"Each has his own tree of ancestors, but at the top of all sits Probably Arboreal." - Robert Louis Stevenson

Monday, 19 March 2012

Fearless Females 2012: Shining stars

Fearless Females: 31 Blogging Prompts to Celebrate Women's History Month

The stars in my tree are plentiful! However, I’m going to concentrate on Amy Hall.
She was born in July 1879. She appears on the 1881 census with her parents at the age of 1. However, by 1891 she is no longer living with her family. I eventually found her recorded as a visitor in the household of James and Agnes Edwards in Grimsby, some 38 miles away from her parents’ home in Lincoln. Surprisingly, at the age of just 11, she is recorded as an actress.
Also visiting the same household are James and Mary Lampard, actor and actress respectively, both of whom were born in Lancashire, like Amy and her mother. Their daughter, Mary Ann (aged 3) was born in Stoke on Trent, where Amy’s grandfather Joseph Bryan Geoghegan had run a music hall for a short time before his death in 1889, and where Amy’s father Matt Hall would soon move to run his own theatre. Though such evidence suggests a family connection, I haven’t yet proved anything. Nearby households also serve as lodgings to actors, suggesting that the theatre is close by.
Amy Hall then becomes rather harder to trace – as do all her family, in fact. There is a possible census record (but under the name Emma) as a dancer in London in 1901, but I’m not entirely convinced it is her. There is the possibility that she marries, but continues to perform under her maiden name, as I know her sister Mona does.
While I have failed to track her personal life, her theatre career is fairly well documented in the Stage archives.
In May 1889, when ‘little Amy Hall’ is just 9 years old and staring in a drama, Saved from the Streets at the Queen’s in Birmingham. The same production has moved to Blackburn by August.
By 1893 she is performing as part of the Rass Chaliss Company in Liverpool, in a production called Parson Thorne. There is an interesting response by this company to criticism that many actors have a private income and pay to join theatre companies, not having any real talent. The critic seems to have used the Rass Chaliss company as an example of this. The response by Rass Chaliss states ‘not one of these good folks ever dreams of paying to be allowed to act (I only wish they would)’. It also lists the members of the company and how long they have been involved in the business. Amy Hall is said to have been ‘born in the profession’ – a fair description given that her father, her maternal grandparents and many of her aunts and uncles were all on the stage!
Sometime between 1893 and 1895 Amy joins the Leopold Brothers’ Company, with whom she stays for the remainder of her career. She takes the part of Polly in their pantomime of Robinson Crusoe (which strikes me as an odd story to make a pantomime from!), plays Ninette in The Bear, Baron and Sentinel, and, most frequently, as Lucy Buckwheat in Frivolity and New Frivolity (which I think is a later version of the same production).
Frivolity was a very successful stage act, being performed for many years. The Leopold Brothers had even taken it to New York in 1884 (not with Amy though, as she was only 5 at that point!).
Amy gets generally positive reviews, often complimenting the quality of her singing. She also seems to be the eye candy of the company, with descriptions like:
‘Miss Amy Hall is a lively Polly, looking exceedingly tasteful in her gaily-coloured frocks’
‘A pretty and dainty Lucy Buckwheat’
‘Sparkling and attractive’
While Amy seems to be performing around London a lot in 1900 and 1901, the names of her fellow performers don’t match up with those listed nearby on the 1901 census return, so while I can’t completely discount it, nor can I confirm it. On the other hand, Amy is almost certainly in Brighouse at the time of the 1911 census – the list of the week’s productions from 30th March, just two days before the census is taken, gives her company and Amy herself as performing there – and yet I have still been unable to locate her.
Amy appears to be working up until at least the 1920s, with performances in The Wife and the Other Woman and Babes in the Wood, but I don’t know anything about the end of her career, or what she did afterwards.
One other tantalizing clue I have is this entry, from the Charles Taylor Collection, held at the University of Sheffield.
Town Hall Cleckheaton
Week commencing Mon 20 Sep c. 1910s/20s
Excelsior Animated Pictures
Latest Dramatic Sensation ‘A Reckless Life’ and other pictures intersperse with high-class vaudeville
Amy Hall – the pocket Vesta Tilley
Edward Stream, comedian
Printed: Will Jones of Liverpool, Cable Street
Red and blue. 285mm x 885mm
NFA Collection

I suspect this gives us some idea of the kind of act Amy was performing in the later 1910s. Find out a bit more about Vesta Tilley here

There’s still a lot of research to be done here, and excitingly for me, there are lots of other family members’ careers to be traced in a similar way – both male and female!

L x

No comments:

Post a Comment

Don't be shy...