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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. Suspected use of human hair.

  • 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 young woman would have been a stock character. Both her hands are carved open in gesture, so she would not have held props.

Physical description

Carved wooden marionette; a young woman with a pink painted face, red mouth, and eyes with painted blue pupils. Her wig is attached over carved hair, and her carved hands are open. She wears a red and white striped cotton Edwardian-style blouse with mock buttons on the front, and working buttons on the cuffs and back. The skirt is of a heavy wool fabric decorated with two rows of white rick-rack braid above the hem line, and she has a leather strap belt. She wears brown knitted tockings, white cotton frilled under-pantaloons, and a thin black wool underskirt.

There are heavy staples at the ankle joints.

Two control bars - a two-notch leg bar, and a seven-notch bar, possibly used as a single bar control on another figure. Two strings are attached to eyelets on the shoulders (probably not original). Run-through hand strings with eyelets, not using notches.

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. Suspected use of human hair.


Circumference: 31 cm head, Height: 65 cm top of head to feet, Length: 15 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.

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. Stock character representing a young woman. Made by the Tiller family circa 1870 to 1890, but possibly re-dressed later.

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 hasnot been distinguished.


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


Carved; Sewn; Stuffed; Knitted; Painted


Entertainment & Leisure

Production Type



Theatre and Performance Collection

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