The Pompey girls who sang for the American president – Nostalgia

You may not have heard of her, but from humble beginnings in this drapery and costumiers in Commercial Road, Rosalind Ivy Fuller went on to conquer the world of show business.

Thursday, 18th April 2019, 5:04 pm
Updated Thursday, 18th April 2019, 5:07 pm
Cynthia, Dorothy and Rosalind Fuller

Born in 1892, her father was in business from the late Victorian period until 1908 when he became bankrupt after underwriting a friend who went broke. 

Behind the store was a hall in which Mr Fuller, who had four daughters and a son, organised free entertainment on Sunday afternoons.

He put three of his daughters on the stage to entertain the local populace.

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Fuller & Sons drapers store in Commercial Road, Portsmouth, just up from Charlotte Street junction. Does anyone know what PQR signifies? Photo: Barry Cox postcard collection.

The girls had to sing and play and Rosalind hated every minute of if as she was extremely self-consciousness.

Son Walter, born in 1881, financed the family and encouraged Rosalind to collect and learn folk songs.

In 1911, Rosalind visited the great collector of folk songs, Cecil Sharp. He became entranced with Rosalind’s singing and had her perform at the Festival of Empire and then at Stratford Upon Avon.

American visitors said she would go down well in the States and finance was arranged for Rosalind to tour there.

All three sisters – Cynthia, Dorothy and Rosalind, along with Walter as manager, musical director and chaperone – left England in 1911 and they were an instant success.

They were invited to perform at the White House but they were too busy. 

Rosalind was the star performer of the trio and president Woodrow Wilson did  have them appear at the White House eventually and once at his own residence.

Unfortunately, changing tastes in music and the First World War finished folk singing.

After the war’s end, Rosalind went on stage and travelled to Paris to join the Folies Bergère. Within the year she was back in America and met F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Success followed success and she appeared on stage and in films and she added an ‘e’ to her surname and cropped nine years from her age.

In 1966 she was awarded an MBE. Rosalind died in September 1982 aged 90.

The main picture shows the Fuller and Son’s store in Commercial Road.

The doorway to the right of the blinds was the entrance doorway to the hall at the back of the shop where her singing career began.

Above the shop can be seen an oblique cross with the letters P, Q and R  with another letter off shot. Does anyone know what they stood for?

I read in last Saturday’s Weekend that sales of vinyl records have increased greatly over recent years. There are many new and secondhand gems out there. 

Last year I purchased a new record player to play many of my hundreds of LPs. My grandchildren are fascinated by it. 

Verity, aged seven in May, thought it was some kind of time machine. Her mother Ursula, a young 40, has never had records in her house and even she was amazed at my collection and the special sound.

Seeing her holding a still immaculate Donovan LP from 1967 was like watching someone from Victorian times travelling in time to the present age. Wonderful. 

What makes it for me, though, are the sleeve notes, always of interest.

CDs have notes inserted in the holder but the writing is so small at times it is hard work to read.

The wireless accumulators mentioned two weeks ago brought a memory back to Derek Knight of Milton.

I am still wondering how a child was allowed to run the following errand.

He tells me: ‘I lived in Essex Road, Milton, and there was an accumulator charging business in Milton Market, the row of shops after Devonshire Avenue.

‘It was called Stokes Bicycle Shop and as we didn’t have electricity in the house we had to use accumulators to run the wireless.

‘One of my errands was to take the accumulator to the shop to have it charged and bring another back home. We had two of them.

‘They were lead-acid batteries, the same as in a car but made of glass, and I could see the acid slopping around as I carried it.’ 

Quite unbelievable today.

I thought I had a rough time when I was young but I have been sent a letter by a lady whose name, I think, is Doris Angtestain, from Portsea, who really had it tough .

Doris, now 94, was born in Titchfield.

Aged just five, her job on a Saturday morning was to go to the gas works to get a truck full of coke and then go to the bakery for a loaf.

The truck, with four wheels, was made by her father so she could do all her chores.

Well, that was pretty decent of him, don’t you think?