I’ve written elsewhere about my great great aunt, Mary Ann Blanch Roe, and her theatrical career as ‘Blanche Vincent’, the singer, burlesque artist and ‘dainty comedienne’. Born in 1857, Mary Ann was the third of the five children of my great great grandparents, Daniel Roe and Mary Ann Blanch, and the older sister of my maternal great grandfather, Joseph Priestley Roe (1862 – 1947).
Blanche Vincent: real name Mary Ann Blanch Kew, née Roe
In about 1875, Mary married Leonard Vincent Kew, with whom she had two children – Ruth, born in 1876, who appears to have died in infancy, and Leonard junior, born in 1880. At around this time, Leonard and Mary launched their careers as theatrical performers, Leonard touring with the D’Oyly Carte Company under the name Leonard Vincent, and Mary – as Blanch Vincent – making her own appearances in theatres throughout England and Ireland.
Until now, the couple’s later lives and careers have been something of a mystery. We’ve known more about their son Leonard junior, his short-lived marriage to Emily Jane Harris, his imprisonment for attempted armed robbery, his second marriage to Dora Booth, his service in the First World War, and his death at the age of thirty-eight. But his parents seemed to have disappeared from the records after about 1910.
However, this week I received an email from Graham Robinson in Brazil, with some intriguing new information about Leonard Kew senior, and a couple of tantalising possibilities concerning Mary Ann.
The last notice I’d found for Leonard’s work with D’Oyly Carte was from 1884. Now Graham has come across a newspaper advertisement from 1885 concerning a certain Leonard Vidal, ‘formerly Leonard Vincent’ (see above). In 1893, another newspaper notice describes Vidal as the stage manager for an amateur performance of The Yeoman of The Guard in Bradford. In 1902 Leonard was living in Ilkeston, Derbyshire, and advertising for work as a ‘general theatrical manager’. By 1904, he was the ‘actor manager’ of the Palace Theatre of Varieties in Leicester.
The Palace Theatre, Leicester, in the early years of the 20th century
Why did Leonard Vincent, or Leonard Vincent Kew, change his name yet again to Leonard Vidal? It may have been to separate himself, both personally and professionally, from his wife Blanch Vincent, a.k.a. Mary Ann Blanch Roe. I’m not sure if the couple were officially divorced, but Graham Robinson has found evidence that Leonard married for a second time, to Millicent Adams, by 1891 at the latest. At the time of the 1901 census, Islington-born theatrical manager Leonard Vidal, 40, his 29-year-old Pembrokeshireshire-born wife Millie, and their 9-year-old Stockport-born son, Leonard Austin Vidal, could be found living in Ilkeston, Derbyshire.
The move to Leicester took place three years later, in 1904, but in 1906 Leonard suffered a fatal heart attack, at the age of 45. On 14th April 1906, The Era, a weekly newspaper, carried an extended report on his sudden death and a detailed account of his funeral, which apparently was attended by ‘a great number of the lamented gentleman’s personal friends’. The floral tributes included one labelled ‘With love from his sorrowing wife, Lenny, and Gerty’. ‘Lenny’ must be Leonard and Millie’s son Leonard Austin Vidal. At first I thought ‘Gerty’ might be a hitherto unknown daughter, but then in the 1911 census I noticed that Millie, now remarried to commercial traveller Ernest Harry Catlow, had a Nottinghamshire-born servant of that name, who probably followed the Vidals to Leicester. The Palace Theatre staged a benefit concert for Leonard Vidal’s widow and son on 17th May 1906.
Notice in ‘The Era’, 5th May 1906 (via britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)
Millie Catlow, formerly Vidal, would remain in Leicester with her new husband. It’s surely no coincidence that Leonard Vincent Kew junior, the child of her late husband’s first marriage to Mary Ann Blanch Roe, also ended up in the city, together with his second wife Dora, working as a gardener, and dying in the local isolation hospital in 1919.
The movements of Blanche Vincent after her divorce or separation from Leonard remain something of a mystery. Graham Robinson has found a notice advertising a concert in Preston featuring Blanche: the latest one that either of us has been able to identify. As Graham points out, it is perhaps significant that Blanch was now performing as part of Fred Karno’s company. Many of Karno’s proteges, most famously Stan Laurel, moved to the United States, and Karno himself would have a brief spell working in Hollywood in the 1920s.
Fred Karno (via Wikipedia)
Graham has come across several references to a Blanche Vincent performing in America after 1910, as an accompanist to the vaudeville performer and later film director Russell Mack. According to Wikipedia, they toured the cabaret circuit as ‘Mack and Vincent’ from 1911 onwards, and there is even a suggestion that they presented themselves to the world as husband and wife. The duo disbanded in 1919.
So did my great great aunt seek her fortune in America, after separating from her husband Leonard Vidal, formerly Vincent, née Kew? My only reservation about this theory concerns ‘our’ Blanche’s age: in 1911 she would have been 54 years old, whereas her stage husband, Russell Mack, would have been barely 20.