Settling Down

The next part of Louise's story is in many ways, the most remarkable part of her life. 

The marriage took place in Darlington at the start of 1859 to Edward Spratswell Elton (though the 'Spratswell is not often mentioned), he calls himself Edward S. Elton at times. Louise was 34 and Edward, 30 and an actor. They were married in Darlington and the marriage was registered between January and March 1859. How they met I have no idea, though both being actors and Louise having lately appeared in South Shields, it is probable that they worked together in the same theatre. Whether Louise knew who Edward was at the time she met him is open to debate but I have no doubt she, being a member of the acting profession was acquainted with his story. 

Edward's father was Edward William Elt or Elton as he became known in the theatre. He was one of the famous faces of the London stage in the 1830s and early 40s who unfortunately drowned on the paddle steamer Pegasus in 1843. 

                                      

His father had been acting at the Edinburgh Adelphi and was returning to his family via Hull where he was due to catch a train back to London when the steamer went down near Lindisfarne with the loss of some 50 lives. Edward Junior and his sisters were orphaned as their mother had died a few years earlier, apparently certified as 'mad.' Edward Elton had been the sole provider for the whole family of 7 children as well as his wife's mother when he died. The Times of July 26th  1843 published an outline of his acting career which had seen him give a definitive performance of Richard III as well as appearances at the Garrick and Drury Lane.

On 31st July a remarkable article appears which states that a committee had been formed to raise money for the orphaned Elton  children and the Chairman of the said committee was none other than Charles Dickens. There then follows a list of contributors and their donated amounts. These included:

Her Majesty the Queen - £25, W. C. McCready, £21, Charles Dickens £5, William Farren £5, Douglas Jerrold, £2 2s, Edwin Landseer, £3, Charles Kean, £10 and most moving of all, from 'one who can't afford more,' 5s. These are just a few of the many sums donated by actors and well-wishers the length and breadth of the country. There was also a benefit at the Haymarket Theatre with special addresses being read by the actors. 

Charles Dickens then began to manage and distribute the fund to the family, talking at length about how he did so in his letters of 1843 and beyond.

From the Hobart Courier (Tasmania)

The lamentable fate of Mr. Elton will be deeply feltby that profession of which he was so distinguished amember. His virtues in private life were generally known and acknowledged. He has left a large familyto deplore his departure from among them. Mr.Murray, the Edinburgh manager, with praiseworthy'feeling, has made the suggestion that the professionshould mark their esteem for Mr. Elton by benefits forhis orphan children. On Saturday, August 5th, the evening's products at the Edinburgh Theatre will be devoted to that purpose.

For me, this article written for a newspaper so far away, shows not only how far Edward Elton's fame had spread, but to what extent the case had captured the public imagination, and not only in the British Isles. 

By reading Dickens' correspondence for 1843, it is possible to find several mentions of the plight of the Elton children. He tells how the younger ones had been so looking forward to their father's return from Edinburgh that they 'bedecked his room with flowers.' Imagine how they must have felt when they received the news that he was never to return. 

When I first discovered Edward Junior, it was almost solely in relation to his marriage to Louise and I didn't realise quite how illustrious and well-known his father was and I barely paid attention to accounts of the Pegasus which I had already come across until one night last year when I was watching 'Who Do You Think You Are?' The subject of the programme was Sarah Millican, the comedian and it described how her ancestor was one of the first commercial divers in Britain.

She was told how he had travelled to Lindisfarne to salvage the belongings of those who had drowned on the Pegasus paddle steamer, which was when I realised that this was the very same ship that Edward Elton had taken in order to return to London. Sarah Millican's diver had retrieved Edward Elton's box and returned it to the orphaned Elton children instead of keeping it for himself as he was perfectly entitled to do. I even paused the programme and took pictures of the edition of the Stamford Mecury that had reported the story. I also sent Sarah a message on Twitter which she re-tweeted and made her favourite of the week! 

Dickens' later letters talk about Edward's sisters: Esther and Rose (known as 'the wood chopping Miss Elton' by him), whose passage he paid to Canada while Esther is believed to be his inspiration for Esther Summerson in Bleak House. The fund paid for her to become a qualified teacher. Rosalind, another sister, married an Edward William Hayes who was a stationer according to the 1861 Census. The family it would appear, remained close as Alfred, Louise's second son (the tumbler of 1851!) is lodging with Rosalind and her husband in 1861 and described as a bookseller.

His newly married mother and stepfather are evidently touring the country by this time. The local press says,  'Mr. and Mrs. Elton, the duologists are here,' referring to their appearance at the New Colosseum Theatre in Bristol in June 1860. According to the Era, they were still there in July where 'their stock of duologues appear inexhaustible and are much appreciated.' Having checked the exact meaning of 'duologue,' it is a play with two characters or what I've heard called a 'two hander.' They would have to have worked well together in order to put together performances of this type. I have no idea if it was their ability to work together that first attracted them or the fact they were both orphaned children of actors, but whatever it was, their marriage last until Edward's death in 1884.

Returning however to 1859, Edward and Louise's partnership produced an addition to Edward's ready-made step-family of little Bruces and this was a son of their own - Edward Serle Elton. The choice of middle name may seem intriguing but a little research shows that the baby was almost certainly named for the playwright, librettist and editor, Thomas James Serle, who had been a great friend of Edward's father as well as a close companion of Dickens; with Dickens, Serle hd been instrumental in helping to organise the series of benefits and collections for the orphaned Elton children. The child's middle name was obviously mark of gratitude, in recognition of all Serle did. They also had a second son, Charles Alfred - again the debt of gratitude Edward felt he owed Dickens is acknowledged in the couple's choice of first name in addition to Louise having had a younger brother called Charles; Alfred is a nod to his older step-brother.

By the time of Charles' birth, the family had moved to the parish of Hoxton St. John and was living at Worgate Street. In 1863, the family suffered a cruel blow.The youngest son and sibling, Charles Alfred, passed away aged just sixteen months. His burial took place at Victoria Park Cemetery, Hackney.

After this, I can find mention of no more children born to the family and little if any mention of Louise as an actress. Maybe the loss of little Charles left her with a reduced appetite for the stage or maybe her appearances are less well documented. Edward's name however, does start to appear in the press and on playbills, especially for one particular theatre. 

 

This was The New Britannia

 

Edward is mentioned in several of the productions. (See the cast for Charlotte Corday),

 

 

 

 

Array

 

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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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