Victoria Monks Musical Hall Artiste
With Thanks to the Friends of Layton Cemetery, Blackpool, England, where her name is commemorated on the family gravestone there.
Victoria Monks, Music Hall Artiste (1882 – 27/1/1927). Without reference to the primary source material it is not possible to give an exact date and place for her birth. I hope this can be forthcoming eventually. Both the variously published family tree researches and even the census returns are in conflict. However, Victoria was born Anne Monks to Alfred and Mary Monks. She is the youngest of six children. Her father, an optician, came from Leeds and her mother from Newcastle-on-Tyne. The family lived in Liverpool and Birmingham before moving to Blackpool about the time Anne was born. It is recorded, but not yet substantiated in these pages, that Anne’s mother, Mary Elizabeth died in childbirth. There is a death recorded for a Mary Elizabeth Monks in the Fylde in 1884. If this is Victoria’s mother then her (tragic) death would have been in giving birth to a younger, sibling, not Victoria, as has been stated. A bit more research yet needed, or someone, somewhere, may know. There is recorded death of Mary in the obit notices of the Blackpool Herald on July 4th 1884. The family address is given as 20 Duke St in the town and Mary, wife of Andrew Thomas Monks, was only 36 years old.
The censuses (seen) are confusing because, as well as giving different forenames to Victoria’s father, they also give Blackpool and Liverpool as the birth place of both her two elder sisters (and Birmingham and Liverpool for one of her brothers). The family, however, are settled in Blackpool by 1891, some of who are later buried in Layton Cemetery, and Victoria is inclusively commemorated on the family gravestone (though buried in Kensal Green cemetery, London). She was variously known as Anne/Annie/Nancy/ Victoria Monks / Hooper/Gruhler/Groller, (also Nancy Victoria in her earlier, stage days, and even ‘Saucy Victoria’ at one time when the public demand was high and the critics were swooning.) The Groller of the gravestone in Layton cemetery, Blackpool, would be expected to be a misinterpretation of Gruhler (her official, married name). Either the monumental stonemason was drunk or the instructions were wrong. You would like to believe the latter.
As Annie, she appears definitively, as far as these pages are concerned, on the 1891 census which shows the family living at 12 Duke St, Blackpool, before a move to 24 Elizabeth Street by 1901. Duke Street backed on to the busy, arrival, departure and shunting lines of the (now defunct and demolished) Central railway station of the town. Elizabeth Street is more residential and would have perhaps been quieter, apart from the neighbours, maybe….. It seems Annie attended, (‘passed her early childhood’), in a convent in Warwickshire (where, possibly her two sisters also went.) There is a claim that she was educated in ‘England and Belgium’, but this is likewise unconfirmed. Suggestions of her parents not wanting her to go on the stage are not borne out by her mother’s early death and the fact that three of her siblings, Margaret, Elizabeth and ‘Jack’ also took up the stage profession, and all lived at home in the early years. It is also stated in a single newspaper article, that her father was a theatrical agent while Annie was in Blackpool, and in another article that her father was on the stage himself at one time. Her father did at one time act as daughter’s agent. He was however, by profession, an optician
If Victoria could not keep out of the news, she may have inherited it from her father. In the November of 1888 he was in the County Court accused of changing a pair of expensive opera glasses for a cheaper pair. The expensive pair belonged to a Mr John Gordon, who had left them at a boarding house in Blackpool when he had come to stay from Manchester and, finding he had left them behind at the address, for some reason asked Alfred Monks to retrieve and return them. Alfred did both, but the glasses that John Gordon received were a cheaper pair, 10s 6d (approx £54) as opposed to the original pair being worth £2 (£215.10). John Gordon then came to Blackpool and it was claimed by witnesses that he was ready for a fight when he found the glasses at the boarding house of Mrs Clay with whom he had stayed. It didn’t help Alfred’s case that John Gordon was a police constable in Manchester and it was conceded in the end that Alfred was liable for the glasses ad he had to pay the £2 as the real value of the glasses. There was no evidence produced however, to suggest he had acted unfairly in any way, just the letter of the law being dominant.
And Elisabeth, not be outdone, was claiming justice, for items she had sent to the cleaners. In the October of 1901 she claimed £4 13s 6d (a little less than £500) from Crawshaw and Co, dyers and cleaners. Items included coats and a feather boa. The feather boa had not been returned and the judge, it is intimated did not regard the complaint as very serious. Perhaps, being a male he didn’t understand the importance of clothes, as quite luxury items to a female. It is not stated but again, intimating that the boa was returned, though uncleaned as the Company claimed it wouldn’t clean properly. There was enough n the complaint however to be awarded 40s (£203.41)compensation.
Anne, was reportedly first on the stage in a dance troupe and then, in her own professional capacity, as Little Victoria, at the Empire Theatre, Blackpool (the building now demolished – it became the Hippodrome then the ABC, then Rumours night club and now a car park). She was only 11 years old at the time and, in the following years on tour, she was on occasion, accompanied by her two sisters and her brother who also sang. In March 1909 Victoria’s brother, Jack Monks, billed under his own name at the Royal Hall, Jersey, ‘sang in his usual fine style, ‘Turn to the West,’ ‘You Know Very Well What it Is,’ and ‘In the Valley,’ for an encore’. Margaret and Elizabeth Monks were equally and unimaginatively known as Peggy and Bessie Monks. Indeed in 1901 Annie is living at home at 18yrs old and is a Music Hall artist, and her father is a self-employed optician. In the ‘Era’ publication of October 1901 Victoria Monks’ talents are advertised, and her Blackpool address is given as 24 Elizabeth Street. By now it appears she has a manager who is George Aytoun of London (she seems to have changed managers several times during her career, and left not always on good terms). Her father died in 1911 as he was reportedly staying with her in Tulse Hill London, her residence at the time, and shortly before her divorce.
She was evidently a naturally talented artiste with an excellent stage presence and who knew how to connect with the audience. Her private life, however appears to have been the opposite, caught up in the wealth and confusion of a high life of popularity without the help of modern day counselling or psychotherapy. Just like a modern day celebrity, Annie’s true soul remained paralysed within her wealth and popularity. She had a fatalism running through her life which was exacerbated by the divorce from her husband when her inner security was exposed to the elements. Her original earnings as Little Victoria of £5 (£531.64 in 1899) per week increased to several hundred pounds at the peak of her career, and her most successful phase was the first decade of the century.
Features of her act, and which belonged to the Music Halls in general, were her coster and coon songs. The low, perceived, social standing of both the working class ‘coster,’ and the Afro-American, was easy meat to patronise, criticise or ridicule. As early as 1898 Little Victoria Monks, aged 15yrs is listed as a ‘serio-comic’ at the Empire in Wigan. Also billed on the same night is a ‘negro’ comedian, which might have had an influence on her later acts. She had perfected a ‘coon’ song and dance, for which she earned ‘an irresistible cheer’ while still a teenager, at the Empire Music Hall Burnley, in March 1902. Of this genre, ‘Won’t you come home Bill Bailey’ was a song imported from the USA which she made famous, and equally which made her famous too.
Later on she turned to skit rag time glide (the ‘Vicky Glide’) which was a mad craze sweeping the dance floors in 1913 and in her sketch ‘the Extra Turn’ 1917 revitalised her career for a short time.
She could sing on her own, and her voice was in loud form so much so that the manager of the Hippodrome in Preston suggested he should reinforce the rafters of the building, and so popular was she in Preston that he would be willing to remove the wallpaper from the walls in order to get more people inside. Or she could sing, dance and act in accompaniment or with a lavish stage set around her, and sometimes she would use a stooge to play off.
In 1904 she had already been on a successful five week tour at Johannesburg Empire, South Africa and, in her return to the Palace theatre London for the Easter programme, a six weeks stint, she had been called ‘Saucy’ Victoria, aged 21 only. The announcement in the Era of September 1904 of her marriage to Karl Hooper (birth name, Karl Gruhler, an American) in August of that year describes her as a ‘charming burlesque actress’.
In her role as celebrity, she kicked off charity football matches, contributed to appeals for soldiers’ comfort funds (cigarettes etc) during the War and a eulogy after her death describes her as a generous friend to her fellow artistes.
She was often confused for an American, perhaps because she had married an American. In an incident while she was on tour in South Africa during a train journey, she had sat next to Christiaan De Wet, the Boer War General, and with whom she had shared a glass of wine, but who mistook her for an American when he began to berate the British. On this occasion, no reaction was recorded from Victoria, and ‘John Bull’s girl’ as she was apt to call herself, apparently remained quiet. In 1919, in a misconception of Victoria’s nationality on both sides of the Atlantic, it was reported in the Leeds Mercury of May of that year that, after a dinner given in America in her honour for an exceptionally successful tour there, she was toasted as ‘one of our compatriots’, to which she immediately retorted (Victoria was usually not one to keep her mouth shut), ‘I am not. I am John Bull’s girl’, a title of one of her popular songs.
In March 1905, she was given a heavily feted send off at the Canterbury in South London, where she was a firm favourite and where she is billed as a ‘serio-comic’ before she was due to leave for America. The stage was bedecked with flowers around which she sang and danced her Afro-American parody routines in her ‘eccentric dance’. A floral procession of several baskets of flowers were brought on to the stage, prompting her to give a farewell speech at the end of her performance. Several ‘flashlight’ photographs were taken. ‘On Monday she appeared in black satin, with very stiff underskirts of flame-coloured chiffon and silk, a smart black coat with a bold design of flowers and scroll work round the sides, and an enormous hat, with beautiful shaded plumes 36 in long. Next week she is going to wear a frock as dainty as a piece of Dresden china. It fades from deepest rose into palest pink, and it is covered with cream-coloured lace that took first prize at the last Paris Exhibition.’ Such was her popularity that her bookings reach as far forward as 1912.
By November 1906 Victoria was earning large sums. Since March she had earned £1,500 (£150,915.81) in musical hall salaries and she had a recording contract (‘to sing songs into a gramophone’) worth £360 (£36,219.79) a year. ‘This week she would earn £80 (£8,048.84) for two engagements of £40 each’. These figures were declared in court when she and her husband were defendants in a court case in which they had been accused by Harry Jacobs, manager of Wonderland in Whitechapel of lending them money (£35 and £30 respectively; £3,521.37 and £3,018.32) which they had not returned. In the course of the proceedings it was intimated that Karl Hooper was in the habit of striking his wife, (though never substantiated, but an indication perhaps of the volatile and unsettled life that Victoria might have been subjected to). Both claims were dismissed with members in the public gallery of the court vocalising their disbelief.
By January 1907, Victoria had sneaked in a little more sponsorship as she praised the propriety coughs and colds cure known as ‘Peps’ in a newspaper advert. What does come across is her lasting trouble with bronchitis and ‘throat lag’ which she was prone to after singing. She recommended Peps to all, especially singers.
Eventually, as technology was setting out on the path to change Music Hall for ever, the songs of artists were played at intervals in performances as at the Aberdeen Empire on George Street in March 1908 when her songs and those of Harry Lauder were played on a ‘pathephone’ (gramophone).
In October 1908 at the Empire in Bristol Victoria’s varied talents were praised and she ‘is in the top flight of comediennes’. The song entitled ‘Moving’ was of the ‘coon’ variety.
In 1909, on stage at the Canterbury Music hall, she was the only performer who was able to get a hearing, and any sense out of a number of rioting, medical students, who were shouting and hollering and throwing fruit onto the stage at several of the performances, since the act they were expecting, Dr Bodie, the bloodless surgeon, was not able to appear because of illness. The safety curtain had eventually to be let down and the performances suspended, but Victoria took it upon herself to lead one of the more reasoning students on to the stage by the hand (a delight to him, no doubt) and some sense of order was achieved before the police arrived. Victoria was certainly a self-motivated girl and at the height of her popularity also must have held quite an amount of influence.
In a eulogy from an arts reporter in the Preston Herald of August 1911 Victoria Monks, described as a ‘Blackpool lass,’ before her appearance at the Hippodrome in Preston, had some new material, but it was expected that there would be a good demand for her old, popular numbers. She is described as unique and cannot be compared or copied. She is not just a singer but also an actor and her songs are contained as much in a ‘one part sketch’. Her talents are extremely apparent and her presentation strong and confident. There is, however, some hesitation or ‘singular disapproval’ of her methods which might refer to her eccentric dances, a directness in her manner, or perhaps to the ‘negro’ content. In some songs she had a stooge – a ‘burnt-cork’ individual.
In 1911 she is an ‘eccentric comedienne, whose songs may sometimes be coster and sometimes coon.’ The fact that she is described as eccentric would be a positive opinion of her uniqueness.
1911 was the year her father died. In evidently good health he had left Blackpool to visit Victoria where she was playing in Norwich. Peggy was also down in London performing and staying at Victoria Lodge 104 Tulse Hill, Victoria’s residence which her sister recently acquired. The gardens to the property were extensive and included an orchard and Peggy persuaded her father and sister to visit her. They travelled overnight by car arriving at 4am and the three spent an enjoyable day together. In the evening, however, as they sat together, Alfred suddenly fell from his chair and was found to be dead. The picture of the two sisters, father and the dog had been taken on that day, the last day of Alfred’s life. Victoria and Peggy cancelled their engagements as Victoria was due to play in the Midlands and Peggy came back to Blackpool while Victoria stayed in London to look after the funeral arrangements. The body was brought back to Blackpool and interred in the family grave at Layton cemetery.
In 1912 her status as a ‘feminine coon’ singer is renowned and the audience at the Palace theatre in Hull ‘would be hard pressed not to believe ‘that she wasn’t one herself’. She had just returned from a sell-out tour of America.
In March 1914 Victoria is embroiled once more in the interactive nature of the Music Halls. The film show of the 1913 Johannesburg labour troubles in the gold mining communities on the Rand, emphasised by the violence of workers versus owners and government, and resulting in the ‘massacre’ of Johannesburg market Square and the burning of the railway station, was shown at the Palladium as part of the show. Maybe Victoria was aware of the presence of a whole group of trade unionists in the galleries, or maybe her references to the nine deported labour leaders from South Africa were merely topical coincidences, but her show caused a noisy reaction in the galleries. Her act was delivered in repartee with her ‘burnt-corked’ stooge, a character of lesser given status than the white trades unions whose jobs were in danger of being usurped by the indigenous, black population. The galleries erupted, claiming that Britain was just as oppressive, as the more expensive stalls below looked up above themselves in alarm.
The massacre of the market square, Johannesburg in 1913, involved about ten thousand strikers and families. It was mostly a white crowd, the black workers who numbered about 200,000, had been forced violently into the mines with threats of severe sanctions. The crowd, already in a nervous mood, was attacked by the police and a handful of dragoons. As the situation deteriorated, guns were fired indiscriminately killing 21 and injuring 47 men, women and children.
Though it was the beginnings of a working class movement, it was only a white working class, and these were mostly from Britain, (many of these -50% has been quoted – were Cornish and they sent their money home to their needful families). Racial segregation was proposed as well as the enforced repatriation of Asian workers. In this light it can be understood why Victoria could use her evident skill at getting the crowd on her side. Her reference in repartee with a ‘burnt-corked’ individual to the number 9, (the number of trades union leaders forcibly deported from South Africa), provoked the galleries into a delight of both self-righteousness and of condemnation of the perceived aggressors, but the ‘burnt-corked’ individual would, with as much injustice, have to wait decades for a concept of equality while continuing to be the butt of jokes on the stage, and of violence off it.
In June 1914, and now some time after her divorce, and some further time after she had ceased to live with her husband, Victoria’s style and stage routine is noticeably different. At the Nottingham Empire her act is recorded as losing a little of the verve of her previous routine, though nevertheless successful. In her number, ‘All Aboard for England’ the stage is dressed like the scene from a play, with wind effects and a landing stage and the ‘sighing’ of the sea, as the comparisons of England and America are aired. It also included a ‘burnt-corked’ individual in a comedy scene which once more reprised the delight of both white-skinned home and Transatlantic audiences with the curiosity of the ‘negro’, the Afro-American. Miss Monks had an aptitude for the curiously named, ‘coon shouting’ which was ‘quite Atlantic’.
In stark contrast to this, in October 1914, the ‘white’ crowds of Marseille were enraptured by the arrival of the Indian army. In took several hours for the Sikhs and Ghurkas to disembark from the troop ships. They were showered with tricolour flags and flowers, and there were those who even took it upon themselves to shake their ‘brown hands’. Three years later, the Afro-American buffalo soldiers would disembark in France, to a similar reception along with their white compatriots. They would be fighting for a concept of freedom which belongs to all human beings.
In 1915 Annie was singing patriotic songs written for her. In January she was at the Empire, Sheffield and in May at the Holborn Empire, singing new songs, one particularly patriotic one about her opinion of the Kaiser. At the Leeds Empire in April 1915, shortly after, Neuve-Chapelle, the first real trench-to-trench battle of the War, when the fighting had been notched up a degree, and when men on both sides were being slaughtered in their thousands, a critic in the Yorkshire Post, intimated that it was inappropriate for Miss Monks to use the word ‘damned’ (printed ‘d….d’ in the newspaper) when referring to the Kaiser as a ‘damned old fool’. Slaughter, as patriotic, it would seem, could be justified but swearing in public could not. By 1913, George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion had been performed, and there was controversy over the word ‘bloody’. While Victoria was happy in using the word ‘damned’, she was less keen on being obliged to use the word ‘bloody’. The point being that a word from a play that an actress or actor was expected to repeat – would it be unprofessional not to? Victoria claimed she would not take her 14yr old niece to a play in which there might be unsavoury language.
In 1917 in Leeds she can still pull in the crowds. In a sketch called, ‘The Extra Turn’, she displays her vaudeville skills to the appreciation of the audiences.
Victoria’s engagements continued regularly, and in 1924 she has a new song described in the Era and entitled ‘Waitin’ Around’, an American foxtrot song. Victoria feels it is the best song since ‘Bill Bailey’, the one that had made her famous.
In August 1926 Victoria was performing three shows a day (one matinee and two evenings) at the St George’s Cinema Bexhill-on-Sea. After her performance there were film shows which indicates the demise of the old style Music Hall. She was innocently referred to as a figure from the past, her songs were ‘in vogue twenty years ago’ but she nevertheless still commanded a great popularity.
In 1899 Victoria, billed as Nancy Victoria at the age of only 15 was into litigation which would be a theme of her professional life and which would eventually ruin her financially. In November of that year at the Blackpool Empire she sang a controversial verse of a song which the manger had asked her not to sing. The song, ‘We don’t intend to have it any more’, was a little critical of the French and the manager at the time, Mr Lemee, happened to be French. But Victoria wanted her own way, which also would be her characteristic throughout her life. She sued the Blackpool Empire Ltd for £12, (£1,275.92) and subsequently lost her first case. She had been engaged at £5 (£531.64) per week.
In June 1904 Victoria was involved in one more of her several court cases. She had alleged that Miss Mattie Oxberry, a member of the Knick Knacks (and who had songs and a routine quite similar to Victoria) had stolen some of her songs. When confronted after the show, there was a scuffle and Victoria received a cut lip and a black eye. The blow appears to have been invited, a ploy which Victoria might well have used in all her later altercations, though one witness claimed that Victoria had struck first with her handbag. The case was dismissed on the condition that Miss Oxberry would pay 5s (25p; £100.61) to the poor fund, though the amount as spoken would probably have been the round £100.
In November 1904, with Victoria now married to Karl Hooper and earning £60.00 (£6,036.63) a week, it left the other members of the family at home in Elizabeth St, the two sisters, Margaret and Elizabeth, and a brother, with their father. Both sisters at this time were also music hall artistes, though not currently engaged. The brother, too, would join Victoria in a show on at least one occasion. Margaret is described as ‘serio-comic’ and singing songs such as ‘Dreamy Eyes’, ‘Always Loving’ and ‘When Mr Shakespeare Comes to Town’. Bessie had not worked for some time. It seems that they had a dispute with their neighbour over the painting of some party railings in between the houses. The neighbour took exception to it and found a golden opportunity to call them some choice names and impugn their reputations. In the Court case at Manchester Assizes that followed, the words alleged to have been uttered by the coal man who lived next door, were not pronounceable in the courtroom. The sisters wanted it emphasised that being music hall artistes did not mean that they were ‘loose’ women and they wanted their good repute to be made public. Margaret was awarded £5 (£503.05) damages but the case for Bessie was found against her.
In May 1913, Victoria’s skirmishes with the courts resumed. Her personal life was faltering and the separation from her husband would soon turn into divorce. She lost her case against her former friend of twelve years, Theresa Russell, a musical hall artiste known as Florence Moore who claimed she had been slandered, assaulted and even of trespass, since Victoria had followed her to her house. She had been called a thief and had been given a black eye over a dispute with some furniture that Victoria had left in her care while she was on tour. Victoria had to pay £50 )£4,773.87) in compensation with costs, not a high amount for her current income.
In March 1914 she was sued by the Glasgow Empire for failing to perform on twelve occasions at the venue while under contract for £150 (£14,321.60) a week, a salary ‘considerably larger than that received by a Cabinet minister’). She was fined that £150. Though she claimed she had been ill, no medical certificate had been produced.
In May 1914, Victoria was a defendant once more. This time she had refused to pay an extortionate vet’s bill of £24.11s (£24.55p). The judge agreed that the vet’s bills were very high and, since Victoria Monks had intimated that she would be prepared to pay a fair price, the judge set the cost at £10.6s.5d (approx £10.32p). The dog, a Yorkshire terrier, which had had pneumonia and had developed distemper, was not even Victoria’s dog but belonged to her friend, Mrs Dunville (who was currently on tour in Wales) and with whom she shared her flat at New Cavendish Street in the West End. Victoria was fond of horses and dogs (as was her former husband). ‘Miss Monks owned five scotch terriers all named after music hall stars’.
As officially Annie Victoria Gruhler she was in court again in November 1914, this time the plaintiff was her manager, Ernest Wragg, who also had his own act, and with whom she had had a stormy professional relationship. He was suing her for wrongful dismissal and loss of earnings as well as stealing a ring which belonged to his wife. Victoria was easily upset and was soon into a temper if an argument ensued. The alcohol that both consumed after the shows didn’t help both parties as both were partial to it. Violence was a natural part of Victoria’s arguments and this time it was alleged by Ernest Wragg that she had thrown a bottle of ‘lung tonic’ at him, broke things in the room and spat at him. In court, it was evident to the judge that Victoria Monks was a very emotional woman and, though nothing was categorically proven, he found the case for the plaintiff, though the amount sought was reduced from £100 to £95 with costs. The fact that she already possessed plenty of rings and jewellery (and she held up her ring-laden fingers for the court to see), poured doubt upon the allegation of stealing the ring.
Victoria’s court actions didn’t stop merely at her associates, but they also included family. In January 1915 her sister Margaret (Peggy Monks), who had an address in Stockton at the time, brought an action for slander against her younger sister. A settlement was reached and Victoria voluntarily paid the costs. It seems that there had been a third party involved who may have been stirring things up, though it does reveal somewhat a strain and of a lack of trust between the two sisters.
In February 1915, Victoria was back in court, being sued by Mr Edward Maxwell and his wife for ‘wrongful dismissal’ and recovery of unpaid wages as both her manager and housekeeper, respectively. The incident referred to the 15th September the previous year when, after a performance she, with a preference for crème de menthe and he, her stage manager in part, with a preference for beer, came home late one night to Miss Monks’ house at 104 Tulse Hill. Victoria must have been living at the house despite her divorce, and claimed that ‘her husband would not be at home when they got back’.
The Maxwells, were staying at the house and Mr Maxwell was employed for £2 (£170.12) a week and all expenses. Mrs Maxwell (whose stage name was Carrie Joy), opened the door and Mr Maxwell accused ‘Friday’ as the chauffeur (real name Clyde Burchett who was in the Air service –armoured cars) was known, of damaging his hat, whereupon Miss Monks took the side of her chauffeur and Mrs Maxwell that of her husband. It was claimed that Victoria had hit Mr Maxwell with a golf club. There was an ugly, drunken scene in the front garden where Victoria picked up a rock and threatened to hit Maxwell with it. The police were called and Maxwell was taken in charge while Victoria invited the policeman in to dinner where they had roast beef and a few drinks (somewhat sarcastically referred to in Court later on).
During the trial with the prosecution, in attempting to explore the irrational nature of Miss Monk’s behaviour, it was claimed that she had at one time ripped the clothes of Bessie Monks to prevent her from performing, and had thrown a cruet set at her. Bessie Monks, Victoria’s elder sister was an occasional singer on stage with her sister. In the witness box Victoria wore a smart, navy blue costume with a scarlet collar and a dark brown hat. While denying the charges, she broke down in tears, wiping them away with a lace handkerchief. It seems that life was quite an overburden for Victoria by now, finding solace among her riches and alcohol. It was a difficult time of her life. She had to pay £35 (£2,977.16) damages but was cleared of the charge of false imprisonment.
In 1921 Victoria was involved in a rather unsavoury court case in which she was accused of ‘stealing and receiving’ a dressing case containing valuable items, including diamonds, and pawning the proceeds. At the time she claimed to have been living with a man. It was period of her life in which she had been very unwell and the man, Captain Arthur Simmonds with whom she had been associated and who eventually pleaded guilty, turned out to be a conman claiming to be the son of a Canadian millionaire. She wasn’t aware that the expensive items that he had given her had in fact been stolen. The contradictions in the statements that she had given to the police were due to a severe case of consumption (TB) when the doctor had virtually given upon her. Again, she broke down in court and the proceedings had to be interrupted. She had had to give up several engagements because of her illness and had had to pawn jewellery to keep herself financially buoyant. When working she would earn £100 – £135 (£4,050.55 – £5,468.25) a week.
Simmonds, (real name reported as Stephen Penge) who was actually born in the East End and was the son of an offal dealer, was given 18 months hard labour for the theft of the dressing case and 5 years penal servitude. For Victoria’s part, though she was innocent of the theft, she probably wasn’t aware, in her drunkenness and illness, or just didn’t care in the extremes of her life style that anything untoward was going on. She had met ‘Captain’ Simmonds at the Victory Ball so must have been associated with him for a couple of years.
In 1921, her court appearances were well known and made good substance for journalism. In January, the police denied that they had her in custody after her performance at the Argyle Theatre Birkenhead (the same Theatre where she had been questioned the previous year about the theft of jewellery). They did however get their story in November of that year for an incident at the Burrel Arms in Shoreham. It seems that she had been subject to one her drunken tempers and causing a scene, and when the police attempted to eject her from the premises, she dragged her arm across the counter and spilled and broke five glasses and smashed two glass panels in the door. She had declared that she ‘cared neither for the Shoreham police, Scotland Yard nor the Guards.’ She was fined £5 with costs, though did not appear in court. The fine did not come out of her own pocket but, somewhat curiously, was paid by a man who said he had recently married Miss Monks.
Marriage and Divorce
Victoria had married Karl Hooper, (1880-1928) real name Karl Gruhler, in Dundee on August 10th 1904. Karl was an American from Pennsylvania and had been in England since about 1900. At the time of the marriage he was ‘presently appearing at the Hippodrome in ‘ridiculous and other juggling’’. His group were called the Marvellous Hoopers. The marriage was a marriage of declaration following Scottish law and, though she was already 21 years by then, it did mean it could be quick and convenient.
In June 1913 Karl Frederick Gruhler of Charing Cross Rd was granted a decree nisi against his wife Miss Victoria Monks on the grounds of her alleged misconduct with Mr Douglas K Lorne. The case was undefended, with costs and the custody of the child (a son, Carl Victor, aged 7) being awarded to Mr Hooper. Because the couple had been married ‘by declaration’ in Dundee and had split up in 1911, Victoria had applied for a legal separation in 1912, (contending that the marriage was not a valid marriage) but this was not granted due to lack of sufficient reason. Since their separation she had been living with a man, and this gave her husband sufficient reason to file for a divorce. While married, it seems they had had a stormy relationship ‘on account of his wife’s temper’. Victoria didn’t want to lose the man she was currently with, and was probably the reason why she did not contest the divorce. Her relationship with her son, Victor, continued and he turns up in later reports and is present at her funeral and naturally inherits her estate, it would seem.
2nd Lt AGW Browne Shropshire Light Infantry, awarded the Miitary Cross Sep 1917.
In 1917 she is pictured with her fiance, A W Browne, after he had received the Military Cross. There is no record of a marriage to date, and no record of a war death which could relate to the AW Browne in the picture. Victoria died as Ann Gruhler, so it is more than probable that a marriage did not take place.
Victoria’s poor health dogged her for all of her working life. She was prone to colds and flu, even bronchitis and it was pneumonia that eventually proved fatal. In July 1912 it is reported that she had undergone a successful operation the week previously and was able to resume her engagements at the Surrey. In January 1913 at the Palace theatre Leicester, she is able to successfully fulfil her engagement and rightly earn her title of ‘John Bull’s girl’. She had been in a nursing home while recovering from an attack of bronchitis and was expected ‘to leave within a few days’. In October 1924 she was taken ill with pleurisy but expected to recover in time to play at the Palace, Watford.
In June 1925 she wasn’t able to complete her engagement at the Dundee Victoria due to illness. In March 1926 she was ill again with a bad cold. Despite her doctor advising her to rest, she still performed at the South London where she was very popular.
In 1910 while on her way to perform at the Oxford Music Hall on Tottenham Court Road her car was involved one of two recorded motor car accidents. In avoiding a horse and van the car skidded violently into an electric lamp standard. The cut she had sustained to her hand was attended to by a Harley Street doctor and she was able to fulfil her engagement. In February 1914 she was again involved in a collision with another motor car driven by a lady driver on Putney Heath while out for a drive. It was a violent crash in which her chauffeur had to be medically attended to, and a Harley Street doctor had to be called to Victoria. The car itself was badly damaged.
In, October 1915 despite earning £1,000 (£85,061.64) a year, Victoria had found herself in financial difficulties. Her address is given as Acacia Rd, St John’s Wood. She had liabilities of £1,723 (£146,561.20) with only £356 (£30,281.94) assets. She had earned since October 2012, £3,368, but most of this had been absorbed with the cost of legal proceedings. She had sold or pawned her jewellery. She had proposed to pay 5s (25p; £42.53) in the pound to her creditors and this was accepted by the court. The only asset of any substance was the pending action against Moss Empires (Ltd) for injuries sustained in an accident at the Newcastle Empire in July when an attendant let a spring door go in her face. In January 1916 the creditors took pity on her and agreed to resolve the situation sympathetically. Her defence of the action taken against her by the Maxwells was ultimately unsuccessful in the resolution of the case in November of 1916.
In March 1918 two of her Pekinese dogs and about £90’s (£4,231.71) worth of property were stolen from her flat in Hart Street.
In 1920 her address is given as New Street, St Martin’s Lane in a report where thieves broke into the flat and stole clothing worth around £100 (£3,698.33) which included a brown fur coat, a musquash and sable coat, three stockingette dresses, a blue and gold embroidered dressing gown and a silk dressing gown. The thieves had got in by removing the fanlight from the front door.
Victoria died on 27/1/1927 in her London flat at 11, Hart St Bloomsbury. Her death was due to pneumonia, which had developed from influenza. She had been taken ill in late January and wasn’t able to continue her performances at the Croydon theatre. The notices of her death are short as by now she was something of a spent force though still with the ability to interest audiences with her classic favourites.
The funeral took place on a Saturday and she was buried at St Mary’s Catholic cemetery, Kensal Green. As well as her son, there were a few personal friends in attendance. There were wreaths from several musical hall performers of her day. Nothing from her former husband but one from a Mr Lownes, the correspondent in her divorce case.
Victoria’s estate was looked after by her married sister Margaret since her son, Karl Victor Hooper had not reached a majority age and whose address is given as 2 Stockwell Green.
The Leeds Mercury on news of her death described her ‘as an artiste who, by sheer force of personality, became a dominant star’ and, ‘It was the abounding ‘life’ in her that won her through’.
The ERA describes her as ‘generous hearted’ and was aware that she had helped many a financially struggling artist. She belonged to the tail end of the Music hall scene. As technology progressed and a few weeks before her death, she was able to broadcast on the 2LO radio station to sing ‘Bill Bailey’, the song that had initially made her famous.
In September 1928, The Music Hall Ladies guild received a cheque for £4.00 (£207.93) ‘In Loving Memory of Victoria Monks’ for which they were very grateful, one of several gifts given in her name.
In 1948 on stage at the Grand, Clapham, Yvette York, in a Musical Hall memory lane, sang songs made famous by Victoria Monks. Other artistes sang songs by Vesta Victoria and Daisy Dormer with who Victoria was often on stage.
In 1960 there was an appeal in the Stage for information from the sister of Victoria Monks, Elisabeth aged 84 and living in Blackpool, to locate her other sister Peggy Monks who had married and was now known as Peggy Riley and was probably living in Brighton.
Victoria’s granddaughter was among those involved in the unveiling of a blue plaque in memory of Fred Karno, Victoria’s contemporary on 30th September 2012 in Camberwell. Chloe Hooper, great granddaughter of Victoria and granddaughter of Victor is a singer in her own right and sings tributes to Victoria.
Victoria reflected the times that she lived through. Times are in constant change both sociologically and technologically. When Victoria was born, it was only 60 odd years or so since the abolition of slavery and of Catholic emancipation and the echoes of both persist in present day society.
The Sphere 1929. A bit more cumbersome than i tunes, but a magnificent machine for the time.
…and, of course, times change .….
The Stage April 1960.
Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk). Accessed via findmypast.
Friends of Layton Cemetery Blackpool
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There are more photographs of Victoria with an online search