JOHN and AUGUSTA CAROLINA WINGFIELD

John and Augusta Wingfield belonged to the world of entertainment and not surprisingly ended up at Blackpool. They are remembered by a gravestone in Layton cemetery in the town. John was Canadian and Augusta was German. The records aren’t clear where they met up but they are performing at the same venues in the later nineteenth century. John was a dog trainer and his performing dogs achieved world-wide fame. Augusta who performed under different names was originally an equilibrist or spiral ascensionist and then, a little time after an accident during one of her performances which put her in hospital, she changed her act to a serpentine dance. She also achieved great acclaim. As an equilibrist she was known as Alphonsine and as a serpentine dancer she was known as La Belle Rose.

Alphonsine’s career

Carolina, with the original stage name Alphonsine, was German and, on the census return for 1891, is known by her familiar name of Rose and born in 1856. Before coming to Britain she worked in Europe and had at one time performed before the Emperor of Germany when her act was billed as ‘Un Jeu de L’Orient’. She worked the music halls and entertainment circuits as an equilibrist ultimately claiming fame as the only female spiral ascensionist in the world. This involved climbing a narrow spiral to a height of sometimes 50’ (15m) while balancing on and propelling a small sphere or ball, and then descending in the same manner. For this she becomes known as the ‘Queen of the Globe’. The ascent was the climax to her act before which she would juggle while all the time balancing on the globe beneath her feet.

Alphonsine is first noted in England in June 1881 when her performance at the Wigan Infirmary Gala had to be cancelled due to the heavy rain at the outdoor event which had rendered the equipment unsafe. Billed as Madlle Alphonsine, it was thought to be her first outdoor appearance in England. She had already been performing with renown in Europe as the advert for the Wigan festival of 1881 reveals. All was going well until the rains came down in torrents and the organisers considered it too dangerous for her to attempt the spiral ascent. The pathway was only a foot wide and she would ascend up to thirty feet (over 9m) so it was perhaps a wise decision as the boards were by now very wet.

On 13th January 1882 Madame Alphonsine is performing her last two days at the New Star Music Hall, Williamson Square, Liverpool, in the ‘continuing success of the Christmas holiday programme’. As ‘Queen of the Globe’, she is described as the most beautiful lady equilibrist in the World in an advert in the Liverpool Daily Post.

In April of 1887 Mdlle Alphonsine is performing at the Olympia London and ‘will spiral to a height of 50 feet’. In June 1887 the ‘beautiful madame Alphonsine, the only Lady Spiral Ascensionist in the World’ was performing at the Royal Aquarium, London.

In September 1888 new arrivals at the Floral Hall, Leicester are Madame Alphonsine who does, ‘a very pleasing performance on a large ball’ and Professor Wingfield introducing a number of highly trained dogs.

In July 1889, Alphonsine is advertised by her agent, Frank Albert 63 Waterloo Road London SE, as Madame Alphonsine, the only Lady Spiral Ascensionist in the World. On his books is also a Professor Wingfield.

In May 1888 she is performing at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool as ‘the most daring and graceful performer n the World’ and where her ‘daring performance created a profound sensation.’ Her husband is also on the bill with his performing dogs.

Blackpool Herald June 1888

In the November of 1889 Madame (or, sometimes Mlle) Alphonsine ‘Queen of the Spiral’ fell off the spiral during her descent at the Canterbury Theatre of Varieties in Westminster Bridge Road London, from a height of about thirty feet (9m). Normally the spiral structure was fixed both to the ground and to the ceiling above by a central pole. The Canterbury theatre however, had a glass roof so the structure could only be secured at the bottom. On some of her performances she had wobbled and had felt insecure and had wobbled and slipped on more than one occasion. While the increased danger element excited the crowds, it was a concern for Alphonsine. On November 15th however, despite an inadequate attempt to strengthen the structure with a wooden stay beneath the lower spiral, the crowd watched the structure visibly sway as Alphonsine ascended. Having precariously progressed to the top of the rackety equipment. With the crowd holding its breath in anticipation, she was given a hearty cheer of relief as she arrived there. She then paused with evident uncertainty before she made her nervous way down again. When she had achieved about a quarter of the distance, the ball wobbled out of control and she slipped off it. She made a grab for the wooden struts and though she was able to reach them, she wasn’t able to support herself and fell down into the audience below and landed across the back of a chair in the crowded stalls. Assistance was soon at hand and it was at first thought her injuries were far more serious than they seemed but ultimately she was allowed home from St Thomas’s Hospital suffering only a dislocated elbow and some slight scarring to the scalp.

It seems that it hadn’t taken her long to recover from the accident for, five days later, she had written to the editor of the Era to play down the extent of the accident, blaming the inconsistent lighting in the Theatre. On one side the light was sufficient but on the other, she was in deep shadow and had difficulty finding her way down the narrow piece of metal track. She signs herself off as ‘Alphonsine, Holly Villa, Brixton, SW., Nov 20th 1889’ and claims she is now well and able to fulfil her engagements.

After her accident, she had been performing for some weeks with reasonable success though she had failed to reach the summit on one or two occasions. In August 1890, Alphonsine is performing at the Belle Vue Gardens and Circus, Douglas, Isle of Man.

She continued her career but the last time her act is advertised is in 1892. In this year Alphonsine’s acts continued to be advertised. She is described as ‘Alphonsine, Queen of the Spiral, the Only Lady Globe Spiral Ascensionist’ and her address is given as 50 Loughborough Road, Brixton London SW.

It is about now that she changed her act and name to the serpentine dancing of La Belle Rose, and billed from Paris. Born in 1856, she would be in her late thirties now and perhaps she didn’t want to push her body any further, and dancing, though still on the globe beneath her feet, was less perilous it would seem. For her act she continues to elicit great acclaim through the 1890’s and into the 1900’s. To supplement a sporadic income, no doubt for the periods of being out of work, Alphonsine, described as Rose Alphonsine, found commercial sponsorship from Elliman’s Universal Embrocation and these adverts appeared in many papers, much as celebrities market their names today.

This advert appears in the Sketch of Feb 6 1894.

Having re-invented herself by changing her act, her name and origins, John Wingfield’s dog act seems to also disappear from the revues and advertisements. In its place is a M Richard, also billed as French and whose dogs perform, quite coincidentally, a serpentine dance and they are several times on the same bill as La Belle Rose. There is a Youtube video of a serpentine dancing dog by photographer Birt Acres and possibly would be a performance of M Richard (?John Wingfield) and dog in the sequence, though there were other similar, and popular dog acts.

In 1894 at the Lyric Theatre, the danseuse, La Belle Rose now billed from Paris, performed a fascinating and charming serpentine dance. The act involved the female dancer dressed in a long and flowing garment of flimsy material which she swished about so that the illumination from the electrical stage lights on the darkened stage would pick out the features of the dress in their different colours and designs. The difference with La Belle Rose was that that she did it on her sphere and she achieved rave reviews. When images of the Prince and Princess of Wales were displayed on the extended, twirling skirts, the audience became patriotically excited but when the portrait of Queen Victoria herself appeared, this excitement turned wild, the audience rising to their feet acclaiming and cheering. You wonder how it made Rose feel as a German pretending to be French, and praising an English queen!

On the 4th July 1894 La Belle Rose, as a ‘Terpsichorean Novelty’ is advertised to appear at the Crystal Place.

On the 2nd February 1895 Alphonsine as ‘La Belle Rose’ continues to perform upon her globe with this somewhat risqué and recently popularised serpentine dancing act. It is interesting to note that she is often on the same show as some serpentine dancing dogs. Though these are not referenced as those of John Wingfield, they are nevertheless the animals of a certain M (Monsieur) Richard. It may be a coincidence, but John, as Canadian, would be au fait with all things French and was probably even fluent in the language also. M Richard, it seems, was sued in Paris as something to do with the copyright of the serpentine dance, first introduced by the American dancer Miss Loie Fuller. Perhaps John and M Richard were the same person, as yet unverified but very probably so.

At this time in 1895, La Belle Rose is at the Gaiety Theatre Dublin billed as the latest Parisian Novelty, the ‘Original ‘Kaleidoscopic Dancer’ on the Revolving Globe and was a great success. ‘No praise however ardent and undiluted can do justice to what may be fairly called the transformation skirt dance of La Belle Rose. Nothing more pretty or graceful has ever been seen at the Gaiety or anywhere else,’ records a reporter from the Herald among other newspaper eulogies.

In March of 1895 La Belle Rose in ‘her Serpentine Globe Act’ is at the Palace, London. On the same bill and next to her in the advertisement is M Richard and his Serpentine dancing Dogs.

In May of 1895 La Belle Rose enthrals the audiences at the London Palace Theatre. With music composed by an Alfred Carpenter, one of her features was to reveal a portrait of the popular theatre manager Charles Morton, lit up in the folds of her flowing attire.

In September of 1895 La Belle Rose is still entertaining audiences at the Palace Theatre London.

In June 1896, La Belle Rose, the Original Floating Kaleidoscopic Dancer on the Revolving, Invisible Globe was in her tenth week of engagement of a ‘bewildering beautiful’ performance at the Palace Theatre, London).

In February 1897 the ‘danse electrique’ of La Belle Rose is wowing audiences at the Brighton Paragon.

In July 1897 La Belle Rose is continuing for another fortnight at the Empire, Blackpool. However, for a further engagement in August of the following year her agents sued her for the commission of £10 payable to them. As Mrs Wingfield, dancer, her address is given as Felix Gardens, Brixton London. Her agents and plaintiffs are Paul Auger and Gustav Bauer (two German names with who she may have initially felt comfortable). It was however found in her favour as the extra engagement was not a prolongation of her engagement but a renewal which in law finds for the defendant in this case. It was a landmark case heard at the Lambeth County Court since it had implications for other performers and agents countrywide.

Still in 1897 La Belle Rose is performing at the Empire Palace Liverpool. She is the premier attraction ‘from the London Syndicate Halls’ (a combine of the Music Halls, in a revamp of their image from old to new; Wikipedia).

On the 30th April 1898 la Belle Rose receives rave reviews with her performances at the Empire Palace Theatre, Edinburgh, a ‘graceful representation of poetry in motion’ or the ‘gauzy draperies of the dancer undergo a wonderful transformation in appearance as the gorgeous lines of butterflies, the bold colouring of national flags or a mingling of flame-like tints are thrown upon them.’

In August of 1898 she is back in Blackpool at the Empire Theatre.

In September of 1898, the serpentine dancing of La Belle Rose at the Tivoli is wonderfully pretty and effective.

In February 1899 la Belle Rose is at the London Pavilion performing ‘her graceful and picturesque dance on the rolling globe, with electrical effects, a Kaleidoscopic Make of Harmonious Tints’.

In September 1899, a Belle Rose is in Blackpool at the Winter Gardens.

In 1909 La Belle Rose is performing with Chevalier Ponchery in an amazing high wire act at the Thornton Games in Scotland, so the Fifeshire Advertise states in July of that year. Rose would have been 53 years old by then, so it would seem incredible if indeed it was her, though a high wire act which would mostly be about balance rather than physical strength or energy.

It is not known when Alphonsine came to live in Blackpool, but her husband John Wingfield appears on the electoral rolls for 1914.

On the 1939 registers, Augusta Wingfield is living alone, John having previously died, at No 9 Mere Road, Blackpool. Her occupation is described as unpaid household duties and retired. Her birth date is given as June 4th 1856.

On Oct 12th 1947, Augusta Carolina Rosaline Wingfield died aged 92 years. She is buried in her husband’s grave at Layton cemetery.

John’s career

The first reference I have found of John is for September 14th 1881 when John Wingfield’s dog act is worth more than the admission fee alone at the Opera House in Wilmington Delaware.

On January 8th 1882 Mr John Wingfield and his School of Nine Educated Dogs with Leaping Greyhound, Prince, are advertised as appearing at the Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia.

In April of 1882 he is at the opera House in Terre Haute, Indiana and in May of 1882 he is performing at the Brooklyn Park Theatre. At Christmas he is at the Horticultural Hall in Boston.

John Wingfield is first recorded in England in 1884. He had several highly trained dogs. As well as being able to jump over a high stack of chairs from a springboard and do various other tricks, he has now taught them to pray by sitting up on their back legs and putting their front paws together. However, in this performance in Brighton, when his back is turned they all lower their paws and only resume the praying position immediately he faces them again. Another time it is only a single, trained mischievous dog that misbehaves in this manner. His act is always well acclaimed.

In 1885 John Wingfield had been performing in London at the Alhambra Theatre and was now in his 9th month. The date of this advertisement is 22/8/1885 and thus he would have been in London for Christmas 1884.

In January 1886 at the Paragon Music Hall, London, Professor Wingfields dogs ‘display remarkable canine sagacity’.

In May 1887 John Wingfield and his dogs were performing at the Crystal Palace.

At Christmas 1892 Professor Wingfield and his dogs are performing at the Empire Palace, Landport, Portsmouth. Sometime in the 1890’s it seems he changes his name to Monsieur Richard and his dogs have been taught the serpentine dance which they perform to great acclaim.

On Feb 18, 1929 John Wingfield died, aged 74 years. He is buried in Layton cemetery, Blackpool.

His death notification is recorded in the Era of 27th February of that year. It is interesting to note that he was still significant enough to have his notice published in the industry magazine, since his name is not found in the newspapers for a long time previously. Here his wife is described with more importance than himself it seems. While he is remembered for his ‘All Star Dog Circus’ he seems to have been remembered more for being the ‘dearly beloved husband of Rose Wingfield (Mdlle Alphonsine, “Marie Rose”, “La Belle Rose”, “Rose Celeste” – the Spiral Queen and Serpentine Dancer).’

John and Alphonsine

In May of 1885John Wingfield and Alphonsine are first recorded in the same show together at the Brighton Aquarium. Alphonsine’s act is to juggle while balancing on a large ball and keeping this up while travelling up and down a see-saw. She is not yet a spiral ascensionist. John Wingfield receives much praise for his performing dogs.

In December of 1885 John Wingfield and Madame Alphonsine (spelt Alphonsene) are recorded together for the first time in a newspaper appeal for managers for a number of artists from agent Frank Albert, of 169 Stamford St London SE. It is possible then that the two met through having the same manager.

John and Alphonsine continue to perform at the same venues through the1880’s and, at the 1891 census, John and Rose Wingfield are living in London at 50 Loughborough Rd Brixton. John is 36, a music hall artist and his birthplace is Canada. Rose is 34, her occupation is left blank and they have a daughter, Jemima who is eight years old and born in the USA. If Jemima is the natural daughter of Rose and John then they had been together since at least 1883 and if married, the date would have been a little earlier than that.

This puts a current doubt on the possible date of Jemima’s conception since the parents were on different sides of the Atlantic around that time. More probably she is John’s daughter and Alphonsine’s stepdaughter, if indeed she is a relative at all

La Belle Rose performs several times in Blackpool but the London address of the Wingfields doesn’t change to Blackpool in the records until John is found on the electoral rolls for 1914 and 1915 (without the vote, Rose does not get a mention). They live at No 9 Mere Rd and John dies at that address in 1929 and still earns a short announcement in the Era, his industry magazine. Alphonsine continues to live alone at that address until she too dies in 1947 at the age of 92.

Alphonsine at the top of her spiral ascent
https://www.lookandlearn.com/history-images/M545316/Madame-Alphonsine-the-Spiral-Ascensionist?t=2&q=the+strand&c=45&n=212

Sources

  • Contemporary newspapers via findmypast.
  • Electoral rolls.
  • Census returns.
  • Denys Barber guide to Layton Cemetery.
  • Wikipedia
  • Internet research

https://www.bl.uk/catalogues/evanion/Record.aspx?EvanID=024-000000916&ImageIndex=0

https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/AS18900118.2.48.20

An example of the serpentine dog act here; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LmFG65sY7X0

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