A New Partner
In mid 1867, Fred appeared at the Royal Lyceum Theatre where he played Marteau in The Carpenter of Rouen. His 'elocutory skills' were praised but there is something or rather someone in that production whi holds the key to his future. On the bill is an actress called Miss Annie Wilmott and her name is to become inextricably linked with his for the remainder of their careers.
Annie Wilmott is first mentioned in the public domain around 1867 when she is appearing at the Hanley Prince of Wales Theatre as Mildred Barjohn for which she receives relatively positive reviews.
Annie Wilmott howwever was a stage name, her real name was Annie Hill. Birth records state that she was born in 1846 in Birmingham and had two older siblings, Henry and Eliza as well as two younger brothers named William and Samuel. Her father Henry is an iron plate moulder in the 1851 Census but is no longer alive by 1861, when her mother Mary is described as a widow and a beer seller. Ann aged 14, is listed as a dressmaker but somewhere between 1861 and 1867, Ann became Annie, Hill became Wilmott and the dressmaker became an actress.
On 29th February 1868, The Birmingham Journal describes her as playing 'the sprightly widow, Hermione.' This must mean that at the time she was receiving this review she was five months pregnant and by June 1868, she was in Blythswood in Glasgow where she gave birth to Frederick Hastings Bullen that same month. Frederick Hastings, who declared himself the father on the birth certificate, was living at the same address: 14, Gayfield Street. Before they went to Scotland however, Fred had been in Sheffield working as actor manager for the 1868 winter season and The Sheffield Evening Telegraph states that his administrative and executive ability made the pantomime such a success. They then wish him well in his next engagement at The Colosseum, Glasgow which links together his movements at the time of the baby's birth.
These events obviously caused the separation between Fred and Frances and if newspaper documentation is accepted as accurate, they were seldom seen acting together again. I say seldom because there is one instance in 1869 in Plymouth when they appear to be members of the same company. Largely however, Frances seems to have moved from the Newcastle and Birmingham Theatres Royal and moved to the south-west. The first evidence of this is in an advertisement of 31st March 1867 in The Era, which states that Mrs. F. Hastings late of the Newcastle and Birmingham Theatres will be disengaged from Easter and gives a Liverpool address of 63 Brownlow Street. The advertisement also states that she is available for 'first old women,' and 'heavy leads.' I find it quite odd that she is playing old women despite the fact that she was barely forty! Later in 1867 and 1868, she is playing in theatres in Bristol and Bath in Mr. Chute's company. Interesting to note that another member of the company, Miss Eliza Gordon, was Fred's sister. In 1868 she is accompanied by her daughter in Exeter where they are playing at The Theatre Royal.
I can't help but believe that Fred's actions had a detrimental effect on both he and Frances' careers. They were great favourites in both the north-east and Birmingham and it took them a long time to re-establish anything approaching their former careers in the subsequent years.
While Fanny left for the south-west accompanied it would appear by her daughter Kate, Fred and Annie returned from Scotland with their new son, however any happiness they found in establishing a new family was short-lived when the baby died in 1869, before his first birthday. His death was registered in Birmingham and the couple never had any more children.
After the baby died, they both carried on acting, moving between England and Scotland, playing largely in Theatres Royal in the provinces. In january 1869, around the time of the death of baby Frederick, his father was directing Yellow Dwarf in Cardiff at The Theatre with the 'entire pantomime being entirely creditable to the management and giving general satidfaction.' Annie is not amongst the company this time however someone who is playing one of the leading parts is Fred and Frances eldest son, Mr. W. Hastings - Walter. Despite everything that had happened in the family, they somehow stuck together and maintained at least a professional relationship. In November 1869, Fred is engaged at The Theatre Royal Wolverhampton, where he is described as 'a painstaking actor,' in a romantic comedy entitled 'The Danger Signal.'
The 1871 Census throws up a few interesting things. Fred is living in Grosvenor Street, Ladywood, Birmingham as a lodger with a woman whose name is Aloysia Norman aged 33 and described as a vocalist; not far from his lodgings, Annie is living with her two brothers: Henry and William. William is 17 and working as an office boy a Henry is an Iron Plate Moulder. Annie is listed under her real name of Hill and her profession is listed as that of dressmaker which is quite odd, given that by this time, she was regularly appearing on stage again. They are living in Back Freeth Street, Ladywood which was a stone's throw from Fred's lodgings.
During 1872, Fred and Annie did start acting together again. They travelled back to Scotland where he appeared at the Dundee Theatre Royal in The Brigand, 'Mr. Hastings played the principal part,' said the local paper for March 9th, which continued, 'Mr Talbot appears in King Lear in which Mr. Hastings also appears so that a rich treat may be expected.' The actresses are not mentioned in this revue so it's impossible to tell if Annie appeared with him at this point; however, she certainly joined him later as they were on the same bill in Fife on 16th May and she later appeared in a production of Leah at Greenock. They appeared in Dumfries on May 4th the following year at the Theatre Royal in Turning the Tables and The Secret.
Fred continued to appear in various productions throughout the 1870s both with and without Annie. In May 1873, they are both taking benefits at the Theatre Royal Dunfries; on this occasion Fred is stage manager as acting while Annie's benefit saw her appearing in 'The Child of the Sun.' By 1874, they were back in England, touring largely in the Midlands where they appeared in Hanley, Stoke and Wolverhampton.
In March 1877 at the The Theatre Royal in Hanley, Annie appears as Leah, a play about a Jewish heroine who was also played by Sarah Bernhardt. The production was staged for 'The Benefit of Mr. Fred Hastings,' who had evidently had a successful season, having stage managed the 1876 pantomime.
By 1878, he was back at his old stamping ground at the Tyne Theatre in Newcastle as part of a specially assembled company to produce 'The Orange Girl' by Henry Leslie while Annie appears to have gone on tour with a different company, appearing at the Queens Theatre Manchester and later at the Theatre Royal Norwich. Later, in 1879, Annie appeared once more as Leah, in a benefit for Fred but this time in Sunderland.
As far as Census records are concerned, those of 1881 for the Hastings family pose some questions but also provide a number of answers to largely unresolved issues which occurred fo;;owing the break up of the family.
In 1880, both Oliver sisters died wthin a few months of each other. Frances died on 2nd December in Brighton with her obituary in The Era stating that she had been unwell for some time and had retired from acting some years before. I'm going to examine what happened in more detail in the next section which will deal with Katherine, her daughter with Fred. In the 1881 Census, Fred and Annie are openly living together as man and wife, lodging at a house in Silver Street, Worcester. Two years after Fred was widowed, he and Annie were legally married in 1882 in Birmingham. Annie does not appear in many productions after this time, however Fred appeared to go from strength to strength and his acting during the 1880s seems more prolific than ever.