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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

  • 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 devil with flashing purple eyes made from foil paper. He may have been used in the harlequinade of a pantomime, or any play requiring such a character. His face, beard, hands and fingernails are very strongly carved with more detail than is usual for this troupe. One horn and his hooves were missing and have been recently reconstructed, and the crepe fabric covering his body has been conserved.

Physical description

Carved wooden marionette; a horned devil, originally with broken horns and no hooves, but these have been replaced by Plowden & Smith. The arms are padded from just above the wrists. His body is covered in red synthetic fabric, and he wears a silk-effect brief red skirt, with pointed hem, decorated with sequins and edged with black cotton. He has a strongly carved beard and features, and a contortionist-style body, with an extra bar between the pelvis and the shoulders. The hands are more carefully carved than is usual, with carved fingernails. He has forward arm movement and no lateral movement, and up-down forward elbow movement. His wrists have up and down movement, and his legs are attached by screw eyes at the top, slung on wires attached to the pelvis.

There were originally strings to the ears and the top of the head, and there is a staple in his head for a head string. There are eyelets to the knees, but the figure is unstrung.

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

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.

Descriptive line

Carved wooden marionette from the Tiller troupe. Red horned devil. 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 in the collection as a whole, and therefore groups, made by different makers, due to the type of carving. The carver of this object has however not been distinguished.


Wood; String; Cotton; Wool yarn; Paint


Carved; Sewn; Stuffed; Knitted; Painted


Entertainment & Leisure

Production Type



Theatre and Performance Collection

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