Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Miss Cleveland: who was she?


Quite a few internet folk have, in fashions more or more often less intelligent, had a go at writing about Miss Cleveland, aka Mrs Charles P Viner, aka Mrs Arthur Stirling.  None of them has come up with her real identity. So I thought I'd have a go. 

Immediate thought. Why is her personal life so meagrely reported in the more gossipy parts of the theatre press?

We are told that she was born/grew up in Leicester or environs. On the principle that you wouldn't say you were if you weren't, I'm accepting that. From the time, in 1871, when she fills in her census papers, she says she was born in 1834. And that her first name was Louisa. Lacking any other clues, I have to accept that, but I'm a wee bit wary. 

I've checked all the Louisas born in Leicester in 1834. None fits. No sense trying the Clevelands. It's an obvious nom de théâtre. I thought I had hit gold when I found that Belville Penley and his common law wife, Mary Field, took over the Leicester Theatre in September 1834, and had had a daughter, Louisa earlier in that year ... but, alas, the child is traceable thereafter (Mrs Lansdowne) so, no cigar.

'Miss Cleveland' pops up in 1851, playing Emilia in Othello with Gustavus Brooke in Edinburgh. Is it she? Seventeen? She would play Emilia through her career so it may be. Her next sighting is rather more significant. In 1854, she played with the amateurs at Croydon in Delicate Ground with a 'Charles Vincent'. He also appeared in Venice Preserved.

'Charles Vincent' was rightly Charles Panrucker Viner, son of Charles Edward Viner, chronometer-maker of 44 Castle Street, Holborn and 151 New Bond Street and his wife Harriet. He followed, originally, in his father's trade, and this seems to have been an early shot at acting. Oddly, CPV has been granted a wikipedia entry, but since its first line contains a gross error of fact, I didn't bother to read the rest. I see that all sorts of other folk have copied the error.

Charles Panrucker Viner was born 3 November 1819. Not in 1823. And he married in 1856 the lady known as 'Miss Cleveland'. The marriage indices say he wed 'Louisa Fosbrooke'. Well, the Louisa seems right. But Fosbrook(e)? Mrs Sophia Louisa Fosbr(o)oke was a well-known actress at Adelphi Theatre, the Strand, the Princess's etc. Her daughter was, in 1856, at the RAM. She's not either of them. She survived them both by decades. But there were a few Fosbrookes around Leicester at the time. Edward the surgeon, William the lawyer ...  and, guess what, along with Mr Vincent and Miss Cleveland at Bath and Bristol in 1858, turns up another Mr Fosbrooke, comedian ... sigh

Neither of Miss Cleveland's marriage certificates seems to appear on line, so I've sent to London for those marriage certificates, which should in theory contain a father's name. And, hopefully, settle this blarney once for all time.

Here is probably the place to say that during the couple's successful career, it was Louisa who was the main attraction. Vincent was obviously perfectly adept in not always lead roles, Louisa was to become one of provincial Britain's and Australia's most effective dramatic leading ladies in a very full career of which I am not going to include here the many pages of engagements which I have gathered together, merely the outlines and examples. For not only could and did she play drama, but also comedy and occasionally in miusical pieces.

Her Croydon performances found her hired for the suburban Marylebone Theatre, with Mr James W Wallack. Juliet to the Romeo of Mrs Wallack and the Mercutio of Wallack, Celia in As You Like It, Marcella in Videna, Margaret in Love and Loyalty, Nancy Bloomfield in True Blue, and in 1855 a trip to Paris with the repertoire. From Marylebone the couple moved briefly to the Strand, then to Drury Lane (Nitocris, The Lost Diamonds, Charles II, Zarah the Gipsy et al) she played Lady Gay Spanker in London Assurance, Mrs Facile in Twice Killed, Louise de la Vigontier in The Ladies' Battle and when a burlesque of Pizarro was stage, she was Elvira.  Amidst all that it was announced that the couple would accompany Wallack to Australia for Andrew Black. They didn't.

Instead they set off round Britain with Louise building her repertoire of leading roles quickly until they dropped anchor, October 1857, at the Bath and Bristol Theatres. Mrs Sternhold in Still Water Run Deep, Pauline in The Lady of Lyons, Juliana in The Honeymoon, the title-role in Lucille, Lady Macbeth to the thane of T C King, Madeline in Belphegor, Parthenia in Ingomar, the Queen in Richard III (Charles was Richmond), Madame Fontanges in Plot and Passion, Eileen to his Fitzjames in The Lady of the Lake, Julia in The Hunchback, Portia in The Merchant of Venice (he was Gratiano) ... and for a little variation Marguerite in Faust and Marguerite to her husband's Faust, the page in the opera John of Paris alongside the Haighs, Conrad the Corsair in the burlesque Conrad and Medora, Hippomenes in the burlesque Atalanta and all the similar roles of the era's stock company leading lady.

In 1858 they took a turn to Scotland (Georgina Vesey in Money, Lady of Lyons, The Pilot &c), and returned to Bristol for four months, where she was seen as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, Cynthia in The Flowers of the Forest and Eliza and Cassie in Uncle Tom's Cabin. In 1859 she took a surprising move to the Britannia Theatre in East End Hoxton. The fare in Hoxton was not of the same quality as that to which she was accustomed, and after a few months she headed for the Theatre Royal, Dublin, husband in tow (The Green Bushes, Miss Hardcastle in She Stoops to Conquer etc).

1860 saw them at Birmingham where she played Jane Shore, Ruy Blas, Colleen Bawn and As you Like It  opposite Arthur Stirling , and Stirling then followed them back to Bristol. He can be seen there in the 1861 census aged 35, unmarried ... but where are Charles and Louisa? I know UK censi are only to be used as hints and evidence, but if Stirling is there ... where is our duo?

1862 in Birmingham, Liverpool (Peg Woffington in Masks and Faces, Marjorie in Rough Diamond, Constance in King John), Mrs Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Pizzaro, Richelieu. Portia in Julius Caesar), more Bristol, more Birmingham.  Louisa was only 28 when she got recalled to London and the Theatre Toyal, Drury Lane to take over the leading role in the hit Irish drama Peep o' Day. She was a fine success, rumours scurried through the theatre columns that she would go to America to play it for William Wheatley at Niblo's Gardens. She didn't. She repeated the role of Kathleen Kavanagh to the end of the long run, then at the Surrey, ten at Glashow, then at Dublin through much of 1863 and then ..

Third time lucky. In the same November the spouses boarded the Blanche More, and headed for Australia on a one year contract. Charles would never return. After Louisa's stunning first appearance in the drama of Leah the Forsaken (27 February 1864), he moved apparently succesfully enough into management in Melbourne, but an equine accient resulted in his death 10 May 1868.

Louisa stayed on, worked on, playing opposite the talented but unstable Walter Montgomery, and 9 September 1870 she took a Farewell Benefit after which she and Montgomery headed for Hawaii and home. 'Miss Cleveland' returned to the bills in Liverpool, Montgomery committed suicide. Wonder what the story is there?  In the wake of his death, Louisa changed her nomenclature. Although her husband was several years in his grave, she now billed herself as 'Mrs C[harles] Viner'.  But she didn't stay so for long. When Arthur Stirling's wife and her two babies died in quick succession, she took another husband .... 

Well, all the rest is pretty easily found .. I think! But that will do until I get those certificates ...

Work under construction. But how long will it take wikiplegia to fix its 'facts'?

Well, the certificates have arrived. Miss Cleveland was indeed Miss Fosbrook. Daughter of John Fosbrook (sic). Apparently alive in 1856 and dead by 1873. Gentleman? Hmmmm.

1856. That means John can't be the John Fosbrook of Town Hall Lane, wife Sarah, because he died in 1844, aged 83. And he was an upholsterer and cabinet maker.  There's one John H Fosbrook born in Lincolnshire in 1842 ... that's too late. There's one being sentenced to the prison hulks from Leicester in 1820. Then there's one who is a doctor ..  John Edward Fosbroke Esq MD, born in Rugby, living in Costock wife Ann. Alive in 1871. That's more like it. But his daughter seems to have been Caroline b 1827 who became Mrs Close. And sigh he didn't die till 1886. Mr Fosbrook the surveyor? Mr Fosbrook and the Agricultural Assoc of Derby? Bah! Someone is dissembling ...
Wait a mo. Mr Fosbroke the surgeon was the husband of Sophia Louisa the actress .... their daughter Louisa Ann was christened in Cheltenham in May 1827 .... grrr. How many surgeons were there ...

I am miffed. All that trouble and no cigar ...

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