Growing Up in the Victorian Theatre

Acting, a Change of Name and a Move.

After Saint Ives, the trail for the Bullens grows a little cold but there is no doubt that they were still acting and performing. In the meanwhile, BMD records show that Louise acquired several brothers and sisters: Fred, Elizabeth, Alfred, Rebecca, Catherine, Charles and later Francis Edward and Mark; not all of them survived unfortunately, echoing the fate of many Victorian families who lost children before they reached maturity. Nontheless, life in the theatre certainly carried on and Catherine, Louise's mother, seems to bear more and more resemblance to Dickens' Mrs. Crummles from Nicholas Nickleby, the more I find out about her,

'Some new proof of talent bursts from that astonishing woman every year of her life. Look at her--mother of six children--three of 'em alive, and all upon the stage!'

 

Birmingham Theatre Royal c 1800

The family pops up again in 1835 at the Birmingham Theatre Royal. Louise is by now ten years old and her parents appear to be doing well. The Birmingham Gazette for November 23rd carries a whole column describing the entertainment at the theatre for that coming week under the 'entire management of Mr. Armistead.' The major spectacle is a play called, 'Thirty Years of A Gambler's Life or 'The Hut of the Red Mountains.' This was written by a famous playwright of the time, Henry M. Milner, known for his melodramas and popular tragedies. This particular example first appeared in 1827 and the playbill announces that this is the first time it will have been performed in Birmingham for seven years.

Right in the centre of the advertisement, Mr. Bullen is announced as playing the Magistrate and then at the head of the female cast is 'Mrs. Bullen (her first appearance) as Amelia.' The column then goes on to detail the content of the various acts of the play in which Amelia appears to have a very torrid time indeed. She apparently suffers dreadful degradation at the hands of the gamester and even prevents the murder of her own son!

This is then followed by a piece entitled 'The Demon of The Ganges,' or 'The Tiger Tribe' which is described as entirely new and 'gorgeous,' and here Louise makes a reappearance as one of the dancing girls. The whole night obviously attracted some very well-to-do patrons as boxes for eight people are described as being available at £1 1s per night.

Before I continue with Louise's story, I have to pause for a moment to reflect on her. Growing up n the 1830s, there was no formal education system, especially not for girls, yet she learned to perform lengthy songs and monologues before she was ten. The theatre provided her with an education and the confidence to become a remarkable woman. In an era when women on the stage were often regarded as little better than prostitutes, she pursued her theatrical career until the day she died and passed her love for acting to her own children and grandchildren. I am proud to be related to her.

Throughought the remainder of the 1830s, there is less mention of Louise and the Bullen family in the newspapers which are currently available, however, given later events, I believe they went to Salisbury and the surrounding area where they met John Penson who later went to the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin. I'm going to explore this further in the story of Louise's brother, Fred.

In 1841, most of the family appear in the census. All except Frederick Bullen Senior that is. I have searched and searched and not been able to find him. I presume he was involved in some sort of theatrical business somewhere as events take an interesting turn as the year progresses. Catherine is stated to be head of the family and there are five children listed: Louise, Frederick, Elizabeth, Rebecca and Alfred. Louise and Frederick are both listed as being 15 - this is a little odd as Louise was born in 1824 so must be 16 at least. Fred is definitely 15. One information page about th 1841 Census does state that anyone aged above 15 had their ages round up or down to the nearest five years which may account for Louise. Women in the Bullen family never seem to be averse to lopping a few years off their ages though - Catherine is listed as 35 when she was definitely born in 1800 or 1801! Elizabeth does not seem to have survived much longer than 1841. She is definitely not listed in the 1851 census so I believe must have died between 1841 and 1851. In addition, there are two others: Rebecca and Alfred. My great great grandfather Francis has not yet arrived.

They are living on Stafford Street in the small market town of Stone in Staffordshire which is about 7 miles south of Stoke-on-Trent. Catherine and the family are the only actors living in the town according to the census record and it is not certain they were performing. Frederick is not listed as living with them so it may be possible that he was travelling to perform elsewhere or had an engagement with another company. He certainly re-appears later that year.

Stone was a major stagecoach stopping off point,  A directory for 1851 says that Stone was a very lively town, and a great thoroughfare for coaches, carriers and travellers…. No fewer than 38 stage coaches passed through the town daily. I believe it is likely that the Bullen's were en route somewhere else on the night of the 1841 Census. I looked through all the names to find out if Frederick was lodging elsewhere in the town and found that every other house in Stone seemed to be inhabited by shoemakers and then I found this snippet of information: 'there were 16 shoe works by 1851 when the industry flourished.'  Perhaps my family had stopped in Stone to buy shoes for their upcoming performances!

Whatever their reason for being in Stone on the night of June 6th (the night of the census), they had arrived in Stafford by 7th July because on that day, a Wednesday, Louise was married at St, Mary's Church in the town. 

 

 

 

 

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03.09 | 12:47

Hello,
I wandered into your site at the mention of Grove End Road. I am researching the Hon Pauline Cranstoun. Your description of the area is enlightening.

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18.01 | 08:17

I've cited you as a source in my own blog post on Cassie Bruce at https://studiedmonuments.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/e-a-and-cassie-maskelyne-magic-couple/

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16.11 | 12:50

Margaret Cecil Vardy was the great grand-daughter of James Cecil, 6th Earl of Salisbury (of Hatfield House) and his mistress Mary Grave.

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13.02 | 17:35

Hi Jean,
How lovely to see your comment. He was obviously a man of immense talent, Best, Susanne

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