Saturday, October 28, 2023

Mr Clifford: oh what a tangled Web-ling we weave!


CLIFFORD, Walter [WEBLING, Walter] aka WEBLYN, Walter [Clifford] (b Peckham 18 April 1846; d Romford September 1928).


A competent baritone singer of the jolly kind, who led a double life -- in more ways than one – and, for heaven’s sake, found his way into Brown and Stratton’s dubious tome of musical biography.


Mind you, I don’t blame them for being somewhat dubious this time. Walter told enough lies in his life to confuse anyone. I’ve tried to unravel them, as follows.


Once upon a time, there was a coachman (late a cow keeper, later a grocer) name Robert Webling (1801-1891), who lived in the Peckham High Street with his wife Elizabeth (née Phillips) and a bundle of children. One of the later ones was christened Walter. We see young Walter in the 1861 census, working as a warehouseman, but, by 1869, he is jeweller, with premises at 8 Pall Mall, no less, trading as Metcalf[e] and Co. He got into several lawsuits (always as plaintiff or witness) at this time, so we can pinpoint him.


In 1871 (24 January), he married Jessie Margaret Hall, a silversmith’s daughter from Manchester (and Anglesea) and, according to his own account, thus had plenty of free time to devote to singing.

He and B&S both say that he debuted in 1879, but that is way out. He was one of those chaps who just sang. Although he took lessons for a while from Edwin Holland. But I see him, already, in 1874, singing    in the suburbs with a group called the Beresford Minstrels. Under the name of Walter Clifford. As a tenor!

Now this was a most inconvenient name (for me) for him to choose. There was Walter Clifford the actor, two or three of them in fact, Walter Clifford the comic singer who got had up for fraud, there was Sir Walter Clifford and the Rev Walter Clifford … he might as well have called himself ‘Walter de Clifford’, which I imagine is where the idea came from. 


He performed a reasonable bit in public in an amateur, or semi-pro, way before 1879: but, more importantly, he gave up jewellry. In 1876 he bought a new and failing newspaper, The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News. And he turned it around most thoroughly. So Mr Walter Webling (elided now, more fashionably, into ‘Weblyn’, at some stage in the early 1880s) was, henceforth, a newspaperman in the daytime, and a baritone in more relaxing moments.


He turns up singing at the Aquarium concerts in 1876, and, in 1878, at the St James’s Hall Burns Night Concert. For some reason, he specialised in Scots songs (‘Bonny Mary’, ‘Bonnie Dundee’, ‘Gae bring

to me a pint o’ wine’, ‘The de’ils awa wi’ the excise man’), and this concert would become an annual engagement for more than a decade, not hindered by the fact that he latterly became involved in its management.


He sang at various charity concerts, at Holland’s concert, and at the concert of composer Nicola Ferri, who became a close friend and whose songs he plugged loyally (‘Polly and Jo’, ‘Gladys’, ‘From thy lattice’). At a training ship benefit, he got to sing ‘All’s Well’ with Edward Lloyd and introduced a new song, hallowing ‘Our Lads in Blue’.


In 1878, as well, he appeared for the first time at the Covent Garden proms, another engagement which would become a regular one, for a decade. The press was sanguine: ‘Mr Clifford ought to make his way as a vocalist, for he has power and compass sufficient to enable him to execute the most difficult and elaborate music written for baritone’. Of course, we don’t know how much of the review in question was for the singer, and how much for the owner and editor of the The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News.


I’m not going to detail the small and clubby concerts, the dramatic fund dos, dinners and benefits, where ‘Walter Clifford’ appeared. Those, the St James’s Hall national, Saturday and Easter concerts, and the promenade concerts, particularly the Covent Garden variety, became the staple of his career. He appeared, now with professionals, now with amateurs, and with a selection of various friends like-minded – F H Cowen, Cotsford Dick, Faulkner Leigh, Ferri, Ambrose Austin, Mrs Osborne Williams.


He took part in the first London showing of Cowen’s The Corsair (5 May 1880) with Marie Roze and Barton McGuckin, sang Robin Hood in The May Queen with Anna Williams and Frank Boyle at the proms, and made a first stage appearance, alongside Leigh and Dick, in an amateur production of HMS Pinafore. He later repeated the role of Corcoran at the Alexandra Palace with Alice Barth, Faulkner Leigh and Mrs Osborne Williams, and in Belfast. He ventured into opera at the Crystal Palace, in Der Freischütz and as Danny Mann in The Lily of Killarney, with Alice Barth’s company in Cox and Box (with Eric Lewis and Leigh), and later with Blanche Cole. He also reprised The May Queen, with Gertrude Cave-Ashton, and was praised for his ‘mellow baritone of extensive compass’ as well for his relaxed, bonhomous stage presence, which would lead him, in concert, to lean on the piano as he delivered ‘To Anthea’, ‘If doughty deeds my lady please’, ‘The Outpost’, ‘The Vicar of Bray’, the latest Ferri ballad, ‘I Fear No Foe’, ‘The Minstrel Boy’, ‘The Peace of the Valley’ and, occasionally, even a piece of opera, such as ‘Avant de quitter ces lieux’.


He played games, sometimes, with his ‘identity’: he turned up at a club do and was listed in the press, amongst the guests, as ‘Mr Walter Weblyn’, but when he got up to sing, he was ‘Walter Clifford’.  The whole family took up the ‘Weblyn’ and when he visited Bangor and Beaumaris, where his wife and three daughters lived, Mrs Walter Weblyn appeared (‘sweet but not strong enough’) in concert alongside Mr Clifford.

Walter Webling. Somehow one knew he'd be moustachio-ed

 In 1885 and 1886, Mr Clifford made an appearance with the Carl Rosa Opera at Drury Lane, playing the part of de Bretigny in Manon ‘with easy grace’, but he had his day job, and he did not become a regular member of the troupe. On two occasions, he took the role of Careless in The School for Scandal for charity, and he created Sydney Shaw’s ambitious Gethsemane at St James Hall (26 November 1886), singing the Narrator alongside the Jesus of Ben Davies.


In 1887 he staged a concert of his own at Brixton Hall, and announced that he and Miss Florence Waud (pianist) would be doing a tour of 32 concerts from Chicago. The trip doesn’t seem to have happened, instead Walter paid out 2,000 gns for a Millais, to reproduce in his paper, and life and music went on as usual.


Or did it? Now comes a wee puzzle. A wee trap. Into which the amateur genealogists of the internet have fallen with a bang.


In the 1891 census Mr Walter C Weblyn, newspaper proprietor, born Camberwell, can be seen living at 127 Victoria St Westminster. We know it is he, because Lucia Diani Ferri, widow of friend Nicola, is there too. But there is also Florence E Weblyn, 26, born St George’s Hanover Square, wife. Wife? But Jessie is still flourishing in Beaumaris.


The trap is that there WAS a Florence Ellen Weblin (sic) (née Winckworth) who was, indeed, married to a Walter Weblin. But it wasn’t our man, committing bigamy with another subtle name change, it was a totally different hairdresser chappie from Lambeth, who had a bunch of children, went to Australia, lost his wife, got into regular trouble with the law and, finally, committed suicide. So their children don’t belong to our Walter. Right, o family historians?


Who is this Florence then? A bit off stuff? Florence Waud the pianist? Hmm, she’s Florence Mary. But she was born in St George’s. Or is she the young singer known as Florence Monteith ‘pupil of Henry Wylde, Rose Hersee and Franco Leoni’, with whom Walter sang regularly in the 1890s?  Admittedly, there doesn’t seem to have been much contact with Jessie, who lived now at The Red House in East Molesey with the daughters, whom she married off splendidly. The youngest, Gladys (1879-1957, Mrs Kent), married the stroke of the Oxford boat race crew, and lived happily ever after for over fifty years. Kate Elizabeth (1871-1901, also Mrs Kent), married a solicitor, the brother of Gladys’s husband, but died young. Theodora Jessie (1875-1941), amateur actress and vocalist, married twice (Mrs Tattersall, Mrs Greenhill). And mother was there. Not father? Yet a book of memoirs by Hughes Hallett speaks of them as a couple …


So just who, precisely, are the Mr and Mrs Clifford Weblyn who are appearing in public later in 1891? 


In May 1892, Walter created the role of Olynthus in George Fox’s opera Nydia and took a trip to Belgium, with Miss Monteith, for concerts in Brussels. Soon after, ‘Mr W Clifford Weblyn proprietor of The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News’ can be seen in the prospectus for ‘The Brussels Palace of Varieties’ along with Hutchinson, husband to Alwina Valleria. In 1894 and 1895, he can be seen singing at the Crystal Palace with Florence, and at St James’s Hall on Burns Night … again with Florence, and he was given a full-page article in the Daily Sketch… In 1896 he turns up brokering the rights of The Mikado to Italy, where Florence is making her Italian debut in Lohengrin … in 1897 he’s up in court … oh, oh! … Weblyn vs Weblyn. Is the marriage over? Oh. It’s ‘re: Weblyn’s Trusts’. In 1898, I see a reference to him as a shareholder in the Carl Rosa company, when the company is wound up.


But, while his daughter was driving her ten (or six, or twelve) horse-power Daimler to victory in the Ranelagh automobile championship, in the 20th century, Walter got a bit invisible. Funnily enough, Miss Monteith, who had been singing opera in Italy and Belgium, did too. But an anecdote about her hat catching fire, at Monaco, made the Australian papers in 1908.


There he is in a Benefit concert in October 1900, but where is he in the 1901 and 1911 censi? Has he given up his paper?


Well, it looks as if he may have popped overseas. I see a 1910 article from his pen about a trip to Jamaica. And there he is, sailing in from Kingston to Bristol 5 December 1909. 


He comes back into the British documentary system in 1928, when he died at Romford. Jessie, who can be seen living at Lockerbie House, East Molesey, with a lady cousin, in the 1911 census, still labelled ‘married’, had predeceased him, dying at Cliffs and Norbreck Hydro, Blackpool on 23 July 1916.


Walter’s elder brother, jeweller Robert, was the father of writer ‘Peggy’ Webling. Peggy, Josephine and Rosalind Webling can be seen staging a dramatic matinée at Steinway Hall in May 1880 and another in Oxford in November. Another sister, Lucy, also took to the stage. Ethel was a portrait painter.  


Postscriptum: Florence Monteith or Montieth? Yes, the interchangeable spelling again. Pseudonym. Surely, it couldn’t be too hard to suss her out. She once gave an interview to a magazine in which she confided she had been a star piano pupil of Henry Wylde’s London Academy. So, we pop back to the LAM prize concerts of 1887. The star pianist is Miss Florence Henderson, who was a gold medallist indeed, and who can be seen at the Brighton Pavilion, St George’s Hall as early as 1885; playing a Liszt concerto at a Hommage concert, and at the Crystal Palace, until she oddly disappears and Miss Monteith, singer, arrives. It’s not proof, but it looks likely.  Miss Monteith is reported singing in Rome in 1902. And then at Naples, the Rome Costanzi, Lisbon, Monte Carlo … and … solved. Florence Monteith, singer, real name Florence Waud …. Gotcha my girl! You aren’t two Florences: you’re one! Born 23 September 1861, St George’s, daughter of Charles Kell Waud, dyer and bleacher and Annie née Ryan. Here she is ‘of 2 Carlton Vale, Maida Vale’ in 1922. Died, unmarried, London 1939 ... And here is a photo of Miss Waud on the cover of a London paper of 1882. 

It is so obviously the same lady as the Miss Monteith pictured in 1898. 

And what was the paper? Why, The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News! Gotcha! Thought: I wonder if she was Miss Henderson as well… and, of course, for a while, the de facto Mrs Weblyn?



Proof that Florence sang at Naples with Tamagno

And Covent Garden, so it seems

These photos available from Tamino Autographs, along with many other fascinating items.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Biana Duhamel: a star at 15 years of age, then ...


C19th France (and her paedophilic neighbours) loved and lusted after young actresses who seemed even younger than their years.

Rather like the 21st century sex-internautes of all persuasions.

Biana Duhamel was an outstanding example.

Le Petit Poucet

DUHAMEL, Biana [Louise Jeanne Bibienne] (b Rouen, 19 April 1870; d Paris, 26 October 1910). 

Palely pretty ingénue who scored one huge Parisian musical theatre success as Audran's Miss Helyett.

The 15-year-old Biana Duhamel (looking ‘no more than 12 or 13’) made her first recorded appearance as Petit Poucet (Tom Thumb) in the féerie of the same name at the Paris Gaîté in 1885, but she made herself into a star five years later when she appeared at the Bouffes-Parisiens in two new pieces, firstly as Phrynette in André Wormser's pantomime L'Enfant prodigue and then, in another adolescent rôle, as the heroine of Audran's vastly successful and 'scandalous' Miss Helyett.

She took leading rôles in the Bouffes-Parisiens' following productions -- Audran's next and slightly more musically demanding work, Sainte-Freya (1892, Freya), Paul Lacôme's Le Cadeau de noces (1893, Geneviève), and yet another Audran work, Madame Suzette (1893, Suzette) -- without finding another rôle like Miss Helyett in which her super-youthful charm and limited vocal talents could shine. Her Miss Helyett, repeated as late as 1900 at the Théâtre de la Porte-Saint-Martin, remained a performance of choice spoken of with special warmth by old theatregoers for many years, yet the little ingénue who had enchanted le tout Paris was soon forgotten: she died destitute at the age of just 40. 


Miss Helyett

Brits in Bordeaux: the Johnstons


It's a pain when you seize on an old photo to research and then find, when the job is half done, that others have been there first.

BUT ... in this case, the others, and their web sites don't have the photographs, so I'll go ahead and post them anyway.

Here is the story of the family of Irishman Nathaniel Johnston who founded a wine business in Bordeaux in 1734.

And here is the family tree of their family

And here are the photographs

So here we have Harry Scott Johnston (b Bordeaux 23 August 1834; d Bordeaux 4 March 1918)

And here, his wife Anna Daniela de Galz de Malvirade (1834-1915) daughter of a Baron etc etc. Yes. We're into aristocracy here. Harry's brother went one better and married a Princess.

This is Harry and Anna's only child, Marie Antoinette Henriette Johnston (1871-1946) dite 'Mina'. She became Mme Albert de Luze, the wife of another Bordeaux businessman and former hussars Lieutenant.

So there you are, genealogists. Pictures to go with your facts!

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Who's Harry? An old American theatre photo deciphered...


Here it is. Labelled "Harry B Hudson". Never heard of him. Curiosity needs to be assuaged. And those pink slippers.. I have an hour to spare ...

An hour? Humph. 

First red light. Not to be found in any public record except the death lists. Fair enough, it's a stage name. Henry Hudson? You wouldn't call a little American boy by that famed name. Two errors there. He wasn't American and the 'B' for his putative middle name was phony. Americans, as we know, and inclined to have middle initials rather than middle names.

I will spare you the convoluted paths by which I have travelled disrobing him. I shall merely say that he was pretty certainly born in Canada, as were all his siblings. And the Harry shows signs of not being 'Henry' but Harold. But I have no proof. The only document which I finally dredged up was his wedding certificate, and on that he just puts 'Harry (no B) Hudson'. Which is false anyhow!

In 1833 (21 March) a 23 year-old English clerical worker by name Timothy Hunton emigrated to the New World. He chose to push his pen in Montréal, and there he married in 1837 Miss [Barbara] Ann Hamilton, seemingly from Scotland. And they bred. Henry Hunton was theoretically born in 1839. So why is there no record? Canada is usually pleasingly punctilious. I find Mr and Mrs Hunton in Bytown,  Ontario with sons William Hamilton H and George Weatherby H, and daughters Amelia Charlotte and Eliza Hudson H .. ah! Hudson! .. in 1851. Harry would have been 12. Where is he? William is 12. So ... is William = Harry? Born Ottawa 1839. No. Because when Harry dies, William is still alive and clerking. Something's afoot. Harry said many a time that Ann Hunton was his mamma ... but something don't tally!

Anyway, the little family stayed in Ontario, where papa Timothy died in 1855, then 19 year-old George in 1859, and some time in the early sixties crossed the border to settle in America. Maybe because Harry, and little sister Eliza, has launched themselves on theatrical careers. 

Harry seems to have started at the theatre in Cairo, Illinois around 1863. He moved on to Wood's at Cincinnati, then Mc Vickers and Crosby's in Chicago ... he was on the way up as a leading man. In 1867 both he and Eliza were engaged at the Boston Museum. In the seventies I see him in John Ford's Comedy Company with J W Wallack and Caroline Richings, at the Olympic Theater with the Lingards (Eliza too) in Life's a Dream, at the Walnut Street, Philadelphia as Antonio in a version of The Tempest which featured Rivière's Babil and Bijou chorus 'Spring, Gentle Spring' (wot?!) ... And then I see him billed in Bidwell and McDonough's tour of ... The Black Crook! While Eliza was touring with Buffalo Bill!

In the mid seventies I see him again in Cincinnati, then doing summer season at Rochester, while Eliza went on tour with Lawrence Barrett, then (amongst other engagements) playing Neil Crompton alongside Frank Mayo's Davy Crockett (1876).


In 1878, Harry got married. The lady was 'Emmeline Hyde' (eig Houston) who was said to be 'of the Lydia Thompson troupe'. Ummm. Can't find her. Not even in my exhaustive published biography of Lydia. Ah well, peasants and villagers time?

After a stint with the Majeronis (Jealousy), Harry joined Oliver Doud Byron's company and played for half a dozen years in pieces such as Across the Continent, Hero (Benito Lordo, a Mexican), Ten Thousand Miles Away, The Inside Track. In 1890 both he and Eliza played with Ullie Ackerstrom in Annette, the Dancing Girl, before he moved on to support Nellie McHenry in Lady Peggy ...  

And that's where I stop. Harry died in 1892 (25 April). He was buried in the Actors' Fund plot ....

Eliza had a good career. She is credited with three husbands, but I think only two probably kosher. As her gravestone, shared with her mother, shows ...

The family historians would have us believe otherwise!

Look where that photo has led me!  Into a mass of maybes ....

Ah well, 5.30pm. I've earned my gin today ...

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Magic Monday, or a divinely dead duck


It's been a quiet couple of months for us on the horsey front. Emily has been having 'time out' and little Kurty has been practising for his second (official) birthday ...

But Emily's holiday came to an end last week, and she came up to Rangiora for a trial before her return to racing. The record shows that she finished 5th. But it was an encouraging 5th. Jimmy dropped her well back off the pace, and only pushed the button in the final straight, at which the wee girl raced up through the gears and made up an unprintable amount of ground before the line. She was clearly ready to go racing. So, what did Howie-our-trainer have in mind?

Ashburton. Groan. In a quarter of a century racing horses, and 54 wins, I have never won a race at Ashburton. And Emily? In her 24 races she has only disgraced herself once. And it was at Ashburton. I groaned even more deeply when the fields for 'Magic Monday' (called thus as one of the most important lead up races to NZ Cup Week) went up ..

A full field of sixteen runners. And Emily had the visitor's draw ... number 14. However, the tipster wasn't worried. Her trial had been noticed ..

And what was my surprise when the odds went up to see her posted as $3.80 favourite! It didn't stay that way: the money came for both Feel the Moment (Matty Williamson) and Kawhi (John Dunn) and Emily drifted a whisker back to second, then third favouritism.

But she didn't know that. She waited calmly in her box until it was time to go out on to the track ... oh! she looked so lovely. But good looks don't necessarily win races.

I had stopped for a sit down and a cup of tea in the Kiosk (best race-course sarnies, worst race-course loo) when I realised the sixteen starters were circling in readiness. Sixteen trotters? Someone would play up ... I had time to hobble to the grandstand ...  I hadn't. Sixteen well-behaved trotters lined up .. Emily at the rear, giving 10 metres at least to the two favourites .. and I and my walking stick were stranded on the lawn! 

Away they went. Emily did her inevitable pas de chat, and launched from the rear through the field, avoiding the odd bit of carnage, as they got on their way ..

She settled in 8th or 9th place, three, then two wide, as Kawhi rolled the field along  ... tucked in behind the favourite ...

But ... around came Tim Williams and Murano, heading for the front ... but Kawhi held her out .. and as they came into the final bend, Emily was 7 or 8 lengths off the pace. Come on, Jimmy, come on screamed a little voice inside my head. Never try to teach your grandmother to suck eggs ...
Now, Jimmy, now!  And wallop. The favourite galloped, right in front of our girl!

As Matty swung the breaking horse out wide, Jimmy steered Emily around his inside. Had she missed her moment? Kawhi, Murano and Sinner Cool were lengths in front, and the speed was good. Then Kawhi gave up the ghost and galloped as well!

Jimmy pulled Emily wide and as they headed towards me, she came steaming past ... she was going to come somewhere! 

But she kept right on steaming ... I could only see their back ends as she collared Sinner Cool in extremis ... 

My Ashburton duck was a duck no longer ... 

The journey home went lightly. We even stopped for nibbles at the new Islington Tavern. Then Gerolstein, and time to celebrate by filling our trophy with Pegasus Bay chardonnay ... not a wine for every day! And this bottle had been sitting in my cupboard awaiting the day when ... 

On the other side of town, the heroine of the day was getting her reward. A nice massage ...

Next weekend, Kaikoura. Twelve years since I last raced at Kaikoura. It was with Emily's great-uncle, Seppl. And he won ....

Of course, we don't expect Emily to win twice in a row. Do we ....?

Monday, October 23, 2023

Fiddle-dee-three: the Delépierre family


It rained. So I spent a morning trawling ebay ... and found some delightful photos ...

This one, I had never seen before. But I knew straight away who the 'petits prodiges' were.

Two sisters and a brother by the name of Delépierre. Jules Henri (b Dunkerque), Juliette (b Douai) and Julia Maria (b Bagneres de Bigorre). They were three of the children of violinist and conductor Jules Louis Delépierre (1820-1904) and his musician wife, Julie née Boucherie (1829-1896) and they really were 'prodiges'. In an age when juvenile artists, real or marginally real, were hugely popular, the two girls (brother dropped out quite soon) were acclaimed 'the best thing of its kind we have yet seen' by the picky London press. And they didn't have to lie too much about their ages: They were born, respectively, in 1849 (6 March), 1850 and 1852, so when Jules and Juliette 'pupils of Scholl' appeared at Madame Labadie's Parisian concert in 1858 ('aged 7 and 6') they were only a smidgin understated. And when Julia joined the act 'aged 4' soon after, we can see that she was only a couple of years older than claimed. I think this photo must have been taken 1859, when Jules was still with the act, and Julia had joined. Although he did return occasionally ..

In 1859, the three children 'from France and Belgium' made an appearance at the Lyceum, London at Edmund Falconer's Benefit, and made a great effect. This critic got his facts a little muddled ...

They went on to be seen at the Crystal Palace, at Liverpool's Clayton Hall, at the Princess's Theatre, at Cremorne Gardens and at Glasgow over the next couple of years, with undiminshed success, before returning to Europe. I spot them at Cologne, interpolated into Les Mille et un songes and Lulli ou les petits violons du roi at the Variétés, 

then at Nimes, Metz, Montpelier, Rochefort, Ghent, Lille...  In 1866 they gave a concert at the Salle Pleyel, and appeared at the Variétés, giving a whole new boost to their popularity. In the same year they appeared at London's Oxford Music Hall 'violinists of the Northern Courts' introducing to their programme performance on the 'xilophone'.

Juliette made the transition from prodigy to adult performer and also turned to singing, becoming a dugazon d'opérette ... and then she voyaged to Odessa where she caught the heart of Prince Vladimir Dolgoroukov. The tale goes that, with time, Princesse Lily grew moody and sad, and missed her music ... so she started appearing from time to time ... I spot her at Toulouse ..  

Julia married Amédée Victor Maurice DOUAI (Douay) ...

Jules continued in the music world, but he died 29 January 1894, aged 'about 43', at Galatz, on the Roumanian Danube.

Juliette -- Princesse Lily -- also died before her 50th birthday (27 October 1897) of 'empoisonnement', but Julia, Madame Douai, lived on  until 10 Febuary 1926.