Tuesday, April 18, 2023

The sisters Leamar: historically scrambled

Lovely photo today. 'The sisters Leamar'. 

I've never investigated them properly, for they were really music-hall and pantomime artists. So, finding this photo, today, I had a wee peek ... and, horror!

Rarely have I found folk so ill-treated by those who write about such things. Umpteen different birth-names and dates, and 'facts' ... yes, I know some of their statistics are a bit awkward, but you have to work at these things

Their real surname was LEWIS. Not Duncan. Lewis. They were the children of waterman's son, George William (or occasionally James) Lewis, who dealt in coke and coal, and his wife, potter's daughter, Jane [Elizabeth] née Wheeler (m 13 November 1853) of Francis Street, Lambeth. 

They. Here's the rub. Mr and Mrs Lewis had heaps of children, eight of whom were girls. Five of whom became performers. And folk have mixed them all up. Particularly the amateur family tree makers, who have got the girls linked up to all sorts of irrelevant folk .. married (or not) to the wrong people, dying before their time ... One reference book (Kilgarriff) insists firmly that Alice Leamar was NOT related to The Sisters Leamar (who were two and only two), others insist that the delightful duo were any two of the five...

So, although I have not yet found all the facts of the fab five, I'll list what I have here, as a starting point. And the starting point to the starting point, as so often, are the British censi. 1871: mum and dad with daughters Jane, Mary, Emma, Elizabeth, Rose and Alice and son George at 9 Dorset Rd, Lambeth. 1881: 451 Wandsworth Rd mum and dad with George, Rose, Alice, Maud and Charles.

The five who are relevant to us are Mary, Emma, Rose, Alice and Maud, of whom all but Rosie worked under the name of LEAMAR.  Mary called herself 'Nellie Leamar', and Emma went as 'Kate Leamar' and these two were the act known as the Leamar Sisters and pictured above. 

Mary was the second daughter -- the first, Jane, 'machinist', did not go into showbiz and disappears from my ken -- and was born in ?1857. Emma [Henrietta or Harriet] was born the following year (d 26 May 1893). 

They made their first appearance as duettists in 1876, now Nellie and Kate, and quickly became recognised as 'the most charming serio-comic duettists on the stage .. few equals and no superiors' with their numbers 'Why is the world so gay today?', 'Two girls of good society', 'Did you ever tell of the harem?', 'Spooning', 'One Kiss More' etc.

Kate married quickly and inside the business. Her husband was William Richard Bint, comic singer known as 'Billy Bint', and they had a son, Sydney. (Sydney apparently called his family Rothschild ...)

Nellie married spectacularly. Into the peerage. The Honourable Hubert Ernest Valentine Duncombe was younger son of the Earl of Feversham, and big in Yorkshire. The marriage didn't last. After one son, Hubert divorced her for infidelity with a chap named Harry Yates. 

Typical of the press paras at the time was this piece of nonsense ... five, no six errors?

OK. So that is 'the sisters Leamar', a highly appreciated act on the Victorian platform and stage. 'Nellie' and 'Kate'.  Both, I fear, of the infidelity brigade ... but pretty and talented ...  Nellie died 5 July 1938. Kate was already 45 years in her grave.

The other sisters?

Elizabeth ('Lizzie') (1860-1925) married a chimney cleaner by name Frank William Jiggens (1860-1938). 

At age 20, Rosie (b 1864) followed her sisters into the theatre. But she didn't take the curious Scottish-Singhalese name of Leamar. She went out under her real patronym of Rosie Lewis. It wasn't Lewis off the bills for long, though. Rosie married (1882, 'as Rosetta Lewis') the fine comic actor known as Thomas ('P') Haynes (d Camberwell 16 February 1915) and they worked often together round the country until 1900, when Rosie's name disappears from the bills. She seems to have died in 1908 'aged 39'.

T P Haynes

And then came Alice [Maud]. Born in Lambeth 22 June 1869. Alice would be the most successful solo performer of the Lewis family. Read elsewhere. Also the survivor. Although she had a brief marriage (1892) to a rather footloose 'Captain' Charles Shirley Butler (d Greece 1923), she lived her later days alone, up to her death 30 November 1950, in Brinsworth House, the Artists' Benevolent Home in Twickenham. (So, no, family historians she did NOT die in the 1930s). In her last years she remarried a Mr Griffiths.


One more. Maud. Yeh, well Maud. She capitalised on the Leamar name, and Alice's success -- notably in the colonies -- she was well enough liked, except by married men's wives  -- more than that, I care not to know. I lose her after 1896.

That's five. 'Nellie', 'Kate', Rosie, Alice, Maud .....

A starter only. But at least we've got rid of at least some of the falsehoods surrounding the family. I hope.

Work in progress.

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