The Macarte Sisters & the women behind the Ferrets

The Sisters Macarte [St Lois Post Dispatch, Missouri. 27 May 1906] (Courtesy of Newspapers.com)

The Ferrets

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)

The Stage Year Book 1912

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.

1911 Electoral register entry. Lambeth ( Ancestry.co.uk)
Music Hall and Theatre Review – Thursday 25 May 1911 ( courtesy British Newspaper Archive)

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.

(British Newspaper Archive)

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

Image courtesy of American Vaudeville Museum Collection from http://speccoll.library.arizona.edu/collections/vaudeville/collection/american-vaudeville-museum-collection/

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.

Passenger List SS Kaiserin Auguste Victoria 10 June 1910 [Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger and Crew Lists]

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.

Land of the Lotus

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.

5 thoughts on “The Macarte Sisters & the women behind the Ferrets”

    1. Really good to read about the local links of this remarkable family of acrobats. Adelaide with other family members is buried in Brockley cemetery and she has featured in guided walks undertaken by the friends group. She died in New York State and I was curious to know if there is any other information on her final years in the USA ?

      Mike Guilfoyle
      Vice-Chair : Friends of Brockley & Ladywell cemeteries.

      1. Thanks Mike, it’s so wonderful to know that the Friends of Brockley & Ladywell Cemeteries have identified Adelaide’s final resting place and featured the Macarte family in guided walks. As it happens, James Allison who is featured across this website is buried in Ladywell cemetery. I look forward to doing the FOBLC walks when next possible. Thanks for letting me know. Chris

  1. Hello Chris,

    Just revisited your website – I was thinking of doing my next Foblc post on AM ? when I read the line on James Allison -after a quick perusal of DOL burial records for the cemetery note that he is buried as : James Jeremiah Beddoe ( aka Allison ) d.1921..appreciate link to another splendid performer ( wonder if the Music Hall Guild are aware he is buried here ? )

    Regards
    Mike

    1. Hi Mike,
      yes that’s right. Sadly the memorial is hardly recognisable. I don’t think the Music Hall Guild are aware but you just reminded me to drop them a note. Have you see the Lambeth Heritage Festival Music Hall Wednesdays programme which starts next week? Your FOBLC post on Adelaide will be most timely and will coordinate well with our talk on Glenshaw Mansions on 16th.
      Regards,
      Chris

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