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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 thirty-five 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. With his goatee beard and moustache, this figure represents the famous wire-walker Blondin, or Jean Fancois Gravelet (1824-1897) who first walked across Niagara Gorge on a tightrope in 1859 and who drew crowds to his performances in Britain after his first appearance in 1862. He is wearing his original costume including velvet boots.

Physical description

Carved wooden marionette in the form of a tightrope walker - probably the famous Blondin - holding a wooden balance pole. Ivory painted face with blue glass eyes, almost certainly not original. Carved and painted hair, beard and moustache, and hands shaped to hold the balance pole. Carrying a simplified pole, with only two holes, strung to the hands. Wearing red velvet breeches and waistcoat, trimmed with green silk trim, with sequins, and glass beads. Shirt of fine cotton muslin with full sleeves, gathered at the wrists and on the shoulders. Lace ruffled around neck and down the centre shirt front. Cream stockings, and purple velvet covering of feet and calves to represent boots.

Two control bars.

Modern eyelet for the string to the right heel and a bum string.

Carved yoke and pelvis. Flexible waist. Legs fixed by cotton tubes to the pelvis.

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: 12 cm head and neck, Height: 66 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.

Historical context note

In 1860 the tightrope walker Blondin made his name with his crossing of Niagara Falls on a tightrope. He subsequently visited England and performed at the Crystal Palace in the 1860s.

Descriptive line

Carved wooden marionette from the Tiller troupe. Speciality act figure representing a tightrope-walker, probably Blondin. 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 ???? from its ??? (check).


Wood; Silk; Lace; Sequins; Velvet; String


Carved; Painted; Sewn; Stuffed


Entertainment & Leisure

Production Type



Theatre and Performance Collection

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