Memories of Portsmouth's grand old theatres

Belle Reynolds looking rather magnificent..
Belle Reynolds looking rather magnificent..
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With pantomime season almost upon again, us I thought the late grandmother of Tony Martin would be of interest. 

She appeared in pantomime at the Theatre Royal in 1901, and Tony has sent me some press reports from the Portsmouth Evening News  and Hampshire Telegraph on the performance of Belle Reynolds.

Despite glowing reviews her stage career was short lived. 

One of the reports reads, ‘The pantomime season at the Theatre Royal, Portsmouth is now in full swing and the audiences have  been delighted with the charming singing and dancing of the elaborate spectacle.

‘Miss Isa Bowman and Miss Belle Reynolds, as Cinderella and Prince Carini respectively, continue to be a an immense success.’

In a later review the writer is still very impressed with Belle. 

‘Miss Belle Reynolds, as the Prince, has all the dash and vivacity associated with the love-sick swain of the fairy tale.

‘The Brothers Edgar make two ideal ugly sisters, and every evening the crowded house fairly roars at their absurdities.’

I wonder why the Prince was called Carini and not Prince Charming?

Of course, it was well before our time, but does anyone know more of Miss Belle Reynolds in later life?

The photograph shows Belle in a different production.

•I am sure many of you can remember the Empire Theatre in Edinburgh Road which was demolished in 1958 to make way for a supermarket, now a freezer centre.

At one time it was called The Coliseum.

World famous comedian, actor and filmmaker, Charlie Chaplin, made his stage debut there in 1899 when he did a try-out week with the Eight Lancashire Lads – a troupe of clog dancers.

Norman Wisdom also made his debut there in the late 1940s.

Peter Beddoe, born 1936, has dropped me a line asking if anyone can remember his late father, Joseph Robert Jeffery, who managed the Coliseum until 1946.

He also wonders if anyone has a photograph of Joseph? Please call Peter on 07926 368490 if you can assist him.

• Recently I have been writing about Captain Wildman Lushington and his funeral at Christ Church, Widley.

I found out that his coffin was drawn up to to the brow of Portsdown Hill on a gun carriage and I asked if it was hauled by men or horses.

Keith Fisher tells me the 200 RMA men that met the train at Cosham Station may well have pulled the gun carriage with coffin  up Portsdown Hill to the church.

He has evidence of other gun carriage funerals at Christ Church but horses where used in the main.

London Road, from Cosham to the brow, is very steep.

As I have mentioned before, up until 1813 it was even steeper until the brow was lowered by convict labour dropping the summit some 60 feet, that is why there is a dip in Portsdown Hill Road.

Keith went on to say a senior Royal Marine General called Wildman-Lushington was in senior positions during Second World War.

Does anyone know if he was related to the pilot who died in 1913?

• My articles of late on the barquentine Eolus, later renamed the Black Pearl, which visited Portsmouth in the mid-1970s, has brought in much mail.

Diane Wilson, from Lee-on-the-Solent, tells me she used to live in Malta as a navy wife, from 1962 to 1964.

She has been back many times to visit the grave of her son who died in infancy while they were there. 

In recent years, she has visited and eaten on board the Black Pearl and she tells me it is an amazing experience.

The atmosphere is fantastic and the food is lovely as are the staff. It sounds well worth visiting if you go to Malta.

• Chris Matthews dropped me a line. ‘Having just read your article, Happy memories from the school  playing fields, I felt compelled to write to you as I am also an Old Secundrian. I think as I was the 1956 entry year.

'As your article was sport orientated I thought I would mention that as well as a good football team, we also had a very good gym team, of which I am proud to say I was a member.

‘We were Portsmouth Schools champions in, as I remember, 1958/1959.

‘I do remember a photograph of me vaulting over the box also in The Evening News, as it was called then. 

‘I too have attended some of the school reunions and enjoyed the company and the memories.’

Are there any of these gym boys still with us?

Do send a photograph if you have one.