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THE HISTORY OF THE ENCLISH TOY THEATRE

I.1X XULIX2JJLX 1.X 1.1 T

GEORGE' SPEAIGHX


JUVENILE DRAMA The History of the English Toy Theatre

by George Speaij»ht

With a foreword by RALPH RICHARDSON

In that age of gaslight and furbelows, the Victorian era, there nourished in drawing-room and nursery one of the most enchanting and picturesque of domestic pastimes ever devised. Its formal title was "The Juvenile Drama", but we know it best as the Toy Theatre, the spirit of which Robert Louis Stevenson has enshrined for all time in the magic words : "A Penny Plain and Twopence Coloured." Juvenile Drama is a full and detailed history which has been written with a view to capturing the interest of a wide variety of readers. The author traces the development of the Toy Theatre from its early beginnings as the Souvenir Theatrical Portrait of Regency days, follows it through the halcyon period when every home strove with scissors, paint-box and Greek (ire to produce its own version of such stupendous dramas as "The Miller and His Men"; on to the years of decline when the Toy Theatre was gradually forgotten by all save the faithful few who made the pilgrimage to Pollock's little shop at Hoxton, the last in London where sheets of •*• Continued on back jtap.

15/-

net


JUVENILE DRAMA


"Twopence Coloured."


JUVENILE DRAMA

The History of the English Toy Theatre

by

George Speaight

MACDONALD & CO., (Publishers) LTD. St. Paul's Chambers, 19 Ludgate Hill, London, E.C.4


pint published December 1946

MADE AND PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN BY PURNELL AND SONS, LTD. PAULTON (SOMERSET) AND LONDON


FOR MARY


FOREWORD Y early love of pasteboard illusion was, I think, divided between Toy Theatres and masks—those garish and wholly fascinating masks which grimaced from small shops in firework time. What a rich smell of paint and glue they had! I have often wondered where their wooden moulds lie, unless that quaint industry has perished in a world stripped of illusion. At all events, thanks be, the Toy Theatre has not left us. Like its big brother, the flesh-and-blood stage, the " Juvenile Drama " has a proud history dating from Regency days, and the present revival of public interest in the Toy Theatre is no phenomenon. The industry which Mr. Speaight so ably traces in this volume, had reached the end of a long cycle, its craftsmen gathered to their fathers, and it was left to enthusiasts of our generation to ring up the curtain on another, even more dazzling prospect. Mr. George Speaight is a unique figure in the world of the miniature stage. Those fortunate mortals who witnessed his brilliant performances of The Miller and His Men and The Sleeping Beauty upon the gay, illuminated stage of a " large Redington ", at Bumpus's Bookshop during the Christmas seasons of 1932-4, will enjoy his book all the more. Speaight is no amateur with an academic interest in a bygone art; like his brother Robert, he is essentially a man of the theatre, but where Robert submitted to being murdered in a cathedral, George gladly near-kills himself at each performance of his " Juvenile Drama ". Once he sets his tinkling " orchestra " going, he is from then on successively electrician, scene-shifter, curtain operator, each of the actors (yes, and actresses!) in turn. The whole of the " book " is his until that moment when the Mill is blown up, the bandits frustrated and the happy couple appear before the curtain—lowered, of course, by George. It is all his, this wonderful illusion. But I digress, and must hasten to do the job of unveiling a most masterly monument in prose to the Juvenile Drama, by George Speaight. He tells me that most of it was written during the time when he was stationed at Colombo— an amazing feat, for I am sure that even an historian of the lilliputian stage would require more than a kitbag of reference material in the compilation of his vii

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FOREWORD

book. H e r e again is evidence of the quality of George Speaight, and of inexhaustible knowledge of his subject. For my own part this volume is both nostalgic and stimulating. It is so much a pocket-diary of that which had its being in the real-life theatre of last century, a chronicle in little, as it were, of the brave old days of transpontine delights. M r . Speaight is hot on his dates and derivations. H e is meticulous, precise, as a good historian should be . . . but at all times he is robust and entertaining, and you will, I know, love his book. W h y then, Reader . . . go to! RALPH

RICHARDSON


AUTHOR'S NOTE < ^ I 1 H E story of an obsession " might be a suitable sub-title for this book, I the preparation of which has occupied a disproportionate amount of -*- my time and money for as long as I can remember. The active collecting of material has been going on for something like fourteen years, but I must readily acknowledge that without the help of many friends and fellow enthusiasts the result now offered to the public could never have been so complete. First and foremost I must acknowledge the assistance I have received from Mr. M. W. Stone. Mr. Stone has not only given me full access to his magnificent collection of Juvenile Drama prints, and allowed me to make copious use of his own MS. notes on the history of the Toy Theatre, but he has also undertaken on my behalf a great deal of research in clearing up obscure points during my absence from England on active service. This book does not claim to be the last word on the Juvenile Drama, but every attempt has been made to render it a complete and definitive history of the subject, so far as the material available to-day will allow, and whatever merit it may possess in that respect is entirely due to Mr. Stone's patient study and generous co-operation. Next I must salute my predecessors in the field, the many journalists and writers, enthusiasts of the theatre or amateurs of the curious, who have helped to lay the foundations of a history of the Toy Theatre. One must especially mention Ralph Thomas, the first authority for any student of the Juvenile Drama ; John Ashton, the first actual historian of the subject ; C. D. Williams, for his recent studies of the later Toy Theatre publishers ; and, most of all, A. E. Wilson, the first person to write a complete book on the subject. Although a certain duplication is unavoidable I have tried to approach the subject along quite independent lines, and I hope that readers who are already familiar with Mr. Wilson's pioneer work will find enough new light on the subject here to justify another publication. And finally I must express my thanks to a great many friends who have


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NOTE

illuminated many an obscure point with their discoveries and their pens. To Mr. Gerald Morice, for unfailing enthusiasm and encouragement, and for two fascinating " Juvenile Drama Bulletins " prepared by him for the British Puppet Guild ; to the Secretary of the British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild for permission to quote from them ; to Miss Margaret Lane, and Messrs. D. L. Murray, Stanley Bult, and H. Medcraft for allowing me to reproduce extracts from what they wrote. To the collectors of the Juvenile Drama who have laid their treasures open before me, or supplemented the findings of Mr. Stone, especially Mr. Herbert Hinkins, Mr. C. H. Green, Mr. W. W. Nops, Mr. J. Brady, Dr. Francis Eagle, and Mr. Walter Dunlo. To Mr. Paul McPharlin for notes from America ; to Mr. Malcolm Morley for unearthing the American Toy Theatre ; and to all the American Libraries and Museums which have sent me details of their Collections. To Mr. Edward Kersley for his fascinating discovery of Cole's Poetical Present ; to Miss Phyllis Hartnoll for research in Birmingham ; to Miss Mabel Hartley for a host of Victorian references ; to Miss M. H. Dodds for tracing children at the Regency theatre ; and to Mr. Roland Knaster for advice on the by-ways of Juvenilia. To the staff at the British Museum Print Room and Reading Room, at the Richmond Public Library, and at the Colombo Public Library. To the booksellers who have assisted me in the quest, notably Mr. P. H. Muir of Elkin Mathews, Mr. Lyon of the Court Book Shop, Mr. David Low, Mr. Kyrle Fletcher, and Messrs Sotheby & Co. To Mr. Alan Keen, the first in a new line of Toy Theatre makers, and to Miss Louisa Pollock and Mr. H. J. Webb, the last in the old. And to all those who have assisted in the search and are not acknowledged by name, my apologies and thanks. London—Glasgow—Bombay—Colombo. 1945


CONTENTS PAGE

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FOREWORD AUTHOR'S

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NOTE

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CHAPTER

I.

ORIGINS

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II.

T H E REGENCY

A N D EARLY

III.

T H E JUVENILE

D R A M A

IV.

T H E PUBLISHERS

V. VI.

VII. VIII. IX. X.

XI. XII.

PUBLISHING

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GEORGIAN

H O M E

P E R F O R M I N G

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A N D TINSEL

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XIII.

SURVIVAL

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XIV.

COLLECTING

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T H E JUVENILE

REVIVAL T H E INFLUENCE

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D R A M A

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O FT H E J U V E N I L E

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AMUSEMENTS

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THEATRE

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T H E PLAY

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T H E T O Y T H E A T R E

PORTRAITS

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T H E PLAY

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VICTORIAN

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T H E ARTISTS SELLING

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CONTENTS APPENDIX PAGE

A.

PUBLISHERS

B.

PLAYS

C.

PUBLIC

D.

BIBLIOGRAPHY INDEX

OF T H E JUVENILE

PUBLISHED

FOR T H E JUVENILE

COLLECTIONS

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DRAMA

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DRAMA

OF T H E JUVENILE

OF THE.JUVENILE

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DRAMA

DRAMA

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