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  • Place of origin:

    Lincolnshire (made)

  • Date:

    1870s-1890s (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Tiller family marionette company (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved wood with painted decoration; sewn cotton stuffed body with silk, lace and sequin costume

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Theatre & Performance, Room 104, case 22, shelf B, box Please note that this object is not currently on display

This is one of 35 marionettes from the Tiller-Clowes troupe, one of the last Victorian marionette troupes in England. Marionette shows were a popular form of entertainment for adults in the 19th century, many of them family concerns which travelled around the country long before the advent of film and television, presenting shortened versions of London's latest popular entertainment from melodramas and pantomimes to minstrel shows and music hall. In the 18th and early 19th centuries their theatres were relatively makeshift, but after about 1860 many became quite elaborate, with walls constructed from wooden shutters, seating made from tiered planks of wood, and canvas roofs.

The figures were carved, painted, dressed and performed by members of the company. This is a ball juggler, who was quite complicated to operate since the balls can be juggled to rest on his feet, hands or head. He would have been a very popular turn in a marionette music hall show, and is wearing his original costume.

Physical description

Carved wooden marionette in the form of a Music Hall ball-juggler. Ivory, black and red painted face and eyes with black dots for pupils. Strongly carved mouth, moustache and ears. Oval wooden yoke and fairly heavy pelvis with material torso, thickly stuffed,.
Lower leg with shaped knees and tongue for joint on upper leg. Wooden turned up toes, shod in velvet slippers.

Original two piece costume; black and dark pink silk - lace ruffles at neck and knees; silver sequins on seams and edges, with some groups of three sequins on the black material. Black stockings.

Two control bars; bar 1 a modern replacement with strings run through balls to the left and right hand of figure. Bar 2 with seven notches - 3 in use + one screw eye with 'run through' (goes through right ball and joins to right toe); one string from top of head through left. ball and fixed to screw eye on right of bar. Bowing (to between legs) string attached to third notch in from right. Head strings to extreme ends. Staple behind/above left heel to pull leg up and back.

Place of Origin

Lincolnshire (made)


1870s-1890s (made)


Tiller family marionette company (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Carved wood with painted decoration; sewn cotton stuffed body with silk, lace and sequin costume


Length: 14 cm head and neck, Circumference: 29 cm head, Height: 69 cm top of head to feet

Object history note

This marionette along with the rest of the troupe and three of their original backcloths had been stored in a blacksmith's shop in Lincolnshire for over thirty years, but after cleaning and re-stringing, most were restored by Gerald Morice and George Speaight who purchased them in 1945. They began working on recreating some of the puppets' original repertoire. Since the original cloths were too fragile for performance, new backdrops were painted, and in August 1951 as part of The Festival of Britain celebrations, the marionettes took to the stage again as The Old Time Marionettes, at the Riverside Theatre, Festival Gardens, Battersea Park. In the 1980s George Speaight lent the troupe to puppeteers in Germany but in the late 1990s he sold them to John Phillips, whose widow sold them to The Theatre Museum after his death in 1998.

This marionette was used as Signor Spaghetti di Sorrento, the Italian Juggler! in the Variety performance preceding the production of The Floating Beacon at the Theatre Museum in April 2004.

Descriptive line

Carved wooden marionette from the Tiller troupe. Speciality act figure representing a ball-juggler. Made by the Tiller family circa 1870 to 1890.

Production Note

It is impossible to identify the precise maker of this marionette since the company made, altered and used figures throughout its career. It is possible, however, to distinguish distinct types, and therefore groups, made by different makers, due to the type of carving. The carver of this object has been distinguished as Maker C from its strongly carved and detailed ears.


Wood; Silk; Lace; Sequins; Velvet; String


Carved; Painted; Sewn; Stuffed


Entertainment & Leisure

Production Type



Theatre and Performance Collection

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