Tag Archives: Brompton Oratory

Amateur dramatics: 1936

This week’s post comes like last week’s from 1936. But the pictures seem a world away from the modernist interiors of those two houses in Old Church Street. The Society of St Genesius was a group of amateur actors associated with the Brompton Oratory and the Oratory School in Chelsea. But these amateur theatricals were not just church hall performances. In May 1936 the Society took the Fortune Theatre in Drury Lane for a week, and presented eight performances of a play first performed only six years before.

Barretts programme

The Barretts of Wimpole Street is Rudolf Besier’s only famous work. It had been turned down by producers in London before being staged in Malvern. Thanks to the interest of the American actress Katharine Cornell it was staged on Broadway and became a major success.  It was quite an ambitious project for the amateur actors of the St Genesius Players.

Barretts 002

The play tells the story of the romance between Robert Browning an aspiring poet and the already successful poet Elizabeth Barrett who was an invalid and in the play at least a virtual prisoner in her home. There is a loving but stern father:

Barretts 011b

And a sister who begs for Elizabeth to be allowed to follow her heart:

Barretts 005a Elizabeth says Let her go papa let her go at once

Some general family activity (I don’t quite know what’s going on here but it looks like a lighter scene):

Barretts 004 Bella Oh uncle you're a darling

Declarations of love:

Barretts 004a Robert I love you

A bit of standing (and sitting) around:

Barretts 009b

Until finally Elizabeth can say farewell to the sickroom:

Barretts 006 Elizabeth says what a glorious triumph

According to one account the week’s run was not particularly profitable but they did get some good reviews. The Catholic Herald said their efforts were “highly creditable”. The Universe singled out Miss O’Neill’s excellent performance as Elizabeth. There was similar praise from the Star, the Morning Post and the West London Press. So let the cast take a bow:

Barretts cast

A year later the players tried something different:

At the Villa Rose programme

A E W Mason is remembered now mostly for the novel of imperial adventure The Four Feathers but he also wrote detective novels and plays. At the Villa Rose was published as a novel in 1910 but updated for the stage. Miss M O’Neill who took the leading role in Barretts played the villainous maid Helene Vauquier who conspires to kill her employer Mme Dauvray and put the blame on her innocent companion Celia Harland (Miss N Batson,who played one of the Barrett sisters). Here she looks on as the sinister fortune teller (and gang leader) hoodwinks Mme Dauvray.

At the Villa Rose 004b

Celia is kidnapped by the gang and spirited away to Geneva for a little bit of bondage.

At the Villa Rose 002a

This was performed in the school hall. (Relatively innocent times, these).

Fortunately Mason’s regular detective Inspector Hanaud is on hand to solve the case. Hanaud is one of the first 20th century fictional detectives, thought to have been one of the models for Hercule Poirot. He is played by the troupe’s leading actor Tom Riley who had played the stern Mr Barrett.

At the Villa Rose 003a

He seizes the villains, and rescues the comatose Celia before her face can be dowsed with vitriol (Bondage and an acid attack. Strong stuff)

At the Villa Rose 003b

She revives for a romantic moment with the Inspector.

At the Villa Rose 004a

There’s just time for the obligatory cast photo.

At the Villa Rose 005a

And although they didn’t get to perform the play in a west end theatre they got a rave review in the West London Press. I won’t reproduce it – too many spoilers.


St Genesius is of course the patron saint of actors.

The Barretts of Wimpole Street was filmed twice, but At the Villa Rose was filmed three times, including a silent version in 1920.

By next week we may be able to leave the 1930s.

The artist in the mirror world – Yoshio Markino

Some years after Mortimer Menpes made his first journeys to Japan and brought a Western sensibility to an Eastern country, another artist was making the same journey in reverse. Yoshio Markino (Heiji Makino as he was born, in 1869) sailed from Yokohama to San Francisco at the age of 24. In 1897 he travelled to London where he stayed for more than forty years, bringing the artistic sensibility of Japan to his new home.

Markino lived in various parts of London including Greenwich, New Cross, Kensal Rise, Norwood and Brixton. But he found his longest lasting home in Kensington and Chelsea.

Chelsea Embankment - JAIL

He painted the city in many moods but his preference seemed to be for overcast  days, for night time and above all for fog.  London in mist is far above my own ideal….the colour and its effect are most wonderful. I think London without mists would be like a bride without a trousseau….The London mist attracts me so that I do not feel I could live any other place but London.

He was sometimes called the painter of fog.

The Thames at Ranelagh - JAIL

Some of the figures in his pictures look lost and lonely as if he was anticipating the night time urban views of Edward Hopper. Here is a view of his lodging house in Sydney Street.

Copy of Our Lodgings in Sydney Street RAR

The monochrome view makes the street look grim and cold. But there were bright lights in the misty places as in this picture of Earls Court Station.

Earls Court Station - JAIL

Look at the bright clothes of the two women in the foreground, travelling to or from a theatre or the nearby exhibition centre:

The Lake Earls Court by night COL

There is that Japanese love of water too. The wet pavement reflects everything as if the whole city was built on a lake.

Sloane Square wet day COL

“A wet day in Sloane Square”

He did venture out in daylight too but as he says December is my favourite month in London.

Cale Street Chelsea in snow January 1907

Cale Street, quite close to his lodging house, perhaps looking out of the window.

There were some summer and autumn days, never entirely without the hint of mist.

Reading in Kensington Gardens - JB

A woman sits reading in Kensington Gardens. A little further south there were crowds in Brompton Road outside the  museums Markino admired.

Outside South Kensington Museum - JAIL

But it was the gloom he loved best, the glimpses of people entering or leaving  brightly lit interiors setting out on a night time journey.

The Oratory Brompton Road COL

Here at Brompton Oratory, or below at the Carlton Hotel.

The porch of the Carlton Hotel at night COL

Markino wrote several books about his life in London. He experienced hardship and illness before he could make a comfortable living as a freelance artist and writer but never lost his commitment to his adopted home. At one point he worked for a stonemason in Norwood designing angels  for memorials in the nearby cemetery. The stonemason regretfully let him go because his angels were too feminine – “more like ballet girls than angels”.

Perhaps the feeling of being a stranger gives his pictures that air of lonely detachment. I was pleased to find this one in My Recollections and Reflections (1913).

Copy of Thistle Grove RAR

Thistle Grove with its Narnian lamposts which bring back memories of William Cowen the water colour artist who painted that area nearly seventy years before.  It’s difficult to be sure whether this view is looking north or south. Because of the wall I’m leaning towards the Fulham Road end. Not so far from this scene:

Fulham Road - JAIL

The tall grimy buildings, the distant tower of St Stephen’s hospital, the shadows, the damp, the mist and amid the gloom the lights of shops and the brightness of the people living in the dark city.


I had only been vaguely aware of Markino when I was looking for something to follow up last week’s post on Menpes. And this, if you don’t mind me saying, is the value of  special collections in libraries, in our case of biographies and books about London. I found  a great many pictures by Markino in his memoirs and his collaborations with other writers. The  quotations come from the introductory essay in The Colour of London.

Like Mortimer Menpes we may come back to Yushio Markino.

A Japanese artist in London (1912)

My recollections and reflections (1913)

The colour of London (with W J Loftie) (1907)

Yoshio Markino: a Japanese artist in Edwardian London (1995). By Sammy I. Tsunematsu.

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