Thursday, February 8, 2024



A while ago, a concert programme appeared on ebay. It's still there, and I'm not surprised.

Ladbroke Hall. Mainly home of amateurs and singing teachers. Claude Ravenhill? Who is, or rather 'was', he? The artists .. well every lover of Victorian music making knows Edith Wynne ... why is she slumming at Ladbroke Hall?

The others? Well, I of course,  know .. or know 'of' nearly all of them. Marginal professionals and dilettantes. But Mr Ravenhill and Mr Hammond escaped even me. 

So I googled 'Ravenhill'. And what?! This programme appears on a number of websites. Why? I am pretty sure that the websiters know nothing about its cast list ... so why?  Well, as so often, it is case Ganzl Pollaky inc ..  Here we go. 

I started with 'Claude'. He was apparently the plaque tournant of the show. And that name reeked of pseudo. It reeked right. But his hometown papers weren't reticent about unveiling his name and origins and early career so he wasn't terribly hard to clear up, after half a morning's slog.

'RAVENSHILL, Claude' [COX, George] (b Upottery, East Devon x 2 August 1846; d Bayswater January 1907). Son of William Joseph Cox, publican of the Ashsprington Inn, and his wife Virginia. 

He took his first musical steps, while working as an Exter bank clerk, with the considerable Exeter Oratorio Society and I see him taking the quartet music in Elijah with them as early as 1866. By 1871 he was solo tenor alongside Blanche Cole and Joseph Lander in The Creation, then The Messiah with Ellen Horne, when he visited Taunton and Ilfracombe he was billed as 'of the Exeter Oratorio Society'. At some stage, also, before 1875, he joined the Exeter Cathedral choir. But he was 'late of' by 1877. 

In 1878 he married 'a pupil of Benedict' Miss Margaretta Brutton Ridgway, who would be billed as Mrs Cos, until she swapped for Mrs Ravenshill. See the programme above. 

By 1879, singing The Creation at Exeter, he was billed as 'of the Albert Hall Concerts'. Well, if it were the Albert Hall almost-amateur affairs in the afternoon .. but by 1882 I see him up there on a bill with Christie Nilsson, Trebelli, Maybrick, Joseph Maas et al. And later at the Hall's Burns Night and St Patrick's Day concerts. 

He seems to have made some appearances with W H Burgon's little company, as well as on Hastings Pier and at the Crystal Palace afternoons, and on one occasion, in 1890, he went on in very extremis for Sims Reeves! And was 2nd tenor to Henry Piercey in a 'Cheltenham Music Festival'. He sang with Rosalind Ellicott in Gloucester Cathedral, in the Clifton Chamber Concerts, at Weymouth in The Prodigal Son and May Day, at Portmouth with Zipporah Montieth ...

Hastings Pier

And then it was 1 December 1891.

He gave a number of like concerts in the years to come, made appearances at Devon occasions, in the odd minor concert (Emma Barker's, Beata Francis's &c), but mostly worked as a teacher in the years up to his death in 1907 at the age of 60. Margaret died 19 November 1909 aged 61.

He had rather more success as Mr Cox than as Mr Ravenhill.

We move down the programme. Miss Helen Meason was professional enough for me to have prepared a little article on her for my Victorian Vocalists collection. Here it is.

MEASON, Helen [LAING MEASON, Helen Eliza] (b Bombay 5 November 1853; d London 1902).


‘A careful and conscientious artist and a thoroughly well-trained vocalist’ commented a journalist after one of Miss Meason’s concerts. Which was about right.


Helen Meason might not have had a highly-coloured career but she had a distinctly colourful background. Her grandfather was Gilbert Laing (later Laing-Meason) of Lindertis and the Isle of Stronsa, a gentleman of some standing in Scotland, her aunt Eleanor Wemyss Laing [-Meason] was ‘the oldest nun in Scotland’ and led the whole family, including brother Adam the Jesuit, into Catholicism, and her father Malcolm Robert Laing [-Meason] after starting off in the Indian army, became a bankrupt businessman, then a war correspondent and finally a book and magazine writer of the colourful, historical, social, theorizing kind, from Turf Frauds & Turf Practices to Our Indian Army. The re-christened Laing-Meason family spread all round the world, from New Zealand to Argentina to Canada and Denmark, but Malcolm, his wife Mary née Grant (also of Indian army stock) and [most of?] their children settled in England. Son Gregor took the road back to India as a baby officer, and died of the typhoid in Bangalore aged 22 (31 July 1883), but Helen settled more peaceably for a life as a vocalist and singing teacher.


Her own teacher was W H Cummings, and the young contralto made her professional debut at the Crystal Palace concerts, alongside Helen Lemmens Sherrington, singing an aria from Eli and ‘Ah! rendimi quel cor’ in ‘a contralto of agreeable quality’. She went on to sing at the Aquarium, and on 1 March 1878 she gave the first of what would be regular concerts of her own. Ida Corani and Lewis Thomas were the principal guests.

During 1878, she was seen at Sydney Smith’s concert, the Covent Garden proms, at St James’s Hall Scottish concert and at the Albert Hall Boxing Day concert, in 1879 I spot her in more Scottish dates and with the Schubert Society where she got notices for singing ‘By the Shore’ by Lady Coutts Lindsay.

The Scottish concerts, and Burns night celebrations (‘Logie o’ Buchan’, ‘Jock o’ Hazeldean’) became regular dates, but she was also called in to St James’s and the Albert Hall on the occasions of Welsh, Irish and English ballad concerts. She performed in a number of concerts with Alice Roselli, another Cummings pupil, in London (‘Connais-tu le pays’, ‘Bailiff’s Daughter of Islington’) and at Cheltenham, and if she rarely got more than an ‘also sang’ review, Portsmouth found that her ‘low notes [were] wonderfully clear and full of feeling’. 

In 1883 she sang at St James’s Hall for the Hungarian Flood Victims, gave ‘Che faro’ at Blanche Navarre’s soirée, appeared for Mme Szilardka Dumtsa at Prince’s Hall, and illustrated Captain Evatt Acklom’s Illustrated Dramatic Recitals at Steinway Hall in the company of none other than Luise Liebhart. 

Somewhere around this time she took up a teaching post at a girls’ school in Wellingborough where Sydney Smith was the piano tutor. Another friend was the Savoy comedian George Grossmith, who appeared regularly in her concerts, and at whose home, in 1886 (5 July) she gave one of her concerts: GG, herself and her pupils featured. She sang at Josephine Agabeg’s concert, and Edith Wynne (Mrs Agabeg) sang at hers, she sang at GG’s and he sang at hers, she sang in the Nikita show at St James’s Hall and Nikita did not sing at hers. She sang at the Irish Exhibition at Olympia, at the Meistersingers Club, the Lyric Club, at Beata Francis’s concert and as late as 1892 appeared at the Burns Night concert at St James’s Hall. In 1890, she made an unusual foray into oratorio, singing The Messiah at Wellingborough.


My last sighting of her as a performer is at a concert of her own at the Steinway Hall in 1895. Her pupil, Miss Sylvia Grossmith, sang and accompanied her father in one of his comic scenas.


A modest career, in all, but Miss Meason’s name appeared in the London bills for nearly twenty years. A modest talent, perhaps, but if she got little praise, she got no blame, and she made up the weight at St James’s Hall many a time and oft.


A sprig of another branch of the family, which came to rest in Timaru, New Zealand, produced a Katherine Laing Meason who attended the Royal Academy of Music and there took a gold medal. Several other members of this branch took part in the theatre in regions down under.

Beatrice (Beatrix) May PINNEY (b Ramsgate 23 May 1871; d London 22 July 1955) was a teenager in 1891. The daughter of William Pinner, composer of the first attempt at musicking 'The Lost Chord'. She went on to Trinity College where she won the Maybrick Prize for ballad singing and I see her thereafter in concerts at York, the Isle of Wight, Portsmouth (mezzo-soprano), Belfast (her voice is only rivalled by her personal charms), Truro, Dublin, Bristol, Manchester et al in the next few seasons. When she appeared at the Portman Rooms, however, the press commented 'her voice will well repay additional training'. It probably didn't get it, for May only performed for some half a dozen years or so.  

She became the unofficial wife of Sir Herbert [Draper] Beerbohm dit Tree, and the mother of six of his children, among whom the future Sir Carol Reed. In the 1939 census she is listed as May Reed, widow.

Gabriel [Browne] THORP (b Listowel 1855; d 214 Ladbroke Grove 16 February 1907) was 'a young baritone with a pleasing voice and style' if 'somewhat affected'.  Father Gabriel Thorp, mother Susanna nee Martin. My first public sighting of him is at the Crystal Palace in a performance of the Macbeth music in 1877. He was billed as 'RAM'. Over the next years he promoted what seems to have been an annual concert of his own, at the modest Steinway Hall, interspersed with engagements at various ballad concerts and an appearance at St George's Hall in Balfe's Mazeppa.

In 1886 he appeared in a Temperane Concert where the bill included Marie de Lido and her sister the Countess Sadowska, Mr and Mrs H Beerbohm Tree and Mr and Mrs George Cox.  The Coxs and Mr Thorp turned up on a number of occasions together -- from the Albert Hall ballad afternoons to the West London Hospital.

Later in the same year, Helen Meason gave a concert at the home of George Grossmith ('will appear if he is free') in which Gabriel performed. And he followed up on various other vaguely professional occasions at Collard's Rooms, Steinway Hall, Ladbroke Hal, Kensington High School often with the same colleagues:  Alice Fairman, Herbert Thorndike, Miss Meason, Beata Francis, Mr and Mrs Ravenhill (as they now were), Wilfred Bendall, Adeline Paget, Jose Sherrington. All performers who gravitated between the professional and amateur spheres.

 In 1891 (12 May) he sang the role of Peleus in an original cantata The Golden Apple by Alfred M Willis and Frank Silvester at Oxford Town Hall. The Golden Apple ('really a burlesque') got several performances on amateur charity occasions in southern England.

In the later '90s he continued in the same way: Hospital concerts, charity concerts, the Steinway Hall on bills of folk barely known to fame, the odd Pier concert, visits to Aylesbury and Bury up till 1900. 

Thorp lived with his unmarried sister, Elizabeth. He apparently had no day job, but lived on 'dividends' And enjoyed himself singing. He died in 1907 and Elizabeth just days later.

Mary Elizabeth GRAINGER KERR (b Dundee 12 October 1864; d Bayswater 24 February 1955) seems to have been another who sang not from need but for pleasure. The daughter of Scot William Kerr and his wife Mary née Richardson, she seems to have been another newcomer in December. 12 December she appeared in a semi-pro concert featuring some artists 'by permission of Royal Opera, D'Oyly Carte'. Was she one? 

In 1892-3 I spot her at Chelmsford, at Steinway Hall (Otta Brony's, Miss Synge, Marie Roberts) at the Lyric Club, the Prince of Wales Club, and at Cheltenham sharing a bill with D'Arcy Ferris/de Ferrars, in 1894-6 on programmes with such as Arthur Roberts, Letty Lind, Johhnie Toole, Maurice Farkoa, Lionel Brough, Marie Tempest  and George Grossmith of the musical stage, in church for the SPCC, on Victoria pier with Annie Marriott and Bantock Pierpoint. Her unaffected mezzo ballad style ('the sweetest of mezzo soprano voices') fitted in, it seems, anywhere from singing a solo anthem in St George's Chapel to Scottish songs.

Her talents stretched further: She organised the Trafalgar Day celebrations, lectured on Early Music and Hebridean Songs in the 1920s, with voice unimpaired, and I spot her at leisure at Bath in the 1830s. 

She died, comfortably off, at over 90 years of age, after an unpretentiously appreciated life in music.

Mr LINDSAY HAMMOND was an amateur. He had absolutely no need to be anything else. He puzzled me at first, because, although his name is scarce enough, there seemed to be four options. I quickly discarded the manual labourer from Bexleyheath who, annoyingly enough was born the same year as the only other LH registered, at Thakenham. But there seemed to be LHs in Folkestone, and one riding to the hounds in Pulborough as well as the gent living on his own means in Kensington. Well, the last three turned out, once I'd consulted the map of Britain, to be all the same man. Our man.

Son of William E Hammond, a Pulborough farmer (seventh child) and his wife Ellen from Cowfold, he seems to have spent much of his youth riding to the Surrey Staghounds, before marrying (6 December 1888) Edith Jane Elmore, daughter of a well-known artist and some years older than he. The couple settled in Kensington (with, apparently, frequent visits to Folkestone). They were 'independent' (five servants) and in the 1890s Lindsay took to using his extra-light tenor voice in the odd concert. My first sightig is at Charing Cross Hospital (with Edith Wynne) and at Rosa Kenney's concert  in November 1891 singing familiar ballads such as the  hugely plugged 'Alice Where Art Thou' in a 'tenor voice of exceptionally high compass'. Rosa Kenney's little annual concert became a regular, and my last sighting of Lindsay on a platform was in her 1900 edition.

Mr Hammond was a gentleman of the clubs, and I see him in the odd smoking concert (alongside Adrian Ross reciting!) and plugging the songs of Franco Leoni, but a surprise was in store. When Pélissier's Follies company opened in 1896 there was Lindsay, yodelling 'I'll sing thee songs of Araby' alongside Florence Batty, Mabel Engelhardt, Messrs Sherring and Cave Chinn (!!) and pianist Kate Carew ... on a little trip along the south coast!

But more was in store. In 1899 a Cloches de Corneville production was seen at Brighton. Lindsay played Grénicheux with 'little animation .. an agreeable tenor voice'.

He seems to have put his tenorious career to bed shortly after, after a decade of enjoyment.

Oh, his second son Aubrey Lindsay Hammond (1894-1940) became 'an artist and stage designer who was a pioneer in the devlopment of modern techniques of camouflage'.

Apart from Mme Wynne, by far the most the most reputable of the singers at the Cox-Ravenhill Concert was [?George] Stanley SMITH.  I'm still tracking him down. Smiths take a while. But I merely know that a Stanley Smith was active in the 1880s, singing in the quartets in Elijah with the Albert Hall Choral Society in 1881 and 1882 (with George Cox!) and at the Bedfordshire Music Festival, later he would fulfil the same role at the Hereford Festival and with the Sacred Harmonic Society. We are talking 'class' here. He appeared with the Sacred Harmonic Society in The Childhood of Christ, The Garden of Olivet/Lauda Sion. The Martyr of Antioch, the Stabat Mater ... he revisited the Hereford Festival (1888) where he sang the Forester in The Golden Legend ...  By 1890 I see him (is it him?) labelled 'of Westminster Abbey' and conducting concerts and what? Is that him in 1893 playing in Nitouche at the Trafalgar Square Theatre?  Wow! In 1897 he is still singing his part in Elijah ... at the Queen's Hall for the Royal Society of Musicians  ... oh, there are too many Stanley Smiths ...  I give up.

So there we are. I haven't delved into the reciters (although Acton Bond made career) but it looks as if the Bayswater/Kensington pals all got together and put on a show ...

And why not? All Victorian Vocalists together ...

No comments: