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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 cotton, wool, knitted and leather costume with metal whistles. Suspected use of human hair.

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This is one of 35 marionettes known as of the Tiller-Clowes troupe, one of the last remaining Victorian marionette troupes in England. Marionette shows were a popular form of entertainment for adults in the 19th century. Many troupes were family concerns which travelled round the country long before the advent of film or television, presenting shortened versions of London's latest popular entertainment including melodramas, dramas, pantomimes, minstrel shows and music hall. In the 18th and early 19th centuries their theatres were relatively makeshift, but after about 1860 many became considerably 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 figure from the Italian knockabout comedy called Commedia dell'Arte, probably a Dottore or doctor, or used as a noble father. The Dottore figure may have been used in the Harlequinade, along with Harlequin, Columbine, Clown and Pantaloon, but could also have been used as a stock character in plays.

Physical description

Carved wooden marionette; an older male figure. He has a carved moustache and goatee beard, and crêpe wig hair. He is strongly carved, with a flat-topped head and the face painted in an ivory tone. His eyes have black pupils with white flecks, and red dots in each corner. He is dressed in a long black coat (possibly old cassock material) with a braided edge and four buttons, the revers lined. He has navy twill serge trousers and a large white silk ruff. He wears old green socks or stockings cut down to cover the lower leg.

Flat wooden yoke and pelvis; no joint at ankle; leather joint at hip over wire placed in front of the pelvis. There is a tongue on the end of the upper leg which fits into a slot in the lower leg. The torso is stuffed but flexible. There is a string between shoulders for speech, and an unconnected eyelet in the backside for bowing.

Two control bars; bar one with leg strings; bar two (five notches), the head to the outside, then the hands with the shoulder string attached to one of these. There is nothing attached to the centre notch.

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 cotton, wool, knitted and leather costume with metal whistles. Suspected use of human hair.


Circumference: 30 cm head, Height: 75 cm top of head to feet, Length: 15cm cm head and neck

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 of the marionettes 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, an expert puppet carver, manipulator and puppet historian, whose widow sold them to the Museum after his death in 1998.

Descriptive line

Carved wooden marionette from the Tiller troupe. Stock character representing an older man, possibly a noble father figure, or a Dottore figure based on a Commedia dell'Arte character. 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 because of the attention given to the carving of the ears.


Wood; String; Cotton; Wool yarn; Silk; Human hair


Carved; Sewn; Sewn; Stuffed; Knitted; Painted


Entertainment & Leisure

Production Type



Theatre and Performance Collection

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