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Marionette

Marionette

  • 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, and knitted costume

  • Museum number:

    S.289-1999

  • 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 Tommy One-Leg, a one-eyed, one-legged sailor fiddler who was specially made for the popular comic music hall song 'How Cruel Were My Parients' (sic). It was sung by his wife, relating the fate of her husband who lost his eye and leg when he was press-ganged into the navy, and how he was reduced to busking in the streets with her.

Physical description

Carved wooden marionette in the form of a character from a music hall act - a one-legged sailor playing the violin. Carved and painted hair and heavy mutton-chop whiskers, with a black painted leather eye patch over his right eye; the other eye and eyebrow painted with black pupils. Ivory painted face and hands, with more pink colouring on the cheekbones. He carries a violin in his left hand which rests on his left shoulder, and a violin bow in his right hand. He has a wooden leg from the left knee joint.

He wears a blue and white striped cotton shirt (possibly old), and black serge trousers, (probably recycled since there are old seams visible), the waistband is finished with a hand-sewn strip of brown cotton to thread the draw-string.

Three control bars, the third to work the bowing motion of the right hand. There are staples in the side of the neck for the run-through, again for the bowing movement.

Carved yoke and pelvis. Flexible waist.

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, and knitted 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 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

This figure specifically represents the sailor violinist who featured in the popular Music Hall Song 'How Cruel were my Parents' (composer and date unknown; published in The Musical Bouquet). The cover of the music sheet is illustrated with an engraving of a woman begging, accompanied by this figure, fiddling. The lyrics, sung by the begging woman, explain the fiddler's appearance:

HOW CRUEL WERE MY PARENTS

Oh! cruel were my Parients [sic], as tore my Love from me,
And cruel was the press-gang who took him off to Sea,
And cruel was the little Boat, as row'd him from the Strand,
And cruel was the great big Ship as sail'd him from the Land.
Singing too rol loo rol loo rol too rol loo rol loo.

Oh! cruel was the Water, as bore her Love from Mary,
And cruel was the fair wind, as would not blow contrary,
And cruel was the Captain, and the Botswain and the Men
As didn't care a fair-din' if we never met again.
Singing too rol loo rol loo rol too rol loo rol loo.

Oh! cruel was the Splinter as broke my Dreary's Leg,
Now he's oblighed to fiddle for't, and I'm obliged to beg,
A vagabonding Vagrant, and a rantipoling Wife
We fiddle, limp and scrape it thro' the ups and downs of life.
Singing too rol loo rol loo rol too rol loo rol loo.

Oh! cruel was th'engagement in which my true love fought,
And cruel was the Cannon-Ball, as knock'd his right Eye out,
He used to leer and ogle me, with peepers full of fun,
But now he looks a-skew at me, because he's only one.
Singing too rol loo rol loo rol too rol loo rol loo.

My Love he plays the Fiddle, and wanders up and down,
And I sings at his Elbow, thro' all the Streets in Town,
We spends our days in harmony and wery [sic]seldom fights
Except when he's his Grog aboard, or I get queer at Nights
Singing too rol loo rol loo rol too rol loo rol loo.

Oh! cruel are the Bobbies, as makes my Love move on,
That dear old faithful timber-toe he can hardly walk upon,
His voice to me sounds very sweet, although he's rather hoarse,
He's always got a shocking cold as it's always getting worse
Singing too rol loo rol loo rol too rol loo rol loo.

Oh! cruel was the Bank as broke, in which was all our tin,
And cruel was the Manager as took my true Love in
We've not a blessed Shot now left, the Locker's up the spout,
So my true Love and me will sing, and fiddle our lives right out
Singing too rol loo rol loo rol too rol loo rol loo.

Then Ladies take all the warning, by my true Love and me,
Tho' cruel fate should cross you remember constabncy,
Like me you'll be rewarded and have all your heart's delight
With fiddling in a Morning and a drop of Gin at Night
Singing too rol loo rol loo rol too rol loo rol loo.

A manuscript letter written by Harriet Clowes to Gerald Morice (Gerald Morice Collection, Theatre Museum), gives the shorter version that she said they performed, with patter:

TOMMY 1-LEG SONG
Performed by Tommy 1-leg and his wife Mary

Verse 1 (Mary):
Ladies and Gentlemen, I will sing to you a song
It's but a little ditty and I'll not detain you long
It's all about my husband as you can plainly see
He lost his right eye and his leg
When going out to sea

Patter:
Mary
You did lose your eye in the battle, didn't you Tommy?

Tommy
Agh, that I did, Mary. I have only got one left now

Mary
Never mind my darling I love you just the same

Chorus (Tommy):
Tiralee-lay lido, tiralee lay
Tiralee-lay lido. Tiralee lay
Tiralee-lay lido, tiralee lay
Tiralee-lay lido. Tiralee lay

Verse 2 (Mary):
My love he plays the fiddle through every street in town
And I sing at his elbow as he wanders up and down
We spend our lives in harmony, we very seldom fight
Unless he takes some grogg on board
And I take gin at night

Patter
Tommy:
Ah, you like your drop of gin at night don't you Mary?

Chorus (Tommy):
Tiralee-lay lido, tiralee lay
Tiralee-lay lido. Tiralee lay
Tiralee-lay lido, tiralee lay
Tiralee-lay lido. Tiralee lay

l

Descriptive line

Carved wooden marionette from the Tiller troupe. Speciality act figure representing a character from a popular Music Hall song, the one-legged fiddler sailor known as Tommy One Leg. 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 by 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 not been distinguished however.

Materials

Wood; String; Cotton; Wool; Leather

Techniques

Cut; Painted; Sewn; Stuffed

Categories

Entertainment & Leisure

Production Type

Unique

Collection

Theatre and Performance Collection

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