I came across these pictures while looking for a complete copy of a single school magazine from Catharine Lodge. At the same class number where the magazine should have been was a small collection of school magazines from Queen’s Gate School, South Kensington. There was a run of the Log as it was known from 1904 to 1912, which is just the period when the Whitelands College May Queen Festival was at its height and around the pivotal moment of the 1908 Chelsea Pageant. I’ve suggested in the past that this period was also the height of a general fascination with amateur dramatics, pageants and ceremonies which involved fancy dress. So I was interested to find a set of photographs which seemed to fit in with all that.
Of course the school play is a time honoured tradition practised in British schools, public and state, for many years so I can’t claim this particular bunch of images represent anything completely distinct and unusual. But they are good photographs and they do fit with a theme I’ve explored in other posts.
Naturally, Queen’s Gate was a single-sex school at the time. So in this 1905 production of a play called Caught set in 1651 during the English Civil War, all the male roles are played by young women, some of whom manage the gender reversal better than others. It’s asking a lot for the young actors to do a different gender and a different age so the bearded gentleman seated on the left looks a little strained. The other seated gentleman who I take to be Charles II looks very much like an actual male actor but is it seems Miss Anne Moorhouse.( You can see her again below). The girls seated on the floor performed a “Peasant dance” as part of the play. (The lady seated next to King Charles looks like a teacher, not in costume).
The teachers also took part in these programmes of entertainment which also featured seperate dance performances and sporting demonstrations. ). Pupils who had recently left the school also came back to take part.
On June 21st 1907 the bill opened with “Pierrot qui rit et Pierot qui pleure”:
The two pierrots were old girls – Hilda Bewicke and Ruth Haslam (who had played a male role in Caught). Miss Halsam also performed a “Spanish Gipsy Dance” later on. The play was “Pity: or Gringoire the Ballad-Monger”, a piece set “about 1470”.
Anne Moorhouse played the title role – standing to the right of the seated King Louis X I who was played by her sister Mary Moorhouse (listed as “Louise” in the magazine – a typo, or a change in convention which adds another layer of ambiguity).
A teacher, Miss Stuart played Simon the draper (on the far left I think) and Hilda Bewicke was also in it (on the right – or is she the one in the white hat?).
“Never were they more successful” says Monique de Gasser of the plays. her article also covers a performance in March 1908 when a duo – Phyllis Heineky (who was one of the peasant dancers in Caught) and Lilian Stewart did a two hander, Love Laughs at the Locksmith. They play a puritan and a royalist in “a turret room at Keystone Farm 1651”.
I don’t know what it’s about. Maybe two nominal enemies coming to a mutual understanding.They both look quite confident.
That issue of the Log also had poetry, a letter from a former pupil in California, a piece on “Individualism versus impartiality in Literature”, an account of a trip to St Ives and a short ghost story. In other words the editors were trying quite hard to show that the pupils were getting a good education.
The 1908-09 issue was another thick volume. In December 1908 there was a peformance of W S Gilbert’s Pygmalion and Galatea and some Greek dances, but the magazine doesn’t include any pictures. There are a couple of the irrepressible Hlida Bewicke though in dance poses. Here’s one of them:
There was also a fencing demonstration:
The short drama in the Variety Entertainment was a contemporary piece about amateur drama, the Final Rehearsal.
The five players including once again Miss Stuart did not have to attempt any male roles (slightly harder in a modern setting I would have thought.). It’s harder to pick out Miss Stuart from the group too. One of the others, Katie Setwart was singled out because she didn’t “lose (any) of her daintiness when impersonating the household drudge.” So there.
The Bazaar of 1912 featured a performance of Moliere’s Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, a revival for the school.
The cast was mostly new, but Phyllis Henekey was back as Dorimene.
I can’t quite make her out.
The costumes of this historical era seem to work best for the young women.
There was also a “Dance of Beauty” featuring some classical costume and urns. (Compare this with a similar set of performers at Whitelands College)
And one simply called Peace.
There had been Dutch, Servian (Serbian), Italian, Turkish and Russian dances that afternoon. The final piece brought warriors and nurses together. “This dance in its refelction of the age struck a sympathetic note in the audience, as was proved by the hearty applause from the over-crowded house.” The dark clouds of the coming war had reached South Kensington which shows the staff and pupils were not living an entirely sheltered existence.
I hope I haven’t given the impression that I was mocking any of these performers. It was good clean fun from an age which might not have been more innocent than ours but definitely had a more earnest sensibility. At Queen’s Gate School the young women could engage in artistic pursuits with no sense of future irony.
With that in mind I urge you to keep an entirely straight face when looking at this final picture of the physical drill class of 1905 who are also trying to be completely serious.
My thanks to the now presumably deceased performers. Queen’s Gate School itself is still going strong. Their website: http://www.queensgate.org.uk/
If any of the current students and staff read this post I’d be happy to hear from you, especially if there are more pictures of these fascinating performances.