Saturday, 12 October 2013

Strictly Music Hall

With everyone (well, nearly everyone) in 'Strictly' mode, it seemed appropriate to use this blog post to introduce a performer from my own ancestry.

Meet Winifred (Wyn) Griffiths, born in Wolverhampton in 1901, who began treading the boards at the age of nine when she first sung in public to an audience of 500.

By the age of 16, her talent had been recognised and she joined the Carl Rosa Opera Company - "For a girl of 16 years... she has a voice of considerable promise."

The company toured all over the country, but as 16 was considered too young an age to go alone, Wynn's elder sister, Clarrie, took a job as a secretary with the company to act as chaperon!

Playing the Doll in The Tales of Hoffmann
"Miss Winifred Griffiths made a captivating mechanical doll
and... earned the plaudits of the audience."

But opera singers were not well paid in the 1920s and 30s. A performer like Wyn could earn twice as much working in the more popular concert parties and pantomimes. 

So by 1923 when the above photograph was taken, she'd joined Jack Audley's Variety Group (second from left)...

...and in 1937 (below) she's performing in The Happy Valley, in Llandudno, with Charles Wadee's Concord Follies (Wyn's marked with a blue arrow - not by me, I hasted to add!)

When war broke out in 1939, everything changed. Wyn was working with a concert party in Whitley Bay, Northumberland at the time but decided to return to Wolverhampton. She began work in a steel tube factory, though she continued to sing periodically at charity events.

A good starting place to research your own theatrical ancestors is the excellent website, hosting thousands of images and pages of information on the history of Music Hall and Theatre. 

Also, the theatrical publication The Stage, in existence since 1880, has an online archive where you can register to make a free search, though you will have to pay to view or print any material.

Finally, The archive of theatrical scenery has a database of shows and theatres, including images of 6,000 programme fronts.

Happy searching!

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