the theatre. He, alone, was apparently a hopeless and utter failure.










No comments: