Back to the Theatre
The eldest brother in the Bullen family was Frederick. His middle name was 'Hastings' and this was the name he chose to use in his professional life which was every bit as colourful as that of his sister, Louise.
He was born in Salisbury and christened in Aylesbury in 1826. It is clear that he became an actor or comedian early in life just like his siblings and they followed the Wiltshire, Buckinghamshire and later, the Lincolnshire theatre circuits. The first time that I can find him mentioned in any documentation is aged 15 in the 1841 Census but somewhat oddly. he is mentioned twice living with his mother and siblings in Stone in Staffordshire and lodging with Louise's future husband, John Bruce, at a house nearby. His name doesn't occur again until a few years later on his wedding day, when, aged 22 in 1849 he married Frances Cranmer Oliver at Templemore near Limerick. He is listed however, as living in Londonderry and this is where things become very interesting or so I thought.
Historical research, I have found to be a constantly evolving thing; as more and more documents and sources are uncovered, we become more and more enlightened about the people and places we search out. I presumed that Fred had married for the first time in Ireland but this is not so. I now believe that it was not Frances Cranmer who was with Fred during his first engagements in Scotland, but his first wife, Emily or Emely. I began to wonder at one point how Frances Cranmer Oliver could be in two places at once - at certain points she was acting as Miss Oliver in England and at others as Mrs. Hastings in England. I began to wonder if there had been a Mrs. Hastings before Frances and evidently I was right.They are mentioned as appearing with J.W. Anson at The Theatre Royal Dundee, but bbefore this I was able to find this announcement in Lloyds Weekly Newspaper from October 1847, 'A Mr. and Mrs. Hastings both made a very successful appearance in the comedietta, 'The King and I.' This has to be them as I can find no other actors called Hastings from the late 1840s. Theappearance took place at the Newcastle Theatre where Fred and Frances were to go on to become great favourites in subsequent years. There are also earlier mentions of them playing at Ipswich from February 1847, both receiving high praise and naming Fred as 'a very promising actor.'
The Bullens were certainly in Ireland in 1848 until the early 1850s - Louise's daughter Kathleen was born in Dublin in 1848 and the eldest children are obviously acting there, so who exactly was Fred's wife? Frances Cranmer Oliver and her sister Martha, who became one of the biggest stars of the Victorian stage, became actresses very early on in life. Martha's entry in the Dictionary of National Biography states that she was the daughter of John Oliver, a scene painter, but this is incorrect. The girls are the daughters of Ann Oliver and John Cranmer Penson. How do I know this?
Well, the last name - Cranmer Oliver is unusual and that made them quite easy to find. John Penson (senior) an actor manager who owned theatres on the Isle of Wight and in Salisbury had three sons - John, George and William. John followed in his father's footsteps. In his obituary from 1844, John Penson senior is stated to have been acting for over 50 years, having been born around 1760 and married to Martha Cranmer at St. Ann's Church in Manchester in 1801. He is mentioned around the time of the birth of his son John Junior in Manchester as part of a company playing Othello.
George was predominantly a singer and appeared at Covent Garden in the 1820s. William who was some 16 years older than John, led the orchestra at the Edinburgh Theatre Royal and married the actress Sarah Sims at St. Nicholas Church in Liverpool. She was an extremely well-known performer in her day - her father David Sims ran a tavern in Russell Court in London which was much frequented by actors inclusing David Garrick. Indeed Sims issued his own copper coinage minted with the head of David Garrick on one side when the Mint failed to issue enough copper coinage for business practice.
However, to return to John, The Salisbury Journal of April 1825 announced that the performances on the evening of 25th were for the benefit of Mr. John Penson, 'who has become beloved of the theatre-going public here.' He has a similar benefit in Lymington in 1829 as the theatre season drew to a close in September.
However, it seems there may have been a slightly different side to John Cranmer Penson than the celebrated actor who held theatre goers in the palm of his hand.
The National Archive stores Salisbury City Council's Archives and while looking through these to see if there was any mention of him, I came acoss something called The Register of Bastardy Exminations. Apparently these were related to the Poor Laws and any woman who became pregnant out of wedlock in the first half of the 19th Century was required to go before two magistrates at about forty days before the baby was due and reveal the identity of the father so that he could be made to pay for the upkeep of the child rather than the expense faalling on the shoulders of the parish. These are the records I found,
Mother's surname: Oliver; Christian name: Ann For two bastard children, one born in 1827 and the other in 1831; Parish: St. Martin; Father's surname: Penson; Christian name: John Cranmer junr.; Parish and occupation: Late of the City comedian. 1832
Mother's surname: Oliver; Christian name: Ann; Parish: St. Martin; Father's surname: Penson; Christian name: John Cranmer; Parish and occupation: Late of the City comedian. 1826.
John was in a relationship with Ann Oliver and it was not just a swift dalliance that resulted in an isolated, unwanted pregnancy; there were three children born between 1824 and 1832: John, Frances Anne and Martha. They were all given their mother's last name of Oliver and their father's middle name of Cranmer, hence Cranmer Oliver. Occasionally they are listed as Penson Oliver but this is rare. John and Martha, born in 1824 and 1832 have Penson as part of their officially baptised names. John was baptised in June; only his mother's name is listed and their adress is given as St. Ann's Street, Salisbury. John is difficult to trace after this and it is easy to presume that he died in infancy but I can find no record of a child of that complete name in any of the death records I have searched, so I will keep looking as I find persistence pays off in this game!
That then leaves Frances and Martha and their parents. John must have maintained a relationship with Ann throughout the 1820s and early 1830s but in 1833, I found something surprising. In September 1833, The Salisbury and Winchester Journal announces the marriage of 'Mr. John Penson of the Theatre Royal Dublin to Miss Jane Milligan, daughter of Mr. John Milligan of this town.' This town being Newport on the Isle of Wight. There is a sense that he was not quite honest about his background as his birthplace on the marriage certificate is listed as St. Mark's Parish Dublin. Maybe he wanted Miss Milligan to believe she was marrying an Irishman so as to obliterate his connection to Salisbury. He certainly had been acting on and off in Dublin, mainly in supporting roles at the Theatre Royal but after the marriage he went to live there with his new bride and produced five more children. There is evidence that he maintained contact with his other children from playlists and announcements, especially the extremely talented Martha but more of that later.
Once their father had left for to Dublin, Anne, Frances and Martha appear in newspaper accounts on several occasions so it is clear that Anne was encouraging her children on to the stage. It's quite a puzzle to work out what was going on here as the majority of books and articles about women on the stage in the 19th Century suggest that actresses were dimly viewed by the majority of the public however Anne (and I have no evidence so far that she was an actress) as a single mother perhaps saw a way for her girls to become independent of men and to live largely outside the rigid social structures of Victorian society. In many ways, she succeeded.
In 1841, Frances and Martha are with their mother in Sheffield, presumably on tour and Frances is then mentioned as being a welcome addition to the theatre in Arbroath in 1848. 'A new debutante, Miss F. Oliver is a young lady possessing a considerable buoyancy and vvacity of spirit and bds fair to become an accomplished actress in genteel comedy.'
There is another, very interesting entry for later in the same year, also in Scotland, when at St. Andrews, the following notice appeared, 'Mr. F. Hastings could not fail to please all while Mrs. Hastings deserves honourable mention for her Caroline CDormer.' This may mean that the critic had made an error in presuming the couple to be already married or more likely, that Fred and Frances had known each other for a long time and had established not only a professional but also a personal partnership.
Fred continued to appear in Scotland throughout 1848 and his last mentioned appearance is in February 1849 when he is at the Dundee Theatre Royal, 'we never saw Mr. Hastings to so much advantage as in The Phantom - it was a careful and effective performance.' Whilst at Dundee as well as appearing at other Scottish theatres, Fred worked with J.W. Anson - appearing as Iago to Anson's Othello. John Anson left Scotland in 1853 with his wife and children to work at the Adelphi theatre. He went on to become Secretary of the Dramatic, Equestrian an Musical Sick Fund as well as establishing the Dramatic Burial Ground at Woking where both he and his wife were buried.
Back to 1849 however and Fred is not for the rest of that year as he and Frances made a trip to Ireland. Frances' father John Oliver was there as was Fred's older sister Louise and in May of that year, the following announcent appeared in The Hampshire Advertiser, On 16th ult. at Londonderry Cathedral, Mr. Frederick Hastings to Miss Frances Cranmer Oliver, late of the Southampton Theatre.' As well as verifying the marriage, this gives us a clue to Frances' career before she married Fred. It makes it clear that she had been acting with her sister Martha, for it was here that Martha had first been noticed by Mme. Vestris.