Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.



  • Place of origin:

    Lincolnshire (made)

  • Date:

    1870s-1890s (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Tiller family marionette company (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Carved wood with painted decoration; with silk, cotton, cotton braid and steel sequin costume

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

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. Dressed in its original costume and adorned with bells, this is one of three Chinese bell-ringer figures which would have featured in the marionette music hall. They were probably based on an act which appeared on the London stage at around the time of the Chinese exhibition which opened in Hyde Park in 1841.

Physical description

Carved wooden marionette in the form of a Chinese bell ringer, with a small 'cow bell' in each hand (each with a good tone - probably not the originals). Ivory, black and red painted face and eyes with black dots for pupils. Carved mandarin-style moustache and a carved pigtail on the top of his head, with a loose wool pigtail attached. Carved legs ending in red painted boots, carved with turned-up toes. Legs and arms allowing for lateral movement only; jointed at hips and at shoulders, each member of three pieces of wood made rigid and shaped as one. The body solid, shoulder and hip, taking joint, with shaped thin pieces added for front and back, producing a hollow effect.

Original quilted green silk costume scattered with silver steel sequins. Cream cotton lace ruff at neck. The costume has elbow-length bell sleeves and knee-length knickerbockers edged with red braid also trimmed with silver steel sequins.

Two control bars; bar one has four notches, only one in use, with strings run through the other bar and attached to hands. Hands attached to feet by strings. Bar two with holes for run through at ends; notches with head strings attached.

Place of Origin

Lincolnshire (made)


1870s-1890s (made)


Tiller family marionette company (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Carved wood with painted decoration; with silk, cotton, cotton braid and steel sequin costume


Length: 15 cm head and neck, Height: 68 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, an expert puppet carver, manipulator and puppet historian, whose widow sold them to the museum after his death in 1998.

This marionette was used as one of Chu, Chin & Chow, the Celebrated Chinese Bell Ringers! (with S.282-1999 and S.283-1999) in the Variety performance preceding the production of The Floating Beacon at the Theatre Museum in April 2004.

Historical context note

This marionette appeared in Tricks with Strings, a performance on the 29th April 2018 as part of the V&A Performance Festival. The puppeteers included Ronnie Le Drew, Susan Dacre, Keith Frederick, Siân Kidd, and Eti Meacock. The performance was directed by Rachel Warr.

This marionette appeared in The Victorian Puppet Music Hall Show, a performance on the 28th April 2019 as part of the V&A Performance Festival. The puppeteers were Ronnie Le Drew, Susan Dacre, Keith Frederick, Siân Kidd, and Vicki Holden. Music was played by Jake Rodrigues, and the performance was directed by Rachel Warr.

Descriptive line

Carved wooden marionette from the Tiller troupe. Speciality act figure representing a Chinese bell-ringer, one of three in the troupe. 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 ????? ASK JOHN.


Wood; Silk; Cotton; Sequins; Velvet; String


Carved; Painted; Sewn; Stuffed; Quilted


Entertainment & Leisure

Production Type



Theatre and Performance Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.