Victorian Bournemouth (141)

Victorian Bournemouth (103): entertainment replays

Polygraphy. Circus. Minstrels.


Victorian Bournemouth (103) explores reports of theatrical performances to recreate an idea of what the resort’s audience witnessed. The study uses press reports of an act’s performance at Bournemouth as well as elsewhere to recapture as much as possible. Most of the acts mentioned performed popular entertainment, rather than serious music or plays.

Victorian Bournemouth (103): W. S. Goodin, polygraphist


The audience at Bournemouth’s Belle Vue in 1865 saw, in rapid sequence, a stream of characters telling jokes and singing. Some might have thought that several actors participated, but they saw only one: W. S. Woodin. Before their eyes appeared ‘a London maid-of-all-work caught entertaining a follower … a ‘gent’ about town … a crusty old traveller … a fine old English gentleman … the old Greenwich pensioner’. After the break came a range of other characters, home and abroad. The Bournemouth audience saw a show called ‘the Bachelor’s Box’, but Woodin had others: ‘Olio of Oddities’, ‘Carpet Bag and Sketch-Book’, ‘Cabernet of Curiosities’. The characters satirised ordinary people found in street, in the country, in town or village, perhaps up to a hundred available. In a tour-de-force, three characters might appear at once, yet only Woodin performed. He even painted the scenery. 


An artist’s son, William Samuel Woodin (1827-1888), described his occupation as ‘polygraphist’. An impresario as well as a performer, Woodin took a lease on a London theatre which he renamed Polygraph Hall. The press followed him travel from London around the country during the 1850s and 1860s. At his death, he had not performed for so long that people had forgotten him. He made enough to live off his investments, his estate worth over £2,000. One of his sons lived as a gentleman, the other left over £8,000. One journalist thought that an artist would have difficulty in portraying Woodin, since ‘he is somebody else every three minutes’. Enthusiastic reporters sometimes provided full details of his performances. The actor held up a mirror to the audience, but slanted it to make them laugh. The satirical nature of his character depiction perhaps became a vaudeville version of Dickens.

Victorian Bournemouth (103): Hutchinson & Tayleure’s circus


 In 1870, the circus came to Bournemouth, where four performances occurred. They drew ‘numerous gatherings’, despite bad weather. Good quality performances regaled them. As well as the equestrian displays, they saw clowns, an ‘equestrian goat’, and a ‘life-boat crew’. They might even have seen the producer’s daughter strapped to a horse, replaying the popular role of Mazeppa. As did other actresses, she may have cross-dressed, wearing tight breeches for effect. Perhaps the producer’s son-in-law, Joe Haines, ‘the boneless clown’, featured. ‘His droll conduct in the ring keeps the audiences always screaming with laughter’. The press approved of the show. ‘The performances were not on the usual “worn out” principle’. In addition to horses, circus productions included variety acts. These might include ‘Champion Riders, Vaulters, Acrobats and Marvellous Gymnasts’. The renowned trapezist, Niblo, sometimes appeared with them as did another popular act, the Christy minstrels.


David Hutchinson (1813-1890), born in Sunderland, had experience with horses. His occupations in the census often included the word ‘equestrian’. As did W. S. Woodin, he became an impresario. References to several formats of circus exist. At his demise, the local paper published a fulsome obituary. Woodin’s children did not appear to have gone on the stage, but Hutchinson’s large family formed an important part of the management and performers. By the end of the 1860s he had gone into partnership with his son-in-law, Joseph Taylor. The latter became Joseph Tayleure at some point, his wife, the occasional Mazeppa, described as Madame Tayleure. Joseph took over the company in time, then followed by his son. Thus, at least three generations of the family ran the business. Although a frequent itinerant, Hutchinson settled in Cardiff, where he had built a semi-permanent structure to house his troupe’s performances.

Victorian Bournemouth (103): other entertainers

Christy Minstrels

The Hampshire Advertiser sniffed at the Christy Minstrels when they performed at Bournemouth in 1870. ‘The performance on the whole was creditable.’ Since the original group disbanded, the name had become a generic term for blackface musical variety entertainment. Quality varied. Audiences did not know which version they would see. If the Bournemouth performance followed the usual programme, they would have seen a three part show. It began with a cakewalk as the minstrels proceeded around the stage, singing and joking. The middle section consisted of different variety acts. A plantation play completed the performance. In the late 1860s, Hutchinson & Tayleure’s circus sometimes included minstrels. They performed a play called ‘Life in a Virginny Log House’. By this time, a group might include former slaves who had immigrated to Britain, thereby providing an element of authenticity to the act. The performance at Bournemouth had fair but not good attendance.


Other glimpses of theatrical entertainments given at Bournemouth during this time appeared in the press. Mrs Bodda Pyne gave a performance. The ‘celebrated English soprano, and late manageress of the Royal English Opera, Covent Garden’ had enjoyed success in Europe and in London. At Bournemouth, however, she sang in a ‘ballad concert’, joined by ‘several famous artistes’. In 1871 another programme consisted of ‘Seven Ages of Woman’. Miss Emma Stanley ‘the celebrated artiste and pianist performed this work written for her. Alfred Vance, a music-hall comic singer, also appeared on the programme. Although a musician of classical training, Seymour Smith brought Jack Tar’s adventures to Bournemouth. The reviewer described this as ‘an amusing and sketchy life of a sailor boy being made the groundwork for the introduction of a variety of songs, comic and otherwise’. Thus, musicians having formal training adapted to Bournemouth’s appetite for music-hall entertainment.


Victorian Bournemouth (103) has illustrated the breadth of popular entertainment which came to Bournemouth. Although they did not always enjoy a full-house, performers of what became music-hall acts considered Bournemouth, an affluent tourist site, a commercial risk worth taking. What later became ‘seaside entertainment’ already occurred at Bournemouth during its second period.


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