A New Generation

Her husband's name was John Bruce but the circumstances and story behind her marriage are somewhat hard to piece together. Whenever the Bullens are mentioned as acting during the 1830s, Frederick Bullen is in sole charge of the Company. In 1841 this changes, and the Company is mentioned as being under the charge of Mr. Bruce and Mr. Bullen. So who was Mr. Bruce?

His name appears in reviews and on playbills for the first time, after his marriage to Louise. In October 1841, Louise, now Miss Bruce and her mother Catherine i.e. Mrs. Bullen are at the Theatre Royal in Leicester where their melodious singing is highly praised. This is taken from a review in the Leicester Mercury and I was about to write about others in which John Bruce and Frederick Bullen's names appeared as theatrical managers when something kept telling me to look again at the 1841 census before I could continue.

I've already said that genealogy is a strange thing. Sometimes I can't move on to more research because I sense a puzzle is incomplete. It almost feels as if some essence of the person I'm looking for is willing me to sort things out and as a lifelong sceptic about signs, seances and portents, that's not an easy thing to acknowledge. True to form, after spending weeks looking for John Bruce in Scottish and Irish records, I realised that Louise's brother Frederick is listed twice in the Census and the second listing held an important key to John Bruce's identity

Fred is also listed as living on the High Street in Stone with two other people. All his details are the same as those recorded with his family on Stafford Street except that he is lodging with two other 'comedians:' John Medlicott aged 25 and John Bruce, also aged 25. I had looked at that record so many times, I was convinced it read John Bence - indeed it is transcribed as Bence on at least one Genealogy site but suddenly I realised, not Bence but Bruce - so now I know that Louise did not travel to meet him at Stafford in order to get married, she was obviously with him already.

 

Wedding Dresses circa 1841 - V&A Museum

The couple were married at St. Mary, Stafford and then disappear for a while. There is no mention of the newly married Mrs. Bruce until later that year and then in 1842 when the relatively newly formed Bruce/Bullen company set out on tour.

During the 1840s, Louise gave birth to three children by the time she was 24: Robert Frederic in Louth in 1843, Alfred John in Spilsby in 1845 and Kathleen in Dublin in 1848. The birth of her children coincides with the whereabouts of the company: during the 1840s for exmple it appears that they mainly covered the circuit between the market towns of Lincolnshire. At the end of 1841, they were in Melton Mowbray with Mr. Bullen being described as 'late of the Theatre Royal, Leicester,' and this was followed in 1842 by engagements throughout the east of England. In May, they arrived at the town of Market Deeping and on June 4th, the Leicester Mercury reports ,

'An accident of a frightful nature occurred at the theatre, Market Deeping, under the management of Messrs. Bruce and Bullen on Monday night. The performances being under the patronage of the Oddfellows, the house was crowded to suffocation. Whilst the epilogue to 'The Poor Gentleman,' was being delivered, the gallery came down with a fearful crash, burying the poor souls in the boxes below. The scene was deadful and the screams most appalling, until the extent of the injury was known. Ladies were dug out of the fallen timbers with ribs broken, shoulders dislocated, contusions and blood running in streams from hundreds, but providentially, no life was lost. Great blame was attached to the carpenter who erected the building. The managers had lately incurred a large charge for new painting and decorating the theatre by Mr. Northhouse of Boston but the shocking accident of Monday night is likely to ruin their prospect at Deeping.'


Despite searching, I can find little or no reports of the aftermath of this terrible event which came so close to being a tragedy but in the spirit of the acting profession, the company took on board the motto 'the show must go on,' for just a few weeks later they appeared at Spilsby followed by Alford and Horncastle. According to the Stamford Mercury of October 'the introduction of Mr, Melvin from Liverpool in the arduous character of Richard III was met with complete success, and Mr. Bullen intends producing King Lear on Monday next for the benefit of himeslf and his better half.' Similarly favourable reviews are reported from the other towns and so the company carries on into 1843.

Louise and john gave birth to their first child Robert Frederic in 1843, who it appears tragically, did not survive childhood. She was not to know however, that the death of a great actor, Edward Elton, on the paddle steamer the Pegasus in July of that year, was to have such an impact on her later life.

By July 1843, the Era tells us that Mr, Bullen had closed his season at Louth with a bumper benefit and was moving to Beverley in Yorkshire where it is reported that the company is 'good' and deserves success. 

The Era keeps track of Louise and her family for us throughout the 1840s: earlier in 1843 she is mentioned during the Louth season, ' Above all, we must not fail to notice Mrs. Bullen and Mrs. Bruce, both of whom rank far above mediocrity.' An understatement, considering she had just given birth to her first baby!

 

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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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