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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 tweed, cotton and wool 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 is a middle-aged man with a carved moustache who would have been a stock character, used in any play requiring such a role. His right hand is carved closed to hold props, the left is open for gesture.

Physical description

Carved wooden marionette; a young middle-aged man with a carved full moustache and blue glass eyes. He wears a modern two-piece tweed suit with a white cotton floral sprigged waistcoat edged with red braid and fastened with four metal buttons. He has a cotton collar and shirt, and wears old wool stockings. His right hand is closed to hold props; his left hand is open.

Wooden oval yoke, hollow for the shoulders. The pelvis is more solid, and the buttocks are shaped. The hand and the forearm are all in one piece; the upper arm is slightly stuffed.

Two control bars; bar 1 with two notches, with leg strings; bar 2 with four notches plus a vestigial staple/wire hook in centre (possibly for suspension, or the remnants of a head wire, but no trace of head rod centre back). Present stringing: head to ends of bar, also hands attached to same place. Back string (between shoulders to allow for dramatic head movements and speech) attached to one of the inner notches - this cannot correspond to the original stringing. Brass screw eye centre chest for run-through string to facilitate special gestures.

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 tweed, cotton and wool costume. Suspected use of human hair.


Circumference: 20 cm head, Height: 75 cm top of head to feet, Length: 14 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 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 middle-aged man. 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 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 A because of its small head.


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


Carved; Sewn; Stuffed; Knitted; Painted


Entertainment & Leisure

Production Type



Theatre and Performance Collection

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