The sto­ries be­hind the stage names

Black Country Bugle - - YOUR LETTERS -

of­ten takes us back to vivid mem­o­ries of the first decade of the 20th cen­tury. For ex­am­ple, he re­calls vis­it­ing the fair in Wolver­hamp­ton about 1910 and de­scribes his first en­counter with Pat Collins’s Won­der­land show – an elab­o­rate trav­el­ling cin­e­mato­graph show: “I first saw this show when it was on a visit to Wolver­hamp­ton, in St Peter’s Square. On the front, stand­ing in the cen­tre of the stage was a large carved and gilded clock with wooden fig­ures. Mounted on top of which was a large card printed with the words “Collins’s next Elec­tri­cal Fire­works Dis­play” with the hand set for a time when the big arc lamps hang­ing from the front rail of the show would be switched off and thou­sands of coloured lamps set round the mas­sive carved work adorn­ing the front would be brought into play.”

When Joe Bate was writ­ing his weekly col­umn for The World’s Fair in the 1930s, he was liv­ing in his van in Harvill’s Hawthorn – near Hill Top, West Bromwich. From there he would set off on his bi­cy­cle to travel the Black Coun­try to find in­for­ma­tion for his read­ers. What­ever he found would lead to fur­ther rem­i­nis­cences about the Black Coun­try of ear­lier decades. I doubt whether he could have imag­ined that the story of his own ad­ven­tures would be told in an­other cen­tury.

Re­search into two other char­ac­ters proved chal­leng­ing. The chaps con­cerned are Ben Kennedy and Irv­ing Bosco. Ben is best known as the man who built the Dudley Hip­po­drome, but was in­volved with many other Black Coun­try the­atri­cal ven­tures in Tip­ton, Wed­nes­bury, West Bromwich and Smeth­wick. Irv­ing Bosco opened the first cin­ema in the Black Coun­try – in West Bromwich in 1909 – a year ahead of the Kine­mato­graph Act which was in­stru­men­tal in cre­at­ing cin­e­mas as we have known them. With a name like Irv­ing Bosco life was bound to be in­ter­est­ing but re­search was dif­fi­cult un­til I found out his real name: Wil­liam Bain­ton. Ben­jamin Kennedy kept his first name but the sur­name was in­vented when he ap­peared in a knock-about va­ri­ety act in the 1890s.

Two women fea­ture in Four Swal­lows and Two Ele­phants. El­iza Ben­nett be­came “Mrs. Patch” sim­ply by mar­ry­ing Wil­liam Patch. Born in 1824, and mar­ried in 1844, El­iza toured the Black Coun­try with a “por­ta­ble the­atre”. In other words the wooden the­atre was pulled down and end­lessly re­built as she trav­elled round the Black Coun­try. Even­tu­ally the the­atre be­came per­ma­nent on a site in the cen­tre of Stour­bridge and El­iza even­tu­ally sold it in 1900, shortly be­fore her death.


At her fu­neral, in Wol­las­ton, a crowd heard Rev Gill­banks de­clare that she would never be for­got­ten. This is par­tic­u­larly poignant as I guess all the char­ac­ters in this book tend to be for­got­ten in the long run!

The fi­nal chap­ter of the book de­scribes the life and work of Brenda Jones. Brenda was born in Wolver­hamp­ton in 1934 but went on to be­come a star of the Amer­i­can cir­cus world. She never fully adopted a stage name like the other char­ac­ters de­scribed here but as a cir­cus per­former she in­vari­ably took the name of the act. She was a bril­liant aeri­al­ist but fell to the ring floor and died in 1976. She is buried in the ceme­tery on the east­ern flank of Sed­g­ley Bea­con and her head­stone car­ries her mar­ried name: Brenda Cut­tin.

Over­all the book is about the busi­ness of cre­at­ing bi­ogra­phies of peo­ple who to some ex­tent are “hid­den” by the use of as­sumed names. It is also keen to ex­plore their con­nec­tion with the Black Coun­try. The ques­tion raised by the book is: “To what ex­tent can the legacy of these peo­ple be pre­served?” Will they have a proper place in the Black Coun­try “Hall of Fame”?

Four Swal­lows and Two Ele­phants is a 180 page pa­per­back, well-il­lus­trated, book. It re­tails at £13.50 but if ob­tained di­rectly from the au­thor the book can be posted or de­liv­ered lo­cally at no ex­tra charge. Con­tact Ned Williams on 01902 773376 or ned­

Brenda Jones in an Amer­i­can cir­cus cos­tume – a long way from home in Wolver­hamp­ton

Irv­ing Bosco – cin­ema pi­o­neer in West Bromwich

with Salt and Saucy the Wolver­hamp­ton Ele­phants

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