Lewis Waller and Florence West, a couple of Victorian actors


I discovered the show business couple of Florence West and Lewis Waller thanks to a postcard posted on Twitter by MissHistoryGal.  Starting their careers a little earlier than the Edwardian actors I usually research I hadn’t been aware of their interesting lives.

Florence Isabella Brandon was born in Chiswick in December 1859, the eldest daughter of Horatio Brandon a successful solicitor. She had 6 sisters and 2 brothers. She was a keen amateur actress who decided to write to the famous comedian J L Toole to ask for employment with his theatrical company. Having convinced him that she was a serious actress he gave her a trial. Using the stage name of Florence West, she can be found on the billboards of Mr Toole’s company in London and touring England in 1882. In that same year she had quietly married William Waller Lewis, also a keen amateur actor. When a fellow cast member fell ill, she suggested her husband take the part. For several years, Florence continued using the stage name Florence West, perhaps not wanting to affect the matinee idol image which Lewis had acquired along with a host of young female fans. However they were frequently partners on stage.

Lewis was born William Waller Lewis in Bilbao Spain. His father William James Lewis was English, his mother Carlotta Vyse, Spanish. For 5 years he was employed in the city of London, but he always wanted to use, “his fine rich voice,” on stage. His romantic good looks soon made him popular in swashbuckling roles. Florence’s sister, (Constance) Margaret, who as Mrs Clement Scott became theatre critic of the John Bull magazine, described Lewis thus,

“He lived in Cloudland as an enthusiast, a romanticist, a bit of a Don Quixote, a splendid, honest, straightforward, virile man.”

Harry Esmond described Waller’s school of plays as, “The Sword and Caper drama.”

In the mid-1890s he was actor/manager of the Royal Haymarket Theatre and he later impressed with his Shakespearian characters.

The couple had two children, Edmund Lewis Waller born in 1884 who followed his father on stage and Nancy Waller born in 1896. 

In the 1890s as Mrs Lewis Waller, Florence started her own touring company of actors.  In 1904, Florence objected strongly to, “the advertisement of soaps and corsets,” between acts on the screened stage. “I object to half-dressed people being thrown on the screen.”  Such was her influence that the practice stopped during her performances. One of the actresses Florence employed was Ethel Warwick, a famous artists’ model. Ethel later married Edmund Waller Lewis but sadly the marriage ended in divorce.

Both Florence and Lewis died young, Florence, aged 53, in 1912, while her husband was in New York and Lewis of pneumonia, aged 55, in 1915 after a long tour of America, Canada and Australia, with his daughter Nancy by his side.

Ethel Oliver, a Gaiety girl who collected names and husbands #EdwardianActress #Postcards


I discovered Ethel Oliver from someone who responded to my post about The Gaiety Girls and what an interesting discovery she was.  Most Victorian and Edwardian actresses came from theatrical families or at least were supported by their mothers at the outset of their career but Emily Lloyd, as she then was, ran away from home to go on stage. Having been born in Burma in 1874, the youngest daughter of Lt-Colonel Malcolm Lloyd of HM Madras Staff Corps she was brought to England at the age of two, by her mother Louise, after her father’s sudden death. In 1893, nineteen year old Ethel married Sydney Douglas Edward Hall, whose father had been an officer of the Bengal cavalry and from this point her acting name was Ethel Sydney. It is in this name that she is listed in the programme of George Edwards’ production of “A Gaiety Girl”.  In newspaper articles she is praised for her ability as a comedy actress as well as her fine singing voice.

After playing the title role in The Shop Girl on Broadway in 1895 there was a pause in her career for the birth of her son in 1898. In the 1901 census Ethel is listed in her married name, accompanied by her son Durham Hall staying at the South Shore Hydro, Blackpool along with the cast of the play in which she was performing.  But her marriage did not survive as in 1902 she divorced Sydney Hall, citing his denial of conjugal rights and she later married Samuel Robinson Oliver, a man of independent means. This was when she changed her stage name to the better recognised Ethel Oliver. 

However, in 1911 allegations of adultery with John Upton Gaskell were made against Ethel by her husband, Samuel. Guy Oliver, the child she and Samuel Oliver had in 1905, remained in his father’s custody. Once the divorce was finalised, she married John Gaskell and in 1913 they had a son, Peter Upton. At her last three marriages Ethel gave misinformation about her age, probably because she was considerably older than her spouses.

Ethel’s last husband, Alistair Ian Matheson, was at 25, half Ethel’s age but on the marriage certificate in 1924, she is listed as “of full age”.   Alistair Matheson had been a 2nd  Lieutenant during the First World War and then became a commercial artist specialising in animation including the Bonzo cartoon for New Era Films.  Despite the age difference Ethel and Alistair remained together for the rest of her life. Ethel died in London in 1967, her husband a year later.

Home Entertainment in the 1950s: "I love to go a wandering" #Nostalgia


For the first 10 years of my life we lived in a terraced house in a long cul-de-sac in a part of Surrey which now seems to be called south London. It was a quiet road where you could play on your scooter or your roller skates on the pavement and nobody owned a car. Downstairs we had a Front Room, nicely furnished for use at Christmas or occasional Saturdays when my grandparents arrived in a taxi for tea.

At the end of the hall was the Living Room where we spent most of our time. There was a coal fire with three comfy chairs, a utility dining table with 4 chairs and a sideboard on which the very important Wireless sat. That’s a radio if you are unsure.

My early memories include Listen with Mother where I heard songs such as “One, two, three, four, five; Once I caught a fish alive” and I could march up and down the hill with "The Grand Old Duke of York". Rhymes like "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary" growing neat rows of silver bells and cockleshells and the King of Spain's Daughter with her "Little Nut Tree" which only grew a silver nutmeg and a golden pear were also shared. "Polly Put the Kettle On, We'll All Have Tea”, Seemed to end most of the programmes!

On Saturday Children’s Favourites was presented by Uncle Mac, playing such songs as, The happy Wanderer, Arthur Askey's Bee Song, Nellie the Elephant, The Runaway Train and How much is that doggy in the window? My real favourite was a song often played on the adult part of The Light Programme. I called it My Scots Blue Bell, but apparently it was really called “I Love a Lassie” by Harry Lauder. I also enjoyed hearing “I love to go a Wandering” The only programme I can remember from Children’s Hour on weekday afternoons was the wonderful Larry the Lamb who lived in Toytown.

Sometimes at lunchtime my mother and I would listen to Workers' Playtime which was a variety programme started during World War II. It was broadcast at lunchtime, three times a week, live from a factory canteen "somewhere in Britain". It included singers and comedians like Ken Dodd and Julie Andrews. Later my mother listened to Woman’s Hour which apparently included items on, “keeping house, health, children, beauty care and home furnishing and interviews with women of note such as Vera Lynn.”

There had to be a daily dose of The Archers, “an every day story of country folk,” and I can still hear the voice of Mrs Dale from Mrs Dale’s Diary telling us in her catchphrase, "I'm rather worried about Jim..." 

There were some great comedy programmes including The Navy Lark including actors still well remembered today, Ronnie Barker, Jon Pertwee and Leslie Phillips. My particular favourite was The Clitheroe Kid because he was so naughty. But when Dad was at home he often tuned off the Light programme onto the Home Service for the news and weather.

We also spent hours as a family playing Cribbage, Canasta, Snakes and Ladders  or Monopoly but as I was an only child, I usually won.

And then the television arrived. In 1957 only two children in my class no longer had a TV at home, a boy called Paul and me! But my parents succumbed. Now I could watch the wonderful cartoon about Popeye the sailor man, his girlfriend Olive Oyl and the miraculous cans of spinach which made him strong. I also enjoyed westerns like Rawhide and Bonanza, but Bonanza went on till 9 o'clock and i was supposed to go to bed at 8.30. Luckily my mother started to go to an Evening class that night and Dad let me stay up to see the end of the programme!  There was usually a children's serial on Sunday afternoon on BBC like The Silver Sword or Great Expectations but then I was told we had to turn the TV off to let it cool down before Sunday Night at the London Palladium with Bruce Forsythe so I wasn't allowed to see Adam Faith or Cliff Richard in the Oh Boy! programme.

Those were the days!

Linferd Ware: My missing Great Uncle


Linferd Ware was the Great Uncle who most intrigued me and until this week he was also uncompleted, a brick wall. He was the third child of my Great Grandfather George Ware and his second wife, Rebecca Linferd, born on July 1st 1875.  Like all their children he was born above the Town Hall in the Saturday Market Place Kings Lynn. This was because his father was Police Superintendent based in the Town Gaol next door.

Linferd’s story reads like the life of an over-active butterfly. By the age of 15 he was living in Regents Park Barracks in London as a Bandsman in the First Lifeguards Brigade. The life obviously didn’t suit him so with his father’s help he purchased a discharge for £18 and soon after returning home he joined the Lynn police.  There were suggestions of nepotism when he was soon given more responsibility, so he moved to the police force in Nottingham where he worked as a young detective constable. However by 1895 he was attracted to the military again, this time joining the Royal Dragoons, once again as a musician. He was now aged 21, 5 foot 10 inches tall, weighing 137 lbs. He had hazel eyes and dark hair. This time he remained in the army for 3 years before once more purchasing his discharge.  Later that year Linferd Ware married Katherine Clarke (Kitty), daughter of the Kings Lynn Dock Master. At that time Linferd is listed as a Coal Merchant.

Linferd appears twice in the 1901 census. Once with his wife living in the centre of Southampton, occupation musician and Ship steward and in the other entry he is named as a steward aboard the steam yacht, Erin, lying off Hythe in Southampton water.  The Erin has an interesting history. At the time it belonged to Sir Thomas Lipton, who also owned the Shamrock II one of the entries to the Americas cup. Linferd must have been aboard the Erin on April 30th 1901 when it towed Shamrock II to New York.

A Model of the Steam Yacht Erin

After that I was unable to find any trace of Linferd though I suspected a death when he was not named in his father’s will in 1911.  Finally, I found a small death report in the Lynn Advertiser saying that Linferd Ware had died in the Memorial Hospital in Bulawayo, in the Eastern Cape in September 1909 aged 34.  I believe his wife Kitty was with him as Katharine Ware is on the passenger list of a ship sailing from Cape Town to Southampton in 1912.

Travelling through my Early Life #WWWblogs

Spending most of this year not travelling but staying at home has made me think about how I travelled during the first 20 years of my life.  At the time I was born in Scotland in 1950 the plough on my Grandparents farm was pulled by two horses. Here is my Gran with Dick and Donald.

For the rest of the 1950s I lived in a terraced house in Mitcham in Surrey, which is now considered to be south London. I don't think anyone in our road had a car but we had milk delivered by the Co-op electric milk float and bread by this horse and cart. Coal was delivered in sacks carried along an alley to the back of the house and from time to time the rag and bone man or the knife grinder would call round. The street lamps still ran by gas, switched on each evening. To go to central London, my father would catch a bus to his office, while my mother and I would sometimes take a trolleybus to Croydon or take the bus to Tooting for the underground into London.

We moved away from Surrey in 1961 and so I didn't ride on another trolley bus till 1968 when I arrived in Reading, Berkshire to discover they still had trolley buses.  Meanwhile in Glasgow on holiday I was able to ride on trams for many years.

Like most people I travelled on school buses and eventually my father learnt to drive and bought a car.  A succession of Fords ended with me buying his old Ford Corsair.

Prior to that, in 1966 we had sailed to Singapore, where we lived for 3 years, on the P & O Cathay, a 14000 ton ship for 300 passengers. There was a small pool, films were shown and entertainment such as quizzes and music were offered. Going through the Suez Canal was an interesting experience but this stopped in 1967 due to the Arab Israeli war.  

After 3 years we returned via Australia and South Africa on P & O Himalaya, a much larger ship taking 1416 passengers. It was full of young Australians going to Europe for a year and elderly British people returning after visiting their families who had emigrated to Australia.

While I lived in Singapore we took a mini cruise to Hong Kong in April 1967. We sailed there on an Italian ship the Achille Lauro which served amazing Italian food but had rather too many cockroaches in the cabins.

The Achille Lauro was to become famous for disasters. On October 7, 1985, four men representing the Palestine Liberation Front took control of the cruise liner off Egypt as she was sailing from Alexandria to Port Said The hijackers held the passengers and crew hostage and directed the vessel to sail to Syria,  demanding the release of 50 Palestinians from Israeli prisons. After being refused permission to dock at Tartus, the hijackers murdered wheelchair-bound American passenger Leon Klinghoffer and threw his body overboard. The ship headed back towards Port Said, and after two days of negotiations, the hijackers agreed to abandon the liner in exchange for safe conduct and were flown towards Tunisia aboard an Egyptian plane.

 On November 30, 1994, the Achille Lauro caught fire off the coast of Somalia while enroute to South Africa. Abandoned, the she finally sank on December 2.

I didn't sail on another ship until 2012!


Almost #WordlessWednesday Painshill Park, Surrey


Painshill landscape garden was created in the 18th century by the Hon. Charles Hamilton. Using his experiences of doing the Grand Tour through Europe he tried to produce living paintings in a magical garden of follies. His garden attracted many visitors even before it was completed, but sadly due to his mounting debts Hamilton was forced to sell Painshill in 1773. He moved to Bath where he died just over a year later.

The Gothic Temple