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Travelling theatre that visited Arnold had popular acts which came to the attention of Notts author DH Lawrence


Before 1911, Arnold had no full-time theatres or music halls locally so travelling the four or five miles in to Nottingham was the only chance most people had of seeing a “professional” live show.

In September, the Arnold Wakes provided local entertainment but this was only once a year.  The Wakes were a festival held each year to commemorate the Nativity of the Virgin Mary in Arnold and were held on the Sunday after September 19.

One other travelling amusement visited the town from time to time, that was the Portable theatre.

Fit-ups, as they were known, became all the rage during the 1800s. The types of shows they provided ranged through melodramas to condensed classics and included ballet, circus, comedy and children’s acts as well as magic acts and waxworks – and of course pantomimes.

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The standard of these portable theatres varied considerable from the very professional to the down right awful.

DH Lawrence

In areas like Arnold, portable theatres was very popular as they could be dismantled and moved easily, setting up on some spare ground.

They were moved about by wagons with all the props, scenery, costumes and the theatre being self packed together.

The owner of the theatre may well have had a live-in van but the performers would stay at an inn or lodgings in the town or village

The company usually consisted of the owner and his family with a few extras employed for each season.

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As the income was dependent on the money raised at the entrance a bad show could mean the end of the road.

One of these fit ups to entertain the people of Arnold, from at least 1887, was the Belmore Pavilion Theatre. They would usually arrive about the start of June, and remain until the Wakes. The members of this company did however receive a low salary, unlike most of the others, as well as their share of the box office take..

This show appears to have been of a better standard than many of the other travelling shows. The stage had a wooden, rather than canvas roof; It had a more substantial structure than the tents used by most companies.

The owner of the Belmore Pavillion Theatre was Charles Belmore-Clifford; he was born in London in 1841.

He started as a member of the Ewers Theatre company, another travelling theatre, in the 1860s. He then left to form then his own company with his wife Elizabeth and mother-in-law Mary Ann Cooke, who were both fellow actors.

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The Belmores had two daughters: Phillis, born 1873 and then Phoebe who was also became an actress in the company. The company staged farces, melodramas and occasionally more serious pieces. Very often, they put on different shows each night, similar to the sea-side shows on the piers in the 1950 and 60s.

He also staged comedy shows for the children where sweets were thrown to the audience.

Belmores Theatre was a regular attraction locally and continued visiting Arnold until about 1910.

Charles Belmore died in Mansfield in 1917.

As a footnote, one famous visitor to Belmores was  D H Lawrence who went to this theatre in 1903. He also visited other shows.  

Teddy Rayner’s ‘Star Theatre’ was part of the company and set up at the Eastwood Statutes Ground, next to the Sun Inn, during Lawrence’s early years.

In 1913, D. H. Lawrence wrote about sitting in a box at an Italian theatre and commented wryly: ‘it’s not like Teddy Rayner’s..

When Lawrence set about forging a career as a novelist he would remember such bloodthirsty theatrical displays. For example, his early novel The White Peacock (1911) describes a travelling theatre, `gloriously named the “Blood-Tub”‘ where audiences spend their time `watching heroes die with much writhing, and heaving, and struggling up to say a word, and collapsing without having said it’.

His 1920 novel The Lost Girl largely revolves around such a travelling theatre, and his later novel Kangaroo (1923) describes how ‘there was murder in the air in the Midlands, among the colliers. In the theatre particularly, a shut-in, awful feeling of souls fit for murder

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