This is the tale of the Beverley sisters .... and especially one of them ..
BEVERLEY, Louise [BANKES, Sophia Louisa Beverley] (b St James Place, Liverpool x 1 July 1842; d unknown)
Sometimes a career veers into unintended and unexpected paths.
This story starts ‘There was once a commercial traveller …’. He travelled in flax, and later in cloth. Apparently, his name was George Beverley. Somewhere on his commercial travels he encountered farmer/grocer’s daughter, Miss Ellen (Eliza) Bank[e]s (b Marton 5 February 1819; d Lewisham, January 1892) from West Marton in Craven, and the result was a little Sophia Louisa Beverley Bankes. The couple don’t seem to have bothered to get wed (maybe he already was), but, over the next fifteen years, they added an Albert, a Percy Charles, a Granville George Allen, a Mary, a Julia Cecilia, a Blanche Ophelia, a Frederick W and seemingly an ephemeral Mortimer Adolphus to their family … Four of the family would go into music and/or the theatre.
Louisa was the first. As a teenager (the expanding family having settled in Leeds) she became a member of the choir at St George’s Church, and its well-known organist, William Spark, took her musical education in hand. Spark was a prominent leader in the music world of Leeds, and he took his best pupils around the nearby towns to sing at concerts, tea-parties, church functions et al. I spot ‘Miss Beverley’ first, in December 1858, at Horsforth with Misses Maria Taylor and Mary Shaw, where her ‘fine voice and expressive manner were greatly admired’, and then (6 January) singing at a Leeds Madrigal and Motet Society (md: Spark) concert.
Spark’s prize pupil was the soprano Helena Walker, and it was the Misses Walker and Beverley (mezzo-soprano) who, most often, accompanied him when he went concerting or musical-lecturing in Leeds, Nottingham, Birmingham and places betwixt and between. Louisa sang at the Leeds Popular Concerts, and with the Madrigal and Motet Society (‘possesses a voice of much sweetness though not of sufficient power and compass for the Town Hall’), with Sara Dobson at a Christchurch tea-party, for the Churwell Mental Improvement Society, at Mr Robinson Stubley’s concert at Morley, at the School of Art conversazione, the Wakefield People’s Concerts, the Shipley Mechanics Institute, and repeatedly at the Town Hall, alongside such prominent northern artists as Mrs Sunderland, Belina Whitham, Miss Walker, Miss Crosland, George Inkersall, Thomas Brandon, Prosper Delevanti, and Henri Wharton.
She was normally agreeably noticed for her performances of oratorio music and ballads, but Newcastle’s critic found both her and Hull’s Jenny Cudworth ‘not successful’. When, later, both were starring in London he would have had to eat his words.
Louisa sang in her ‘soft contralto voice’ around Leeds (‘a great favourite and deservedly so’), with Spark and Miss Walker on many occasions, and in 1863 (13 March) she and Helena were engaged in Belfast to sing with the Choral Harmonists in Samson. They were notably successful, were re-engaged (22 April ‘Nobil signor’, ‘Giorno d’orrore’), and Louisa became a great favourite at Ulster Hall, being regularly engaged for E L Chipp’s concerts (‘Angels ever bright and fair’, ‘The Minstrel Boy’, The Bailiff’s Daughter of Islington’, ‘My home, my happy home’, ‘Return, O God of Hosts’, ‘The Name of my true love’, ‘Sweet spirit, hear my prayer’, ‘What tho I trace’, ‘Welcome, my bonnie lad’, ‘L’addio’, ‘Father of Heaven’, ‘These withered flowers’). In 1865, the local press declared her ‘One of the most charming ballad singers we have ever had in Belfast. With a voice rich in quality and extensive in compass she combines a pleasing and graceful manner which charms and delights the audience …’
In April 1863 the two girls were hired, with Louisa Vinning, Sims Reeves and Lewis Thomas, as soloists in a Leeds Easter Festival. They sang in Spark’s Trust and Triumph, the Lobgesang, duetted ‘Quis ist homo’ and Louisa gave her ‘Sweet Spirit, hear my prayer’. At a Leeds Masonic Festival in July, they paired in the Norma duet. Miss Beverley was evidently not a wholly mezzo- mezzo-soprano.
Until 1867, Louisa (‘Tonbridge Villa, Leeds’) can be seen fulfilling the usual round of local concerts at Leeds until, in mid-1867, she suddenly vanishes. And when she resurfaces, she is in London. And not just she. The 1871 census shows that the whole family has moved. The whole family, that is, apart from father. They are at 36 Jermyn street, where mother is a licensed victualler, and the children are getting so much older that two sons now have wives. Why no father? Dead? Or just got tired of family life. There’s a George Beverley in Hull, 60, a milk dealer, and declaring himself ‘unmarried’. Which he probably was …
Louisa had won a scholarship to Henry Wylde’s London Academy of Music, and she made a first London appearance with his New Philharmonic Society (24 May 1871), singing a small role in a concert Idomeneo. But someone else had spotted her. She had become a client of Mr D’Oyly Carte’s top-class agency.
In early 1872 she went out on tour with Mrs Howard Paul. I see her singing in The Messiah with Ellen Horne and Joseph Maas, and teaming with Maas again in Bradford and in Dublin. I see her singing her ‘Nobil signor’ at Cremorne, and at the Philharmonic proms with Mrs Paul. And, a few days later, I spot her at Liverpool. On board ship, with Mr and Mrs Alexander Henderson and a bundle of curvaceous ladies. Mrs Henderson was, of course, the great burlesque queen Lydia Thompson, and the ladies – including showgirl supreme Amy Sheridan, and actress-to-be Rose Coghlan -- were the new additions to her phenomenally successful troupe.
They opened their new American season with a burlesque Robin Hood in which Louise was cast as Blondel. The Clipper noticed ‘Miss Louise Beverley has a good figure and although her face cannot be pronounced beautiful yet when lit up with expression is pleasing. Her singing gave much pleasure and won a deserved encore …’. Louise (as she now was) had made her stage debut. And to some effect. One paper sniffed that Louise and Miss Coghlan were the ‘only successes’ of the new troupe. When Bluebeard was produced, Louise was cast as the chief page (presumably with something to sing). And then she was gone. Back to England.
But she had been set on a new path. There were to be no more Messiahs. 11 November 1872, she opened in Richard Mansell’s production of The Bridge of Sighs at the St James’s Theatre, again in tights, as Angelo, a gondolier. She was judged ‘highly picturesque’, ‘not only sang well but looked the beau ideal of a gondolier’. The mismanaged opéra-bouffe did not last, but the ‘new’ Louise had caught the eye: when the buxom soprano Cornélie d’Anka left the cast of the Alhambra hit The Black Crook, it was Louise who was chosen to succeed her (20 January 1873). She was a long way from the demure Christchurch tea-party days. She played the role ‘singing the music correctly and in good voice’ through to July, until illness forced her from the last performances.
In 1874 she was back in tights as Apollo in an extremely ‘unclad’ production of the famous burlesque Ixion mounted by Amy Sheridan, who played the role of Venus, and in 1876 she was featured in a revival of The Invisible Prince with Jennie Lee at the Globe Theatre. In 1881 (6 August), she had a supporting role in the unsuccessful Gibraltar at the Haymarket, and returned to the Alhambra (3 April) for a revival of her best success, The Black Crook. Eight years on, however, Connie Loseby now took the title-role, while Louise played the small part of Fairy Pearl.
I see her, too, ‘aged 39, unmarried’, in the 1881 census, with her mother and her two unmarried sisters, at 23 Notting Hill Terrace … and then I lose her. Where did she go? She can’t be the Miss L Beverley playing Milly in School with Arthur Garner’s comedy company in Adelaide, SA in March 1881 …
The other three Beverleys or Bankeses who went on the stage are more traceable.
Julia Cecilia Beverley (b Leeds 26 February 1854; d Clonmel 20 December 1885) who was one of the original bridesmaids in Trial by Jury, also appeared at the Alhambra in Le Roi Carotte, toured with Joseph Eldred’s comedy and burlesque company, and played at the Olympic in The Two Orphans. In 1883 (28 March) she married Assistant Commissary-General Alfred Ely, Commissariat and Transport Staff, and died two years later in what appears to have been childbirth.
Blanche Ophelia Beverley (b Leeds 26 November 1855; d 68 Comeragh Rd, London 9 April 1938) who also played at the Alhambra (Madame Pippertruck in Le Roi Carotte), and in L’Oeil crevé at the Opera Comique, married Alfred Thomas West, before her 21st birthday, and retired to prolific motherhood.
Percy Charles Beverley (‘P C Beverley’) (b Leeds x Scarborough 17 September 1847; d Brighton 1903) worked as an actor. I see him as Horatio in the Princess’s Theatre Hamlet of 1874, touring with Dibdin Culver, back at the Princess’s in The Corsican Brothers, playing Shakespeare with Charles Calvert at Liverpool … and later as Burly Mike in A Ring of Iron at the Olympic, Rashleigh in Rob Roy at the Marylebone, The Ghost in Hamlet at the Standard and for a long time in The Christian. His career was a long and full one, which reached right through to the 20th century. In the 1901 census, he, Scots wife, Theresa, and daughter, Nellie (18) are all designated as performers.