On 5th September, Hungerford Lodge member Ken Phillips and a troupe of guests including myself, visited the Pimlico Lodge no 1772, which meets at the Royal National Hotel near Russell Square in London. We were there to hear Ken present a talk on the members of the Pimlico Lodge who were among the Noble 600. You can read some of Ken’s biographies in our Entertainer Freemason series.
The Noble 600 is the name given to the 600 people who each gave £2 10s 0d in 1911 (approximately £205 today) to pay off the mortgage on Brinsworth House which would serve as a retirement home for “old performers of both sexes”.
As Ken pointed out in his presentation, there were a number of illustrious names in the 600 who could pay the entire sum by themselves. However, the idea was to make it a group effort to avoid it being portrayed as an individual act of benevolence.
In total, twenty four of the Noble 600 were members of the Pimlico Lodge, including Ken’s great grandfather John Egington, known professionally as Jack Lotto. Jack was instrumental in the formation of the Grand Order of Water Rats becoming Rat no 2.
The Pimlico Lodge members and guests sat listening intently to Ken’s presentation on each member, with the Secretary taking down particulars when Ken enlightened him that several had joined the Lodge using their professional rather than birth names. The Secretary joked that he would write to each brother to admonish them for their wrong doing.
Among Ken’s supporters were Alan Ware MBE who describes himself as having a lifelong interest in theatre and variety and is a member of the Friends of Water Rats and Keith Wrate, the great grandson of William Arthur Rhodes, professionally known as Arthur Forrest. Arthur was initiated in to Pimlico Lodge in August 1891, six months before Ken’s great grandfather Jack Lotto. Arthur was Water Rat no 7.
William Vincente Permane started out as an equestrian circus performer. He was born into a Spanish circus family, his parents being gymnasts and circus performers professionally known as Signor Vincente Permane and Gallipois Sanjuan. The Permane family travelled widely with different circuses and as a consequence their children were born all over Europe. William himself was born in Edgbaston, Birmingham in 1864.
As a youngster William was apprenticed as an equestrian rider to the circus proprietor Charles Adams who he stayed with for fourteen years before moving on Gaetano Ciniselli‘s Russian circus in St. Petersburg. Among his siblings were Spanish born Isabella, also known as Bellamina. She married Tom Transfield whose family at the time were part of the Nethergate Circus but he later went on to be proprietor of his own Transfield’s Circus. William also had two brothers; Henri who was born on Christmas Eve 1865 and who by 1871 had been apprenticed to the Kimberley Families Equestrian School in Glasgow, and Charles, who was born in 1872 and who in 1879 started to appear together with his older sibling as the Brothers Permane. Henri and his wife Ludmilla had a son called Constantine (1889-1940) popularly known as Constant, or even Tina. As this shortened name might suggest Constantine was very proficient concertina player and he appeared with Lily Cragg on the piano as a novelty musical act calling themselves ‘The Two Arkansas’. It was during William’s time as an equestrian performer in Russia that he made friends with Johnny Watson who had a circus act with a bear.
When Johnny was ill, William deputised for him and his fascination with bears began. He assumed the stage title of Captain, acquired some bears, the most promising of which he called Wodka and Sacuski, learned to train them and developed a performing bear act which he presented for the first time in August 1888 at Djurgarden in Stockholm, Sweden. They were next introduced at the Circo Price in the Jardin de las Delicias in Madrid and the Grand Eden Cirque before coming back to England in 1889/90 and appearing at the Covent Garden Circus, the Canterbury Theatre of Varieties and the Royal Aquarium Westminster.
As William related in an interview published in the Brooklyn Daily Echo of January 7th 1900……..“While in Russia twelve years ago I was struck by the way in which the bear cubs are brought up in the houses, just like dogs. Every 10 houses has a cub and the idea occurred to me that I would try and train one for show purposes. The attempt was successful and I have been a bear trainer since. My whole body is covered with bites and scratches and (baring his arm) these marks you see are the effects of Beauty’s teeth which went clean through the limb”.
William always trained Siberian bears, and always females which he found were more acceptable to his methods. He taught them to ride horses, ball-roll across a see-saw and dance and sing (after a style). One of their tricks was to drink from a beer bottle and feign drunkenness. The liquid in the bottle was usually no more alcoholic than sugar water although on one occasion, when they were appearing at Burton-on-Trent, circumstances were such that William had to let them sample Bass beer. He thought no more of it until the next time he tried to use sugar water and two bears, Beauty and Bubu, were having none of it, they had tasted the real thing and refused to perform until the real thing was served again.
William often worked in America and in the early 1900s he would have been among the first to become aware of the novel name of ‘Teddy Bear’, which was coined in connection to President Theodore Roosevelt’s bear hunting adventure, or misadventure, in Mississippi in 1902. Before long William was presenting his act, which might include three, four or even five bears, as ‘Permane’s Teddy Bears’. He continued working these acts until at least 1925 when he was presenting the three bears that had been shown at the British Empire Exhibition in Wembley the previous year.
William was a Freemason. He was introduced to the mysteries and privileges of Freemasonry when he was initiated at Chelsea Lodge No. 3098 in September 1905. He became the first of three members of the Permane family to be initiated into Chelsea Lodge and perhaps unusually, if not uniquely, all three would go on to become Worshipful Master of the Lodge. William was installed as Worshipful Master in 1934. His nephew Charles Henry Permane, listed as a music hall artiste, was initiated in November 1937 and installed as Worshipful Master in 1949. William’s own son, Vincent Adolf Permane, who had moved away from the music hall and into cinema and film production, was initiated in March 1958 and became Worshipful Master in 1970. Vincent was also exalted in Chelsea Chapter No. 3098 in March 1961 and was awarded London Grand Rank in 1980. He remained a member of both Craft and Royal Arch until his death in September 1991 aged 91. William died on 5th June 1939 aged 75.
Blind performer Martin William Henderson was born in Cullercoats, Northumberland in 1881. His parents had their own challenges with hearing and speech but by overcoming all the difficulties that arose, Martin was able to pursue a successful music hall career billed as the ‘Blind Musical Marvel’ or ‘The Concertina King’. As well as the concertina he played the oboe, piano and organ.
He could also play chess, all skills that he learnt as part of his education at the Royal Normal College for the Blind at Upper Norwood, on the outskirts of South London. He started to appear locally around North Shields and Whitley Bay and among his last appearances before his career drew him further afield were smoking concerts at the Grand Hotel Tynemouth in aid of the Tynemouth Rowing Club and he appeared at the North Shields Central Palace of Varieties on the night of January 3rd 1900, the night it was destroyed by fire.
Soon afterwards he was taken up by the Moss Stoll circuit and toured with them for over six years from the turn of the 20th century and in 1907/08 he had a very successful seven month tour of Australia for Harry Rickard.
The Sydney Echo reported thus “…..he played a brief solo upon the piano, after which he gave a duet of exceeding beauty upon the piano and the concertina………he swept the keys of the former with his left hand and manipulated the concertina with his right………in response to augmented applause he illustrated medley methods in the use of the concertina, choosing ‘The Blue Bells of Scotland’ for his theme………his melodious rendering was so heartily appreciated that he was compelled to submit to an encore, for which he gave an imitation of a church organ, his illustration of the ringing of church bells was decidedly realistic and his imitation of a school bell was droll in the extreme. The audience could ‘Hear the Pipers Calling’ when he produced Scottish bagpipe music upon the concertina, for which he obtained another recall“.
He had travelled to Sydney via Freemantle on board RMS Omrah from Tilbury and on December 9th 1907 he opened at the Tivoli Theatre for Harry Rickards who was reported as saying “Apart from his talents as a musician he is particularly bright and pleasing looking, ‘his eyes are open’ ” remarked Mr Rickards “and when he named his salary, I assure you he opened my eyes as well,but he was so good I had to close the bargain“. On the trip out he entertained at two concerts and the passengers were so delighted that they subscribed to strike a special medal as a commemoration of the voyage, as one commentator remarked “Every one of his pianoforte selections is performed as a result of repeated readings from the score by Mrs Henderson and memorised until he can play thus perfectly from the score he has never had a chance of seeing”.
He further endeared himself, to Sydney audiences at least, when he disrupted the schedule to arrange a special concert for the folk of the Blind Institute in that City. Martin’s education at the Royal Normal College had also included training in physical and sensory skills such that when he returned home from Australia he was able to take part in a boxing match with the gymnast and clown Jim Obo as part of the entertainment on an outing of the Terriers Association…….and won!
Afterwards Jim said he had not taken the fight seriously, he intended to play the fool for a few rounds before finishing Martin off and they could all go home. Martin however did take it seriously; there were 50 guineas at stake which he wanted for charity. After the fight he said that after he had landed one decent punch square on Jim’s nose he knew he was rattled and getting more and more frustrated. Martin could sense every footfall as Jim pranced around him, he could feel and hear, and even smell Jim’s arms flailing around through the air. He could in fact ‘see’ every punch coming. His wife would probably have been equally aware of his physical and sensory skills as she bore him eight children.
Martin always took a great interest in the Variety Artistes’ Benevolent Fund & Institution at Brinsworth House and had contributed £2/10/00 in 1911 to help pay off the mortgage and thus become one of the ‘Noble Six Hundred’. He remained an active participant and contributor to that and many other charitable causes.
Martin was initiated into Chelsea Lodge No. 3098 on 17th June 1910. He was initiated by Alfred William Henry Beales who had started his working life as a draper’s assistant but had become a music hall performer, agent and theatre manager professionally known as Harry Bawn. With his touring days over Martin moved back to the North-East and resigned from Chelsea Lodge on 27th February 1922.
Exactly one month later he was accepted as a joining member of Lord Armstrong Lodge No. 3074 at Whitley Bay at which time he was listed as a confectioner. He became the Lodge organist and in 1932 he was a founder of Brier Dene Lodge No. 5344, also at Whitley Bay. He was awarded Northumberland provincial honours as Past Provincial Grand Organist.
On Saturday July 26th 1924 Martin started what was to become an annual busking tour of the town to raise money for local charities. Hoping for £50 to go to the Newcastle Infirmary, he walked the streets playing his concertina non-stop for 12 hours. One report noted that “his handicap in life sits so lightly upon him that it is hard to realise that Martin is sightless“. August 1925 was his second 2nd tour going for £55 to Newcastle Infirmary. It was also in 1925 that he also started along run of radio appearances.
In October 1929 there was a benefit for Martin at the Coliseum, Whitley Bay, to recognise and show appreciation for his services to charity. It was noted that during the previous six years he had raised over £800; the Royal Victoria Infirmary Newcastle alone receiving £400 and other charities receiving a similar amount between them. Martin wasn’t finished yet, he completed ten annual busking tours raising in excess of £1200 with the Variety Artistes’ Benevolent Fund & Institution at Brinsworth House always being well remembered when allocations were made from his endeavours.
Martin died in 1941. His education and training at the Royal Normal College had served him well. The college which had been founded in 1872 still flourishes today. It is now known as Royal National College for the Blind and is based in Hereford.
Leonard Alexander Kite was born in Portsmouth in 1873. He followed his father into the Royal Marine Artillery and in 1891 he was based at the RMA Barracks at Eastney, Portsmouth, as a drummer. Using the professional name of Leo Sterling he was first noted as a music hall performer in 1897 when he appeared as a comedian, dancer, and strolling musician and he toured with Graham Falcon’s pantomime company in their 1897/98 production of Dick Whittington. He also secured several long engagements at the prestigious Royal Aquarium in Westminster. Having mastered the post-horn, cornet, trombone, and bugle, as well as the drums, he developed an instrumental speciality act that also included music, dance and comedy.
In 1899 he was on his second tour with the ventriloquist ‘Lieut Walter Cole’ alongside a young contralto vocalist called Adeline Yohlo. Adeline’s real name was Mary Adelaide Love and she also appeared professionally as Addie Love. She was first noted playing the ‘Queen of the Fairies’ in an amateur production of Iolanthe in her home town of Hastings, where her parents Harry and Mary ran the Pilot Inn Public House on Queens Road. Her early act as a professional was singing impersonations of female celebrities of the day.
Leo and Addie married in West Ham, East London, in 1900 and performed together as the sketch artistes ‘Sterling and Love’. Leo was a member of the Beneficent Order of Terriers and became a Freemason when he was initiated into Liverpool Dramatic Lodge No.1609 in May 1902.
Leo and Addie’s sketches were often built around Leo’s playing of wind instruments; sketches like ‘Fox Hunting’ in which his post-horn was to the fore and a military one called ‘The Bugler and the Nurse’. Others included the nautical sketch called ‘Music Afloat’ and ‘Discord and Harmony’ set in domesticity.
They were very busy between the turn of the century and the Great War and included a tour of South Africa. They also went to Australia where they found even greater success. They were in Australia constantly during the Great War and into the 1920s, and in much the same way as Arthur Hemsley and Elsa Brull, they made Australia their base and eventually their home.
In Australia Leo would need little persuasion to appear at charity events, especially for children, and would make much fun while encouraging youngsters to come up on stage and attempt to play his instruments. In 1949, at the age of 76, he embarked on a tour of New South Wales in support of the ‘Far West Children’s Health Scheme’ and he continued working with his musical novelties acts into his eighties, both on stage and on radio, and became known as ‘The Grand Old Man of Variety’. In September 1954 a Sydney based newspaper, the ‘Cumberland Argus’ wrote “Leo Sterling is a unique artist, probably the oldest active ‘trouper’ in Australia today. His act is an unusual one for he performs with a set of original post-horns that have long been museum pieces. He plays the hunting and coaching melodies with which he made his name on the playbills of London theatres in days gone by”.
Comedian, mimic and vocal humourist, James Pilling was born in 1879 in the Spotland area of Rochdale. The textile industry had been enjoying a boom period at the time and before embarking on his stage career young James followed his father into work in the local silk manufacturing works and cotton mills. Shortly before the turn of the century he made his first stage appearances.
In 1899 and as James P. Ling he was noted demonstrating his skill at mimicking musical instruments at a concert held at Preston Public Hall in aid of The Preston Corps of the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade. He also appeared at the local working men’s clubs and various charity events billed as James P. Ling. In October 1900 he entered a humorous singing contest held at Holmfirth Drill Hall. There were twenty seven entrants, although only ten turned up on the night, and James P. Ling came fourth with his humorous offering entitled ‘A Charity Concert’ and he won ten shillings (50p).
Two months later James entered an Albert Rees’ humorous singing contest at Middlesbrough Town Hall and he came fourth again, this time winning £2. He continued to gain experience by entertaining at venues like Barrow Town Hall where he performed at a concert in aid of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants’ Orphan Fund in 1902. By 1902 he was also performing regularly with Charles Parker’s Æolian Opera Choir & Singers’ Company at Southport Pier, and at Ilfracombe and Scarborough.
With his stage name finally settled at J. P. Ling he started to appear at more notable provincial halls and in 1906 he was first noted in London, at the Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue. James was generally billed as a ‘Versatile Society Entertainer’ or a ‘Versatile Comedian in Vocal Caricatures’ in a career that would span almost forty years. He continued to appear on stage through the Great War and was always happy to make himself available to entertain troops as he did in May 1916 when he was appearing at the Brighton Hippodrome and he entertained alongside Little Tich at the nearby Kitchener Military Hospital.
In the 1920s and 1930s he was also a popular entertainer at masonic festive boards and ladies’ evenings. In 1902 he had married Emma née Woodhouse, the daughter of a boarding house keeper. They had two sons, John and Frank.
James was initiated into Freemasonry at Chelsea Lodge No. 3098 on 15th July 1910. He was also passed at Chelsea in March 1911, but as occasionally happens when one Lodge can assist another, he was raised at Proscenium Lodge No. 3435 in July 1911.
Within four months of being raised, he also became a joining member of Lodge of King Solomon’s Temple No. 3464 in Chester. The raison d’être of that Lodge and the subsequent events that touched Jerusalem in 1924 and came full circle back to England in 1948 make interesting reading. In 1928 he was installed as Worshipful Master of Chelsea Lodge. James was also a member of Chelsea Chapter and was exalted in March 1930. James had settled with his family in Finchley, North London, where died on 26th March 1938.
John Egington was born in 1857, in Kinver, Staffordshire, where his father Joseph worked as a bundler in the local iron works. The family later moved to Sheffield where John, by now more commonly known as Jack, worked as a puddler in the Brightside Steelworks. In 1877 he was obliged to marry local girl Clara Parkin and in early 1878 their first child, Alfred, was born.
Jack was a keen cyclist and had been a successful racing cyclist on the high ordinary, or penny farthing, bicycle in his time. Now with the help of his brothers, Jim and Joe, he made a tiny bicycle for Alfred. Before he was two years old Alfred was taught to perform simple acrobatic tricks and as soon as he was able to perform these tricks on the special bicycle without falling off he was whisked off to the Alexandra Music Hall on Blonk Street.
The manager, William Brittlebank, was so impressed that he immediately included Alfred in the 1879/80 pantomime. The stage name of ‘Lotto’ was adopted and Alfred became ‘Lotto, The Baby Cycling Wonder’. Jack’s next two sons, Walter and Ernest, joined Alfred and they appeared as Lotto, Lilo and Otto, ‘Cycling Marvels’ at one time enjoying an unbroken 32 week run on the London Syndicate halls that included the Tivoli, the London Pavilion and the Oxford.
Other children came along and appeared with the family in various troupes, permutations and guises and family legend tells of there being more than twenty children, but we do know that Jack had at least fifteen with Clara.
In 1887 John, by now known professionally as Jack Lotto, moved to South London and settled in Brixton where his neighbours included the black-faced minstrel singer Eugene Stratton and cockney comedian Joe Elvin. These three became particularly great friends and were known as ‘Old Joe’s Treble’ sharing a love of food, wine, horse racing and gambling etc.
They also shared a love and concern for their less fortunate fellows and in 1889 Jack and Joe, together with some other like-minded music hall folk formed the ‘Pals of the Water Rat’, later to become ‘The Grand Order of Water Rats‘. Jack became Rat No.2 in February 1890 and was elected as the first ever Prince Rat two months later at a meeting of the ‘Select Order of Water Rats’, as it was briefly known. He never became King Rat but was Musical Rat in 1899.
On 4th February 1892 he was among a trio of performers introduced to the mysteries and privileges of Freemasonry when, along with R. G. Knowles, the Canadian born vaudevillian who popularised baseball in England, and comedian Fred Harvey, he was initiated into Pimlico Lodge No. 1772 where his pals Joe Elvin and George Sinclair were already members. Under Jack’s guidance the Lotto family, and their special handmade unicycles, bicycles and tricycles toured extensively and to great acclaim throughout Europe, even as far as Russia, and as often as not to the sound of the ‘Post Horn Gallop’ which became their signature tune. When in London they played the music loudly from the top of their own horse drawn miniature omnibus to announce their arrival at a new venue and it featured in their act, particularly in the football finale; “advertisement is the soul of business” sayeth Jack in an article in the Era newspaper in 1891.
In the early 1900s, Jack was associated with the management of the National Palace Theatre of Varieties in Croydon, a venue more popularly known as the Croydon Empire. He worked as a variety agent on his own account from offices at No.11 Greek Street, in the colourful Soho district of London. He also owned a manufacturing silversmith’s business just behind the Oxford Music Hall where it was convenient for artists of the day to call in and commission his wares.
When the success of the family was at its zenith they all lived together in a grand villa near Croydon. Jack and Clara would host lavish parties for their contemporaries, and the children would practice their tricks and rehearse their acts on the front lawns, much to the enjoyment of their neighbours and passers-by. After he had amassed and then lost his fortune ‘his’ tailor in Savile Row continued to clothe him free of charge until his death in August 1944.
As had been previously agreed, Jack was buried in between his old pals Eugene Stratton and Joe Elvin at Bandon Hill Cemetery in Beddington, Croydon. Following his death the Lotto’s limelight slowly faded but his son Ted and Ted’s daughter Connie continued with a cycling act as ‘Lotto and Constance’ until their own farewell performance as a support act for The Temperance Seven at the Royalty Theatre, Chester in 1963. So ended the Lotto ‘family business’ as Jack always referred to it, some 84 years after ‘Lotto, The Baby Cycling Wonder’ first found his balance.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.