Some Names Associated with the History of Blackpool.

David and Maria Vero

Referring to the grave at Layton cemetery Blackpool, a little bit of research shows that both David and Maria Vero were from Dewsbury and both, it seems evident, possessed a committed radicalism to their causes. Dewsbury (Wiki) was a centre for radicalism and Luddite riots as industrialism grew faster than the society around it could cope, or care. David was working in a mill by the age of 14, and his brother, James, was also working in a mill at 12yrs old, so it can be assumed that David had started work at an early age, too. Both David and Maria would grow up with the aura of desperate dissatisfaction and the concept of the unfairness of working conditions and those inevitably bound within them. It would have been evident all around them and a compassion for humanity and a derived contempt for the injustices of life, would develop from there.

David Robinson Vero and Maria Brear were born in Dewsbury in 1837. On the 1851 census Maria was a scholar and her father a millwright, so the Brears were a little bit further up the social scale than the Veros whose pater familias was an iron founder and David and his brothers, mill workers. By 1861 at the baptism of his daughter, David is described as a mechanic and, on the 1871 census, he is working as a mechanic on a metal lathe. In 1911 David, who had been living with Maria in Blackpool for some years by now, after working away, is described as a superannuated member of the Amalgamated Society of Engineers.

David Vero and Maria Brear married in 1860 in Dewsbury. A daughter Teresa was born in Batley in 1861. Though Maria is living at No 33 Exchange Street while David is still working in Batley, their address on the 1911 census is given as 35 Exchange Street, next door, when David had moved permanently to Blackpool (earliest date; 1906 electoral roles but their daughter Teresa married Alfred Heald in 1897 in the Fylde, so there is already a connection here).

Maria, so her gravestone states, was a member of the women’s suffrage movement. The Manchester branch of the movement was a hub of northern activity. She was involved from the earliest days of the movement when the final straw and the inspiration for women to get together and unite against the unfair domination of the male in society is demonstrated in the general reaction to the Contagious Diseases (Women) Act of 1865. Both David Robinson Vero and his wife Maria were active in campaigning for a repeal of the Act and its amendments, and held meetings at their Dewsbury home at Crossbank where Mrs Vero presided. The Act stated that women could be stopped, searched and even locked up without redress if suspected of prostitution. This was to protect men, especially the armed forces, against women and the spread of contagious diseases. Women were considered more dangerous than an enemy it would suggest. The Act was repealed in 1886 (Wiki). In her old age, Maria Vero may have been one of the suffragists harassed off the beach with violence by an unsympathetic crowd of both sexes at Blackpool in the summer of 1908.

In 1874 the Veros are also indicated in the celebrated case of the Tichborne inheritance. Taking the side of honesty, reason and fairness, they rallied against the forces of corruption and privilege in high places. The Tichborne case (a film was made about it in the 1990’s) involved the disappearance and alleged reappearance of Sir Roger Tichborne, heir to extensive estates. He had been assumed lost at sea but a man claiming to be him appeared back in England from Australia and made claims to the title and estates. Though he was able to convince the dowager Tichborne that he was her son, he had the demeanour and appearance of an ordinary man and that fact put him at loggerheads with the ruling classes in the ensuing court case. To others, then, just because he had been working as a butcher in Australia for many years it did not disqualify him from any legitimate entitlement and he became a kind of working class hero. The Veros come into it when the man was declared a fraud, sentenced to fourteen years penal servitude and his defence Counsel, Dr Kenealy, an eccentric character by all accounts, disbarred. In the Batley Town Hall, David Vero chaired a meeting to deplore a class system that had given an unjust sentence to the claimant and had resulted in the unfair treatment that Dr Kenealy had been handed out. The final resolution of this meeting reads, ‘That this meeting sympathises with Dr Kenealy in the unjust persecution to which he is now exposed and resolves to petition Parliament for the abolition of Gray’s Inn as a useless and corrupt institution.’ Extreme, no holds barred sentiment.

It was irrelevant whether the claimant was genuine or not, and there is still controversy as to his status, but David Vero, along with his wife Maria fought against perceived injustice with a religious fervour.

The gravestone also refers to a commitment to the Temperance movement, solidly adhered to by the heartstrings of some, vigorously opposed by others who reserved the right for the need to drink themselves to oblivion – or just to enjoy a glass or two of wine or ale. In the 19th century, Temperance was opposed by the (Liberal MP) owners of the celebrated Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the Blackpool area, and championed by the MP for North Lancashire, Wilson-Patten, whose successful Parliamentary Bill was ridiculed on one occasion by a Blackpool licensee, in an incident of ironic humour, and which would have made good material content for a situation comedy script in today’s world.

It appears that both David and Maria possessed some strong immunity to controversy, in which their heart strings were made of a strong weave. The reference to the Ancient Templar on the gravestone would no doubt relate to the commitment to the Temperance movement in particular to the Order of Good Templars, (instituted in USA 1n 1851 and established in England by 1870) and eventually a global society, which accepted women equally to men among its ranks. David and Maria Vero were involved from the very beginning of these movements for the cause of fair treatment and justice for all human beings. For the International Order of Good Templars, the only requirements for qualification as a member was a belief in God and an abstention from all alcoholic liquor and drugs. On the one hand this may be seen as being a party pooper, but for those who have witnessed or have been subject to the effects of the abuse of alcohol, as many women then and now have experienced, it would be considered sensible and rational. There was a deep, religious conviction in the movement without the need to belong to a religious denomination. Well, Christian denominations anyway, at the time. It would seem that both David and Maria possessed this conviction and exercised it throughout their lives.

My great grandfather in the above certificate was a member. He was from a background of severe naval discipline which ultimately resulted in the break up his marriage from which his wife and children returned to England from Capetown after experiencing the Boer war there. For some, yet unknown, reason Mrs Marsh chose to settle in Blackpool. She is buried in Layton Cemetery.

The censuses keep David and Maria apart. They are living together in Batley in 1881 but in 1891 David is living with his mother in Batley. Maria is not there. In 1901 he is boarding in Batley while working as a mechanic. Maria, in 1901, is described as a boarding house keeper at 33 Exchange Street. Her daughter and son in law Alfred are living with her. Next door at No 31 is Senior Vero and wife. Senior is a younger brother of David. It seems that David’s eventual retirement from full time work, allowed him to settle in Blackpool with Maria.

The gravestone at Layton cemetery reveals that Maria died Feb 20th 1913, aged 76, five years before she would have qualified to vote. David died 22nd December 1924 aged 88. Both were at 35 Exchange Street at the time of their deaths.

Their daughter Teresa, born in 1861 in Batley, married Alfred Heald in the Fylde in 1897. (Alfred was a Yorkshire man born in Holmfirth). She continued living in the family home of 35 Exchange Street and then, by the late 1920’s, can be found on the electoral registers along with husband Alfred. They have a daughter, Maria, born in Blackpool and the family line continues from there.


Any information that hasn’t come from newspapers or the gravestone itself, which I have visited myself at Layton Cemetery, has been sourced below. Where I have consulted Wikipedia, it is included in the text.

The verse on the gravestone is the last verse of a Temperance hymn, which can be found here;-

Further information on the International Order of Good Templars is sourced from here;-

George Harrop General Manager of the Tower

Born in Oldham, George Henry Harrop lived at 77 Reads Road in 1911, with his wife and three adult children, one of who, George, was acting manager of the Grand Theatre at the time. He was general manager of the Tower from its inception in 1894 to his retirement in 1926. Before the opening of the Tower, he was secretary to the Blackpool Tower Company. He died at his home in 1938 aged 83. The stars he booked included names such as Music Hall artiste Vesta Tilley, and renowned opera singers, Clara Butt and Adelina Patti. He is attributed as the man much responsible for creating Blackpool as a classy entertainment resort.

The picture above is from the Era 1908

In the days when the licensing laws were much stricter and the Temperance movement stronger, he successfully applied for the bars to remain open on Wednesday afternoons (the former tradesman’s half day holiday), Saturdays during the winter, and extended hours for the Christmas period. Both music and dancing licenses were also necessary to apply for and he successfully saw these through, creating a venue where the sexes could deliberate to meet and socialise without necessarily having to go to a hotel or other drinking place. He also successfully applied for licenses for the performances of stage plays in respect of the Tower Pavilion and Circus.

In 1908 the entrance fee to the Tower was a tanner, or sixpence (6d), (less than 3p- when, a little later, the wages for a soldier in WW1 were 7d a day). It was a time when the advice from those from the deep industrial areas of the North who had experienced a visit was, ‘Tha’ll get t’best tanner’s-worth in t’world at t’Tower’.

His first job was to do battle with the licensing authorities to grant alcoholic drinks licences for the Tower facilities when completed. The Aquarium and the Beach Hotel were already on the site of the proposed Tower construction and had renewable drinks licenses in place. In 1893 as secretary to the Blackpool Tower Co, he argued the case for drinks licenses on the premises being transferred to the Tower from these establishments when it had been completed. A place to be used purely for entertainment was normally considered unsuitable for a drinks licence as these were only usually granted for hotels and those places which offered accommodation. George Harrop had to argue his case against this opposition. There were only six other places in Blackpool which had licenses and which at the same time didn’t offer accommodation. Drunkenness in the town was on the increase and 331 people (320 on the streets and 11 in licensed premises out of which, 276 males and 46 females had been convicted), so he had to convince the authorities that alcohol at the Tower would not lead to an increase in these figures.

In 1908 a reporter from the Era, the showbiz publication, was given a tour around the building, and was informed by the manager, that the most popular comment expressed by those entering the Tower was the great variety of entertainment provided for the paltry sum of sixpence.

The structure was lit up by 16,000 lights and 130 large arc lamps and a spotlight at the summit. Much of the gas that the Tower needed to drive its machinery was produced on site, but it was also the largest consumer of town gas in the town as electricity was still in its infancy. (At the time the town’s gas was produced at the gas works on Rigby Road).

The reporter was then taken up from the basement to the circus itself, with a capacity of 3,500 and was already of some renown in its young age. A variety of entertainment was on offer which included the clowns, Bob Kellino and little Pim-Pim, who appeared to be great favourites especially with the young, and there were also the musical clowns, the Brothers Webb. To the background of the orchestra, there were acrobats and skilled cyclists, horse riding, animal training, mules, monkeys and dogs, all trained to entertain with humour and skill. George Harrop is claimed to be the first person to bring the celebrated lion tamer Herr Seeth to Britain in 1894 where his acts with his lions and other beasts were performed within a cage which rose up into circus arena for the performance.

Herr Julian Seeth was Swedish and, somehow, was a friend of the king of Abyssinia and from whom he had received some of his lions. He had a strong and imposing physique and had trained over 300 lions during his time. He was renowned throughout Europe and so it was quite some coup for George Harrop to get him to Blackpool before anywhere else in Britain. There is always an element of cruelty involved in moulding wild animals to the whims of humans and in 1905 Herr Seeth was fined £2 and costs at Nottingham for cruelty to a pony which had been turning the merry-go-round upon which there were several lions. It is not recorded whether the lions were enjoying themselves or not, but one of them had had enough and leapt off to maul the pony enough to have to put the poor equine down.

It wasn’t the only accident as, in Blackpool itself, while after-season alterations were being carried out at the Tower circus in September of 1898, a joiner involved with the work was mauled by one of the lions, all of which had been allowed a free run within a railed off area. The joiner had had the misfortune to lean on the railings and the lion from within grabbed him by the arm and then the neck and face. Fortunately there were folk about to help and, by ripping off his jacket, they were able to release him.

But the more sedate entertainments continued in their variance and included a swimming tank, where the swimmers exhibiting this season of 1908 were the Finneys. Swimming exhibitions were a popular form of entertainment and were not to be denied the progressive entertainment of the popular seaside resort. They were an excuse for the men to ogle at the scantily clad females in their somewhat tight fitting costumes, and later on, to collect the cigarette cards to hide in the pockets. Less obvious than a telescope on the foreshore. And they were also an opportunity for the women to outwardly demurely, but no doubt with inner keenness, admire the Linford Christies on show, which was a delight denied in the usual cover-up of ordinary Edwardian day costume.

Further upstairs, the reporter was taken next to the Aquarium in which he marvelled at the world-wide variety of fish represented there. Climbing more stairs from there, they passed the silver model of the Tower presented by the shareholders to John Bickerstaffe, the chairman. Further along were cages of exotic birds. Anathema to today’s public, but spectacular in their relevance to the times, the Cape and Abyssinian lions, cheetahs and the monkeys were confined in their cages. Up more stairs and the reporter enters the roof gardens. In one of the ‘cosiest and prettiest retreats imaginable’, there is a profusion of exotic plants. At one end of this is a café where, while eating, musical entertainments and comedy could be enjoyed.

In another part of the building was the Old English Village, (which had a drinks licence) but the reporter was more interested in the fact that it was to be pulled down during the winter and replaced with a Chinese Town to be designed by Frank Matcham at a cost of £10,000. George Harrop and the reporter then took a trip in the lift to the Tower top and marvelled at the extensive view to be had and then their itinerary took them to the Pavilion and ballroom.

Here the more exquisite entertainment was on offer, for which a higher fee was paid for entry. 1/- and more for the upper balconies. He was entirely responsible for bringing, Clara Butt and Vesta Tilley, household names of worldwide fame, to Blackpool and both contributed to recruitment and the Red Cross during WW1. Vesta Tilley would take to the town to heart and eventually marry Walter de Frece, the theatrical impresario, and later, by her encouragement, MP for the town.

George Harrop retired in 1926 and Harry Hall, who had been manager of the Grand Theatre, took over the managership. He died at home on 14th February 1938. He was 83 years old.


All information above is directly from newspapers (British Library via findmypast) and from the census returns.


Sir John Bickerstaffe died of a sudden heart attack at his home, Highlawn, on Hornby Rd on August 5th 1930. He was 82 years old and had been ill for a while, but had seemingly recovered and had recently been able to drive his car and visit the Tower offices. Only a week earlier he had been at the town’s aerodrome to welcome the King’s Cup winner, Mrs Winifred Brown. By fortunate coincidence both his only son Robert, normally resident in Liverpool, and daughter Mrs Fleetwood Parkinson over from Capetown to visit, were present at the time of his death.

The funeral took place on Saturday 9th August and the cortege left Sir John’s home at 10.30am with its ultimate destination of St John’s Church where the service was conducted by Rev Little, a close friend of his. Between his house and the church, the cortege first proceeded to the Promenade where it paused outside both the Tower and the Palace Hotel with which he had been intimately involved. At these venues as well as at the Clifton Hotel, there were tributes to the ‘Grand Old Man’ of Blackpool or just ‘Mr Blackpool’ and outside the Tower, the whole of the staff gathered to salute his passing.

Every local authority was present at the funeral as well as every public organisation and there were over 200 floral wreaths, and that representing the Tower from the officials and employees of the Tower Company being six foot high. In a deferent tone, the wreath from his chauffeur, Dixon, was inscribed with his regular nightly words to his employer descriptive of the domestic scene of the times, ‘The fire’s dying out, the water is nice and hot, the windows and doors are bolted, the mouse traps are set, and there are no mice, goodnight Sir John.’

The funeral had taken place on the same day as the Blackpool Victoria Hospital Flower day and, in the days before the NHS, it was one event of many to attract funding to the Hospital. An anonymous gift of £1,000 (£66,843.93 today) was given reportedly by a friend of the deceased on behalf of the deceased because John had always given generously to the hospital.

LDP August 11 1930. Outside St John’s Church

His story is as one of the pioneers of Blackpool, being born, along with his brother Tom, in a tiny whitewashed cottage in Caunce Square, in the area that is now Hounds Hill in on January 20th 1848 when Blackpool was only a collection of a few houses and cottages and wasn’t yet a civic authority.

Both his father and grandfather made a living from the sea and John and his brother first made their money by taking visiting ‘gentlemen’ out on boat trips. With the first expressions of an entrepreneurial spirit, he bought some land fronting the shore to build a boatyard to increase his business as the railways were bringing holidaymakers to Blackpool in their droves. He was however encouraged into making a living out of Blackpool as a holiday town, as it became evident to those with entrepreneurial spirit and capability, and in the place of the boatyard he built the Wellington Hotel in 1851.

His cousin Robert was the coxswain of the Blackpool lifeboat, the Robert William, and John was ever present to assist as a member of the crew going out on many a daring rescue and was present on at least four notable incidents. The first of these incidents being that of the brig St Michaels in the September of 1864, the lifeboat’s first call, when John would have been only 18 years old. The French barque had lost its direction and had dangerously anchored by the Crusader bank and would have been wrecked at the turn of the tide but, with the help of the lifeboat and a couple of sailing vessels from Fleetwood, the ship was escorted to Fleetwood, its ultimate destination. At the time 10,000 folk cheered out the lifeboat and cheered its way back in after three hours of strenuous work by the crew. Later on in 1886, John nearly lost his cousin, when Robert was washed overboard from the lifeboat during the unsuccessful journey to locate the missing and ill-fated St Anne’s lifeboat which had gone out to respond to the distress of the Mexico off Southport.

Regarding the creation of Blackpool Tower, the popular story of John Bickerstaffe’s epiphany at the foot of the Eiffel Tower is somewhat apocryphal, it is understood. It is more understood that he was invited to join an enterprise to create a Tower in Blackpool to reflect that of the one in Paris and John agreed, putting his energies and his money into it, and history reveals its ultimate success which hadn’t been achieved without his own, determined vision and personal financial risk.

He had married Eliza, daughter of James Gerrard an innkeeper of Glasson Dock, in 1876 at Christ Church Glasson Dock and he first entered public life in 1880 at the age of 32 when he represented Brunswick Ward as Councillor until made alderman in 1887 and he served two years as mayor from 1889 after which he was embroiled in keeping the ownership of the Blackpool Tower Company in Blackpool and out of the hands of a London consortium. He was Conservative and Imperialist by conviction which suited his capitalist proclivities and which lent a hand to his ultimate success though not without a dogged determination. As a Conservative he was leader of the party and its chairman, and chairman off the Wainwright Conservative Club which he saw built. During his mayoralty he inaugurated the foundation of the Victoria Hospital, a necessity brought about by the town’s inability to respond with medical care to a disastrous railway smash at Poulton, and was on the Board of Management. By 1897 he had also established the Fylde Water Board, being a member until his death. He was chairman of the Parliamentary committee, arguing through and presenting several Town Improvement Bills. He was also chairman of the Advertising Committee and from 1907 he was the Blackpool representative of the Territorial Association for West Lancashire. As a young man he had been one of the first members of the Blackpool Artillery Volunteers and had won prizes for shooting.

His private, business activities included at one time or another, chairman of the Clifton Hotel Company, the Crystal Mineral Water Company, the Blackpool Passenger Steamboat Company (which included a steamboat called the Bickerstaffe), the Raikes Hall Estate Company and the Blackpool Electric Tramway Company, a first for a town in England. During WW1 he was chairman of the Recruiting Committee and of the Voluntary Aid Committee, and representative of the Military Service and National Service and West Lancashire Territorial Force Association and on the Local Advisory Committee for the post war resettlement of Labour. He was also honorary vice president of Blackpool Football Club.

Fleetwood Chronicle October 20th 1930

He appears to have been a man who was able to confidently stand his ground in argument and often contended the views of the vicar of St John’s (Rev Balmer at the time). John was in the hotel trade as a licenced victualler through which he made much of his money, and arguments against licensing the sale of alcohol from an abstentionist viewpoint did not hold much purchase in his enterprise. For his arguments with the vicar in the pulpit, he was colloquially referred to as ‘the Rev’ but there was no bitterness in the rivalry, just a difference of interests. His public generosity included a gift of £1,000 (£120,458.33 today) to Victoria hospital on the coronation of King George in 1911 and previously £1,500 (£201,697.67) to the England Victorian schools which commemorated the Queen’s jubilee and he had also donated land for the recently opened Stanley Park.

In 1905 he had been made a magistrate and later a County JP and in 1912 was granted the title of Freeman of the Borough and he received a knighthood in 1926. He was a man that liked to mix in public and regularly walked around the town in his daily routine to and from the office, and shopkeepers would set their watches to the minute by his unchanging regularity. By the time of his death, he had been a member of the Town Council for nearly fifty years and a director of the Tower Company since its inception in 1891.

After his death, the current mayor, Councillor Gath, was appointed to alderman to fill the position vacated by the death of John Bickerstaffe. John’s brother Tom, already chairman of the Winter Gardens Company as the Tower Company had taken it over, was appointed chairman of the Blackpool Tower Company, having been on the Board of Directors since 1911. John’s son Robert Gerrard Bickerstaffe was appointed to fill the contemporary vacancy on the Tower Company’s board.

Mr Robert Bickerstaffe, Ald T. Bickerstaffe
Fleetwood Chronicle 20th August 1930

His estate gross was £108,424 (£7,247,486.34) another newspaper report has it as £178,834. The executors are his only son Robert in Liverpool and two sons in law, John Winder and Thomas Harrop. He had requested that the solid silver replica of the Blackpool Tower, which is still on display at the Tower today and presented to him by the Blackpool Tower Company Ltd., should go to his son with the understanding that it should remain in its position in the Tower, or a similar position within the building. His son would also receive the silver engraving containing the Freedom of the Borough along with the illuminated scroll presented to him by the Borough.

He seemed to have been showered with silver gifts during his years as ‘Mr Blackpool’ and in his will he left them in equal shares variously to family members which included his children, Mrs Elisabeth Constance Winder in St Annes, Mrs Edith Mary Harrop in Blackpool, Mrs Lindsay Robinson in Lytham and Mrs Fleetwood Parkinson resident in South Africa, and unmarried daughters, still living at home and also his grandchildren, the family solicitors being Ascroft Whiteside of Birley Street.

Many streets are named after local folk, usually men, who have had an influence in the town and the Bickerstaffe name is now represented in the modern development containing the Council offices in Bickerstaffe Square.

All images are copyright British Library Board and the account is almost exclusively from the British Library newspaper archive via findmypast. Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (

The Bank of England inflation calculator has been used for all amounts relevant to 2020.

November 6th, 2019

Benoit Desquesnes

Referring once more to the graves in Layton cemetery, research shows that Benoit Joseph Desquesne(s) was born in 1821 in Maroilles, Northern France and lived in Valenciennes also in northern France. He had studied art and sculpture in Paris and was a founding manager and democratic-socialist leader of the Valencienne Economique co-operative based on socialist models developing at the time and, more specifically, on that of Lille in the locality. This socialist model appears to involve a certain amount of mutual collectivism, co-operative and profit sharing, but it didn’t prosper as well as others.

He lived through revolutionary times and would have experienced the 1848 Parisian disturbances and the election of Napoleon 3rd.

In 1852 with the coup d’Etat of Napoleon 3rd (December 1851) who, reflecting modern day US politics, didn’t want to relinquish power, so took hold of it anyway dispensing with the election process and proclaiming himself Emperor, Benoit, as political opposition, was arrested at home along with his ‘concubine,’ Mirande – presumably the woman he was living with at the time, and probably of equal intellect and aspirations. On his arrest, the list in his possession of 153 shareholders of L’Economique was confiscated and the politically undesirable L’Economique was shut down. Benoit was given a six months prison sentence for belonging to a secret society and no doubt all the names on the list received a visit form the arresting authorities.

Benoit was just one of thousands who possessed political views opposed to Louis Napoleon and who were arrested and exiled or imprisoned. Others, including Victor Hugo, fled the country.

Benoit’s prison sentence left him financially ruined and he departed France for a statutory ten year exile in England where he settled in London and first appears in the Westminster rates books for 1858.

London was a collection point for many exiled Continental Europeans who took refuge on the more enlightened soil of Britain and there was much mutual help and assistance to be found among them. Several political anti-Napoleon organisations formed in London to continue the struggle against the regime in France and Benoit Dequesnes belonged to this movement. These diehard anti Napoleons were known as the Quarante-huitards (the 48-ers’) referring to the legitimate electoral system by which Napoleon was elected in 1848. The International Association, which existed in London from 1855 to 1859 and which was founded by French, Polish and German refugees and English chartists, was one of these. This Association can be regarded as the first international organization of a proletarian and socialist character and it is difficult to imagine that Benoit was not involved in it in some way. In London, Benoit, described as a local démoc-soc leader from Valenciennes, received commissions not only to paint individual portraits, but to assist in the sculpting of the decorations for the Crystal Palace. Much commissioned work came from France and since there were many French craftsmen and artisans in London some of this work was naturally consigned to them, unknown to the French authorities. Benoit was one of those sculptors and, in a consignment of busts (of the cephalic kind), of the French Empress Eugenie, he placed seditious material inside these creations before they were then exported to his homeland. It was one way of many in getting propaganda back across the channel and there would be many subversives keen to get their hands on to them.

Ironically perhaps, both Louis Napoleon (who was the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte) and Empress Eugenie, both found sanctuary in England until their deaths after fleeing from their own overthrow in 1870.

Benoit was also actively involved in Freemasonry, perhaps a continuation of his French activities, and it doesn’t take him long to become established. As new Lodges developed they were subject to conflicting ideas. With ancient Egyptian and Greek imagery there were friends and enemies of these conflicting ideas. If Benoit was a friend to one name, he was also an enemy to another name which included notables such as Alexander Dumas.

While in London he married Elisabeth, Canadian born and no doubt comfortable with anything French, and they had a son, Ernest.

On the 1861 census he accommodates a fellow artist and painter, Alfred Mirande as a lodger and whose surname reflects that of the ‘concubine’ arrested at his home in Valencienne in 1852. Perhaps this female, denied a Christian name by the report of the arrest, is the sister of Alfred but anyway most likely related in some way, directly or indirectly. Benoit has established himself in work as a house painter and is employing three men and a boy.

Benoit continued as an active intellectual and an artist by profession. He eventually settled in Blackpool and lived at 25 King Street where he taught drawing and French at the College House School, Queens Square.

2nd April1 880 Blackpool Herald

He was active in politics of a socialist nature, accepting the complexities of including the mass of the population into the political equation a continuation of political ideologies while in France. He would have come across as a friend of the working man (and woman) when he claimed that, in calculated demonstration, that drunkenness and consequent violence increases when the distribution of public houses is less than more. The more pubs the less drunkenness. He would have been around during the construction of the Veevers Arms over the road, but not at its current demise. Of course, it was only topic discussed in the Blackpool Literary and Debating Society which met periodically at No 6 Queens Square, home of Councillor Marsden. Free speech, free trade, the openness of politics and Parliamentary reform in objection to the limitations of the arbitrary decisions to officially close Parliamentary debate at a whim, running scared and potentially losing the argument with continuing discussion.

His Frenchness didn’t leave him as in 1891, shortly before his death, he was elected honorary president of the Societé Francaise du Fylde which held weekly meetings, on this occasion at the house run by the Misses Lord and perhaps appropriately called ‘Rougement’, on Adelaide Street .

Mrs Desquesnes meanwhile, like all women, prominent on the ground but not worthy of a mention except for putting on a good spread for the men and only included in the usual numerous toasts after the ale or wine had been consumed in reasonable quantities, was a competent pianist and was present at Church meetings which included other prominent folk. At the Unitarian Free Church on Banks Street, which as an annual event, it was presided over by Mr And Mrs Laycock, of Lancashire dialect poet renown (and also in Layton Cemetery). In 1886, at the same Unitarian Church she was back on the piano to entertain among others, including Samuel Laycock himself who recited a couple of his poems. It was a gathering arranged by the Ladies Sewing Society, to welcome back the minister of the church, Rev F Haydn Williams from the Isle of Man.

In 1882 while in Blackpool he received a pension from the French Government as a former victim of the Napoleonic coup d’Etat of December 1851, though he had reportedly declined a pardon from the French Government because it wasn’t he but Napoleon who had been the wrong doer.

Blackpool Herald May 24th 1889

He eventually began teaching private lessons from home, charging half a guinea (about £65 today 2021).

In 1888 he wrote and published a brief autobiography in Blackpool. (Esquisse autobiographique d’une victime du coup d’état du 2 décembre 1851). I think there is a copy of this in the British Library.

He died on the 2nd of June 1891 and his wife Elisabeth is the administrator of his will. He is buried at Layton Cemetery Blackpool. The funeral took place from his home and the first carriage in the procession was a brougham, a higher class of Victorian carriage in which

His son Ernest born in London in 1858, and described as of Huguenot descent, qualified as a solicitor and, after his marriage, lived in Cheshire. He was actively involved in Liberal politics and intellectual circles originally in Blackpool. After, at first, unsuccessfully standing as Council candidate in Salford he succeeded by 16 votes (out of over 1,000) in the election of 1889 and eventually, from Councillor graduating to prominent alderman, was elected mayor of Salford for 1913-14. He had graduated from both Victoria University, Manchester and Paris University and passed his law qualifications in London in 1881. He married Janie Tottie in 1887 and had a son, Arnold and a daughter, Jeanette Betty (Nanette). He was a Liberal in politics and he delivered several speeches to the Blackpool Liberal Club on English land reform and the Irish Land question and lectured at several venues in the town on differing political angles and personalities. At a meeting of the Blackpool Literary and Debating Society in November of 1881, the motion put forward was, ‘That Conservatism properly understood in theory and rightly developed in practice is the highest political wisdom.’ Ernest Desquesnes with his Liberal political bias countered with, ‘That Conservatism as it really is, in theory and in practice, is the narrowest unwisdom.’

In 1906, in reference to the Unemployed Workmen Act of the previous year, he was Chairman of the Distress Committee. He was actively involved in War relief in Manchester during WW1 while Elisabeth was also involved in social issues in the City and was president of the Salford Ladies War Committee. in 1884, now working in Manchester as a solicitor, he was presented with a marble timepiece for his association as President of the Blackpool Literary and debating Society at an evening’s dinner at the Victoria Hotel in the town.

His son, Arnold a solicitor also, was injured during WW1 as Captain Desquesnes of the 8th Lancashire Fusiliers. As Lt A Desquesnes he is listed as either missing, injured or invalided in the Manchester Grammar School magazine for 1917. Benoit’s daughter Nanette married into Italian nobility in 1915 and worked with the Red Cross in Sicily during WW1. The family of her husband, Aldo Jung fighting on the Italian front was from a Palermo family.

In 1944 Arnold Desquesnes, Registrar of the Rochdale and Salford Courts was appointed Joint Registrar of the No 4 County Courts, which included the Lancaster, Preston, Blackburn, Chorley, Darwen and Blackpool courts, so the name Desquesnes once more became associated with Blackpool.


Newspaper archives
Census returns, electoral rolls rates books
Denys Barber and the Friends of Layton Cemetery.




1869 Manchester – 1942 Blackpool

Swimming Champion of the World

The Stalybridge Phenomenon. The Lightning Merman

Joey Nuttall was born in Deansgate Manchester in 1869, and the family moved to Stalybridge soon after. The story of Joey’s swimming life and his exceptionally speedy rise from boy champion (he was included in a gala programme for the Tyldesley Club event for 1882) to adult amateur champion and then, as a working class hero to some, a professional, world champion, is well recorded. It was a time when professionalism was arising from the amateur ranks of sport and the working class sportsman of skill and opportunity could command high stakes and prize money. It was also a time when there was a moral distinction between the ethical purity of sport in the amateur ranks and the material and financial gains to be made in the professional arena which sullied that ethic of ‘sport for sports’ sake’. Even by 1902 it was regretted that the Prince of Wales could present a cup for an amateur race but the professionals, inspired by the ‘impurity’ of the gamblers, were denied that perceived honour due to their distance from that Victorian ethic. Of course the professional sportsman was always in danger of being the toy of their manager or backer. Even in the 1960’s it took a stand-off between a professional footballer, Blackpool’s home grown George Eastham, to take on the sports’ authorities to claim his rights. During the time that Joey was achieving both amateur and professional success, the amateur sport of swimming was going through changes promoted with vigour by the ASA secretary William Read of Blackpool (whose father had constructed the baths in the town) and continued in the same vein with his son Eric, a swimming and water polo blue of Cambridge. Joey had been English amateur swimming champion in 1886, 1887 and 1888 and from this last date he turned professional and continued his success.

Joey Nuttall’s personal life however is less well known and thus less well recorded. Stalybridge, where he grew up and began his swimming career, and where it is reported that the Huddersfield canal provided a good practice medium, had suffered the effects of the cotton famine caused by the American civil war and which affected the whole of Lancashire with both its extreme poverty and its consequent community solidarity in dealing with it. Joey’s eventual worldwide fame lit a beacon to this community and its working class of people in demonstrating that a person could break free from its restraints.

In 1881 11yr old Joseph was at school and living at 273 Garside’s Yard in Dukinfield, Stalybridge. He is living with his father Thomas, mother Betty, brothers George and William and sisters Georgina and Elizabeth. His father is a coal merchant. In 1891 Joey, at 21 had already been entitled the boy wonder and is classed as a Professor of Swimming in his job description. His mother has died and his father is now a beerhouse keeper at the Greyhound Inn, Hully St, Ashton under Lyne, Stalybridge where his two sisters, Georgina and Elizabeth Ann, work as waitresses, while his brother William carries on work as a coal merchant. It is reported that Joey eventually became landlord of the pub (1907-10) and the failure of the venture led to one of his financial crises.

From the opening of the public baths in Stalybridge, his prowess in swimming had developed, a skill which was quite intuitive to him and, turning professional by 1888 he was able to earn a reliable income. This income continued to support him until age caught up with him and he turned to exhibition swimming and swimming instruction, and managed a pub for a short time as other professional swimmers, including J A Jarvis whom he had trained, and who was a good friend, began to beat him. At the end of November 1901 he competed against his protégé Jarvis at the Manchester Osborne but lost by 3.35 seconds, Jarvis being the reluctant winner due to his respect for his teacher. They were both managed by Mr A Farrand of Leicester, a city where Joey spent much of his time and no doubt where he met his future wife Gertrude, who was a Leicester girl.

Billed as the Lightning Merman he performed at the Blackpool Tower aquatic show from the late 90’s which probably familiarised himself enough with the town to eventually return to live and work outside swimming which could no longer support him. In 1898 after his season at the Tower there was still opportunity for swimming challenges and he left for Loughborough with his managers to train for his forthcoming showdown with J McCusker, the American, at Hollingworth Lake, a mile race which Joey easily won. Joey was always more comfortable in still water though competed many times in sea races among which include those recorded at Brighton, Ipswich (the Ulph Cup), Plymouth and Llandudno. Blackpool also hosted swimming competitions in the sea. In 1901 a 500 yards swimming race was competed in the sea at Blackpool by the Blackpool club though Joey was not involved.

In the days of his amateur career it seems that his father acted as his manager. In one of his last amateur races in September of 1888 at Lambeth (which he easily won, breaking the record for the third year in succession) his father was present, looking after him. At this time Joey is described as ‘the most unassuming and friendly disposed of young fellows this or any other generation has known in connection with sport.’ At this time, a list of his amateur achievements which is claimed not to be comprehensive includes, ‘records for 40, 50, 80, 120, 160, 200, 300, 400, 440 (salt water), and 1,000 yards.’ In prizes these include ’25 and 15 guinea cups, £25 and £15.15s prizemoney, watches, 20 guinea diamond medal, 15 guinea silver fruit vase, 10 guinea gold medal, £25 challenge vase.’ Little wonder his dad looked after him. His physique is described as 5’ 5¾” in height and a little over ten stone in weight, and he won his first race, it is claimed, when nine years of age in the Stalybridge baths.

In 1893 September 13th Joey Nuttall set a world record time of 2mins 20 secs for 200 yards in the Accrington baths.

In 1901 Joey is boarding at 26 Fernally St in Hyde and is maintaining his profession as a swimmer. In this year he had been made the instructor at the Cossington Street baths in Leicester. By this time however, he was talking of retiring after his arranged race with J H Tyers when he had put out a challenge to any swimmer in the World to take him on for £300. He had already broken the world record for 300 yards in October of that year

Joey had tried to retire but it seemed that he wasn’t either very unlucky with finance or not very good with it. The income from exhibition swimming and instruction it appears, was insufficient to keep him and by 1901 he had fallen on hard times Such was the reputation of the quiet, unassuming champion admired by all in and out of the sport, one who glided through the water at great speed with hardly a ripple or a sound with his famous ‘Nuttall’ or ‘Lancashire’ kick of cross-legged and single, under arm stroke, and a champion who had challenged all worldwide and beaten all. Such a champion had earned the great respect and accolade of everyone and the swimming fraternity and influential well-wishers rallied to his side. Through testimonial galas and events, his financial poverty was alleviated. In this year the high profile Manchester Osborne club announced its intentions to support the idea of a benefit for Joey. In 1902 a benefit was held for him at the Leicester club (in which he swam and achieved the best time) though in this case, the financial return was disappointing. It was not unusual for a professional sportsman to be short of cash and in dire straits and Joey was not alone. While he had earlier a potential earning of £500 for a single competition, with the gamblers raising the stakes and the prize money, it was reported that fellow competitor J B Johnson, a former champion of England was in need, and lying in hospital in Leeds without an income, and it was hoped that his fellow swimmers would rally round to help him out.

Perhaps this financial help had enabled him to travel and swim for an come and he is to be found racing, and winning, in New York in 1904, reluctant to retire and taking on the Americans in their home waters, a difficult task to do as the crawl rather than the single arm action of Joey’s was becoming the dominant and faster stroke.

He had married Gertrude (born 1883 in Leicester) about 1909 and they had a son George whom they were to lose tragically later in life. Joey still describes himself as a professional swimmer though by now well past his peak he concentrated more on exhibition work. He is living at 49 Walmsley Street Stalybridge.

By 1925 it was discovered that he had fallen on hard times once more and it seems he had never been a good businessman though was not considered to be at fault for these hard times, (another report states illness for his predicament). In Blackpool he moved from one address to another, according to the electoral rolls. In 1925 the ex-mayor of Hyde, Walter Fowden wrote to the Liverpool Football Echo to appeal for funds to assist Joey Nuttall who had fallen on these hard times after several of his business enterprises had failed. The appeal was to all those in the sporting world to support a former champion who’d given a great deal to sport, and whose name had been on everyone’s lips at one time. Mr Fowden had already provided Joey with enough funds to keep him from homelessness. A gala did take place in November of that year at Stalybridge for the ‘Joey Nuttall’ Testimonial Fund in which champion swimmers and the English water polo team captain took part in competition and exhibition. By 1926 it is reported that, assisted by a fund of £200, collected from several galas in the North West, Joey and his son are now ’on their feet’, Joey having found an appointment in London.

Once more the swimming world had rallied to his assistance and again his situation was eased. Later on ,in his residency in Blackpool, he would no doubt be able to appreciate the success of his Cheshire born and fellow townsperson, Lucy Morton who was the first female individual swimmer to achieve an Olympic gold medal, this being at Paris in 1924. Swimming techniques had changed and the single arm, ‘trudgeon’ side stroke of Joey’s had been overtaken by the crawl, and the famous ‘Nuttall kick’ had become redundant. The more ‘graceful’ breaststroke of Lucy Morton was considered more apt for a woman.

At the time of his son’s death in 1928, he was living at No 5 Cromwell Road Blackpool and working at Fielding’s brickworks. He was working near his son George at the clay pit when the tunnel into the clay collapsed on top of him. George was working with Robert Swarbrick who had managed to jump clear. His father, Joey, was working close by and immediately ran to his assistance but to no avail. It’s perhaps uncomfortable to understand that the clay which has constructed some of the Hoo Hill or Warbreck bricks which hold up some of the houses in the area has been responsible for the death of a workman. There was a clay pit, a brick croft, where the school now stands on Warbreck Hill Road which in later years had naturally filled in with water to create a pond and was given the name locally of ‘Danger Deep’. Perhaps in understanding George’s death, it was not through some arcane and mystic, Celtic mythology of water, nor even the ever present danger of drowning to ward off carefree and adventurous youngsters that gave the body of water its name but a distantly obscured memory of the tragic death of a friend and neighbour, the son of the former, unbeatable swimming champion of the world.

In 1937 he reportedly made a final, celebrity appearance at Stalybridge baths, swimming two 25 yard lengths in good time for a 68 year old.

By 1939 Joey had retired, describing himself as a ‘general labourer retired’, and was living at 47 Calder Road, sharing the address with another family in the North Shore area of the town. Here, they have another child, a daughter, born about 1925, who is ‘at school’ and who later marries to become Mrs W Bailey (ref; Keith Myerscough). Joey would be 70 by now and Gertrude 56 years of age so they would have had their second child quite late and who would have been close to leaving school at that date.

Joey had a nephew, named after him and who also took up his uncle’s sport.

As a sportsman he was also interested in other sports. In 1899 he was a spectator at a running race in Oldham (it is reported that he lived in Oldham at some time) between Harper and Downer, two prominent names in athletics. In Blackpool there was ‘a dozen of promising runners going through their paces in anticipation of a match or a handicap at one of the centres’. Tom Burrows, another athlete with racing and jumping records also thought it suitable to make his home in Blackpool for training.

Joey’s death is recorded in 1942 and he is buried in Layton Cemetery Blackpool and, lacking funds for a gravestone at the time it seems, his plot is unmarked. A gravestone has been speculated for the cemetery at Layton, subject to funding it seems.

Update; A blue plaque projected for the site of the demolished Stalybridge baths (now a Tesco) was unveiled in September 2019 by Joey’s grandson, George Bailey at Stalybridge library.

Sources and further reading.

  • Contemporary newspapers (via Findmypast).
    Census returns, electoral rolls, bmd’s.
    Denys Barber and the Friends of Layton Cemetery.

Information taken from the following websites and not corroborated in the newspaper reports has been qualified with ‘reported’ or ‘stated’.

https; lightning-merman-of-stalybridge




4 generations of the Read name that lives on in Reads Avenue in the town as a relict of the Reads estates and reference to the gravestone in Layton Cemetery.

William Read, who originally brought the Read name to Blackpool, was born in Blackburn in 1806 and, by the time he began work as a weaver, he was living in Worsthorne, near Burnley. In 1826 he married Jane Baldwin at St Peters’ Church, Burnley and they began a family. Sometime in the 1830’s, William left his job at the mill and branched out on his own as a travelling salesman, quite a precarious thing to do. Perhaps unemployment had been forced upon him or perhaps he had confidence in his own ability, a confidence that was eventually proven as he created his own wealth and success. He was responsible for building both Reads Baths and Market situated on South Beach.

In the early days as a travelling salesman, and often with the help of his two young sons, John and Enoch, he pushed the cart containing the pots which he had chosen as his product, up and down the steep terrain of east Lancashire, moving from village to village. Hard work, especially in winter.

One of the towns he came to was Blackpool, and sometime in the late 1840’s he decided to settle down and he took up the rent of a stall in the market. Blackpool had a large watershed of customers especially in the summer season. The arrival of the trains in 1846, made sure that these numerous customers would come to him, and it was probably the major influence of his decision to settle in the town. His customers would now come to him rather than it was he who had to go out in search of his customers. He was evidently a capable salesman and hard worker and from these small beginnings he never looked back, bringing his family to live in the town. The women in his family don’t get much of a mention in the records, and Jane must have worked hard also to keep the family together. He was one to speculate, and Blackpool was the right place to do that at the beginning of the property boom years with land prices increasing and farms and much of the vacant land giving way to development. On his death, William left, in part of his will, £400 to his children in equal amounts of £50, so it’s reasonable to assume that he and Jane had eight living children in total.

Three sons, John, Enoch and Jonathan, continued the family success through the next generation. A son William was born on the 17th February 1834 in Worsthorne, though he doesn’t appear to have had the successes of his brothers and I’ve not been able to determine a date of death for him.

Enoch Read was born on March 14th 1836 at Worsthorne while his father was working as a weaver. He was baptised on May 11th at Keighley Green Methodist church. In 1860 he was living in Preston where he was working as a general dealer. In late December of that year, he married Ellen Elliot at the Parish Church Preston. Both are described as ‘of this town’ in the bmd section of the Preston Advertiser. Enoch is living in Clayton Court.

By the 1861 census Enoch, as head of household, is a general dealer aged 25 and living in Duddeston Rd, Aston, Birmingham. His wife Ellen is not at the address but his brother John (11 years older than Enoch) and his father William are all described as general dealers. Also John’s wife, Sarah is at the address and is not given any status.

Enoch’s business activities expand and by June 1866, and resident at 50 (possibly a misprint as the census gives his address as no 53) Howe Street Birmingham he is advertising his consignment of Alderney and Guernsey cows for sale.

By the 1871 census, Enoch is living with his wife Ellen and their two year old son Enoch. Enoch senior is now a potato dealer and employs three men at 53 Howe Street Aston, Birmingham. His nephew, William H is living with him and working as a carter.

In 1872, Enoch is in dispute with the Local Board in Blackpool about rates payable on land and buildings arising from the construction of the new promenade (opened with great ceremony in 1870).

In June of 1875 Enoch died in Birmingham and his body was brought back to Blackpool for burial at the Bethesda Chapel. His obituary in the Bedfordshire Mercury of June 19th reveals that he was the second son of William Read, a hawker of pots. Even at 10 years old he and his brother used to help his father push the cartload of pots from town to town from their home town of Worsthorne near Burnley. Eventually they settled in Blackpool and William took a stall at the current market which was about 1845 and, so the article goes on to say, through sheer hard work and honest effort, reaped the rewards of success.

Not long after, in August of 1875, Enoch’s wife Ellen died at Kent Road in the town. She was 36 years old.

Enoch’s opportunity for wealth arose when there was a hay famine in the north of England and he bought up extensive supplies of hay from the South of the country and sold them in the north, making a pretty penny out of it. In doing so he became the largest dealer in England and traded internationally too, in Europe. He also dealt with cattle, importing them and selling them on at auction.

But he had the closest attachment to Blackpool, where he had his first success in learning from the industry of his father. He owned land in many counties and in Blackpool his estate already included Reads Road (now Reads Avenue) along which many houses of quality had been built because he wanted Blackpool to be a quality place to live and visit. He was preparing to move back, and his prospective house had been built and the furnishings had been finished and all was ready for the move.

His body was carried back to Blackpool on the 2nd June. He was a well respected man and at his funeral there were 100 tradesmen along with many Blackpool residents and gentlemen from Birmingham. The Reverend Waymanconducted the service at the Victoria Street chapel before the coffin proceeded to the Bethesda Chapel for burial. Conducting his eulogy in the chapel graveyard, the Rev Wayman described Enoch as a man who had come from nothing but who had not forgotten his roots. He had done much to open up Blackpool and when the story of Blackpool would be told, he would be ‘counted amongst its earliest benefactors’.

In October of1875, the executors of Enoch’s estate continued its development in advertising for contractors to create roads through Bonny’s estate in respect of the late Enoch Read.

However, there was a prolonged dispute over Enoch’s. As Enoch’s body had been brought back from Birmingham, there was a deep division within some members of the family. One member of the family had made an application to the Home secretary to have the body removed from its resting place at Bethesda Chapel to be buried elsewhere. Such was the intensity of the rift that, when it was discovered that the ground around the vault had been disturbed, it was feared that the body had been removed by the other party. This encouraged the trustees of the Chapel to investigate and in doing so found the body to be still in place. However, they decided to take action against the perpetrator, whoever this may have been.

In 1876the distribution ofEnoch Read’s estate is challenged in a case Read v Read. John and Jonathan are described as two of the defendants.

In 1877more of Enoch’s estate is sold off but the reason being in this case is that he has given up farming (which he most certainly had done!). It is Hunters Pool Farm at Mottram St Andrew in Cheshire and included all the farming equipment and livestock.

In August of 1878Enoch’s estate is still being sold off within the conditions of the case Read v Read. Enoch had owned several properties throughout the country and this case concerned his estate in Huntingdonshire and Cambridgeshire.

In 1898more ofthe estate of the ‘late Enoch Read’ was eventually sold off in 16 plots of building land. This included some on Read’s Road and some frontage to Whitegate Lane. This land is referred to as William Read’s estate. No 2 Cocker Street, (called Rowland House and the auction announcement makes no mention of the baths), and which sold for £3,666, the Belvedere hotel which sold for £2,500 on the promenade at Central Beach. Land was bought by anybody with any money for development in the boom times of the town.

Finally, in 1900 the residue of Enoch’s estate was old off by the trustees. It included land fronting Whitegate lane and Palatine Road and numbers 18 and 20 Nelson Terrace on Revoe Road.

John Read

In August 1888 John Read died at 30 Bonny Street. He had been ill for about a year and was 60 years of age, suffering from bronchitis and jaundice at the time of his death. He was born in Worsthorne in 1828 and along with his father and brother Enoch, helped his father in hawking pots until the family eventually settled in Blackpool. John went into the potato trade with his brother Enoch and lived in Birmingham for some time, especially during the winters for some reason. Like his brothers he speculated in property and prospered through it. For some time he had a home address on Park Road before moving to number 30 Bonny Street. He left his whole estate to his wife and on her death it would pass to his only son Alfred. At his funeral were several councillors and property owners and he had taken an active interest in the town’s affairs (his nephew William John would marry the daughter of Councillor Fish). He was a trustee of his brother, Enoch’s, estate. He was a Weselyan as defined religiously.

In 1866John and Jonathan Read sold off land in three lots at auction including tenanted properties in Cocker Street, King Street, Church Street and High street.

In 1868both John and Jonathan Read sold off more land and property in King Street, High Street, Cocker Street, some for building and some as tenanted properties. In 1871John Read is living at No 30 Bonny Street which is next door to the Brunswick Hotel and he is a potato merchant. He is living with his wife, Sarah.

In1891Alfred Read, son of John Read, is living ay No 57 Albert Street with his wife Elizabeth and children John and Florrie who are at school. Alfred is a house and land estate agent.

In 1939 Arthur Read, John’s son and Eric’s cousin is a provision merchants’ representative and his wife Margaret is a hotel proprietress.


Jonathan was born in Worsthorne in 1841. He is perhaps the most prominent of the brothers in the direct affairs of Blackpool. Proprietor of the Baths and Market on the sea front, Chairman of the Raikes Hall, Councillor for Brunswick Ward, though he didn’t always get on with the Local Board, being served with notices for fly tipping in 1875 and fined 5s (25p) for letting his dogs run amok on Bonny’s estate in 1882 (though by now, shortly before his death, he would have been vey poorly).

He is first in the records in 1863.While correcting some information concerning the origins of the (north) pier construction, James Rigby, architect and surveyor of Preston, suggested that the original idea was put to him by a Mr Lewis and while he himself had been supervising the construction of two houses on South Beach belonging to the late John Cragg, he had just completed the New Market and Baths and Assembly Rooms for Mr Read, and had little time to take up in sketching designs for the new pier.

In 1866John and Jonathan Read sold off land in three lots at auction including tenanted properties in Cocker Street, King Street, Church Street and High street.

In 1868both John and Jonathan Read sold off land and property in King Street, High Street, Cocker Street, some as building and some as tenanted properties.

On the 1871 census Jonathan and his wife Emma are living at 20 South Beach. The two elder daughters are born in Smethwick and the youngest daughter, 5 year old Emma is born in Blackpool. John is a potato merchant and baths proprietor.

Later in the year, in June of 1871Jonathan Read and two business partners dissolved their partnership of hay and straw dealing.

In 1875 Jonathan Read along with William Bailey,’ both of who are declining the farming business’ sells up all his farming equipment and livestock.

In August 1879 the well-known, well-established and well-stocked Reads Market on the South Beach frontage, set alight. A little before 6am the first anyone knew of it was the ringing of the fire bell in Back Victoria Street. Though the fire brigade was quickly at the scene, there was little hope of saving any of the stock, much of which was either part insured or uninsured by the individual stallholders. They instead concentrated in containing the fire to stop it from spreading to the neighbouring premises, on the one side the house of the owner, Jonathan Read and on the other, the house of Thomas Heap on Bonny St. which had suffered a little damage. The single storey market building was completely gutted and the nature of the goods within it, consisting of drapery, wooden toys, dolls, clothing and a large collection of books. Most stallholders suffered some loss, and some complete, devastating loss. Several stalls of jewellery were lost and Mary Whalley, whose stalls ran the complete length of one side, lost at least £1,000. Mr Howarth who had insured his book stall for £750 had let the insurance lapse. He also lost £50 in gold which he had intended to take to the bank, but had put under one of his stalls instead. It was hoped that the gold would eventually be recovered in the debris. At the outbreak of the fire, Jonathan Read with ‘characteristic energy’ gave every assistance.

On the 1881 Census Jonathan Read, living at No 20 South Beach is a farmer of 30 acres employing one man and he is also a baths proprietor. He is 40 years old and is also a Councillor. His wife is Ann and his only child is John William, 19 years old, an articled solicitor’s clerk (born in Smethwick). Also at the address, are Sarah Squires and a niece, Emma. There is a niece living next door too.

In 1882,on the 22 January Jonathan Read, proprietor of the large baths in Blackpool died of heart disease at his home at No 20 South Beach. Avery popular man, at his funeral the cortege was several hundred yards long and all walks of life were represented, from civics to tradesmen. Six coaches conveyed family members. All the eight pallbearers were tenants of the Read’s estate. At the house, a short service was conducted by the Rev Mallilieu, Primitive Methodist, and at the cemetery it was conducted by Rev J M Pilter at the Non-Conformist Chapel. There had been some controversy over the Council status of Jonathan Read and there had been rumours circulating of corruption, though non-corroborated, in Council circles. In November of the previous year, a petition ad been lodged with the Town Clerk, objecting to the potential re-election of Jonathan as Councillor for the Brunswick Ward in the town. Jonathan was a Liberal candidate and the claims of bribery and corruption true or false (he was a popular man and so any opposition would have been a daring thing to do) were no doubt made by rival politicians within the Whig and Tory rivalry of that episode of British politics. The petition for the hearing of the complaint was about to be heard on the 23rd of February before a commissioner of the High Court, so it was no mean complaint and, by then, Jonathan had died.

The Conservatives won the election. Hmnn. But earlier Mrs Read had thanked the Council by letter for the vote of condolence on her husband’s death, so a protocol had been maintained with the Council chamber.

In 1891, William John Read (son of Jonathan ) 29 years old is now a solicitor in his own right and is residing at 2 Cocker Street (the swimming baths) of which Emma Squires, 40 years old, is the proprietress. Also visiting the address is Frederick Grime, the newspaper editor.

In September 1892 Reads North Shore Baths was up at auction. An attractive option for a potential buyer, it was situated in the ‘flourishing’ watering place which attracts over a million visitors from all part of the United Kingdom.’ The main swimming bath was 52’3” long by 23’9” wide (16m x 7m approx.) and there was as a small swimming bath for women and children. Both salt and freshwater baths with vapour and shower baths were available. There is a gallery which runs around the main bath for use at swimming galas. The solicitor in charge of selling the baths is William J Read of 6 Lytham St, the late Jonathan’s son. William himself went on to create the South Shore Open Air Baths.

In 1893 on the 11th March, Manchester, William John Read, only son of (the late) Councillor Jonathan Read marries Clara Fish, third daughter of Councillor James Fish.

On September 5th 1895 Eric is born to William and Clara. He was baptised on the 5th April 1896. William is a solicitor and their home address is Fairholme, Park Road Blackpool.

In 1901 William Read, a solicitor, and wife Clara and family are living at 64 Withnell Rd. Daughters here, are Gladys, Hilda and Dorothy. Eric is the only son.

In 1906Eric is at Arnold House School and his father’s address is 134 Whitegate Drive. He leaves in July of 1910 to study law at the Leys School, Cambridge. He took his exams after the War in which he had enlisted in the RFA.

In1911William and Clara are living at No2 Liverpool Road. Daughters, Gladys Hilary and Dorothy are still at home. Eric is studying at Cambridge.

On the 13th April1918William Read learnt tha this son Eric Read had been wounded and was recuperating in the base hospital. Capt Read had gone out with Colonel Topping with the West Lancashire Brigade and had recently been awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre.

On the 1922 electoral rolls, Eric Readis living at 35 Raikes Parade with parents Clara and William John and at an address in Lomond Ave on the 1939 register with wife Oriana.

In 1929 Eric was appointed vice chairmen of the Northern Counties Amateur Swimming Association. He had won his Cambridge half blue at both swimming and water polo. His father was also well known in swimming circles as he had been associated with the sport for many years.

In 1930 Eric and his wife Oriana were registered to vote in the Brunswick Ward at No 32 Birley Street, their home address being ‘Pinfold’ Lomond Avenue.

On Armistice Day 1930Eric Read objected to the suggestion from one of the Blackpool clergy that the military should not be represented at the cenotaph. War will always be conducted but at the same time will always be controversial. Eric Read had seen the War first hand and he refers to the current trouble in India and the Middle East and is fearful that it all might happen again. It did, of course, and it still does. The general theme of the clergy was that National pride might be cementing for one nation but conflicting with another and the result is war. The modern theme represented by the poppy reflects both points of view that all humans suffering in War are themselves a poppy and it is not a reflection merely of National pride, which can create the conditions of war if not properly exercised. The sacrifice of life should not be usurped by those who are afflicted by an extreme and introverted patriotism for self-assertive or political ends.

In 1931Major Eric Read was the Commanding Officer of the Blackpool Battery (the 351st Field Battery of the 88th Brigade of the Royal Artillery Territorial Army). Their headquarters were the Yorkshire Street drill hall. At this time the battery was only seven men under strength, numbering five officers and 74 other ranks. In 1939 during the conscription drive it is recorded in a newspaper article that Eric Read was in possession of a book which recorded the information on the formation of the Blackpool volunteers and the origin of the battery. County volunteer groups had first been organised as the fear of a French invasion grew, to deliver the country ‘from all the Miseries and Horrors which would otherwise arise from the Landing of an Enemy.’ Many volunteer groups came to the Fylde coast to train and the first observation from an aircraft with information successfully brought back to headquarters was exercised on one of these practices prior to WW1. In Blackpool, the book in possession of Eric Read shows that the first volunteer to join up on June 1st 1865 was 28 year old Thomas Swarbrick, a bookseller who lived at South Beach and was 5’7” tall. Other names that signed up at the time were 20 year old William Barrett, a publican at the Victoria Hotel and 5’7¾” tall. Then there was David Rae, 22 years old and an auctioneer of Lytham Street; Peter White 30 years old and 5’9” who was a builder of Cookson Street; George Marsh, 5’10”, a stonemason of the Schoolhouse, South Shore and William Griffiths, an artist of Larkhill who was 34 years old and 5’9” in height.

Other notable names which joined the Volunteers at one time or another are John Bickerstaffe of the Wellington Hotel and 25 years old at the time, later to be mayor and receive a knighthood, and Jacob Parkinson, at 39 years old, a joiner whose business would rise to international acclaim under the direction of his son, Lindsay, who was another Blackpool pioneer and also a future mayor in the WW1 war years and who was also later to be knighted.

The first action of the battery was at Mount Kemmel in 1916 when the battery had been given the moniker of the Topping Boys after their Commander in Chief, Major Topping. It had gone to France in 1915 as the 11th Battery of the 2nd West Lancashire Brigade but when it went into action in 1916 it had been designated as 276th Battery

In 1931 Eric becomes the president of the NCASA (Northern Counties Amateur Swimming Association) on the retirement of the current chairman Mr Alec Charters.

In 1932 Major Read took the salute at the gathering of ex-servicemen in Blackpool. Among those present who paraded along the Promenade to the haunting renditions of Tipperary in the pouring rain from the central Pier to the Cenotaph, were those soldiers representing nearly every British army campaign of the previous 50 years, a Croix de Guerre, Romanian VC and the Boer War. Among those were Mr H Hampton who won his DCM at Rourke’s Drift in 1881 and was one of the very few survivors of that battle. The soldiers then went for tea at the Winter Gardens and then were given a tour of the Illuminations afterwards.

On 27/3/1937William John Read died at his home. He had been immobilised by severe rheumatism. He was 75 years of age and had planned to spend a long holiday with his married daughter in Whitstable.

He was the principle member of the Reads firm of Blackpool solicitors of which his son, Major Eric Read was the senior practicing solicitor. Well known in Blackpool circles with his interest in swimming and life-saving, he was influential in the building of the famous Open Air Baths in South Shore. He was honorary solicitor of the Amateur Swimming Association a national organisation from 1895 to 1938. He was also chief official for the Northern Counties Swimming and Water Polo Organisation for many years. The creation of the Northern Counties Swimming Association came about after conflict between the regional status of competitors conflicted with that of the rules governed by London. This resulted, under the strong influence of William Read, in a regional division of groups consisting of North, South and Midlands. William kept up his interest in the sport until his dying day. For thirty years he had been restricted by severe rheumatism and attended meetings in an invalid carriage. He was present at the first National swimming meeting held at the new South Shore Open Air Baths in 1935, a building in which he had a great influence within the Council in its construction.

In 1939 Eric was living with his wife Oriana and daughters June and Elizabeth at Pinfold in Poulton le Fylde. Eric is an ARP driver and Oriana is in the WVS. The daughters are at school. He is currently the honorary solicitor of the Amateur Swimming Association.

In 1939 Clara Read, widowed is living with her daughters Hilda and Dorothy at No 80 West Park Drive. Hilda is a teacher of singing and Dorothy is working in the WVS as a hospital cook.

On the 25 March1940the will of Clara Read is pubished. She leaves part of her estate to her son Eric and daughters Gladys, Hilda and Dorothy and a money bequeath to her daughter-in-law, Oriana Dickson Read. The home address is 80 West Park Drive. On the 1939 register Dorothy is in the WVS as a cook at the Hospital.

In August of 1940when football had ceased at Bloomfield Road as the RAF had taken over the ground, manager Joe Smith was out of a job. Eric Read, being a keen sportsman and a Cambridge Blue, and a member of the Blackpool bench considering licensing application, had successfully put forward the name of the manager, renowned in footballing circles, as the new manager of the County Hotel. Thus in August 1940, Joe Smith was Blackpool’s newest licensee.

In November 1940 Major Eric Read was re-elected as honorary secretary to the Fylde District Law Society for the 15th time and like his father, was made an honorary life member. The Read name had a 48 year history of membership to the society.

Major Eric Read (far right) as commander of the Blackpool Home Guard leads the men in a march past the zone commander Colonel O’Dowd at Stanley Park in August of 1940

In 1944 Colonel Eric Read as Commander of the Home Guard (the H G’s) presented a certificate for meritorious and good service to Company Sergeant Major Thomas Henry Williamson of 45 Sunningdale Avenue, Marton. He is managing director of Messrs C W Whitehead Ltd of Preston. He had served in India as a troop instructor during WW1.

Eric Read dies in 1975, and the family continues from there.


All material has come from the newspaper archives, the bmd records and the census returns. The photograph of the march past at Stanley Park is sourced beneath.

Thanks to the work of Denys Barber and the friends of Layton Cemetery.

John Wingfield


Augusta Carolina Rosaline 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 probably would be a performance of M Richard (?John Wingfield) and dog in the sequence.

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 form 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 (seems to be 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’. On the same bill is Blackpool’s own Vesta Victoria (Victoria Monks).

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.

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.


  • Contemporary newspapers via findmypast.
  • Electoral rolls.
  • Census returns.
  • Denys Barber and the friends of Layton Cemetery.
  • Wikipedia
  • Internet research

An example of the serpentine dog act here;

Ricardo Sacco

Ricardo Sacco

On Nov 3 1929 Ricardo Sacco died a couple of weeks after his record breaking 65 day fast in an amusement arcade in Blackpool. He is buried in Layton cemetery. Fasting was a nationwide fad which had gone on for a long time. As early as 1907 Sacco had issued a challenge through the newspapers to any man who could fast longer than he could but it wasn’t until 1909 that he received his first challenge from an A Vaughan. There was a rivalry between different fasters all out to better the other, and the challenges involved cash betting for quite large sums. It was a way of earning money through the somewhat grotesque, and many people paid to see the exhibitionists on show in a glass cage. Sacco had exhibited in various parts of the country including Hull, Southend, Birmingham and Manchester. In his own self-publicising words, he was the World record holder and the man ‘who no-one could beat’.

Sacco was a Dutchman, Richard Hans Jone, and a baker by trade. He had come to Britain as a young man and had fought in the British army overseas during WW1. When the War ended he resumed his fasting as an income. On his death he left a wife, Mary and a 15 year old daughter (also probably called Mary) and £444 pounds in his will. His address is given as 19 Cookson Street in Blackpool where he lived with his mother in law, Sarah Gifford. His wife and daughter do not get a mention apart from within his death notices. He married Mary Gifford in 1913 in Kingston upon Thames where his in laws lived. His name on the marriage certificate is Hans Jone.

This fast in Blackpool was intended to be his last commercial fast but he had had offers from America to fast for scientific purposes. He wanted to retire in Blackpool after he had ended this fast and had been presented with a silver cup by his admirers at the end of it. Many women proposed to join him in the cage, one claiming she could earn enough for her son’s education if she fasted in competition with him. During the fasts he would spend his time writing letters and reading, drinking mineral water and smoking cigarettes.

Before he had begun this last fast, a doctor had advised him not to continue, since he had found him with an enlarged liver, and was vomiting his food which he couldn’t keep down. At the inquest on his death, Doctor Ward of Central Drive diagnosed that Sacco had died from cirrhosis of the liver, dropsy, ascitis (ascites) and cardiac failure. Nurse Ethel Parker who had attended Sacco for a couple of weeks during his illness after the fast, said that he had told her that he had never felt so ill as this time, and thought that he would never get better. He told her that, ’they had got him this time’ perhaps referring to his rivals or to the people who had come to see him. He had mentioned that he had wanted to beat a man named Clarke. He also claimed that he had extended this current fast, and would have ended it sooner, but he had set out a challenge of £100 to another man, a Monsieur Le Blanc, who was also fasting in Blackpool as the same time as himself.

In the amusement arcade where the fasting took place, it was shared with a menagerie of animals which included birds, monkeys, cats, bears and other animals. Sacco had not been happy with his surroundings and the nurse said she had felt sick when she had gone in to view him. Hygiene and sanitation were at their lowest levels. The coroner, Col Harold Parker was alarmed that money was the motive of the exhibition and a ‘Death by Misadventure’ was returned. The un-named chap who had organised the exhibition had left town, no doubt with his percentage tucked under his arm.

After his fast he had gone on a diet of milk, fish and eggs. He had lost over 3 stone in the 65 days, dropping down from 11st 2oz to 8st.1½oz.


1908 The Sheffield Independent reports that Sacco had just completed 14 days fast in the city and also reports that Sacco had also just finished a fast in Birmingham at the same time. Since he couldn’t be in two places at once it begged the question, ‘How many Sacco’s are there?’ A reporter from the paper went to interview their own Sheffield Sacco who affirmed that he was the real Sacco who held the 52 day fasting world record. The Sacco in Birmingham was known to him as a rival, and his real name was Homann.

In July 1909 Ricardo was fasting in Hull at 44 Whitefriargate. He was described as being in a glass cage aptly called the ‘hunger house’ with ventilation slots covered with gauze. It was announced as a 28 day fast and he took with him 20 dozen siphons of soda and a thousand cigarettes. He would drink about two siphons of soda and smoke about 21 cigarettes in a day. A daily bulletin is placed on the glass door to describe his condition. Later he had made a challenge via the Daily Mail for a stake of between £200 and £500 to conduct a fast, the winner take all. It was accepted by an A Vaughan and it was to take place in London. So after recovering from his performance in Hull he was off to the White City to take up the challenge and then, he hoped, a tour of America.

1911there is a confusion now that another man, allegedly a Guiseppe Homann, had taken on the name Sacco and had been fined £3 and costs for assault. The paper that had carried this report, The Birmingham Express of April 15th was contacted through its pages by a Mr Henry Roberts of 24 High Street in the city to point out that the real Sacco was at present conducting a fast in the City and had no connection with the other Sacco at all and it was damaging the reputation of the man and to the sponsor, who Mr Roberts appears to be.

1913 Coventry

1914/18 During the War he had served with the British forces.

In September of 1927 Ricardo finished a fast of 50 days at the Karsaal Southend. At the beginning he weighed in at 10 stones and five pounds and at the end he was only eight stone and three pounds. During his fast had drunk six mineral waters and smoked 20 cigarettes daily. His first meal on exiting his glass hunger house was a bowl of chicken broth.

In September of 1928 Ricardo failed in his ambition. On the 48th day of his scheduled 50 day fast he had to give up and, being in a state of collapse, doctors were called and he was fed immediately on eggs and brandy.

In September of 1929, another faster, a Billy Brown, broke Ricardo Sacco’s record by 50 hours. He had been fasting on Barry Island, South Wales and was the toast of the town because of it. Barry could proudly claim another record (not sure what that other record was). Like Sacco he was in a glass cabinet and drank only mineral water during his stay. He had lost 45 pounds by the last day of his fast and, in a medical assessment, his heart was beating feebly. The legitimacy of his progress was monitored by a Mr Lew Pritchard who for some reason resigned on the week before the record was broken. Medical men in assessing Billy Brown agreed he was fit to continue when a Councillor Griffiths then took over. After the record had been broken, the cabinet was opened before a number of people and Billy Brown was given a kiss from his wife and a glass of egg and milk after which he retired once more to his bed and remained there for another week until he was strong enough to move out.

In his will published in December of 1929, Richard Hans Jone, the ‘Fasting Man’ left £444.00. Probate was granted to Robert Ogden Halliwell, a furniture salesman of Church Street and Mrs Sarah Gifford of Kingston upon Thames. His wife does not get a mention and perhaps Robert Halliwell had acted as his manager?

His death was claimed by his friends to have nothing to do with his fasting. For a week after his fast he was fed on a diet of milk and then fish and eggs. On the occasion of this fast he weighed 11 stone 2 pounds and at the end of his fast weighed 8 stone 1½ pounds. He was expecting to go to America after recovering.

A single newspaper report gives his address as 19 Cookson Street, and while several reports state Cookson Street only one gives the house number.

With the main rival out of the way, the fasting continued:


  • Contemporary neswpapers via findmypast.
  • Census returns, electoral registers.
  • Denys Barber and the Friends of Layton Cemetery.

William Homer Strickler

Known to many people in Blackpool as the ‘Big Dipper Builder’ William Homer Strickler was born 12/4/1865 in Dawson, Fayette, Pennsylvania and died in Blackpool, Northwest England on 9th May 1930 where he is buried in Layton Cemetery in the town. In his profession he had moved to Chicago, becoming a director of the Construction Company of Chicago. Later he became a director of Dentzel’s Noah’s Ark Corporation, Philadelphia. The interest in fairground rides was shared across the Atlantic and by 1909 he was in England constructing rides in Southport and Blackpool. He made several cross channel journeys between 1909 and 1930 though not identified during the war years, as it might be revealed sensibly, as one of the ships he sailed on was the Lusitania.

Having first arrived in England in late 1909, by the first of January of 1910, he is included in the American register of London visitors at the Waldorf Hotel along with business partners E W McCommell of Chicago and, it seems, Joseph T Clark of Toronto. By April 7th 1910 the ‘Monitor and Merrimac Company’ was registered at Companies House ‘to carry on the business of caterers for public entertainments, exhibitions or amusements etc. and to take over any land for the erection of buildings for producing mechanical and electrical spectacles etc.’ This land applied to Blackpool where along with William Strickler on the board of this new company were both co-founders of what had become known as Blackpool’s Pleasure Beach, W G Bean and John W Outhwaite. Three other directors had addresses in London while W G Bean and J W Outhwaite had addresses in Balmoral Road, Blackpool 14 and 19 respectively. W H Strickler’s address at the time is given as the Grand Hotel Blackpool though on one of the passenger lists he is given an address of Balmoral Road where he had been no doubt a guest of one of the co-founders. This Company is still on the Company House list today and has included names of subsequent directors of the Pleasure Beach to date.

In its beginnings in 1910 the Company proceeded to build the Naval Spectatorium in which was presented, almost in the round, the confrontation of the first ironclad battleships eponymously the Monitor and Merrimac, in Hampton Roads Virginia, which took place during the American Civil War in 1862. It was the first battle of its kind between ironclad ships and signified the beginning of the end of wooden ships. It had become a very popular visitor attraction at a time when iron clad dreadnought battleships were in the news as the next best thing in naval warfare, and both Germany and Britain were actively fitting their navies out with them. Though a highly popular attraction it didn’t have the grip on the imagination of, ultimately, American based journalist and Blackpool resident, Alistair Cooke, who was taken to see it by his parents as a young boy, and who describes it as cardboard cut-outs making an excess of noise and a lot of smoke which forced at least one man out of the building. The building in which the spectacle took place became popularly known as the Monitor and Merrimac and was described as such by fisherman James Rimmer to indicate opposite which he had found the body of suspected suicide victim Theodore Steinborn, a German waiter at the Cleveleys Hydro, on the beach in the January of 1912. The building eventually burnt down in 1939 after a change of name to the Indian Theatre.

In 1921 William Strickler was back in Blackpool to construct the Noah’s Ark and by 1922, when he had left England via Liverpool on board the Baltic as a construction engineer it seems that he had overseen the construction of both Blackpool’s Noah’s Ark and Virginia Reel. The Ark opened in 1922 and is where my almost fictitious maternal grandfather at that time worked before gambling or drinking all his earnings away.

On the third of January 1923 W H Strickler along with a J Noel, arrived at Liverpool from the Cunard liner Ausonia. Messrs W H Strickler and J Noel are representatives of the Noah’s Ark Corporation of Philadelphia who are the contractors for the construction of the roller coaster at Blackpool. Work was expected to start immediately and hoped to be finished by Whitsuntide. Eventually, while Blackpool co-founder of the Pleasure Beach, W G Bean, had obtained the rights to Miller’s underwheel patent for the UK, William Strickler had taken out a UK patent for ‘Improvements in track structures for roller coasters or like railways’ in 1927.

His final sojourn in England was made in February of 1930 when he had made the trip over the Atlantic to supervise the construction of a Noah’s ark at Southport’s Pleasureland. Sadly on 14th April here, he stumbled and fell off a plank from only a short height it appears, but enough to badly injure both his legs and his ribs. He was brought back to Blackpool and spent some time in a nursing home at 230 Hornby Road, but was unable to recover from his injuries and died there on 9th May 1930 aged 65. A verdict of accidental death was recorded by the district coroner at Blackpool Police Station where his address was given as 6254 Winthrop Avenue Chicago.

In his Wikitree inclusion, he had married Helen Ellsworth 5/2/1902 though she had pre-deceased him 7/12/26. In his will his address is given as 3429 North Tenth Street Philadelphia PA. His wife being dead, and there does not seem to have been any children, the executor of the will is named as ‘Lionel Melville Clark, solicitor attorney of Robert Lusse and North Philadelphia Trust Company.’

Sources and acknowledgements

The work of friends of Layton Cemetery

Findmypast for newspapers, probate and passenger lists.

Wikitree and the work of William Strickler manager of the Strickler family tree.

Black History Hits Blackpool

Prince Peter Kushana Lobengula, Heir Apparent or Heir Pretender to the Matabele Crown, in town September 1902.

The Philadelphia Times 7th August 1899

The story of Prince Lobengula, of which much is written, is the story of the clash of black and white of its day, and both the evident and the perceived superiority of British Imperialism over the subjects of its land acquisitions. It starts in Africa and ends in Salford, and calls at Blackpool and other places in between. It spans the end of the Victorian age, the whole of the Edwardian, and ends with George V in 1913. The name Lobengula, the Zulu chief who defiantly took on the British machine guns with spears and shields as they occupied the land of the Matabele, has now enough status and memory to be associated with the renowned Mandela name. He might have been a ‘legend’ but that word is over used and normally associated with today’s rock stars or footballers. Prince Peter Lobengula was a reputed son of that King from one of his many wives, a claim that was disputed especially by his detractors, but it was a claim he tried to prove until his dying day and, after his death, taken over by those few who believed in his cause.

So, in Blackpool, on September 5th 1902 Mary Toomey was fined 10s (50p; over £60 today) for hitting Lily, the wife of Prince Lobengula, reputed son of the king of Matabeleland, over the head with an umbrella. The incident took place during an argument by a carriage parked near the Alhambra, situated on the corner of Victoria Street and the Promenade in the town. While it is recorded that Prince Lobengula was to be seen performing in the South Africa Show in the town within the grounds of the Great Wheel with all its varied attractions and itself took a thousand passengers daily, there was also an Ashanti village, ostensibly a travelogue but in reality more of a freak show of an unintelligible culture, on show across town at the Coliseum. Ironic perhaps in today’s understanding, that the incident with Mary Toomey should take place outside the Alhambra where Blackpool’s own Victoria Monks was wooing the appreciative audiences with her ’coon’ act, solidly established within her increasingly popular comedic repertoire on the vaudeville stage. The Alhambra was an establishment that was in financial trouble at the time and was in line to be taken over by its rival the Blackpool Tower Company, its next door neighbour.

Mary Toomey, whose patronymic reflects the dystopia of murder and suicide in a tragic family life in Blackpool, had been sat in the carriage, but it is not clear whether she was driving it or whether she was a passenger as she was speaking to Prince Lobengula who was stood by it. Neither is it entirely known what the content of the conversation was between her and the Prince, but it was a unique opportunity for her to flirt with a handsome, dark skinned male, and by all reports a reputed lady’s man, and who was more than likely flirting back. She’d heard about these dusky men who were allowed to show off their bodies at the Show, outside the convention of contemporary dress, and they didn’t come around every day so she would have been keen to take the opportunity. She’d perhaps even been to the Coliseum where there were several of them to give her eyes a feast and maybe engage in a little conversation. For his part, Prince Lobengula probably enjoyed the legitimate attention to his physique but, when Mrs Lobengula, arrived at the scene to speak to her husband, and accused the woman in front of her of following (‘stalking’ in today’s terms, I guess) her husband, it seems that the female demon flew out of Mary Toomey in a rage, and social niceness left her, resulting in foul words followed by the attack on the head with the umbrella. On the defensive in argument, Mary Toomey claimed that it was not her but her sister who was continually following him, and when she drove away she offered a Parthian shot at her rival in affection by calling her a ‘dirty cat’, which could perhaps be regarded as a weak insult compared with today’s language. Prince Lobengula was black and African, young and good looking and at 6’ tall, an imposing figure. His wife, Lily was white and Irish, reportedly red haired and, if like my grandmother, probably not short of a harsh word or two when upset with a sense of righteousness. The grievance was settled in court, the successful complainant being Lily, Peter’s second wife, or rather common law wife as there is no evidence of a marriage between the two. His association with Lily was a much more stable relationship than his first,
and a daughter of their union was born in the resort while they were lodging there. His first marriage had had everything against it as black and white in the society around them collided in full force, kicking up a prejudicial dust which obscured the equality of two human beings in the observing eyes of the day. During the court proceedings in Blackpool, Peter remained regally in the public gallery as an observer, dressed smartly in black and, no doubt of some influence by his presence.

It was Prince Peter Lobengula’s claim that he was the son of King Lobengula of Matebeleland, a king who had risen to the title through merit within his ethnic group of dispersed Zulus. Having successfully moved north from the more southern regions of Africa and claiming the title by prowess in battle during in-fighting among the claimants to the royal title, the settled Matabele (Ndebele) people then had to face and succumb to the ultimately greater fire power of the European settlers. Eventually, this led to the absorption of the territories into the country styled Rhodesia, later to become Zimbabwe. So, in England, Prince Lobengula’s claim was that he was the displaced heir to this King of the Matabele. However, in the white community that he had been brought to live in, he was a lost young man in a strange world that considered him merely as a savage, a society that rejected him and used him as a curiosity only. He was certainly Matabele but whether he was the direct heir to the King was under scrutiny all his life. He did however, it seems, try his best to adapt to English customs as a young man, though. He was known to be a fighter and prepared to use his fists. The males of the Ndebele people of his ethnicity had blind courage embedded in their psyches and to run away from a fight was a cowardice that would give a man no worth at all. Like the Spartan military society of the classical Greeks, turning around and running away were not on the agenda of a warrior and a wound in the back was a sign of that unacceptable cowardice. Peter had already been bound over for good behaviour after a disturbance outside Earl’s Court, in an incident involving his suit cases which had been held back in order to prevent his forthcoming marriage in 1899. He was no stranger to the courts which could almost be regarded as his second homes in their various locations. He also got drunk, not for the first time, in a pub in his adopted home town of Salford, smashed a few windows and had a fight with a couple of policeman outside. His Matabele, Zulu orientated, fighting spirit was just representing the furor Celticus, the empire building Romans, the invading hordes of Hengist and Horsa, the Viking berserkers, and the Norman crown grabbers, within the country that had, during its social evolution, contained and absorbed all these ethnic elements to create what we have today. So he was just doing his bit to integrate, while adding to the mix. He only reverted to his polite African manner when he had sobered up the next day and showed remorse in the Court, vowing never to touch drink again. Though where a young lad in his twenties is concerned the promise of abstention from drink is worth only the words of the moment and not the deed to follow the promise through.

While in Blackpool, Prince Lobengula was ‘on exhibition’ being hired by the ‘Savage South Africa’ tour, a grand affair which needed the space in its entirety for its renowned military spectacles. The South Africa tour was first aired at the Great Britain Exhibition which had been displayed at Earl’s Court. The Earl’s Court was perhaps a model for the eventuality of the Blackpool Pleasure Beach which in 1902 was a gypsy camp and the de facto pleasure beach that was already there was a thorn in the side for the respectable area of South Shore and the property developers of the town. While it was claimed to lower the tone of respectability of the area, it was nevertheless valuable land oozing potential profit. One of its tenants, the clever Ellis family, always at loggerheads with the Council with their political differences and greater sympathies with the human psyche, was fined at every opportunity. The site was bought up, the gypsies removed and replaced, somewhat ironically perhaps, with a Pleasure Beach.

While at Earl’s Court in 1899, its Kaffir kraal, with a separate entrance fee, contained about 200 (numbers vary) African men women and children, living an authentic life in 35 mud huts and a wooden hut for the Prince. A smaller version of this would have been in Blackpool. They could be observed as they were involved in daily life making beads and trinkets and selling them to the visitors. They were ‘scantily’ dressed and to the female observer the men, especially in their war paint ‘are imposing, as they are fine athletic looking men.’ Thus the role of the Prince and his compatriots however was not as the entertainer (though he would be on the cast in Robinson Crusoe in pantomime on the theatre in Manchester later on when he was looking for work) but as the very entertainment themselves. As entertainment, it was perhaps just a continuation of the curiosity of ‘black’ that had been evident on the foreshore in Blackpool once the Victorian watering place had first been made available to the masses after the arrival of the railways. At this time, blackness was represented by minstrels with blue eyes, Irish accents and little bits of pink showing through inadequately applied face paint, or later, as the ‘burnt cork’ stooges on the music hall stage, the occasional black comedian in his own right, not being immediately evident on the vaudeville stages.

The show per se was ostensibly a travelogue that would be popularly and more respectfully available today in a glossy brochure or a TV programme but, at the turn of the 20th century, it would have been only available through the tour of such a show which came to town for a week or two each year. To the Victorian and Edwardian visitor it was an exercise in superiority over a conquered people, a voyeuristic spectacle of conceited greatness, in modern terms, a collective narcissism on the dark side of a cultish nationalism which still persists today and is an ever present danger to world stability and peace. The show that toured the provinces was a curtailed version of the original show at Earl’s Court. There were many shows which brought the empire to the Britain as there were in Europe, too, and which brought their own empires home and which extended to Eskimos, Indians and other ethnic groups from annexed territories.  But the curtailed tour nevertheless included six elephants, a team of oxen and a large human contingent, as well as all the military paraphernalia (and at Earl’s Court at least, a cinematograph.) There were torch dances by the ‘natives’ and an escape on horseback by a despatch rider chased by the same ‘hostile natives’ and a demonstration of big game hunting, all things anachronistic in today’s world. My grandmother, a young teenager at the time, was free with the ‘n’ word when I knew her, derived from the popular understanding of the day. Perhaps she was taking the opportunity to show a contempt for an ethnic group of an enforced, lower social status than her own Irishness in the annexed country of the West Britain of her parents and the largely unsympathetic Liverpool of her birth in the hostile division of Christianity, a division which more represented the differences of culture and economic status. The oral heritage that she quoted included land confiscation, the denial of suffrage, torture, hanging and eviction. Children were burnt out of houses and defenceless, old men cudgelled to death and would continue to be so as the years rolled. To look on savagery in another culture was a denial of its existence in one’s own. In Blackpool, a year later in 1903, the year after the incident involving Peter Lobengula, Henry Starr hacked his wife to death with a knife at his mother-in-law’s house on Lord Street.

Manchester Courier June 25th 1900

Originally this show at Salford was a three week engagement and consisted of a two hour show. The military aspects represented the unashamed self-indulgence of successful British imperialism, which was demonstrated at all the annual shows throughout the country where enough space could be found to re-enact a British military victory. In this case it was the victories over both the Matabele (and to include in its repertoire a glorious defeat of the British by the Matabele) and the Boers and, while Prince Lobengula could look upon the demonstration of the culture of his own ethnic group with pride to the wonderment of the civilian audience who had never seen anything like it before, he had to accept the subjugation of his heritage/bloodline before those very same eyes. It has been quoted that he had the bullet wounds in his legs, received during his involvement in a fight against the British. He would have been about seventeen years old by the time of the second Matabele war of 1896, and could well have been amongst the ranks of Zulu impi and talked of this later to his workmates at the mine where he worked and who had black faces and exposed bodies down the mine but reverted to white when out out on top . The awkward King Lobengula had died just a couple of years’ earlier making it easier for the advance of the settlers. The mystery of the demise of King Lobengula still persists today. He was never captured and so is considered as undefeated and as such the Ndebele are not defeated because defeat, in their concept of defeat, only exists in the capture of the king, a bit like a game of chess. He died mysteriously, some say by committing suicide with poison, but the place is not known nor the whereabouts of his grave nor his reputed, or mythical, riches. In the ethnically divided country of his rule, now Zimbabwe, it seems he is a symbol, revered by some and feared by others who are afraid of a power shift in the politics of a contemporary world.

The Scottish Referee December 7th 1900

The two hour show kept audiences enthusiastically entertained for the duration. The year is 1900 and the 2nd Boer War is raging in South Africa. The Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry volunteers had come to train in Blackpool and two train loads of men and equipment had left north station on a cold, February morning to embark at Liverpool for the 19 day journey to the conflict. Lieutenant Topping and his recently formed and under-funded Blackpool contingent left later in March. It was a war that would be remembered for its ultimate victory, but conveniently forgotten for the savagery of its concentration camps.

But at the performance in Blackpool, Prince Lobengula sat in state on his throne, watching proceedings and dressed in lion skin and ostrich feathers. In a show of colourful ethnicities, many of the local African groups were in demonstration and included Zulus, Swazis, Hottentots, Basutos and Cape Boys and other groups defined as ‘tribes’, Cape Boys being ‘coloureds’ or of mixed race, set apart from both white and black and boys, somewhat patronisingly perhaps as perceivably lacking in maturity, more with the meaning of ‘men’ than ‘boys’. During the First World War Lance Corporal Alexander Lobengula served with the South African Native Labour Corps otherwise described, rightly or wrongly, as Cape Boys. There are many Lobengulas in the Cape Province records.

The nature of the life of these people, was seen more as uncultured, exotic creatures in the eyes and minds of the day and were looked upon with wonderment and a kind of unselfconscious superiority sewn rigidly to the psyche and which still persists today. For the ladies of the day though, (and a closeted gay male, no doubt, too) they were fine and attractive specimens of men, denied them and unavailable even in collecting card pictures as the overdressed males of the day had the unofficial privilege of secreting their own cards of scantily dressed females in their pockets, a solace of imagination in the dire trenches of the later Word War.

However, the Prince wasn’t always purely on show. On one occasion at least, in a brief interlude, and at the other end of the social scale Peter in his role as a prince, had a chance to show off his royalty. In a monarchy orientated and class conscious nation, princes were ok. Probably even if they were green. In September of 1901 he was at the Royal Dublin horse show, listed among all the titled guests many of who had very long names and, ‘Prince Lobengula caused quite considerable interest, appearing in his native, regal robes. Huge nodding plumes on his head and a sweeping tigerskin cloak made him a picturesque and imposing aspect.’ While there are no indigenous tigers in Africa, he may have borrowed it from somewhere and the praise, more than patronising ridicule, given him was from the Queen publication, a ladies’ paper. In the terrier dog race at the event there was even a dog called Lobengula, as his father’s famous name held a mystery, a respect and a renown which enjoyed a refrain in the world of horse racing some thirty years later.

The Bradford Observer 6th May 1901

Once more, Prince Lobengula is the centre of attraction as he sits in state between the acts which number 49 in all, except when he gets up to charge with his warriors, the renowned Zulu impi, 200  in number while the show was at Earl’s Court, but greatly reduced in number as the show toured the provinces, including Blackpool. Military re-enactments and demonstrations predominate the show including the battle of Elandslaagte, a British victory over the Boers in which the lancers played a significant part, the climax of the show being a ‘daring leap of a lancer, putting the finishing touches to the scene.’ This daring leap was described as being one of 30 feet in height. The demonstration of the Maxim guns, a gun invented by its eponymous maker which had such destructive power that it would make war undesirable, was also of gripping interest. Maxim died in 1916, the year of the Somme battle while another of his inventions the flying machine installed at Blackpool’s emerging Pleasure Beach had given pleasure and enjoyment to many. But on the Somme the very neat rows upon rows of dead men were the husbands and sons of those who had marvelled at the gun’s power at these shows. They lay peacefully dead above the trenches they had just left having taken little more than a single step, victim of that same, deadly enemy machine gun power, leaving the proposed, peaceful promotional objective of his weapon in tatters. Such is the reward of hindsight. Its deadliness was as much evident in Blackpool which possessed one of the largest military convalescent hospitals in the country and was the headquarters of the medical arm of the military. The same sentiment about weapons being so destructive that by their very threat, they would prevent the need to engage in war, was spoken after the nuclear bomb had been invented and demonstrated in 1945, the hibakusha and the very young children of its orphaned population left alone to suffer and make repair. The gun was invented in America by its prolific inventor but there was nowhere to demonstrate it in anger, and then the Matabele war came along and, as the British were usually involved in a war somewhere on the planet, its deadly fire power was taken advantage of and duly demonstrated. And from one or two of these many bullets, Prince Lobengula may have received the wounds in the leg.

Another, more peaceful, demonstration of horse riding during the show was given by a Mr and Mrs Fillis, organisers of the show and those responsible for bringing the people and the props all the way from South Africa. The musical accompaniment was provided by a Dutch, ‘Africander’ band. The women also get in on the act of violence, usually the privilege of the men, by a Miss Lilian Reiner ‘Champion lady shot of the Transvaal.’ One of the gripping features was the last stand of Major Wilson against the Matebele. A bit like Custer’s last stand, a patrol of about thirty or so men (numbers vary with different reports), had been promised portions of land if they succeeded in their mission in tracking down King Lobengula, the awkward and resilient ruler of the Matabele, who had moved north and who was making it difficult for European settlers to mine and farm with impunity on his land. The mission, under Major Wilson had overstepped its remit somewhat and found itself surrounded at a point on the river Shangani. They fought to the last man and though there was no-one to record the incident, only bodies to be found later, the defeat went down as a victory for heroism. As committed soldiers, they died bravely for Queen and Country as much as the Matabele soldiers were prepared to die for King and Country. It might not have been necessary as King Lobengula had sued for peace, but the more productive Matabele land, and its mineral riches, its big game hunting and it vast acres of  farmland, was needed for the settling farmers and mine operators. Guns, including the newly demonstrated Maxim machine gun, won over shields and spears. It is curious to understand what Prince Lobengula’s thoughts were as he watched a characterisation of his Matabele nation with his reputed father, whom he probably nevertheless didn’t know very well, at the head, in battle, fighting against the English culture that Peter was attempting to adopt. The Matabele themselves, as a sub group of the Zulus, had invaded the land from the south. A newspaper report of February 1900 gives the story of the Zulu diaspora northwards as beginning with the rise of Shaka Zulu in the early 19th century, when one of his favourite generals, Moselekatsie, had kept the booty of some cattle gained in a regular raid on other groups, which incensed Shaka and orders were sent out to kill him. Instead of coming home, Moselekatsie ‘the Lion’ went north and, with a repute of cruelty and slaughter, easily displaced the peaceful population of the Mashonas. After the death of Moselekatsie in 1870, Lobengula, ‘the Defender’, his second son, became King after some in-fighting and continued a cruel and uncompromising rule. Soon after, the Boers arrived to settle and they fought the Matabele and then the British arrived to settle and farm and mine the land and they fought both the Boers and the Matabele in what was then Matabeleland.

Within the African performers at the show however, humans being humans whatever their colour, there was continuing rivalry and distrust, which centred on Africander George. He was not as dark as the Zulus in the group and since his ethnicity was in doubt, he became an object of scorn when he claimed a greater status regarding wages. It was he who, along with the son of Frank Fillis, were the rough riders and gun experts and so had a little more status than those ‘more dusky’ Zulus. He bragged about being paid more than the others but in reality it was only a few pence and it was his mistake not to keep it to himself. At one time he had been stabbed in the thigh in an argument concerning a half penny when his assailants, the ‘dusky’ Zulus, in particular a lad called Epes, were fined in court in Middlesbrough where the Show was exhibiting in 1901. At another time in Glasgow Prince Lobengula was in court pleading in the defence of the Zulus who once more had been accused of assaulting the same Africander George (another newspaper report identifies Africander George as Prince Lobengula, though he may have had to stand in for that role in the many absences of the Prince). This same Lobengula who had been accused of (rather than merely described as) being illiterate a little more than a year earlier, spoke in excellent English and acted as interpreter for the all the men, when also he had been equally accused, just a year previously, of not being able to speak the Matabele language either, and so couldn’t possibly be the son of the celebrated King Lobengula. Though Peter was illiterate in the sense that he couldn’t read or write and proven by the fact that he signed the 1911 census with a cross, it was used as a weapon of contempt against him by his willing detractors. Africander George Thomas wasn’t as dusky as the Zulus, but neither was he described as a Cape Boy which resulted in some unfair fun with his lighter colour at his expense in the court. It appears however that the sheriff giving judgment in the case, fined all the men involved in the assault £3, claiming that ‘in this country quarrels could not be settled with sticks or clubs’. A cynic among the dusky accused might have thought, ‘No you don’t. You just go into other countries and do it.’ Whether it was ultimately for the better or the worse, the ending of the suttee practice in India or the tyrannical and feared long ju-ju of West Africa with its cruel, summary justice, or the spread of a potentially fairer system, especially for females, and of a partial democracy through a different concept of culture throughout is, perhaps, a permanent debate in the arrangement of human groups.

Prince Lobengula’s time in England was rather rocky. For his supporters he was reputedly educated and Christianised in his homeland along with those brothers who could be identified as sons of the King, but he was also described by those who wanted to deny his royal status as merely illiterate and working as a kitchen boy while in Capetown. But prince or pauper while in England, he was nevertheless like a fish out of water in a cultural kind of way. It was often convenient for his detractors to believe he was uneducated and savage and couldn’t read or write, a phenomenon of illiteracy that nevertheless existed in the community he had come to live among in the lower, working classes. Soon however, to tackle illiteracy in this community, there would be a legally defined obligation for the provision of secondary education and a school leaver would soon have to produce a certificate of age to show they were not too young to work. Blackpool’s first Council secondary schools would open for the first time early in the first decade of the 20th century.

The Penny Illustrated Paper August 19th 1899

Prince Peter Lobengula had come to England sometime after the death of his father in 1894, and how and when and with whom or who he came was eagerly debated to justify an argument. But it reasonable to expect his arrival to have been in 1899 with the Savage South Africa Show in which he had been engaged by Frank Fillis, though the press liked to discuss and argue to make a controversy out of it. So, in ignorance, the newspapers speculate, sometimes with innocent question and at other times cynical contempt when it became evident that the black, African prince had the effrontery to consider marrying a white girl. Variously it was discussed that he had either come to England with his fiancé, come alone, arrived as a prisoner of war or, had been engaged by the ‘Savage South Africa Show’ and was shipped to England as such. It is claimed that when his father, the king had died it disqualified him from his allowance received from the British South Africa Company and he had had to find work at various jobs of a mundane nature in South Africa. The controversy of black and white, whether the one was equal to the other, came to a head when it became evident that Peter had developed a steady relationship with a white girl and when marriage was mentioned, the whole affair exploded into the social consciousness with a great cry of despair which reached as far as the Heavens. And it had occurred in the homeland of all that was considered right and proper. Lobengula was described as a handsome prince, a lady killer and the girl in question, Florence Jewell, rich, young and good looking and being worth £700 (over £86,000 today) a year and due to receive £30,000 (approaching £4m today) on the death of her mother, her father having deceased. The newspapers were all in a dither as to whether they had met earlier in South Africa or whether it wasn’t until they were both in London and the Prince was on exhibition at Earl’s Court, but it was most likely at the Earls Court show. Florence Kate Jewell is referred to as a Jewess, and at the time of the Dreyfus trial in France, Jews were themselves under the critical spotlight. Her father was a mine owner and originally from Redruth in Cornwall, where Florence was born, a county from where many miners had emigrated to find work in the South African mines and would send the money back home to their families. In the somewhat rebellious nature of youth, Florence had evidently defied her parent’s strictly established regime and fallen in love (or had become infatuated or, as a girl who had everything and just wanted a bit more than her society would let her have the toy she wanted), with a ‘native’, in whom she found some freedom of expression away from the strict rules of her mother. Later she claims she only succumbed to the insistent attentions of the prince and jokingly agreed to his proposal of marriage and then found herself forced into it, which doesn’t actually ring entirely true in an understanding of the events surrounding their courtship and marriage. Perhaps Peter was just a hunter’s trophy for her which had little significance beyond the kill itself. Her mother and associates later claimed that she had fallen on her head on Table Mountain when she was younger and through the near death injury sustained, and the subsequent operation, she was not able to act in manner that could be called compos mentis, and she was, indeed, ‘insane’. Another report, which is the more likely, states that she had fallen in love (or had become uncontrollably infatuated) with Prince Peter on her regular visits to the Earl’s Court exhibition and, after some time it became evident that there was something going on between the two, and thus the two were in England when their association began. She had fallen for the good looking man dressed with pride in his full, colourful gear of bright feathers and skins standing firm, tall and masculine with his shield and assegai and able to naturally present plenty of black, glistening muscle and flesh, in full view of the admiring females, a view which was normally denied them by their overdressed European men and the masculinity of these ‘dusky’ men increased as they charged into mock battle in front of a packed and delighted audience. In fact such was the interest shown, mostly by society women, in the men of the show that there was a legal attempt to ban women from entering the Kaffir Kraal part of the show at the Earl’s Court, claiming it was immoral. It seems that the worst offence was for a black man to shake hands with a white woman, incomprehensible in today’s world, though the agony of both racism and sexism still persists. A placard was to be placed at the entrance to the show stating that no females should enter. But there was no placard erected, only a sign suggesting that no alcohol should be given to the ‘natives’, and so when those ladies, unaware of the ban, arrived at the Show, they were told at the turnstile, with their sixpence entrance fee at the ready, that they couldn’t enter the kraal where the excitingly virile bodies of the men were on show. The press of the day was a male privilege and gives little opportunity for the observation of the female, which today would be quite loud and damning, but one female correspondent, with restrained contempt described her disappointment at the turnstile being unfairly blocked to her legitimate request to gain admission. She and the other disappointed ladies would just have to wait outside for the men to exit on their way to the Empress theatre to put on their show. There was further disappointment here however, as they not only had to wait in the rain, but the men came out loosely covered in dishevelled overcoats, not just because of the rain but because body exposure was considered immodest. So there were none of the engaging pecks and biceps on view. The case against the ban on women was eventually countered and won, by the South African Company against the London Exhibitions, the landlords, who wanted the ban, but the question of compensation for loss of income, claimed at 50% equalling an amount of £500, (nearly £62,000 today) due to the exclusion of women was not considered. The men of the kaffir kraal themselves did not want the proposed double barrier separating them from the public as a concession to letting the women in when they couldn’t get too close to them, because they refused ‘to be caged in like wild animals’, a frustration that would become increasingly evident as the show progressed on tour. And so the women were allowed to enter, ogle and admire the men, throw pennies into their huts and furnish them with gifts of jewellery and cash, which the Prince, being the favourite, received most, and enjoyed to wear. The women got so close to the men in conversation and admiration, that ‘Kaffir’ words became commonplace at the more reserved and fashionable parties and afternoon teas. Two words quoted are makaza and ubtshengi which are quoted as meaning cold and jewellery respectively. The women were however, the object of the jealousies of the men of their own society for making ‘consummate asses’ of themselves to the ‘swarthy heroes of this mimic warfare’ and Florence’s affair with the Prince is one of these ‘attacks of female idiocy’ and that marriage between black and white should be made a criminal offence.

The Graphic August 19th 1899

The marriage was to take place, then didn’t take place, then couldn’t take place then nearly did, then definitely didn’t again and eventually definitely did when all the fuss was dispensed with. Or as the US papers called it, ’The Marriage that has caused an uproar in England’. Even by 1967 and the release of the film, ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ the marriage between black and white was illegal in many US states.

Whether they had travelled from South Africa together or not, Florence had money that she was free to use. It is more likely that Peter had been engaged by the South Africa Company and brought to England by Frank Fillis on a specially charted ship with all the people, animals and extensive props of the show. Florence was a materially privileged girl who had travelled to England before with her maid, and who might have felt claustrophobic within the strict guidelines of her parents and who wanted to break from them. For Peter’s part, he had a rich, young and good looking girl doting on him and his resistance to her attentions might naturally have been minimal. Or maybe he took advantage of a naïve young girl using his good looks and charm to negate her resistance. For him, he had the potentially very rich, displaced Prince card to play, but nothing that he was easily able to prove. Peter’s reputed father however, a man of note of both fame and notoriety, King Lobengula, was the man with the riches and his hidden wealth of gold, minerals and diamonds was subsequently the stuff of the dreams of later, frustrated treasure hunters. A hidden hoard of £2,800,000 in coin, 36 bars of raw gold and four hundred diamonds has been quoted and which had been searched for, speculatively located, but never found. Perhaps, if he had known of his father’s reputed riches, he may have intimated the fact to Florence in order to ensnare her interest which might have been the stronger part of affection. Because he was a prince, Peter was given a wooden hut to live at the kraal with a bed and two boxes as tables, whereas the other participants in the show lived in mud huts which appeared to represent the permanent feature of the demonstration of a Kaffir kraal. But here it was legitimate and quite acceptable of the time period, to pay a sixpence and  voyeuristically watch a group of people living their ordinary, daily lives, a bit like peering through a neighbour’s window to see what they might be up to, if you were so unusually inclined to do so. The women, while they are usually portrayed as bare breasted, this is never referred to in the newspapers and perhaps a compromise had been made and they wore a loose and coloured robe instead.

When the news of the impending marriage of Prince Lobengula was broken at the kraal‘there was much jubilation among the savages’. For them, perhaps, it was one back in the face of their virtual captors as well as one of genuine appreciation. It seems that this permanent exhibition of huts had lasted for four months by the time of his marriage and the public viewers threw money into donation boxes from which Prince Lobengula had earned an estimated £200 (incredibly nearly £26,000 today) for the time he had been on exhibition, though it is not disclosed how much his employers took from that. The couple had been seen together at Earl’s Court where they took a ride on the lake in a boat and then took a turn on the water chute. Tongues wagged from then on. A large, diamond ring worn by the Prince on this occasion was allegedly given to him by his fiancé and she had arranged for a bespoke wedding suit to be made at her personal tailor’s. They hadn’t been seen on the Great Wheel together as before he had met Florence he had already had a taste of it. As he had some celebratory status, it had made news when the wheel was stopped halfway for an emergency check causing him some consternation as he had to be lowered down in a basket giving, so he had probably seen enough of it. The incident did give the condescending commentators ample opportunity to ridicule in conversation over a glass of wine or more permanently in print. On this occasion he was dressed in a tweed suit, so he was quite prepared to adapt to European dress. And he sported a Bulawayo hat on the occasion, though I haven’t yet found what specifically this Bulawayo hat would represent. He and his compatriots had also been taken around the town on a sightseeing tour in a rather patronising manner to show them the marvels of a more advanced society. For some reason they were given a large cigar each, and Prince Lobengula had sat in the front box seat of the first of the seven hired ‘brakes’, Victoria omnibuses driven by Daimler engines and it was a subject of alarm for the technologically naïve guests that these carriages were propelled along without the assistance of horses. Their experience described by those same condescending commentators reported a language of surprise and alarm that would later find their exaggerated way into the comic strip magazines of my youth. The touring party found the city quite claustrophobic as they were used to the wide open plains of their African homeland or the natural overgrowth of the bush. Indunas and indabas, official words, and quoted by the travelling group found their way, a little bit anglicised, into the English language in black and white print without any controversy on the printed page. And Buckingham Palace was the place of the great indaba where the it elicited shouts of raise in a kind of reverence to the ‘Great White Queen.’ Keeping in with the Jones’ as it were in a country where they were numerically in a vast minority. On her 80th birthday, on the 24th May and in their innate reverence to monarchy they conducted their own ceremony at the kraal, in praise of the queen and in which each chief stood forward to sing his praises to her and they engaged someone to write their eulogy, ‘Prince Lobengula, Luhlupo and Valughla, the Zulu Chiefs, and Joapan, Chief of the Swazies, beg me to write that today they and 200 of their warriors bowed low in a deepest reverence and prayer for the good of the Great Queen, and they tender the hearts of their nations to the powerful and most peace loving ruler of all the lands and water they have ever seen.’ Whether politic or sincere, it seems that they received no reply. I’m not actually sure that empire building and peace go hand in hand, though.

Throughout August, the couple’s attempt to wed was a fiasco. On August of 10th 1899 Peter and his bride-to-be, Florence Kate Jewell, having the necessary licences, expected to get married at St Matthias’ Church on Warwick Road in Earl’s Court, London. Their attempts to get married in a conventional manner were thwarted at every possible opportunity. If she was a Jewess then there would be a problem in getting wed in an Anglican Church. Also the bachelorhood of Prince Lobengula had to be established as he had especially been derived from a polygamous society. The wedding became the scandalous talk of London. Florence might have enjoyed the notoriety in a conceited sort of way (a portrait of her perhaps shows the self-indulgence of a young, selfish and headstrong woman of means). Peter might have wondered what all the fuss was about. In South Africa, white men married black women at will, so why the problem the other way round here, and he was a Prince so his status as an eligible bachelor had no question.

When, on one of the two occasions they attempted a church wedding, armed with the correct licences and expecting the service to take place, he wore a striped, blue serge suit, a white hat and brown shoes while the bride was originally going to wear an elaborate white dress, but had changed in the circumstances to a simple frock of blue spotted muslin. While he might have enjoyed the somewhat eccentric colour, which was quite African, it was also claimed that he was dressed like that because they were the only clothes he had, Miss Jewell claiming in an interview that he had broken his contract with Savage South Africa and they had retained all his luggage, a situation which had evidently caused fisticuffs, a repute of the Prince. Peter was a lad who would have fit into the current professional boxing circuit, no doubt with sufficient success to become a king of the ring. Peter had declared that he was fed up of England after all this fuss but the manager of the exhibition, a Mr Moore, wasn’t letting him out of his sight in case he got married before he broke his contract and left. He had booked a ticket for him on a boat from Southampton back to South Africa the following Saturday, just to get rid of him and so the wedding couldn’t take place. This ticket had been booked steerage as it was believed he was a mere kitchen boy in Capetown so it was a ticket of the lowest class, which denied him the respect of a princely status. At that time however, Peter was able to give the manager the slip from the tight attention given to him, and before reaching Southampton, he was able to disappear and then pretend that the couple had been married at the registry office.

And he appears to get in trouble with his luggage once more. At their lodgings in Flamborough Road, South Kensington in February of 1900, (a short time after they had been legally married in a Registry Office), the landlady had detained his boxes since Florence hadn’t paid the rent and no-one knew where she was. The magistrate decided that he could have his boxes back if he paid the rent due. It was certainly a stormy relationship both before and after the marriage where they had originally been living together as Mr and Mrs Jackson at 8 Kingsford Gardens (also reported as Kempton Gardens) and where they are somewhat sarcastically recorded as ‘the lady and His Dusky Highness.’

The attempt at a legitimate wedding was a complicated affair with the couple eventually playing a game of cat and mouse with the authorities. On their first attempt at getting married previously, the acting curate of the church dared not sanction the union while the vicar was away, probably under pressure from outside somewhere. Florence’s mother had been prepared to object at the altar, claiming her daughter’s insanity and she was backed up by three men who it seems were there as heavies to prevent the wedding taking place if it came to that, conjuring up scenes more relevant to the storylines of a modern wrestling entertainment circuit rather than the sanctity of church procedures. Letters had gone back and forth between the parties explaining why, and Florence had complied by obtaining what she thought was the legitimate licence. On one occasion Florence had brought her maid along with her, a maid that seemed to accompany them everywhere, less of a chaperone more of a general dog’s body. But the assembled crowd which had come to witness the affair that had created quite a stir in the society, and had London jaws acheing, had to wait for the ceremony to be completed and an hour later, it was confirmed that the wedding party had left the building by the vestry door because there was a complication in the procedures and the wedding could not be completed. Then from the morning to the early evening the technical details of the ecclesiastical requirements to legitimise the marriage were discussed at the registry office of the Bishop of London at St Pauls’s Churchyard. For some reason, possibly through the filibustering of her mother and associates, though both parties were 24 years of age, Florence’s age had to be reaffirmed and after a long day’s wait, and after the arrival of the Chancellor of the diocese, a doctor Tristram QC, the objections to the marriage were overruled and it was left to the couple to rearrange a future date for the ceremony. For black to marry white was unthinkable and confusing, and the bride to be was not only white but also English and white. Outwardly it appeared that there was a technical, ecclesiastical or, as the evidence of history reveals, a prejudicial motive for preventing the marriage. It was a long and agonising day’s wait for two young people keen on consummation, even if they had enjoyed the physical delights of companionship already. Though it was left to the couple to decide on a future date for the wedding it seems that the licence was revoked later by the Chancellor of the diocese. As far as the couple were concerned they were so fed up they would go to South Africa where they would be able to marry. To put everyone off the scent, Peter had spread it about that he had now no intention of getting married any more. They then hadn’t bothered to get married right away and, in a change of plan, it wasn’t until early in the following year that they formalised their live-in relationship via the Registry Office in Holborn.

For a short time no-one knew where the couple were. In the celebratory notoriety status of the affair, they were sought after news, thought to be in Eastbourne with grand designs of living at Pevensey. A crowd had also previously assembled at Dover where probably via the loyal maid’s decoy letter they had intended to embark for France. Instead they were discovered in Southampton, a place already familiar to Florence, and where a tall, black man and his white wife would not find concealment easily. They had been staying there before they would allegedly leave for his Matabele homeland and it was claimed that Prince Loben as he was referred to had a farm and was keen to return there with his bride, a claim that doesn’t ring entirely true, but perhaps put about by the couple forced into a situation of self defence. It was also claimed, in an attempt to add credence to the objections to his marriage, that he had a wife and child in Capetown, too. Disheartened at the way he had been treated he was probably enjoying keeping the press off his scent, and maybe enjoyed the attention too, for attention is what prince’s had to expect anyway. In the end, it seems that they didn’t travel at all, they just stayed in Southampton for a while, before returning to London. There were those who wanted to believe he was a prince, and thus of some status, and there were many who had no intention of believing in the fear of sanctioning the union of black and white, a popular mindset of the day that was not able to cope with it. The English press were also despondent about the fact the Continental press had pigeon holed all English women in the style of Miss Jewell as they were all foolish enough to be prepared to marry a black man, ‘oh pudeur! Oh vertu anglaises! The French, always quick to satire with impunity, were busy with their own empire building in Africa at the time and in conflict with the people living there.

However the marriage didn’t last long. It had been doomed from the start. Even before the marriage, and while they were living together there were accusations and counter accusations of violence between the two, and Florence had even accused Peter of stealing £5 from her, charges that were dropped in the magistrate’s court in West London. By January 1902 while the nation was preparing for the coronation of the new king of England, the son of the king of Matableland was in the divorce court when the couple are known as Mr and Mrs Lo Ben. Peter did not defend the case. It was shown that the couple had married at the Registry Office (thus dispensing with all the palaver of going through a Church wedding that they had experienced previously) in Holborn, London on February 20th 1900. In the Divorce Court it was, perhaps smugly, brought to the attention of ‘his lordship Sir Francis Jeune’ that there had been serious concern about the marriage of the two in the first place. It was then claimed that very soon after the marriage, Prince Lobengula, while performing in Glasgow had bitten his wife’s finger in a rage and had also had an inappropriate relationship with a Maud Wilson while they were in Leeds. Kate had also gone missing in Leeds and the police had dragged the canal in the search for her body, a rather dramatic and perhaps attention seeking episode as she had left a note and some clothes by the canal between Stretford and Sale identified as ‘Kitty Jewell’ and similarly left a letter with the landlady of their lodgings. Evidently she had had a row with her husband who had hit her and she had consequently left him. It is not known whether this incident occurred before or after the infidelity. He had also given her two black eyes and attacked her with an assegai on another occasion about the same time. Further than that witnesses also professed to having seen him throw bottles at his wife. The couple had moved about from town to town in his role as showman and it was not only the alleged violence of her husband that caused the occasional injury. In the first provincial show of the tour of that year in Sheffield, in front of a crowd of 8,000, the stalls where she and a few others were seated were knocked over by a waggon pulled by a team of twelve mules and driven, rather anonymously and dismissively by two ‘Cape boys’. She and the others, including a policeman, were not seriously injured but needed treatment. There was a team of elephants also and perhaps it was a god job it wasn’t those which trampled the stalls at the time. The incident at the canal was the end of the affair, it seems. Apart from the divorce court, Florence had written to Peter to say she was going around the world with her mother. It is not known whether this is true or not or whether she had made it up with her mother. In the same letter she states that if he ever wanted a friend, she would be there for him. It seems that it was the kind of friendship that is strongest, and works best, when it is kept apart. There must have been a base for a genuine association between the two, though kept apart by practicalities and the existence of an unsympathetic society all around them. Peter for his part remembers her on the birth of his second daughter whom he names Katherine Florence and colloquially referred to as ‘Kitty’, which was Florence’s popular name. Whether Lilian his partner, the mother of the child was aware of the reference or not is not known, but it is hard to image that she wasn’t.

During the divorce proceedings the question of his residency in England was also brought up and it seems that eyebrows were raised when it was learnt that he had no intention of going back to his own country, an indication in the mindset of the nation was such that it could only accept a temporary residence in the country for such exotic and wild specimens of a subhuman group, Prince or no Prince. In contrast to Prince Lobengula, many of the ‘savages’ involved in the cultural demonstrations of their homeland in the Savage South Africa Show at Earl’s Court had returned home when the show had been curtailed for its provincial tour. It was decided that Prince Lobengula would be sent home if a legitimate domicile in the country could not be determined. But it never was, so he stayed. Mrs Lo Ben found no sympathy in the judge because, in his words, she had married a ‘savage’. It was then all she could have expected and she would have known it from the outset. Hindsight is the leveller of any married couple after the acute emotional and physical needs of the nature of a starry eyed love have been extinguished. The male judge could not understand why so many white women fell for these ‘savages’. He perhaps couldn’t understand that the healthy bare, glistening torso of a young adult male in all its glory was the natural stuff of dreams for an ordinary heterosexual female. And women of the day in the society of the perceived cultured rather than the perceived savage, had only the off white shirts of rolled up sleeves and drab coloured outer garments of the male of their own culture to observe from day to day. For most of these women, an innocent display of muscle in public was a sad rarity and an opportunity to be taken with enthusiasm.

The incident at the carriage in Blackpool, was one of several that caused Prince Lobengula to invite a connection with the Courts. In May of 1901 a warrant was issued for his arrest after he had allegedly run off with his performance costume, an ostrich feather head dress, a skirt and a lion skin and wild cat tails, which was claimed to be the property of the proprietor, Mr Frank Edward Fillis the organiser of the Show. It was while the Show was performing at the Valley Parade football ground, Manningham, Bradford. He was later arrested at St Pancras station in London and brought back to Bradford where he spent four nights on remand in a high class cell over the weekend. Frank Fillis, the complainant said that he was fed up of the unruly behaviour of the members of the show and in particular Prince Lobengula who had not turned up for a couple of performances and then arrived in his tent drunk on his return. For their part the performers were probably now more than aggrieved at the demeaning attitude of both the show’s organisers and its audiences. Eventually the Prince had disappeared altogether as he had been lured away to perform in another show in Vienna, and last seen boarding a train for London. The courtroom was packed and the Prince in relaxed mood, after he had been allowed a visit from his wife while in the cell, was wearing a ‘smartly-cut black suit with an ‘Algey’ collar and brilliant red tie, and was wearing in his button-hole a beautiful white rose.’  I’m not sure what an Algey collar is. But, the charge was dropped, as it was shown to be a misunderstanding, after he had been brought back to Bradford where the alleged theft had taken place. It seemed that a rival show on the Continent had tried to lure the Prince away in an incident that elicited some ridicule in the Showman periodical. It is here in the courtroom that, in the words of Frank Fillis, we learn that the Prince had come to England with him on the same boat in 1899 and also claims that the Prince had no wife at the time of his engagement for the show in South Africa.

Later in October of the same year of 1900 it seemed he had dispensed with the show altogether and his wife, Florence, was indignant that, not only was her husband’s name being falsely used but worse, that she was highly indignant that she should be associated with the ‘horrid man’ that was employed to take his place and was prepared to take legal action over it. It seems that during Peter’s AWOL absences another chap was engaged to take his place as the loss of a pivotal character would be a disaster.

It was in Salford, which was where he eventually settled down, that he showed he was integrating well with the true values of an English male when he got drunk and smashed several panes of glass. He had been drinking in the Fox Inn on Regent Road in the town, run by the well-known footballer Miles Gledhill. Here, with too much ale, he had innocently picked up a child which someone objected to, and the ale did the rest. He broke a window in the pub and then some, and continued his spree of destruction when he took exception to the remonstrations of Miles Gledhill. Spilling out into the street he continued his drunken disorderliness until restrained by two policemen. Miles Gledhill, at 25 years of age and described as a footballer, was actually a rugby footballer who played for Salford and Hull KR. It was in the days when footballers were considered sissies and rugby players were the real men. Nothing is free if prejudice, it seems. Miles Gledhill, a Yorkshire man by birth, was probably a big lad and described as a ‘heavily built’ forward and elsewhere as a ‘bloated publican’. He was not averse to throwing out undesirable drunks from his premises. A couple of years later he was stabbed in the back for doing the same. For his part, Peter, now sobered up, deserted the manner of a true Englishmen when he showed remorse the following day and not just because he had to pay a fine of 12s 6d (65p; almost £124 today) a big chunk out of his meagre family budget.  Here it was demonstrated that he was receiving £50 a month pension from the Government but received no sympathy from the judge who accused him of irresponsibly drinking it all.

But the South Africa tour was relatively short lived and Peter found work, in mundane jobs including pantomime to support his second partner, Lily and his family, whom he’d been associated with since at least 1901. He settled in Salford and eventually found more permanent work at the Agecroft colliery in Pendleton. As Irish, Lily, from the north, like my grandmother from the south, and probably on different sides of the divide, had seen her homeland disrupted by the conflict of landlord and tenant, and the unfair distribution of wealth resulting in the violence of intense hate, mixed up with an association to different ideas of religion, so the couple had the common denominator of controversies, and the inability of human groups to get on with each other indelibly written into their backgrounds. It seems that it was from here in the poor living conditions of the city, an engine room of the nation’s wealth, that he had contracted TB which eventually caused his death after a six months illness.

In Peter’s personal and private life, the Rev SD Rees had baptised at least one of his children at St Thomas’s Church, Pendleton. In the Christianised occupation of the homeland of Prince Lobengula, he would have been no stranger to Anglican custom. It seems that from the 1911 census Peter claims to have been married for nine years making a marriage date for 1902, which is also the birth date of their first child and then for the conception of the child in July of that year, an association with Lily can go back further to late 1901. However there is no record of a marriage so it seems that the couple lived together as common law partners. There is only a record of a Lilian Magowan recorded in her birth name at the time of her death. Alexandra was born in the Fylde in July of 1902 at the time that Peter was involved in the South African tour in Blackpool. She would have been only two months old when the recorded incident at the carriage happened, but there would have been plenty of willing baby sitters in the travelling group to look after her, and Lilian’s Irish heritage would probably have been one of community self help as it was for my grandmother’s community.

On the 8th December 1904 the daughters of Peter and Lilian, Alexandra May and Kathleen Florence (Kitty) were baptised, Alexandra having been born on 13th July 1902 and Kathleen 15th Feb 1904. Peter, described as the Hereditary Chief of Matabeleland, was living at 11 Barton Street and was working as a labourer. On the 15th May 1907 their son Peter Leslie was born, and baptised 20th June 1907 at the same church (though there is a birth for Peter Leslie in June of 1906 who presumably died as an infant.) By the 13th February 1913, the baptism date of his son Vincent Stanley, Peter senior was working as a collier. Peter Vincent had been born on 12th January of that year but sadly died later on in the same year, the same year of Peter senior’s death. Kathleen followed soon after in 1916 at twelve years old and Alexandra in 1918 at 16 years old. On the 1911 census Peter and Lilian (Lily) were living at 11 Barton Street Pendleton, and Peter is working as a collier. All the children are at home and are recorded as being born in Pendleton (but the Bmd records show Alexandra as being born in the Fylde). By 29th June of 1913, and the baptism of Dollina the family had moved address to 19 Phillips Street and Peter is now a miner, presumably underground now rather than on the pit head.

Dollina had been born on the 10th March 1909. Her baptism had been delayed for some reason but had been made necessary when it became apparent that she was dying and her death occurred only days afterwards. In this year of 1913, while Peter is also dying with TB, one of his sons is unable to walk because of an ‘affection of the legs’. His wife Lilian is described as ‘a cheerful, patient Irishwoman’, not the woman who vociferously countered Mary Toomey in Blackpool over a decade earlier, but one who it seems has mellowed into a dedicated mother looking after her family while herself in the early stages of TB, such is the potential resilience of the human being when it is called to account. The family had also changed parishes to St George’s of Pendleton where the vicar is S D Rees. After the death of Peter, Lillie is found on the electoral rolls in 1920 at the same address in Phillips Street. Peter himself was admitted onto the electoral rolls for the Charlestown Ward. Rather surprisingly, it might seem, it was the Liberal candidate who objected to the application for a vote, and it was the Conservative who validated it, claiming that since Britain had annexed Matabeleland, he was entitled to a vote. The Conservative candidate got Peter’s vote. During these proceedings, it was stated that he had been brought to Britain as a prisoner of war after the Matabele conflicts showing even at the time that it was Peter, as long s it worked in his favour.

At the time of Peter’s first marriage a correspondent of the Ipswich Evening Star wrote in 1899 that he recalled a ‘black’ wedding taking place in South Africa in which the Earl of Stamford had, within the last twenty years, married a Hottentot girl. The Earl had attained the peerage before he died and had the issue of the marriage been a son and not daughter then there would have been ‘black’ blood in the House of Lords. Such is the unfair privilege of male heritage it may seem.

Daily Mirror November 26th 1913

Peter Lobengula died on November 24th 1913 and is buried in Salford Northern Cemetery, Agecroft. He was 38 years old. The vicar of St George’s, Pendleton, the Reverend S D Rees had taken up his cause and supported him and his family from fund raising and attempts to establish the real fact that he was indeed the son of King Lobengula. He had died in poverty and when he couldn’t work anymore, the National Insurance pension he received was insufficient to keep him and his family from starvation and he relied on the natural generosity of his neighbours who would themselves have known what poverty was in real terms. On the inscription of his grave, provided with a stone cross by public subscription and the energies off the vicar of the church sometime later in 1915 it reads; ‘In memory of Prince Peter Lobengula, who died November 24th, 1913, aged 38 years. This memorial was erected from public subscription by Rev S D Rees, FSA., Vicar of St George’s, Whit Lane, Manchester.’ The funeral took place in the afternoon of Thursday 27th November 1927. There was plenty of respect shown to a man who would be king, as working women followed the funeral procession from the church to the Salford Northern Cemetery. Passing the colliery where he worked, the men raised their caps. To them, in the succinctness of working language, he was ‘Ben’ and they had enjoyed listening to his stories of Africa and the Matabele wars where, in a kind of guerrilla warfare, the Matabele hid in caves but the English were ultimately too good for them. Not only were the British good and competent soldiers, they also had guns which no doubt helped to achieve that superiority. His wife Lily was also suffering from TB (consumption/phthisis) at the time, and by 1914, she was expected to be admitted to the Sanitorium at Drinkwater Park and the children would be looked after in a home. She survived until 1920. The Reverend Rees had taken up his cause claiming that the Prince’s lack of success in establishing his right to the Matabele crown had weighed heavily upon him and was a contributory cause of his death and that everything should be done to look after his family. But perhaps Peter’s status could most easily be explained by a letter received by the Reverend S D Rees from Bishop Colonso in South Africa via the Bishop of the Manchester diocese in January 1914 and dated 15th December of the previous year. It was from the mother of Prince Lobengula who had learnt of her son’s death in the local, Pretoria paper. It reads, ’I am Delvalt mother of the late Peter Lobengula, of whom I presume your Lordship has already heard, and my idea in writing is to get some information as regards my son’s death. It is nearly three years since I last heard from him, until last week, when I saw in one of the daily papers here by cable that my son was dead. So I will be very glad if my Lord will be kind enough as to let me know all about his last days upon earth. I further saw in the paper that my son persisted to the end that he was the son of Lobengula. Now my Lord, as his heartbroken mother, I just want to clear the public mind as to the identity of my son. He was not the son of the late Lobengula, but the grandson. My first husband was the eldest son of Lobengula by his first wife. He was named by the Dutch as ‘Voorloop’ and by the natives as ‘Machuewane’. My husband died when Peter was four years old, and that will show that according to native and European laws he had the right to call himself Peter Lobengula.’

So if there is proof in the letter then Peter was definitely derived from the DNA of the renowned King of the Matabele. Not his son, but his grandson.

It seems that the only surviving member of the family was Peter Leslie who worked as a garage attendant in Salford. He married Nora Hart in 1935 and there doesn’t appear to be any children from this marriage nor from that of his second marriage to Eva Brooksbank in 1962. His first marriage appeared to end in divorce as a Nora Lobengula remarried in 1947. At the time that Peter was working at the garage in 1939, Eva Brooksbank is described as a packer and shoe black. Peter died in 1977, at the good age of 71. Eva lasted a little longer until 1983.

In the end it seems he was a prince after all, but not a very significant one, but a claim to be a prince was well worthy of notice especially in a monarchist nation such as England. In a male dominated society, the king of Matabeleland had about 40 wives so there was presumably sufficient male issue to lay claim to the title of Prince. He, it was suggested, during the controversy of his status, was the son of the seventeenth wife (other reports claim the tenth wife.) He was perhaps au fait with the largely male dominated society of Britain that he arrived in at the turn of the century. The movement for the rights of women was growing, but it would take imprisonment, violence, agitation and death before even a partial suffrage was achieved. In Blackpool and in competition with a church service, the suffragists would be chased off the beach with violence by an angry crowd, to find sanctuary in a store with police protection until the angry crowd could be dispersed. 

Peter was a regular attendant at St George’s parish church and it was the Reverend Rees, who had taken up his cause, either out of compassion or a sense of duty either spiritually or worldly, since he regretted that England had lamentably not been able to exercise its ‘tradition of generosity to its vanquished adversaries’ and a man who had complied with its customs and laws. It was the Reverend who had stimulated contact between the Salford Civic League of Help and the British South Africa Company to investigate Peter’s claims, but which replied through the Native Department of the Administration that, since King Lobengula had multiple wives arranged, in a male dominated society, in a natural hierarchy of most favoured to less favoured and with the highest ranking being the favourite, that he may well have been a progeny of this system but highly unlikely to have been a direct heir, and thus could not claim any entitlement. The British South Africa company had already, it claimed, made provision for two of the king’s wives and also two of his sons and it was possible that Peter was a son of one of the wives, but proof was lacking. The evidence they presented showed that Prince Lobengula was a stage name and Peter (the mere ‘native’ in question) was actually engaged by the Savage South Africa Company in Natal. So this claim was either a truth or a way of getting out of responsibility. In 1907 a son of King Lobengula (deceased in 1894) enters the Denstone English College Staffordshire. Whether Peter knew he had one of his numerous brothers (or uncles) in the country is not known but I am not aware of a record to show this.

‘Native’ was a word I grew up with meaning ‘savage’ with caricatures of indigenous cultures, especially in Africa, of nearly naked people with bones through their noses standing around a cooking pot and speaking in an exaggerated and satirised pidgin English. Little wonder that the cross suspicion of black and white in a contemporary world, and the perceived supremacy of the white anglo saxon can still claim to exist. Before the end of the 19th century, newspapers could show King Lobengula as an unsophisticated and half naked king with spear and shield and one of his wives, though naturalistic, nevertheless in virtual caricature, scantily clad and bare breasted, somewhat sarcastically referred to as a ‘belle’. In great contrast to the entire wardrobes of voluminous clothing worn by its European readers, when body exposure was considered uncultured and immoral. Today however as all things fluctuate or move in eternal cycles it is the technologically advanced nations who now admire those who live off the land and who make no demands on the diminishing material resources and it is perhaps those technological societies who qualify as today’s savages and who attack the earth to drain it of what little it has got left to provide.

While he worked at the coal mine he would have seen many white faces turned black.  I worked in a flour mill in London when many black faces turned white. Whilst there was segregation in the mill, the workers would hang out of the doors of the separate changing rooms in a natural camaraderie of conversation where it was desired. My other grandmother was in Capetown in the first years of the 20th century having been drawn out there from her native north east by her father’s role in the Boer War. Her mother however, being reportedly uncomfortable, I would like to think through compassion rather than prejudice, with native ‘black’ servants in the house, and perhaps aware of the extreme conditions of the concentration camps of both enemy and non-combatant ‘blacks’, left her husband, packed her bags and bought her children home to England and chose Blackpool where she passed her time until she naturally applied for admission to Layton Cemetery.

Sources and Acknowledgements

The body of information comes from the British Library newspapers and documents via findmypast. Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive ( All other information sourced is mentioned below;

Parish records;

Cape Boys;

Matabele battle;

An extract from the Kings Royal Rifle Corps Chronicle reflects.

‘Subsequent to the vanquishing of Lobengula and his tribesmen, Rixon settled down on a farm on the Insiza.’

Rixon was a brave and committed soldier. Ironic that his bravery, paid for later by his life, a Major by then, for his ‘beloved England’ in Flanders, should represent the repelling of an invader, while his military activities in Matabeleland represented himself and his country as the invader of the territory of others. But then the diaspora of a section of the Zulu’s northwards represented themselves as the invaders… and so on it goes….

Inflation calculator used;

Peter’s grave site at Salford ;

Here, research shows the history of the Jewell family.

The Zulu migration

To quote the web page for the Agecroft colliery; ‘In 1896 Pendleton Nos. 1 & 2 pits employed 441 underground and 126 surface workers and in 1933 employed 272 underground and 117 on the surface.’

Thanks to Kieran Heaney for personal observations on Ireland to corroborate my grandmother’s oral histories.

July 22nd, 2021

Ted MacDonald

Australian fast bowler

On the early morning of 22 July 1937, licensee of the Raikes Hotel Blackpool, was killed when struck by a car on the Blackrod by-pass near Bolton, Lancashire. He was returning from playing in a charity cricket match the evening before at Broughton in Manchester and his car was in collision with another, forcing him off the road through a hedge Ted McDonald and into a field. He was unhurt in the initial crash but, having climbed back onto the road and, while talking to a policeman in the road about the accident, he was struck by another car. He was 45 years old.

Before, and during, his time as licensee of the Raikes Hotel he had played amateur cricket as a fast bowler for Blackpool, and before that he had played for both the Lancashire County team and the Lancashire cricket League for both Nelson and Bacup as a professional. Before that even, a hundred years ago this year of 2021, as an Australian, born in Tasmania, he had ripped through the England batting line ups in the 1921 Australian test match Tour of England, and achieved fame in his lifetime that way. It was his only tour of England and his only year of Test Match cricket but his fame lived on in English County cricket and the Lancashire Leagues.

Ted Macdonald began his life in Launceston, Tasmania on Jan 6th 1891 as Edgar Arthur Macdonald. In an autobiographical newspaper article he informs us that cricket was a highly organised sport in Australian schools and everybody (only the boys I guess are given the chance to become proficient in the game, though, by the time of his death in England the women’s game was demanding more attention and physical fitness was a national concern). The pitch at his Charles Street School in his native Launceston, was a concrete one which, he claims was little different to the grassed pitches in England (there was a local concrete league played on Sunday in Blackpool and district, and there might still be) and ‘grass pitches in England are like concrete anyway’ in his own words.

But Edgar at first bucked the trend to fulfil himself in a cricketing role in his school days. He was a slow starter in the game, only really taking to cricket after leaving school when he began playing for West Launceston. In the beginning he was better as a batsman and it was in that respect he eventually started his career. He didn’t even like bowling at that time and when he went on to join the junior leagues his bowling was always as a last resort.

Becoming a household cricket name for his fierce yet elegant style of bowling action was yet quite a time off and when he first moved to Melbourne in 1910 his first job was not in cricket but in Australian rules football (which, he informs his English readership is not like the soccer in England) but, with the instinctive skills of his mentor, a Jimmy O’Halloran, who saw potential in his bowling, (as he also played for East Melbourne cricket second team), and who constantly reminded him that Australia was short of fast bowlers, he was encouraged into bowling and eventually achieved good enough performances to get a place in the first eleven.

After a season playing for East Melbourne he joined the Fitzroy team of Victoria and in the Pennant matches of the cricket competitions there, he began to show his talent. By 1911 his first action against the English was when the MCC visited Australia and he played for Victoria but only took 2 wickets for 125 runs. With the Australian team about to arrange a tour of England, the Australian newspapers bemoaned the fact that the team was hard pushed to find a fast bowler. Along with that fact and the fact that ‘every Australian wants to visit the ‘Mother country’ (as Australia as a self-governing country was only a few years old at the time), he put his mind and soul into his bowling, despite not being chosen for that tour.

In 1914 the War intervened and it is not sure how Edgar spent the war years, but after that, with much help and advice from his instructors and team mates and even those not involved with the club but who could see his evident talent, his game eventually developed and, playing for Victoria against New South Wales in 1919 he took 6 for 42 in adverse bowling conditions. The following season he was good enough to play against the MCC and then was picked for the tour of England at last and he eventually came good in the test matches against England in the ‘Mother’ country the following year. As a fast bowler he could sustain his speed throughout an innings longer than any other fast bowler. He and his bowling partner Jack Gregory could bowl through a whole innings without needing a change of bowlers, quite a feat of stamina for a fast bowler.

This tour of a civilian Australian cricket team to England (a series of matches were played which included those military personnel still in England as members of the Australian Imperial Force in 1919) in 1921 was the first after the War. Before this, in this respect during the war, many Australians, as soldiers, did see the ‘Mother’ country, many giving their lives far, far away from their homes as the conflict dragged on. Some only got as far as Egypt where they bided their time before being given something to do at Gallipoli where history records the tragedy of the spilling of their blood in great quantities.

When then the Australians eventually toured England again in 1921, Ted was included at first as a second string bowler, initially included as a possible replacement for Jack Gregory who was having trouble with his feet, but he impressed in a warm up match against Leicestershire taking 8 for 41. In these Test matches, when Australia won the first three matches, (the last two being drawn) he ripped through the England innings being unplayable sometimes on many a wicket and his name was subsequently immortalised. His performances were mirrored in the County matches too, in between Test Matches. Cricketers love statistics and continue to do so and Ted was involved in a most unusual statistic in one of the tests when bowling against (the eventualy tragic) Andrew Ducat. Whether it was the poor condition of his bat or the fierceness of Ted’s bowling is not known but the ball took the shoulder off the bat on impact and the large splinter flew onto the wicket and nocked the bails off while the ball flew up behind the wicket and he was also caught in the slips by Gregory so he was technically out twice off the same ball.

By March of 1922 after his successful tour, the Melbourne Herald was reporting that he was considering playing for a County team in England and was about to set off. There was a great controversy over Macdonald’s decision to play in England and, causing a great conflict within the sport, he became a kind of negative celebrity for doing so, being all over the news, some papers saying he was coming and others spitefully declaring that he wasn’t and would lose £200 for not doing so which gave the Nelson club and himself some free, advanced publicity. He did eventually join Nelson in the Lancashire League and was instrumental in creating a rare, comfortable working profit for the club in his first year there. In his professional contract at Nelson he would be the highest paid professional that England had ever known at a time when in England anyway, there was a controversy between sport for sport’s sake as ethically a pure expression of the human endeavour for excellence and achievement, and sport as a professional game in which money would rule. In some circles it was considered beneath the dignity of sport to get paid for doing it, the opposing argument being that a sportsperson, as an entertainer should be entitled to command a good enough wage in their metier.

In these established, English cricketing circles the editor of Wisden expresses that, ‘I object strongly to the importation of Australian players. Clubs with money to spend should encourage native talent, and not buy cricketers of established reputation,’ a sentiment that still persists in sports today. The Australian players on the previous tour of England on the other hand had received bonuses of £300 (and not the £200 as had previously declared) which infuriated the editor too. Professionalism in all sports continued to be looked down upon in some circles as far inferior to the purity of spirit of amateurism.

Ted arrived in England despite the trolls and by 1923 when playing for Nelson against Burnley on 3rd June he took 10 wickets for 18 runs and he is on their all-time list of bowlers who have taken ten wickets in an innings. The gates for the Ribblesdale League for which he played made a profit while players like Ted were involved.

Later on however, at the Blackpool festival in September of 1923 where it was Lancashire v the Rest of England, the Rest of England included Ted Macdonald but he only made a single run before being caught and had seemed to have lost some of his fire with the ball when bowling. These festivals were usually arranged by Albert ‘Alby’ (Sir Lindsay) Parkinson businessman, international building contractor and former mayor of Blackpool, ex footballer and cricketer too and along with his brother William (the ‘Colonel’) Parkinson who, as director of the Blackpool football club would collapse and die while attending a match at Bloomfield Road, they had financed the building of the cricket pavilion at Stanley Park. It was a ground that Harold Larwood when he came to play for Blackpool, could confidently claim that it was better than some County grounds he had played on.

After three years Ted left his role as Nelson professional, being succeeded by J M Branckenburg the South African, and he played for Lancashire between 1924 and 1931 helping them to win the County Championship four times, three of them successively, after which he would take up a contract at Bacup in the Lancashire League. Ted then came to Blackpool for the 1932 season after leaving his role as Bacup professional and he would be taking over the licensee of the Raikes Hotel, a fillip thrown into his contract to bring him to the town.

What Ted might not have known was that a former resident of Raikes Hall was a certain Albert Hornby who, as a young lad at the time, yet to become a cricketer and yet to be the captain of the England cricket team that lost the test match in 1882 resulting in the creation of the Ashes series of Test matches against Australia. In that cricket team, Albert Hornby had played alongside that other cricketer and Blackpool resident Richard (Dick) Barlow who was ‘bowled at last’ in an epitaph of his own composition in 1919 and now has an eternal place in Layton Cemetery in the town.

It seems that in the 1921 Ashes series in England, Ted and his bowling partner Jack Gregory had pre-empted the bodyline controversy of 1932, exemplified by Harold Larwood by ten years. Maybe by coincidence or irony the most renowned (or notorious) practitioner of bodyline bowling (where the hard, cork ball is bowled at speeds around ninety miles an hour directly at the batsman and not at the wicket or to one side of the batsman to make him play the ball and leave him open to a catch), Harold Larwood, a Nottinghamshire man, also settled in Blackpool a few years after Ted’s death.

The ‘Bodyline Ashes’ series occurred when England toured Australia in 1932-33. It was not stiff upper lip and gentlemanly conduct between the sides and the words ‘fuck’ and ‘bastard’ were used to describe each other’s spiritedly mutual dislike. In 1933, the MCC had backed up the captain Jardine and the manager P F Warner after receiving a complaint from the Australian Board of Control concerning the use of bodyline bowling though they probably didn’t use that cricketers’ language, formerly described, in public, anyway.

Cricket is a highly tactical game and with those corky balls flying down the wicket at 90 miles from the bowler’s arm sometimes, it can be a very dangerous game. Ted Macdonald had been urged on in his career and self-achievement by a proverb that had stuck in his mind from his school days as ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’ and thus never gave up trying in the drive towards perfection but often within his personality it seems there wasn’t always a way to the will. In this respect, and always wanting to get the best out of himself, it seems on one occasion when he wasplaying for Lancashire he had suggested to the captain Jack Sharp (who was also an English footballer) that he should use a modified leg trap against Herbert Sutcliffe of Lancashire’s rivals Yorkshire, but Jack Sharp had refused to let him. Perhaps because Jack Sharp was not a Lancashire man by birth and did not possess that innate rivalry between the two counties. The modified leg trap was not the same as bodyline bowling but it would make for boringly unwatchable cricket, at least for aficionados of the game anyway.

As well as his game, his personal life was also set by problems which, in the blind drive for success and achievement, included gambling and the nature of his finances perhaps indicated in the re-sworn amounts of his published will, might indicate the failure of this ambition.

Illustrated Sporting News May 7 1921.
Taken in the nets.

In 1933 while playing professional for Bacup, Ted Macdonald was once more invited by Lindsay Parkinson to play for his invitation team against the West Indies at Blackpool and in this game he took 5 for 38. In May of 1934 he took 5 wickets for six runs while playing for Blackpool against Ribblesdale Wanderers. In 1935 he played at Blackpool for a team put together once more by Sir Lindsay Parkinson against Leicestershire and took 5 for 21 runs after it looked like Leicestershire were about to accumulate a good score.He had settled into life at Blackpool and no doubt there were many cricketing stories swapped over the bar of the hotel while he was associated with it. He was also a keen golfer and would perhaps rue the current demise (2021) and redevelopment of that part of the golf course he would have enjoyed playing on at Stanley Park as he observed the construction and opening of the Victoria hospital on the Whinney Heys land next to it.

But on that July morning of 1937 as he was returning home to Blackpool after playing a charity cricket match, he was in collision with that other car which sent him off the road, through a hedge and into a field. Though he wasn’t injured he managed to climb back onto the road, but was knocked down and killed by another motorist whose speed declared at the inquest was between 25 and 30 miles an hour only.

On July 26th 1937 at 2.45pm in the Manchester Test match against New Zealand a two minutes silence was observed, the match suspended for that couple of respectful moments as the scheduled time for his internment at Carleton cemetery, Blackpool. Similarly at Birmingham where Lancashire were playing Warwickshire, as well as the two minute silence by both players and crowd, the players, wearing black armbands, took off their caps and the pavilion bell tolled after the lapse of the two minutes.

With thanks to Wikipedia

He was survived by his wife Emily Myrtle, née Hamill, whom he had married on 10 April 1920 at Holy Trinity Church, East Melbourne, and their two sons. He had left £31 (£2,159.54) effects and £1006 (£70,080.63) resworn, to his wife. It’s possible that the will had to be resworn due to the amount of donations from interested parties that came in after his death and that increased the value of his testament. His funeral service took place at St John’s Church Blackpool before proceeding to the relatively new Blackpool crematorium at Carleton on 26/7/1937. After this date there is no evident trace of Emily or sons in the records even by 1939, so it could perhaps be understood that they returned very soon after to family and friends in their native Australia. Emily was born in Richmond in 1892. Her father was Joseph and her mother Mary Ann (nee Nixon).

A correspondent in the Nottingham Journal of July 1937 had regretted the shortage of great bowlers in the game, the tradition of great bowlers exemplified today by the speed and rhythm of Harold Larwood, and bemoans the destruction of the England batsmen in 1921, ‘But even this had its compensations in the lithe, willowy grace of Macdonald and the kangaroo leap of Gregory, for they brought genius and personality into the game and we can never do without either. These two things are cricket’s present lack.’

Though the driver of the car that caused the death of Ted was charged with manslaughter and was bailed, no charges were eventually brought upon him as careless or dangerous driving could not be proven. Ironically Harold Larwood, resident in his native Nottinghamshire at the time was involved in a car accident in Nottinghamshire on the same day as Ted Macdonald. Like Ted’s car, his went off the road, but his after doing a couple of somersaults and running down an embankment. He was able to get out and release the trapped passengers, but the event did not prove fatal for Harold. Other than the simultaneous road accidents there was another slightly ironical connection between Ted and Harold. Their careers had met up indirectly in usual circumstances in 1928 when it was Harold Larwood who had ended the test career of Jack Gregory, Ted’s bowling partner but, ironically, not with his uncompromising bowling but as a result of his batting. In an awkward attempt to take a return catch from Harold the batsman, probably over keen to get one over his rival bowler, Jack Gregory the bowler, twisted his knee and aggravated a longstanding injury which ended his career.

Tasmania district of Launceston 1891

6th January1891; father, Arthur McDonald, (a tinsmith); mother, Jane McDonald, Balfour Street Launceston, registered 15th February 1891.

According to the Nelson Leader of April 13 1922, Ted MacDonald’s averages in England of his test match year were (the first row being totals for the tour);-


Nottingham Evening Post May 23 1950

The other cricketer of fame or notoriety, Harold Larwood, also settled in Blackpool where he remained for four years or so before emigrating to Australia with his wife, Lois and five daughters. He had honeymooned in the town in 1927 and so would have known the town well enough to want to come back. He had joined Blackpool in 1938 to follow several greats, ‘including E A Macdonald’. He had his first game in 1939 where he met up with his Nottinghamshire County groundsman Harry Marshall who had come to Blackpool as groundsman after being assistant at Nottingham. The ground at Blackpool, Harold claimed, was as good as and occasionally better than some county grounds he had played on in his fifteen years as a first class cricketer. He had been signed for the season to play the Saturday games but hoped he would be back for more than the current season if he was considered good enough, and if his knee injury didn’t impair him. He had a market garden business back home so there was no thought of a permanent move at the time. His knee did hold up in the game against Barnoldswick where he took 6 wickets for 18 runs. Here he chalked up a friendship with ‘Hurricane’ Harry Hewitt who, following his father, Charles, into cricket, and a regular in the team, scored an unbeaten 45 in that game for Blackpool. Charles Hewitt was a man of many talents. A monumental mason by trade, learning the art from his father and whose brother, Ethelred continued the family business when Charles moved to Blackpool, he also played played cricket for Cheshire from his native Dukinfield and his skills and interest in music were exemplified by playing the French horn for the Halle orchestra. He had encouraged Harry into cricket and moved to Ashton in Lancashire, becoming a notable member of the team. It also meant, deliberately or coincidentally, that Harry could play for a more successful County. In the June of 1939 Harry and Harold would make a good batting partnership against Clitheroe, but the younger Harry would soon join up as the war broke out and it wasn’t until after the war when Harry returned from active service that the two would resume the friendship and Harold Larwood, now a Blackpool resident would be a regular to tea at the Hewitt’s household. While Harold would survive his active service, his brother, Charles, wouldn’t, sunk by the ‘friendly’ fire of US submarine while on his way to build railroads for the Japanese in Indonesia as a pow. One of his sisters, Audrey, followed her mother Leah, along with her careful maternal advice, onto the stage and would meet and marry there, most probably the best ventriloquist of all time, Arthur Worsley, a Blackpool resident when he wasn’t touring.

Harold Larwood had suffered extreme negative criticism from his bodyline infamy and eventually retired from first class cricket in 1938. Even before, in 1936, Harold had decided to stay on his chicken farm rather than tour Australia, a fact that might have influenced Bill Ponsford, the renowned Australian batsman who didn’t like fast bowling, to re-emerge from retirement having retired soon after the bodyline series. Bill Ponsford had been offered a lucrative, four figure contract and a house thrown in if he joined Blackpool as a professional. So Blackpool, with the Parkinsons at the fore, liked its cricket. It was a tempting offer and one that the Australian would have been foolish to turn down but the Australians came up with a plan of their own and offered a £1 a run (about £73 in 2021) and, since he had contributed to a record 451 partnership with Don Bradman and had also achieved very high individual scores, it was an offer which made Blackpool’s offer ‘appear like an insult’. So the money that had brought Ted Macdonald to England had kept Bill Ponsford at home.

After Harold had first retired into his market gardening and his chicken farm which he continued with during the war years he came to settle in Blackpool in 1945. Here, he had a house address on Victory Road and moved onto retail with a sweet and tobacco shop round the corner on Caunce Street before eventually emigrating to Australia in April 1950, invited by his Australian cricketing friend, Jack Fingleton. Arriving there in May he vouched that he would have nothing to do with cricket apart from watching it occasionally. The last time he was in Australia had been during the Bodyline Test matches when Jack Fingleton, now a journalist but as an opening batsman had scored a century against Harolds’s bodyline bowling, there might have developed a mutual respect between the two. Harold also liked to follow football and had been a regular at Bloomfield Road.

The Sphere 13/8/1949

The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 15/4/1933

My father on leaving his civilian employment at the cricket ground to join the RAF.

In the words and handwriting of Harry Marshall;-

Sources and Acknowledgements

Most of the story has been derived from contemporary newspaper reports via findmypast. Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive ( Many thanks to Michael Worsley for sharing personal, family memories of Charles and Harry Hewitt. Thanks to Denys Barber for supplying a picture of Richard Barlow’s grave in order to determine the exact script of the epitaph. The Blackpool cricket club letters are family archive. (There is also Youtube video of Ted MacDonald in bowling action). Infill of some other, additional information via these links:-

The double count out of Andrew Ducat is taken from War Games by Tony McCarthy published somewhat perhaps appropriately named Macdonald Queen Anne Press 1989.

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