Well, no matter how long you’ve known them, your friends never lose the capacity to surprise you. Jo Armitage, with whom I worked back when I was represented by the Curtis Brown Agency, read my last entry on the British Library’s Victorian Entertainments exhibition and wrote:
Well I never, just read the blog about your visit to the BL. Can’t remember if I’ve ever told you but my great grandparents (paternal side – Armitage) were a part of the George Sangers Circus. I believe that my great grandfather Armitage was a Ringmaster for them. Small world and when they left the circus he became the Manager for one of the Music Halls in SW London (think Clapham but not sure).
In dire need of some diversion on this election-dominated morning, I flipped through Sanger’s autobiography Seventy Years a Showman and spent some time down the wonderful rabbit-hole of information that is the Arthur Lloyd Music Hall and Theatre History site. If the Clapham association is correct, then it’s quite possible that Grandpere Armitage may have been involved with Dan Leno’s ventures in the area. Leno lived in nearby Clapham Park and was a partner in a business consortium that first took over Munt’s Hall on St John’s Hill, renaming it The Grand Hall of Varieties before going on to commission and build Clapham Junction’s Grand Theatre. I turned up nothing useful that I could add to the family story, but was grateful for the excuse to go browsing.
When I asked Jo for permission to pass this along she added that the Ringmaster story came from relatives who are no longer around, so she’d no immediate means of corroborating it. But that her great grandfather worked for Sanger, and met and married her great grandmother while both were in the showman’s employ, is beyond doubt.