The 26th of May is World Dracula Day, the day that Bram Stoker’s book of the same name was published in 1897. The Irish born author Abraham Stoker was born in 1847 but had also been perhaps more famous in his lifetime as the manager of the Royal Lyceum Theatre which was owned by actor Sir Henry Irving. Stoker died in 1912.
There is a peculiar connection between James Allison and the Irving – Stoker collaboration. In Dec 1896 James & Lucy Allison gave an interview to an Australian publication called The Referee while they were on tour in Sydney. In the interview James Allison talks about his early career including his first jobs as an opera chorus dancer, including in 1879 at the Lyceum with Henry Irving in The Corsican Brothers. James says he was one of six Pierrots. Henry Irving was indeed rehearsing in 1879 for The Corsican Brothers but delays meant that it did not open until later in 1880. The original 1880 programme does not mention James Allison by name, but then as a junior chorus dancer it wouldn’t.
The 1912 edition of The Stage Year Book announced the launch of a new Music Hall organisation called The Ferrets to promote sociability and good fellowship among the ladies of the profession. Formed in December 1911, the general structure appears to mimic or perhaps ridicule the Grand Order of the Water Rats, the men only club. The Ferrets had a Queen ferret (Miss Ida Rose), Princess ferret (Julia Macarte), Bank ferret (Mrs Arthur Weir) , Musical ferret (Miss Mabel Mavis) and Scribe ferret (Mrs N Alva)
7 Glenshaw Mansions, Brixton
The Ferrets don’t ever seem to take off as a fully fledged organisation and disappear from records. However, the contact address of 7 Glenshaw Mansions, Brixton leads us back to the address of Julia Macarte. The Sisters Macarte (Julia, Cecilia and Adelaide) were internationally acclaimed acrobats and a high wire act. But it was their charitable activities off stage and their social group in Brixton that invented the short lived outing of the Ferrets. Both Julia and Cecilia Macarte dedicated much time and effort to the Music Hall Ladies Guild, an organisation set up for charitable purposes.
Another of the Macarte group was Ellen Coborn, formerly Stokley, the wife of comedian Charles Coburn. Ellen & Charles were married in Belfast in 1882 connecting the Irish links with the Macartes – whose real name was McCarthy. Coborn was most well known for his huge hit ‘The man that broke the bank at Monte Carlo’. The Era newspaper ‘cards’ of Charles Coborn also associate him with 7 Glenshaw mansions.
Over the years Glenshaw Mansions has been home to many music hall and theatrical performers. The most famous of all was Charlie Chaplin at number 15. An English Heritage Blue Plaque was installed in 2017 to commemorate Chaplin and the home where he lived between 1908-1910 with his brother Sydney.
The Macarte Sisters
Julia, Cecilia and Adelaide were born into an acrobatic and circus family. Their grandparents ran Macarte’s Monster Circus in the 1850s. Their father Henry McCarthy performed as a circus acrobat from the age of 6, died in 1924 at the age of 70 and is buried at Brockley cemetery in south London. His address is noted as 53 Brixton Road. Little is known about their mother, who was reputedly a French acrobat. The Macarte sisters acrobatic act culminated in two of the sisters holding the slack wire in their teeth while the third walked across. Poor Adelaide died in 1908. By 1910 they had replaced her with a younger woman called Rosie Foote and continued to perform publicly as Sisters Macarte.
The American and Australian audiences were enthralled and fascinated by the astonishing act. Medical doctors were said to have been brought in to inspect their neck and facial muscles. In an interview for the Australian newspaper The Sun (Sydney) on 20 September 1912 Julia Macarte told the bemused reporter “And don’t ask us what King George asked me.’ Julia went on. “He wanted to know if we were suffragettes.” “We aren’t,” said Rose. “We aren’t in any league against it, but we just don’t believe in it that’s all. We’re neutral.” Cecilia smiled; a neutral sort of smile. “I belong to only one league,” Julia said. “I’m vice-president of the Music-Hall Ladles’ Guild. It’s a benevolent, society, for distressed artists.“
In summer 1912 The Sisters Macarte were in London performing at the London Pavilion with Land of the Lotus the Japanese Mikado influenced scene but according to press reports they discarded their kimono immediately after the musical prelude. They were performing at this time on the same bill as Eadie & Ramsden.
When Eadie & Ramsden returned to London after their Spring season at the Folies Bergère Revue they resumed performing immediately. By July 1912 they were on the programme at the London Pavilion in Piccadilly. Playing the same bill with big stars such as Harry Tate in his hugely famous Motoring sketch, Little Tich, the sisters Macarte and Olga Petrova.