In August 1878 Charles Augustus James appeared in court because he had set up his caravans on the corner of Percy Road and Pembroke Road (later renamed Granville Road) in South Kilburn. He traded here as a hawker or ‘cheap jack’ selling various goods. Thomas Diggins, a builder from Devon who lived and worked on the new houses in Pembroke Road, had taken out a summons to stop James trading. James had previously set up his vans nearby on vacant ground in Malvern Road but had been evicted by the owner. So he hired the land in Pembroke Road, moved the vans to the new site and issued the following handbill:
The enemy is defeated. We are not going away – not likely. CA James, the King of all cheap jacks, begs respectfully to inform his friends and customers that he has taken his stand in Pembroke Road Kilburn, where he will sell by auction every night, at seven o’clock pm, a large stock of splendid goods and a £5,000 stock of gold and silver watches of best quality. Working men come in thousands, and support the people’s friend.
James clearly knew how to pull the punters. ‘Hundreds and thousands’ of people assembled around the van every night, blocking the road and requiring large numbers of police to control the crowd. James carried on a roaring trade till eleven and twelve at night. When the summons was served, he read it out to the crowds and offered them gin and tobacco. When he was taken to the High Court James presented a petition in his favour signed by 500 people. He said he’d done all the trade he could in the neighbourhood and was moving on, so the case was adjourned.
James was born in Redditch near Birmingham, in 1850. His father’s jobs – as a needle maker and carpenter – give no clue as to James’ choice of career. By the age of twenty, he’d opted for a nomadic life, working as a travelling salesman-cum-auctioneer from a van, selling goods and taking a percentage from the sales. Sometimes he stayed in lodgings and in 1872 when he married Phoebe Elizabeth Wilson, he was at 15 Austin Road, Battersea. She was a local girl, born in Lambeth and the couple lived at 12 Miles Streetclose to the Oval for a while. After leaving Kilburn, their caravan took the James family to Luton (1878), then Pontardawe South Wales, where their daughter Phoebe was born in 1880. Later they were in Chesterfield and London (1881) where his wife Phoebe died during the latter part of the year. Then back to South Wales where Charles’ ‘American Auction Mart’ in Pontypridd went bankrupt in 1882; Newport (1882) and Nottingham, where Charles married his second wife Minnie Penelope Yates, in 1883.
James appeared in court at Nottingham in September 1883 charged with stealing a ledger belonging to Thomas Harrison, a travelling salesman who said he had £5,000 of stock in different parts of the country. He employed various people including Charles James, on a salary and commission to sell the stock from their vans. Harrison was dissatisfied with the accounts that James had supplied and made a surprise visit to Nottingham. But when he arrived at Dame Agnes Street, he found James had gone to the Derby Races and the van was locked. So Harrison broke in and waited five hours until James returned at 9.00 that evening. A scuffle broke out and Harrison took James to court, whereupon James coolly handed over the ledger and was released without charge.
The move to Dublin
We don’t know why, but by 1892 James had moved to Dublin where he finally settled down, becoming a respected citizen and successful businessman. He took over a disused tailor’s shop at 30 Henry Street and commenced trading. Henry Street was off O’Connell Street in the heart of the city. In February 1892 an advert for ‘Liberty Hall, 30 Henry Street’ appeared, promoting ‘Liquid Electricity: the lightning cure for pain,’ the latest American cure for ‘all kinds of diseases.’ While James’ name doesn’t feature, this was almost certainly his first attempt at moneymaking in Dublin. The enterprise didn’t last long and by July he’d returned to his roots as a skilled salesman. The local press announced the ‘World’s Fair Stores’ at 30 Henry Street where James sold hardware and ‘other useful items,’ and everything cost six and a half pence. Toys were particularly good crowd pullers at Christmas time. He cleverly took the name from the forthcoming World’s Fair in Chicago and the Stores traded for many years. But this wasn’t enough for James. He placed an ad in the ‘wanted’ columns for a ‘small waxwork exhibition or figures suitable for same’ and in December announced the opening of the ‘World’s Fair Waxworks’: Admission to the waxworks was 2d, and for children, a penny. Over the years he added new figures; the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘Death of Nelson’ were first exhibited in 1893. The Henry Street building was on four floors and even had space for a small theatre. James prospered and the family were living comfortably in Strand Road East Pembroke, in 1901 and 1911. By 1912 they had moved to the large mansion ‘Washington Hall’ on Merrion Strand.
Marcella the Midget Queen and other acts
Charles diversified and added extra value to his business. He installed machines such as Kalloscopes that showed stereo photographs, and placed a regular advert in ‘Era’ the entertainment trade paper: ‘always an opening for Refined Freaks and Novelties.’ James avoided the trouble and expense of having to reply to enquiries by saying, ‘Silence a polite negative’. Frank and Emma De Burgh, the American Tattooed Couple and Madame Jelly, the Armless Lady appeared in 1893. ‘Not Wax but Living’ boasted the promotional material, to distinguish such acts from the static exhibition.
Frank and Emma De Burgh were one of the most famous husband and wife attractions. Tattooed in New York City and first exhibited in Berlin in 1891, they took the show biz world by storm. Their tattoos mainly depicted religious scenes or texts, such as The Last Supper and The Calvary.
In June 1893, James advertised the attractions of Monsieur Erskine, shadowographer and Marcella, the Midget Queen. As publicity, he released a balloon from the building and said that anyone returning it to Marcella would receive a five shilling reward. As late as 1899 some people who hadn’t seen her were uncertain if Marcella might be a waxwork: but she was a real person. She was born with dwarfism as Elizabeth (Lizzie) Ellen Paddock in Liverpool on 7 October 1877. Her father George, who came from Gloucester, was a boot closer who sewed the upper part of the shoes. In the 1881 census they were living at 4 Bolton Street Liverpool. This was a small house shared by 14 people. After George’s death in 1888 his widow Elizabeth was left to bring up their five children. She died in 1893 and at this point Lizzie became Marcella, The Midget Queen with Charles James in Dublin. Her card said she was ‘The Smallest Lady Vocalist in the world.’ She sang the songs of the day in the theatre at the top of 30 Henry Street and the audience joined in. Lizzie came on stage in a little carriage drawn by a pony. She had a sweet voice and a good sense of humour. In her contract dated 9 July 1894 she agreed to perform from 2 to till 5, and 6 till 10 pm for the sum of £2 10 shillings a week. It also included the cost of third class fares from Liverpool, where her family still lived, to Dublin.
|Marcella the Midget Queen, or Lizzie Paddock (Victor W. Pitcher)
Sometimes Lizzie helped out in the shop on the ground floor where she sat on a high chair behind the counter. James and his wife were very kind to Lizzie and she became part of their family. In the 1901 census she was living with Charles, his wife Minnie, their son Ernest and daughter Phoebe, at 36 Strand Road, East Pembroke. Phoebe and Lizzie became close friends and did charitable work, where Marcella was much in demand for fundraising events such as Mother’s Union socials. In 1909 Phoebe married German born Victor Zorn, a travelling salesman in toys and fancy goods. In the 1911 census they were at 6 Oak Avenue in Chorlton-cum-Hardy a suburb of Manchester, and Lizzie was visiting them. After Victor’s death, Lizzie lived with Phoebe in the select Donnybrook district of Dublin. Lizzie died in South Dublin in 1955 at the age of 77 and was buried in Deansgrange Cemetery, (Grave Number 99F).
James and Philanthropy
Business thrived and James became famous in Dublin for his annual New Year treats which he gave to the city’s poor: he paid for outings and parties. The Dublin paper Freeman’s Journal for 30 December 1899 said that he would again give out a considerable number of free tickets, each of the holders would receive a 4lb loaf of bread, a quarter pound of tea, and a pound of sugar. In his will James ensured this philanthropy would continue after his death.
In August 1896 thieves broke in and stole all the money from the automatic machines, but they couldn’t get into the safe. In the waxworks room they stole the coat covering the effigy of Mr Parnell and had fun, placing him in a ‘pugilistic position’. Unfortunately, the figures of Bismark, Lady Dunlo (the famous music hall beauty Belle Bilton) and others were smashed.
In 1899 James stood for election in the Dublin Union Board and became a JP. In April 1900 ‘Era’ reported that for his 50thbirthday, James was given a silver card case from Eugenie ‘the scientific palmist’ and a handsome dressing gown from Marcella.
In April 1902 the waxworks suffered a serious fire and all the images, apart from Sleeping Beauty who was protected by a glass case, were destroyed. The cost of the damage was about £1,500 and James had new figures made by Tussauds in London.
|Henry Street in ruins after the Easter Rising in 1916
The Easter 1916 Rising destroyed much of Henry Street which was at the heart of the fighting around the General Post Office. Number 30 was just behind the Post Office. People broke in and took various costumes and uniforms from the waxworks. They also stole mouth organs, melodeons and fiddles which they played in the streets. When some of the wax effigies were put in the windows, immediately a fusillade of bullets came through and the people hiding inside had to duck down until the firing ceased. James Connolly, the Commander of the Dublin Brigade, humorously said, ‘Well boys, ‘tis all over, we bagged three of their Generals’. Then pausing for effect he said, ‘We captured them in the waxworks!’
Charles Augustus James died at his home, Washington Hall in Dublin on 30 March 1917. He was a wealthy man and left £12,064, worth about £540,000 today to his widow Minnie.
|Charles James, his wife Minnie and Marcella at Washington Hall (Victor W. Pitcher)
James Joyce and ‘Ulysses’
James Joyce clearly knew about and had visited the waxworks in Henry Street several times. There are allusions to it in ‘Finnegans Wake’ where Biddy Doran is a kind of performing freak. Also when Kate takes charge of a waxworks there is the sentence, ‘She may be a mere Marcella, this midget madgetcy, Misthress of Arts’.
In his other great novel ‘Ulysses’ Joyce writes with admiration about,
‘The financial success achieved by Charles A. James … at his 6 and 1/2d shop and worlds fancy fair and waxworks exhibition at 30 Henry Street, admission 2d, children 1d’.
At another point his hero Leopold Bloom visits the waxworks and talks about Marcella.
‘Giants, though that is rather a far cry, you see once in a way, Marcella, the midget queen. In these waxworks in Henry Street I myself saw some Aztecs, as they are called, sitting bowlegged, they couldn’t straighten their legs if you paid them.’
So Marcella and Charles James were immortalised in Joyce’s novels.
Back to Kilburn
Back in South Kilburnan illegal fair was set up in September 1880 with swings, shooting galleries, and a steam roundabout with an organ. Once again a cheap jack was selling goods, but he’s not named so we don’t know if this was Charles James. Complaints were made to the police about the nuisance and the noise, but rather surprisingly the magistrate decided it did not constitute an illegal fair.
The following year the 1881 census shows that James William Chipperfield had parked three caravans in Pembroke Road. The vans were home to twenty five people, 11 of them members of the famous Chipperfield family who occupied a van that advertised their ‘Exhibition of Varieties’. James William senior described himself as a musician, as did his son – also called James William – who went on to become a menagerie proprietor and animal trainer: ‘I can train anything from a rabbit to an elephant.’ The family tradition continues right up to today’s Chipperfield Circus.
With thanks to Prof. Tim Conley of Brock University, St Catherines Ontario Canada, for his 2010 paper, ‘Marcella the Midget Queen’ in the James Joyce Quarterly, Vol 48 (1), which includes photos supplied by Victor W. Pitcher, a relation of Marcella.