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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

  • 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 a trick figure of a dissecting skeleton which would have walked or danced on stage before magically dispersing its bones in the air and re-forming itself. This was such a popular marionette music hall act that most marionette companies would have featured a similar figure in their troupe.

Physical description

Carved wooden marionette in the form of a dissecting skeleton, with three control bars. Skeleton painted an ivory colour, separating at neck, shoulders and thighs. Completely re-strung with new controls. The knee and elbow joints have an oval piece of wood inserted which articulates both above and below the joint and gives special movement.

A string links the forearm (5cm below the elbow) and thigh (5cm above the knee). There are staples above the wrists and knees. There are strings to the wrists, and bar1 works the arms and legs together. There is a run-through string from the top of the upper arm through the shoulder and side of the head to the second bar, and a string is attached to the top of the spine which runs through the head, through bar 2 and bar 3, and is then attached to bar 2. A string from the skull which raises it runs through bar 2 and is pulled through bar3 (through an eyelet attached to a curtain ring). A second string that runs through the skull operates the jaw clack.

Place of Origin

Lincolnshire (made)


1870s-1890s (made)


Tiller family marionette company (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Carved wood

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 a dissecting skeleton. 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 to distinguish distinct types of carving in the human figures, but not with the carving of the skeleton.


Wood; String


Carved; Painted


Entertainment & Leisure

Production Type



Theatre and Performance Collection

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