Thursday, February 14, 2013

Remembering The Jester

The Blue Plaque Scheme for the Beeston area took another step forward when, despite the cold weather, there was a good attendance to see the unveiling of the 18th plaque - this time it was to commemorate the life of William Frederick Wallett, the Victorian entertainer.

The event was introduced by Alan Clayton on behalf of the Plaques Group, was hosted by Philip and Jane Darby. the present occupants of  Wallett's home in Beeston and was attended by Broxtowe Mayor, Margaret Handley and by several of Wallett's descendants who unveiled the plaque and who can be seen in the photograph on the right.

Speaking, on the right is Geoffrey Wallis, a great-grandson of William Frederick Wallett. To his right is another great-grandson, John Astle-Fletcher, his wife Jane and their daughter, Sally Ryall-Fletcher.

A number of Wallett artifacts, including a portrait of William Frederick Wallett and a picture showing his appearance before Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, were on display.

I gave a resume of Wallett's life -

William Frederick Wallett was born in Hull in 1813. During a career that spanned over 60 years, he established himself as a master of the theatrical stage and, in particular, the circus ring. He travelled widely throughout the world – across two hemispheres - but most often to the United States where his reputation became particularly well established - and delighted crowded audiences by the originality of his wit and humour.

His performances were more in the tradition of a ‘jester’ than a modern-day ‘clown’. He was a man of striking ability and versatility, of fine physical proportions and graceful deportment and he sported a fine black mustache  He usually dressed in Court Jester's costume with bauble in hand and would declaim witty selections from the poets and quote Shakespeare with telling effect.  He also gave representations of classical statuary and sang witty songs. While perhaps not something that would appeal to audiences today, this was a winning formula in his day.

His undoubted talents as a performer were accompanied by a well-tuned talent for self-publicity. No opportunity was missed  - so when, on the 19th July 1844, he found himself appearing at Windsor Castle in front of Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort with the great Duke of Wellington in attendance, he was received kindly by them and afterwards styled himself  "The Queen's Jester" - of course, with no official royal authority. This was the masterstroke that made him a household name throughout the Midlands and the North in particular, fascinated audiences throughout the world and ensured his place in the history of popular entertainment.

When, in March 1862, Wallett married Sarah Tutin Farmer - the daughter of  John Farmer, then the head of a Nottingham family with diverse business interests in the town - the couple chose to set up their home in Beeston, at first at Spring Villa one of a pair of houses, which stood on the corner of Queens Road and Station Road – where the  Co-op convenience store is now. In 1879, the family - which by then included their two children - moved to a new house that he had built on adjacent land. It was here that Wallett, known as the best raconteur in Nottingham, lived out his life and where many local people sought his company in his old age to enjoy his wit and charm. He died in March 1892. and is buried in Nottingham General Cemetery, where his memorial survives.

The house is now 220 Station Road, on the corner of Grove Street from where the plaque may now be seen.  It is hoped that this plaque will go a long way to re-awakening a local awareness of a remarkable man who chose to live, for much of his life, in Beeston.

More information about William Frederick Wallett and other members of the Wallett family who were active in theatre and circus is available here. It is expected that this will be updated over the next few days.