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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:

    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. This is one of a pair based on the music hall performer J. H. Stead (d.1886) in his red and white striped costume. Stead shot to fame in the 1870s with the song 'The Perfect Cure', which created a furore, mainly due to Stead's curious frenzied jumping dance that accompanied it, performed with his hands held rigid at his sides.

Physical description

Carved wooden marionette (one of two in this troupe - see also S.280-1999), in the form of a contracting and extending Scaramouche, dressed in the outfit worn by the music hall performer J.H. Stead.

Ivory, black and red painted face and eyes with black dots for pupils. Strongly carved moustache and beard, painted black. Wearing a pointed dark blue hat with yellow dots, and a dark pink and white striped suit, with separate white cotton ruff at the neck, and integral ruffs at the wrists, waist and bottoms of the trousers. Thighs and upper arms each containing two basket rings with run-through strings for contraction. One ring between pelvis and shoulders for contraction.

Two control bars; bar one with five notches, the centre one not in use; two strings to each of the inner notches running through bar two, and to shoulders, arms to elbows. Bar two with seven notches - two in use on either side of the centre to support the head, and the centre string to the backside for bowing.

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: 15 cm head and neck, Circumference: 29 cm head, Height: 87 cm top of head to feet, extended, Height: 48 cm top of head to feet, contracted, Height: 98 cm feet to top of hat, extended, Height: 56 cm feet to top of hat, extended

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.

Descriptive line

Carved wooden marionette from the Tiller troupe. Speciality act figure representing an extending Scaramouche, dressed as a 'Cure'. One of a pair. Made by the Tiller family circa 1870 to 1890.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

The Saturday Book - 25
Edited by John Bradfield, published Hutchinson, 1965.
Article by George Speaight entitled 'A Troupe of Puppets'.

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 D.


Wood; String; Cotton


Carved; Painted; Sewn


Entertainment & Leisure

Production Type



Theatre and Performance Collection

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