The Day Aladdin played at Cardiff Arms Park

There was a was remarkable spectacle at Cardiff Arms Park almost 130 years ago, when on Thursday 23 January 1889, Aladdin’s XV took the field to play Dick Whittington’s XV. With the Chinese Professor of Magic, Abanazar, at full back and Widow Twankey and the Emperor Congou in the pack, Aladdin’s team, drawn from the pantomime cast at the Theatre Royal, was a formidable combination. Dick Whittington’s XV, representing the Grand Theatre, was led by Idle Jack and, allegedly, fielded 16 players – presumably 15 plus the cat. The South Wales Daily News reported that the teams were cheered on by a ‘tremendous crowd’ that included the full cast from both theatres. The star of the afternoon was Mr Luke Forster also known as Abanazar. The report does not reveal whether he used his powers of magic but, through his efforts, Aladdin’s XV triumphed …by a try and 4 minors to nil. Not to be outdone, Mr E W Colman, the Grand Theatre’s Idle Jack, was carried from the field on the shoulders of his supporters to celebrate …the run of match from his own 25 to the Royal 25 yard line.

Behind the gaiety this was serious business as the two theatres vied to capture the crowds that flooded into Cardiff each night to attend the pantomimes. Glamorgan Archives holds a collection of playbills used to promote the performances of the pantomime at the Theatre Royal.

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Situated on the corner of Wood Street and St Mary Street, a site later occupied by the Prince of Wales Theatre, the Theatre Royal was built in 1878. In its pomp it held up to 2000 people in an opulent auditorium upholstered with red velvet. Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp was the eighth pantomime to be staged at the Theatre. Through the array of playbills produced for its run, from December 1888 to early February 1889, we can see that it was one of the biggest and most lavish productions of the year. In an effort to attract the crowds the playbills provided details of the cast and a summary of each scene with details of the settings and the acts on show. Every effort was made to fill the theatre night after night, with special trains laid on from Swansea, Merthyr and Rhymney with reduced fares for those purchasing theatre tickets at the station on boarding the train.

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Billed as the …most splendid pantomime in Wales, Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp had twelve scenes, each with ornate scenery depicting streets and markets in China, Aladdin’s Cave, the Flying Palace and the Home of Sphinx. In the reviews published in the local newspapers the scene set in the Halls of the Alhambra, was described as the piece de resistance. Each scene had its lead act and in the Halls of Alhambra the lead was taken by the Sisters Wallace, Fannie, Emmie and Nellie and …their wonderful song and dance specialities. They were supported by the comedians Sawyer and Ellis (described as extraordinary double top boot dancers) as two policemen …who put the House in roars. If that was not enough, the scene closed with the ‘Beautiful Ballet of the Months’ performed by sixty dancers – one of three ballets staged during the performance. The stars of the pantomime were Miss Howe Carewe, described as …a most charming Aladdin and Miss Marie Clavering as the Princess. They were supported by Luke Forster and Frank Irish as Abanazar and Widow Twankey. The lead players were just the tip of the iceberg with the playbills identifying a cast of 30 actors plus an array of supporting roles and dancers.

There are eight playbills at Glamorgan Archives for Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp and they show how the pantomime was adapted and changed during its two month run. The aim was to appeal to all ages and refresh the acts, songs and dances so that people would come back over and over again. For example, by the end of January a set of acrobats and a comic football match had been incorporated into the performance. It was also the practice for the lead actors to be given a benefit night and there are playbills to advertise the nights identified in January for Miss Howe Carewe and others. However, there were signs that all was not well. By January, the playbills confirmed that Marie Clavering had been replaced by Miss Florence Bankhardt, who had arrived …direct from the New Opera House, Chicago, to take the part of the Princess. There were also signs that the comedians were under pressure to improve their act – with mixed results. Commenting on the new material introduced by Frank Irish as Widow Twankey, the South Wales Daily News welcomed the comic account of the Swansea and Cardiff football match but was more circumspect about references to ‘Adam and the fig leaves’.

The fact of the matter was that, although Aladdin was hailed as the finest pantomime staged at the Theatre Royal, there was now a new rival for the pantomime audience in the form of The Grand Theatre of Varieties on Westgate Street. Opened in the previous year, The Grand was staging its first pantomime and its owners were intent on impressing. The Grand was a bigger and more lavish theatre than the Royal and described as one of the most beautiful of its kind. It had also committed an enormous budget to finance its first pantomime, Dick Whittington and His Cat. In late January 1889 the Western Mail reported that there were still thousands flocking each night to The Grand, with many unable to gain admission. The newspaper concluded:

The success is due without a shadow of a doubt, to the all-round excellence of everything that goes to make up the pantomime.

It seems that Aladdin’s XV may have won the game at Cardiff Arms Park. However, the Theatre Royal, despite heroic efforts, came second in the battle of pantomimes 130 years ago in Christmas 1888.  Did someone say ‘Oh no they didn’t’? I’m afraid that the evidence suggests ‘Oh yes they did’!

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

The playbills for the productions at the Theatre Royal between 1885 and 1895, including ‘Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp’, can be seen at Glamorgan Archives, reference D452. The newspaper reports can be found on the Welsh Newspapers Online website. The report for the Cardiff Arms Park match is in the South Wales Daily News for 24 January 1889.

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Conserving Photographs on Glass

The National Coal Board collection at Glamorgan Archives contains around 4000 glass plate negatives, documenting coal mining in South Wales.  These glass plates illustrate a range of subjects concerning colliery life above and below ground.  As glass plates offered more dimensional stability in comparison to plastic supports, they are often found in large industrial collections containing lots of technical imagery and reproductions of maps and plans.

Although the supports provide more chemical stability than their cellulose nitrate and acetate counterparts, glass presents its own problems.  Deterioration can occur in glass, particularly older glass, because it contains water sensitive components which can leach out in fluctuating environments and closed microclimates.  As well as damaging the glass, this process of degradation can also affect the photographic emulsion.

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An example of damaged emulsion

The main issues affecting the glass plate negatives in the NCB collection include broken plates and damaged emulsion.  The broken plates have been given new housing which cushions and separates the shards and allows for the possibility of further treatment in the future.  The plates with damaged emulsion need to be repaired before they can be digitised, re-housed and accessed by the public, making their conservation a high priority.

In October, the Art Gallery of Ontario, in Toronto hosted a workshop on the conservation of photographs on glass, which project conservator Stephanie Jamieson attended, thanks to generous contributions from the Archives and Records Council Wales, the Clothworkers’ Foundation and the Anna Plowden Trust.  This three day course was run by Katherine Whitman, Photograph Conservator at the AGO and Greg Hill, Senior Conservator of Archival Materials and Photographs at the Canadian Conservation Institute.  The course began with a day of lectures on the chemistry and nature of glass, the history of photography on glass and the identification of techniques and materials.  Talks were given by Stephen Koob, Head of Glass Conservation at the Corning Museum; Sophie Hackett, Curator of Photography at the AGO and Katherine Whitman.

The second day focused on teaching repair techniques and storage recommendations.  There was also time to discuss the specifics of individual collections and share experiences of working with this type of material.

On the final day, the course participants got to test out the techniques they had learnt in the AGO’s conservation studio.  This involved repairing broken glass plates and consolidating emulsion.  One repair method used sticky wax to hold the fragments of glass in place while assembling vertically in a vice.  Adhesive was then applied to the break using a piece of steel wool on a stick.

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Trying out the vertical assembly method

To consolidate the damaged emulsion, controlled humidification was applied to the lifting flakes to relax the gelatine before adhesive was brushed onto the glass underneath.  Light pressure was then applied through bondina with a bone folder and the flake was left to dry under weight.

This workshop was extremely applicable to the conservation issues present in the NCB collection at Glamorgan Archives.  The next stage will be to test and perfect these repair techniques before starting work on the damaged glass plate negatives.

Stephanie Jamieson, Glamorgan’s Blood Project Conservator

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‘These men died for their country’: The Penarth War Memorial, November 1924

Amongst the records held at Glamorgan Archives is a programme printed for a ceremony held on 11 November 1924 to unveil the War Memorial in Alexandra Gardens, Penarth.

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The memorial can be seen on the front page of the programme with the inscription, ‘In grateful memory of the men of Penarth who died for their country in the Great War 1914-18’. The date chosen for the ceremony was symbolic in that it marked the sixth anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that had ended the fighting in the Great War – the First World War.

For recent generations, Remembrance Day, on 11 November, has become a feature of life in just about every village and town across the country. It commemorates the signing of the Armistice that ended the Great War in 1918 and those who died in two World Wars and subsequent campaigns. In 1924, however, it was, to some extent, a new development being marked for only the sixth time. Over 700,000 British service men and women had lost their lives in the Great War and the majority were buried overseas, from Flanders to Gallipoli to Palestine. In comparison to previous wars, the losses were immense and led to a demand for a national day of Remembrance. Such was the strength of feeling that in 1924, six years after the end of the fighting, newspapers reported that individuals in several towns and cities had been arrested and taken into protective custody for not observing the two minutes silence on November 11th.

While previous campaigns, including the Crimean and Boer Wars, had been commemorated through the erection of a small number of memorials, the Great War differed in that it had touched just about every community across the land. Each community, therefore, wanted to find an appropriate way to mark the contributions made by local men and women. If you look at the sketch on the front page of the programme you will see, in the background, a military tank. In the years following the Armistice many towns and cities had acquired items of military equipment, often tanks or field guns. They were displayed in public places to both celebrate the victory and as a reminder of those that had died in the conflict.  However, the construction of the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London was symbolic of a campaign to provide a more permanent memorial to the dead. The events in Penarth in November 1924 were, therefore, part of a movement to remember and commemorate the dead that swept across the country. In the Cardiff area alone that day, two new memorials were being unveiled, at the Cardiff Barracks and the Cardiff Royal Infirmary.

It would have been a very emotional day. Two men from Penarth, Richard Wain and Samuel Pearse, had been awarded the Victoria Cross. Wain was born in Penarth and educated at Llandaff Cathedral School and Penarth Grammar. He was a 20 year old acting captain in the Tank Corps when he died in 1917 at the Battle of Cambrai, one of the first engagements where the British Army unleashed its potentially devastating new weapon. Samuel Pearse had left Penarth and emigrated to Australia at the age of 14. He fought with the Australian forces at Gallipoli and later in Egypt and France. After the signing of the Armistice he married in Durham and delayed returning home while his wife was pregnant. He chose to enlist with a number of Australians in the British Army forces being sent to support the White Armies in Russia, and was killed in action, in north Russia, in August 1919.

The scale of the losses was underlined by the number of names inscribed on the Penarth Memorial, some 307. They demonstrated that no section of society was left untouched. Archer Windsor-Clive was the third son of the Earl of Plymouth and had played cricket for Glamorgan and Cambridge. As an officer in the Coldstream Guards, he was one of the first local men to be sent to France and also one of the first to die. He was just 23 years of age when he was killed during the battle of Mons in August 1914, the first month of the War.

The Penarth memorial includes the name of a woman, Emily Ada Pickford. Emily was a local music teacher from Penarth and the conductor of the Penarth Ladies Choir. She was related by marriage to the Pickford family who were local printers and producers of the Penarth Times.  In February 1919 she was in France with a concert party providing entertainment for the troops. She died when, traveling back to Abbeville after an evening concert, her car skidded off the road into the River Somme. By 1924 the Penarth Urban District Council was chaired by Constance Maillard, the first woman to be elected to the Council and the Council’s first woman chair. As the first Secretary of the Penarth Suffragist Society it just possible that Constance was instrumental in ensuring that Emily’s name was included on the Memorial.

While the programme at Glamorgan Archives sets out the details of the unveiling ceremony in 1924, the records of the Penarth Urban District Council tell the story of the decision to commission and erect the monument. The planning for the memorial has been in hand for some time, with the establishment of a sub-committee of the Council in 1923. As a result, the Council had invited Sir William Goscombe John to submit a design for a suitable memorial. Originally from Canton in Cardiff, William Goscombe John was a well-known sculptor who had completed many public monuments across the country, including the John Cory statue in front of City Hall. His skills were in particular demand for the design of War Memorials and, in the same year as the Penarth Memorial was unveiled, he also designed memorials for Llandaff, Carmarthen and the Royal Welch Fusiliers at Wrexham. It was an indication of how important the memorial was that a fee of £2,000 was agreed by the Council which, at current prices, would equate to over £80,000. This was double the initial budget earmarked for the memorial. The original plan was to position the memorial on land opposite Penarth House, but it was eventually agreed that a site in Alexandra Park, overlooking the sea, would be more suitable. The only modification to Sir William’s original design was to add, at the base of the monument, the words ‘These men died for their country. Do ye live for it’.

The unveiling ceremony was no easy matter to arrange. It was originally planned for September 1924 but later revised to 11 November.  It has to be remembered that similar ceremonies were taking place across the country and hopes that prominent figures, including Admiral Earl Beatty, would attend were soon dashed. In the event troops from the Welch Regiment, based at the Cardiff Barracks, provided the guard of honour. The ceremony was led by the local MP, Capt Arthur Evans, and the Rev Hassal Hanmer, both of whom had served in the war, supported by the Penarth Ex Servicemen’s’ Choir.

The task of unveiling the memorial was given to Mrs F Bartlett, Mrs P Fitzgerald and Mr G Hoult. Standing amongst the MPs and ranking soldiers there was one factor that bound the three together. They had each lost three sons in War. The memorial was of white granite with a bronze winged figure of victory, holding a wreath and a sword, standing in the prow of a boat. The programme for the ceremony on 11 November 1924 can be seen at Glamorgan Archives, ref. DXOV3/11. It was retained by Constance Maillard and passed with her papers to the Archives. If you are wondering what happened to Constance, she lived to celebrate her 100th birthday and an invitation to her birthday party is also held at the Archives (ref.: DXFX/8).  The records of the Penarth Urban District Council can also be accessed at Glamorgan Archives, ref. UDPE/C/1/5, with the papers of the Memorial Sub-committee at UDPE/C/1/21. Silent black and white footage of the ceremony has recently been made available by British Film Foundation.

As a postscript, significant restoration work was completed on the Penarth War Memorial as part of the centenary events. It can be seen in Alexandra Gardens, Penarth.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer