Freemasonry and Entertainment

The subject of the Prestonian Lecture in 1999 was Freemasonry and Entertainment. It drew parallels with various ceremonies in Freemasonry and likened them to plays. There is unquestionably a certain amount of theatre in some ceremonies in the lodge room. There are principal players, a supporting cast, an audience and a producer.

Entertainment, in its broadest sense, is continued into the meal customarily enjoyed afterwards. Here some Lodges indulge in varying degrees of formal entertainment. This might take the form of cabaret, recitals, music or song. Though most Lodges will not indulge to that extent all Lodges will have toasts to propose. The proposal of informal toasts and the responses to them is, within reason, an opportunity for a light hearted or humorous ‘performance’, perhaps a limerick or a poem………entertainment if you will. So it might come as no surprise that among the membership of many Lodges there are entertainers; from circus clowns to dramatic actors and all shades in between.

That is not to say that the virtues or attributes found in either sphere of activity is necessarily suitable for the other. Far from it, a good entertainer would not necessarily make a good freemason, nor want to be, and vice-versa. However when the two do come together it is usually a happy union. In the mid to late nineteenth century many benevolent societies were founded by upright and worthy men to provide support and comfort for disadvantaged entertainers and their kin. The Royal General Theatrical Fund, The Dramatic and Equestrian Agency and Sick Fund Association , The Actors Orphanage Fund, The Variety Artistes’ Benevolent Fund & Institution and The Music Hall Sick Fund, to name but a few.

With roots stretching back much further and with well-established structures of benevolence and philanthropy already in place, many Lodges were populated with the same gentlemen who had founded, joined and supported the above organisations.A dozen or more Lodges founded in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth century would be even more so and would make the association even more pronounced.

By their very name they would attract folk from the entertainment industry, among them; Drury Lane Lodge, consecrated in 1886 and meeting at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Manchester Dramatic Lodge, consecrated in 1891 and meeting at Freemasons’ Hall, Cooper Street, Manchester. Green Room Lodge, consecrated in 1903, and meeting at the Imperial Restaurant, London. Guildhall School of Music Lodge, consecrated in 1893 and meeting at the Holborn Restaurant, London. Proscenium Lodge, consecrated in 1910 and meeting at the Town Hall, King’s Road Chelsea.

There were other Lodges known to be in tune with the entertainment industry but not overtly so by their name. One in particular was heavily populated with gentlemen listed as licensed victuallers or music hall managers, at a time when the edges between the two occupations were still blurred. One does not have to look far in the Library or on the Internet to find the names of many well-known entertainers who were also Freemasons.

In future blog posts, we will look at the lives of some of the lesser known and now long forgotten ‘Entertainer Freemasons’.

© Hungerford Lodge No. 4748

Henry Barnard – Freemason Entertainer

The first in our series on Freemasons in the entertainment business of yesteryear.

Henry Barnard, theatre proprietor, variety agent, fishmonger and Freemason.

Henry Barnard, theatre proprietor, variety agent, fishmonger and Freemason was born in South London in 1867. He was a fishmonger by trade and despite his various other sources of income, and theatrical activities with more grandiose names, he was always content to list himself as such. He lived his adult life in 43 Marsham Street, Pimlico. It was from these premises that he conducted his fishmonger business and, in the early 1900s, from where he operated as a variety agent successfully sending packages of variety artistes’ on tours to Cape Town, South Africa.

Harry was also a director of the Camberwell Palace of Varieties, a venue that was often used for meetings of the Music Hall Home Fund and their charity matinees. He was associated with the Music Hall Home Fund for almost twenty years and at different times held the positions of chairman, secretary, vice president and treasurer. It was during his involvement with the Fund that the very first Music Hall Home was founded for performers, even before the more successful Variety Artistes’ Benevolent Fund & Institution (VABF&I), which survives to this day, was established at Brinsworth House, TwickenhamThe Music Hall Home Fund’s first residential premises were in York Road, Waterloo. They later moved to a larger house in Camberwell and finally to Gypsy Hill near the Crystal Palace.

After the VABF&I Home in Twickenham was founded by Joe Elvin the two establishments ran in parallel but the first Music Hall Home struggled financially and the notion of amalgamation was muted, and was probably inevitable. 1913 was not to be a happy year for Harry. On April 25th 1913, there was an especial general meeting at Three Stags Hotel to pass the resolution to amalgamate the Music Hall Home with the Variety Artistes’ Benevolent Fund and Institution Home at Brinsworth House. There was much disappointment and concern for the future among those attendees who had worked so hard to see the Gypsy Hill home established but as the current treasurer, Harry, who had himself contributed £2/10/00 to the ‘rival’ VABF&I fund was tasked with the liquidation and transferring of all assets and funds from the Gypsy Hill Home to the VABF&I at Twickenham.

Harry was also one-time president of the Terriers Association, a fraternity which had been founded in 1890 by a group of performers who had not been able to join The Grand Order of Water Rats because of their numerically restrictive membership rules at the time. At the time of their transition to the ’Benevolent Order of Terriers’ in 1913 the new rules excluded him as an active member. This was another disappointment so soon after the liquidation of the Music Hall Home, but sweetened perhaps at the last Terriers Association banquet when he was presented with an illuminated address and a Terriers’ Jewel as a mark of appreciation for all that he had done.

Harry was introduced to Freemasonry by friends in Pimlico Lodge No.1772 which had been consecrated in 1878 and had initially met, at the Morpeth Arms Tavern just along the road from his fishmonger’s premises. By the time Harry was initiated in October 1904 the Lodge met at the Victoria Mansions Restaurant in Victoria Street, a leisurely ten minute stroll in the other direction. Harry embraced Freemasonry and in November 1906 he was listed as a founder member of Lord Desborough Lodge No.3200. He happily paid the qualifying fees to become a life governor of the Royal Masonic Institute for Boys and the Royal Masonic Institute for Girls (since amalgamated) and he was also vice president of the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institute.

He and his wife Esther, née Phillips, were married in 1890 and had four children. Their only son Henry Phillips Barnard, or Harry Jnr. traded as a fishmonger, initially from 43 Marsham Street and then moved along the road to larger premises at No. 58 from where he traded as a ‘high class’ fishmonger. Harry Jnr. not only followed in his father’s fishmonger footsteps but also followed him into Freemasonry when he was initiated into Lord Desborough Lodge in February 1921. He was also a member of Grenfell Chapter No.3077 at Taplow. Harry Snr. died at his home on July 31st 1922 aged 55.

© Hungerford Lodge 4748

Arthur Phillips Hemsley – Freemason Entertainer

Arthur Phillips Hemsley was born in Alma Place, Margate on August 13th 1881. He was the fifth son of Durham born actor and scenery artist William Thompson Hemsley and his actress wife Fanny. Harry Hemsley, one of Arthur’s elder brothers, was a child mimic and might be best remembered for his radio success in England as one of BBC’s Ovaltineys.

By 1885 the family had moved to London where William set up the scenery business in which Arthur would first start work as a scenic painter and sculptor. The young Arthur was clearly attracted by all the other aspects of theatre that he experienced and while still only a young man he became stage manager for the well-known actress/manager Sarah Thorne back at the Theatre Royal, Margate. From there he joined a stock company at the Grand Theatre Islington.

He also appeared in Dickens’ plays and was much sought after by some Drury Lane companies as a character actor. He continued to develop his skills as a stage performer and early in the 19th century he found his niche and began making a name for himself in musical comedy. He found particular success at Blackburn Royal Theatre and the York Royal Theatre and he also scored well with his clever eccentric dancing in ’The Orchid’, a musical comedy that he would later produce himself in Australia.

He formed a sketch act with London born soubrette Elsa Brull. The couple married in March 1907 and as ‘Brull & Hemsley’ they enjoyed much success touring with their own sketches such as ‘Fun in a Music Shop’ and ‘Uraliarty’, which had its West End debut at the Oxford Music Hall in August 1913. Others followed including another called ‘The Knut, The Girl and the Egg’.

They travelled extensively with at least nine tours of Africa for Barney Hyman before being engaged in Cape Town for the South Africa Theatres Trust. Then it was on to Zanzibar, and then to India where they toured for several years under Maurice Bandmann management. They also made two trips to Australia, in 1913 and 1918, where they were particularly well received and where they would eventually make their home in 1924.

In August 1917 they had landed a year’s work with the ‘Courtiers Costume Comedy Company’ at Cremorne Gardens, Brisbane. It was here that Arthur first showed interest in Freemasonry after discussing it with local men from the cast and production crew.

On 4th June 1920, at the Alice Street Masonic Temple, proposed and seconded by entertainers Hugh Huxham and Les Warton respectively, he was initiated into Thespian Lodge No.73 on the register of the Grand Lodge of Queensland. According to the minute book “the meeting was attended by a goodly portion of freemasons from the theatrical fraternity”. He and Elsa often appeared for charitable causes including ‘The Far West Home for Crippled Children’ and the YWCA in Perth.

In 1924 he embraced the arrival of radio broadcasting to Australia and by 1930 he was on radio for the Australian Broadcasting Commission and station 4BC. In 1931 he was anchor-man and producer of Shell Radio Party, a programme heard all around Australia and in 1936 he did his first national radio tour for the ABC. In 1950 he made a brief, ill-advised and unfortunately unsuccessful foray into film when he featured in ‘The Glenrowan Affair’. Arthur died aged 73 in 1954 and Elsa died in 1961.

© Hungerford Lodge 4748

Alfred John Robertson Nolan – Freemason Entertainer

Alfred John Robertson Nolan was born in Lanarkshire, Scotland in 1884. He began his stage career as an eccentric dancer and comedian at the end of the 19th Century. Billed as Alf Nolan he started to appear in pantomime, as did his wife-to-be Minnie Hobbs and her sister Maud. In 1898, at a novel end-of-run performance of Aladdin at Brighton’s Eden Theatre, in which the children took all the principal roles, Minnie appeared as Abanazer and “made the audience roar with laughter at her eccentricities” and Maud Hobbs “was a dainty little Princess Beauty”.

In 1908 Alfred and Minnie Frederica Hobbs were married. By the time of the 1911 census they were living in London with their two year old daughter Frances, Minnie’s sister Maud and their widowed mother Hannah. Alf and Minnie developed a dance act and appeared as ‘Betty Hobbs and Nolan’ or sometimes ‘Nolan and Hobbs’ acrobatic dancers. They continued to appear in pantomimes and were in the Arthur Rigby Company production of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ in 1913/14.

As was the case for so many, the Great War then interrupted their careers and Alf joined the Royal Garrison Artillery. It was also during the war years that he joined Freemasonry. He was initiated into the Highgate Lodge No. 1366 on 11th September 1916, remaining a member until his death.

As well as their regular dance routines the duo continued to appear in pantomime in successive years after the war through to the early 1920s. The 1922/23 seasonal offering was ‘Jack and Jill’ which opened at the Royal Theatre, Worcester on Boxing Day 1922 before going on tour. In 1922/23 they appeared in ‘Red Riding Hood’ at Bradford Prince’s Theatre and they were already booked to appear the following season at the Leeds’ Royal Theatre, but fate intervened. They had toured South Africa during 1924 and shortly after their return they were performing their ‘Toy Soldier and Rag Doll’ routine at a London cabaret club. It was a strenuous routine requiring Alf to make many lifts. They were not far into the dance when Alf dropped to the floor………and died, it was October 13th 1924.

The post mortem revealed that although his heart was strong in itself a blood clot had caused the heart attack and a verdict of natural causes was recorded. Betty pursued her stage career for a year or so with a new partner named Harry Deans but then decided to teach dance at her own ‘Betty Hobbs’ Dancing School’.

In 1928 she married Frederick Ison, a one-time vaudeville artiste and also a Freemason being a member of Chelsea Lodge No. 3098. In the 1930s and the 1940s there were several Betty Hobbs’ troupes performing including the ‘Betty Hobbs Globe Girls’ and the ‘Betty Hobbs Superb Eight’ who were resident at the Holborn Empire for a while during the 1930s.

Betty died at her home in Eton, Surrey, (now Berkshire) on 16th July 1943. Alf and Betty had both been members and keen supporters of the Variety Artistes’ Federation and at the meeting following Betty’s death the federation Chairman, Dave O’Gorman, requested members to stand as a sign of respect for the departed. The dance school continued and the good name of Betty Hobbs lived on after her death with former pupils always proud to mention their training ground and their association with Betty’s dance companies in their curriculum vitae.

© Hungerford Lodge 4748

Barclay Gammon – Freemason Entertainer

Born Charles Blondin Gammon in 1867. Contemporary reports described him as “a very big man in evening dress, he sat at a piano and sang to us, and the Palace could never have enough of him.”

He was a member of both Benevolentia Lodge No. 2549 and its Chapter.

Vocalist, humourist, pianist and monologist Charles Blondin Gammon was born in 1867, in Lambeth, South London. His father William was a railway traffic agent who hailed from Canterbury and Charles initially followed in his father’s footsteps and into work as a clerk with the London & South Western Railway Co. He then moved on to similar positions with the South Eastern Railway Co. and the London and Blackwall Railway Co.

As an amateur he started out as a church organist at Wimbledon. He was then a choirmaster and he joined the chorus of a light opera company for a while. However, it was at the piano that he found his forte. He started entertaining at charitable events, private parties, smoking concerts, penny readings, bohemian concerts and the like and in sports pavilions, assembly rooms, orphanages, institutes and ballrooms.Naturally quick-witted, he introduced topical patter and monologues into his act and began to appear at lesser provincial music halls and some of the more prestigious concert halls in London; Steinway Hall, Victoria Hall, and St. George’s Hall.

On 19th June 1899, still listed as a railway official, Charles became a Freemason. He was initiated into Benevolentia Lodge No. 2549. In October 1901, and still listed as a railway official, he was accepted as a joining member of Era Lodge No. 1423 which met at Twickenham, although fees were never paid and the process was never completed. He did however join Benevolentia Chapter No. 2549 and was exalted in November 1909.

His first notable professional engagement as a pianist was with the magician John Nevil Maskelyne and the cabinet maker cum illusionist George Cooke during the time they worked together as ‘Maskelyne & Cooke’ at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly. Magician David Devant was another member of the company and when John and David moved to St. George’s Hall in 1905 and teamed up as ‘Maskelyne & Devant’ Barclay stayed with the new partnership. In 1908 he was engaged for their ‘Maskelyne & Devant Mysteries’ tour of Australia and New Zealand. Barclay was credited with making a great success of the tour which might otherwise have failed as neither Maskelyne nor Devant appeared with the Company in person during the tour.

Billed simply as ‘Barclay Gammon and a Piano’ he enjoyed great success and his eventual appearance at Alfred Butt’s Palace Theatre in Shaftesbury Avenue really established his reputation. He soon became a great favourite there with his musical sketches and patter. A contemporary report reads “Alfred Butt the showman sandwiched the novelties at the Palace with regular favourites. One of the greatest of these, in every sense of the word, was Barclay Gammon. A very big man in evening dress, he sat at a piano and sang to us, and the Palace could never have enough of him. He was there, with very slight absences, for years”.

When plans to hold the first ever Royal Command Performance at Edward Moss’s Empire Theatre in Edinburgh had to be abandoned in 1911 because of a fire a month before the show, Alfred Butt’s Palace Theatre was chosen as the alternative venue for the event which eventually took place on July 1st 1912. As an almost resident entertainer there it was no surprise that Barclay was chosen to be one of the ‘named’ artistes to appear before the King and Queen. He was already billed as a ‘Society Entertainer’ and thereafter billed himself as ‘The Royal Entertainer’.

The following year, although it seems a bizarre notion in today’s world, he appeared at the Queen’s Hall in a smoking concert that was organised by Middlesex Hospital students in aid of the Cancer Charity. In 1914 Barclay Gammon’s name was coupled with the impresario and theatre manager Frank Allen’s ambitious plans to provide a vaudeville circuit on board ocean liners. Frank influenced a change in the original design of the Cunard ship RMS Aquitania during its fitting out to include a 1500 seat theatre in the same style as his London Hippodrome.

On 29th May, the eve of the liner’s maiden voyage, ‘Barclay and his Grand Piano’ was among a stellar line-up that entertained on this inaugural launch of what was to come. Frank planned to present full scale variety and vaudeville, and even opera, instead of the more usual but more moderate concert parties.

The Great War interrupted plans a few months later and RMS Aquitania was pressed into service, but that event in May 1914 proved a successful initiative and was the precursor of the more professional entertainment arrangements that are now widely accepted and expected as part of the ocean cruise ship experience. Charles Blondin Gammon died on 2nd June 1915 aged 48.

© Hungerford Lodge 4748

Ed E Ford – Freemason Entertainer

Ed E Ford – Freemason Entertainer
Born Edward McMullen Ford in 1870 in Prahran, Australia. He became a member of Chelsea Lodge no 3098 in 1908.

The man with the elastic face, comedian Edward McMullen Ford was born in 1870 in Prahran near Melbourne, Australia, one of twelve children born to John and Mary Ford. His parents had British roots in Birmingham and Launceston and there were the almost inevitable convict ancestors on both sides.

Edward was the only one of their children to follow a stage career but was at first apprenticed to be a bricklayer and tuck pointer where he learnt to amuse his workmates by pulling faces at the foreman.

In his early entertainment days he was a member of the Lynch Family of Bell Ringers and made his first public appearance in 1886 at the Nugget Theatre, Melbourne. Ten years later he was appearing at the Grand Opera House, Sydney.

He was first noted in Britain at the Metropolitan Music Hall, Edgware Road, London in December 1905. He was fondly known as Teddy Ford whenever in his homeland but would become more widely known in Europe and America as the Ed. E. Ford ‘The Australian Sundowner’.

In November 1908 he was initiated into Chelsea Lodge No. 3098 and he appeared in the Royal Command Performance Garden Party finale at the Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London in 1912.

Two years later, and by now also known as ‘The Paradoxical Physiognomist’, he was back in Australia on a tour that included the Tivoli Theatre, Sydney and Perth. He was in Perth when the Great War started and he boarded the first ship back to England, but an old arm injury prevented him from enlisting.

It was suggested he might use his talents instead to entertain wounded troops which he did with great enthusiasm. He also raised money for war charities by appearing in concerts and performing and selling monologues and war poems, many of them written by George Arthur. By January 1915 he had already raised enough to send 11,000 cigarettes and 24 pipes to wounded soldiers earning a letter of thanks from Lady Ripon, the instigator and champion of many war charities.

Later in 1915 he toured in South Africa where he continued his fund raising but he was back at the Clapham Grand to appear in the 1915/16 pantomime, Aladdin. By February 1919 he had raised over £19,000 in total for war charities and prisoners of war.

In October 1919, with his ‘war duties’ completed, he embarked for America aboard the liner ‘Celtic’ to work for Bert Levy. He was so successful during this original ten week tour in vaudeville that he stayed on and spent most of the next ten years there, “a man of many wanderings” as his friend and ventriloquist A. C. Astor referred to him. He registered a musical called ‘The Dinkum Bonzer Boys from Woolloomooloo’ about the Dock area of Sydney that was home to criminal elements in the early 20th century.

In July 1921 he married Adie Everard, professionally known as Ida May, in Winnipeg, Canada. He returned to Britain in 1929 and continued his career here for a couple of years before he retired back to Australia in 1931 and he died there in a private hospital in East Malvern on October 2nd 1941.

© Hungerford Lodge 4748

George Sinclair – Freemason Entertainer

George Sinclair was born in Old Kent Road, South London in December 1858. He was an actor, author, agent and accident prone.
As a youngster George first worked as an office boy before joining the merchant navy. With his seafaring days behind him he embarked on his music hall career and made an early stage appearance in 1882 when he was noted with ‘The Royal Victoria Minstrels’ at the Victoria Coffee Music Hall in Waterloo Road in London.

George was initiated into Freemasonry at Pimlico Lodge No.1772 on 3rd October 1889 and made such rapid progress in the craft as to be installed as Worshipful Master in 1895. In between times, on January 25th 1891, proposed by comedian Fred Harvey and seconded by agent Will Oliver, George was made Water Rat No. 27 on the register of the Grand Order of Water Rats.

The first Water Rats – George Sinclair is second from the left on the top row

It was while George was having a training kick-about with the Water Rats’ football team in March 1891 that he stood on the ball, twisted awkwardly, and ended up with a broken ankle and a broken femur. He was taken to St. Thomas’ Hospital and it was to be June that year before he returned to his office. In December, to round off an already bad year, he broke his left thumb by accidentally slamming it in a door.

George was no stranger to mishap; he had been shipwrecked twice, had two railway accidents and there were several calamities in his pony and trap, one of which had nearly cost him his life. There was more to come. In 1897, shortly after he returned from an unsuccessful business venture in Australia, he sprained his ankle and was confined to his house and in November 1898 he succumbed to paralysis of the legs and was admitted to King’s College Hospital, South London.

In 1895 George had set up a variety agency and sought acts both in the UK and on the continent. He began to make a name for himself as a ‘strong’ agent specialising in athletes, strongmen, weight-lifters and wrestlers. On his books were, among others, Greek strong-man and wrestler Antonio Pierri, strongwoman Victorine Veidlere, a young Milanese wrestler known as Milo and the strongman Carlo August-Sampson. George was also agent for the illusionist and hypnotist ‘Professor’ Charles Morritt who was credited with providing Houdini with some of his more spectacular tricks including how to make an elephant disappear.

George was always keen to assist fellow performers in distressed circumstances but perhaps two incidents in particular may have stuck in his mind and might be cited as reasons why he was an early subscriber to the Music Hall Benevolent Fund & Institution. He was visiting Belfast in 1889 and witnessed the cold-hearted burial of actress Nelly Farrell without ceremony or respect, very indecently interred or “buried like a dog” as he put it. It was left to George to motivate the local vicar to pray for her soul, albeit after the burial, and invite some fellow performers to attend the grave the next day and pay their respects.

Then, in 1893, he and Will Oliver initiated a fund to support the widow of the Manchester music hall proprietor Edward Garcia. George and Edward had known each other during their early careers when Edward was managing the Canterbury Music Hall in Westminster Bridge Road. Edward had been made bankrupt in 1890 and spent the last unhappy months of his life in Grove Hall Lunatic Asylum in Bow, East London, and died leaving his wife destitute. George himself died in December 1921.

© Hungerford Lodge 4748