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

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

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

%d bloggers like this: