LILIAN LANCASTER (TENNANT) [1852-1939]
Lilian Lancaster is widely known to map enthusiasts, collectors and dealers through the collection of humorous Victorian map drawings which she is said to have produced when in her fifteenth year to amuse & entertain her sick brother whilst he was ill & confined to bed. These 12 anthropomorphic maps of European countries first appeared in printed form in Geographical Fun, Humorous Outlines of Various Countries, published by Hodder and Staughton in London for the Christmas gift market in December 1868. The introduction to the work and the lines of humorous rhyming verse which accompany the map designs are by Aleph, pseudonym of the City Press journalist and Islington antiquary, Dr. William Harvey [1796-1873].
Much mystery has always surrounded the nature of the connection between Harvey and the young Lilian Lancaster and how Harvey may have come into contact with her.
In the course of my investigations tracing Lilian (actually christened Eliza Jane) Lancaster through a wide variety of archives both in the British Isles and overseas, I have uncovered a remarkable picture of Lilian’s life and career that was hitherto completely unknown.
Born in 1852 in the City of London, Lilian witnessed the early loss of her father Thomas Lancaster just before her fourth birthday. Her hard-working widowed mother appears to have continued to work in the City of London in the same profession as her late husband seemingly to try to make ends meet. As a result of her mother’s work, in her youth Lilian appears to have grown up in the company of a close circle of family relatives. These included her aunt and first cousins, the Pococks, a long-established and prominent City and North London family of well-to-do merchants and solicitors. The Pococks also owned considerable land and property in the Islington area and it seems most probable that it was through the Pococks that Lilian first came into contact with Islington resident and local worthy, Dr. William Harvey. We then follow her remarkable career on the stage, as pantomime artiste, comic actress and singer beginning in the early 1870’s, initially as a young actress attached to the Haymarket Theatre. During her stage career, Lilian comes through as a young lady of considerable charisma and stage presence, who also displays a hard-nosed determination and savvy awareness of the legal and contractual niceties of the theatrical business. It may have been through the influence of her elder brother, William James Lancaster who appears in the archives as an actor & Theatrical Manager and his wife, an Irish comedienne, that Lilian was first drawn into a career on the stage. There do not appear to have been any previous family connections with the theatre.
Lilian’s career high point came in 1880-81 when she travels to New York with the George Conquest’s Grim Goblin Pantomime Company to perform the burlesque pantomime, the Grim Goblin on the stage of Wallack’s Theatre. The Grim Goblin got off to a calamitous start when the great George Conquest himself, a renowned acrobat and trapeze artist, suffered a serious accident within only a few days of the show’s opening, falling to the stage and breaking an arm and leg during a dangerous high wire act. Rumours of sabotage abounded and of a mysterious figure lurking in the shadows backstage amid the ropes and slips. At one stage there was concern that Conquest’s leg was so badly broken it might have to be amputated but he recovered, though he would be left with a severe limp for the rest of his life. Several further accidents bedevilled the production in the ensuing days, with one of the principal female trapeze artists also suffering a severe fall. The show was brought to a premature close. Nonetheless it was at Wallack’s Theatre that Lilian herself achieved her first great popular success in America, in a series of lively performances of the Comic song, Lardy dah, Lardy dah! A wonderful social satire, the song recounts the tale of a young girl who admires a handsome but impoverished young city “swell”, a would-be toff trying keep up appearances, endeavouring to impress the ladies, and trying to cut a dash in high society. But it is all show and no substance and behind the swell’s high-rolling facade lie bogus diamonds, paper-glued patent leather shoes that let in the rain, and cheap attire and trappings that unfortunately only serve to further betray his true origins and precarious financial situation:
LARDY DAH, LARDY DAH!
Let me introduce a fellah, Lardy dah, lardy dah!
A fellah who’s a swell-ah, Lardy dah!
As he saunter thro’ the street,
He is just too awful sweet;
To observe him is a treat, Lardy dah, lardy dah!
Tho’ of cash he lacks complete, Lardy dah!
He is in a downtown office, Lardy dah, lardy dah!
And he’s quite a city toff, is, Lardy dah!
He cuts a swell so fine,
And he quite forgets to dine,
Unless he a friend can find, Lardy dah, lardy dah!
As to pay for hash and wine, Lardy dah!
His shirt is very tricky, Lardy dah, lardy dah!
It’s a pair of cuffs and dickey, Lardy dah!
His shoes are patent leather,
But they never stand the weather;
For they’re paper glued together, Lardy dah, lardy dah!
Yes they’re paper, stuck together, Lardy dah!
His bogus diamonds glitter, Lardy dah, lardy dah!
But the girls all smile and titter, Lardy dah!
If he stays out late at night,
And comes home rather tight, ah,
And his luncheon very light, ah, Lardy dah, lardy dah!
And this city swell so slight, Lardy dah!
He wears a penny flower in his coat, Lardy dah!
And a penny paper collar round his throat, Lardy dah!
In his hand a penny stick,
In his mouth a quill tooth pick,
Not a penny in his pocket, Lardy dah! Lardy dah!
Not a penny in his pocket, Lardy dah!
It was this song Lardy dah, Lardy dah! which provides us with the familiar expression we still use today (also spelt: la-di-dah) to denote someone who, like Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced Bouquet), tries to put on airs and graces and act in a snobbish or pretentious fashion!
1880 was also the year of the US Presidential Elections and Lilian bore witness to this important political event in the form of a wonderfully evocative hand-drawn caricature map of the United States which must have been produced during her time in America. In the map the two election candidates, James Garfield (Republican) and Winfield Scott Hancock (Democrat) are depicted as two squabbling children, supervised by the avuncular figure of Uncle Sam.
Lilian toured America in the wake of the Grim Goblin’s failure, taking in performances in Baltimore, Washington & Chicago, before returning to England in 1881, where she enjoyed more challenging classical roles, particularly on tour with the great Shakespearean actor, Barry Sullivan [1821-1891]. In 1884 Lilian married William Edward Tennant, a London tutor and landed proprietor. She does not appear to have carried on with her stage career after her marriage. William died at the young age of 43 in 1897 and Lilian subsequently retired to Brighton, where she would seem to have returned to designing and producing humorous manuscript caricature maps. A fascinating collection of manuscript maps by Lilian, now preserved in the British Library are inscribed with her address in Brighton at this time. The maps that she produced during this period clearly reflect her earlier experiences on the stage and her enduring love and passion for the pantomime.
One such example, Lancashire Bewitched, a Correct Outline with the subtitle The County of Lancaster Bewitched !! (a pun on her name) depicts the county of Lancashire in the form of Little Red Riding Hood. The Big Bad Wolf wearing Grandmother’s bonnet assumes the shape of the Southern Cumberland. Two versions of this map are known, one printed and one manuscript. In the latter version, the figure of Red Riding Hood is overlaid with a contemporary photograph of Lilian herself. In another map of Scotland, the outline and interior of the country is transformed into a pantomime scene from Dick Whittington and his Cat. Through the original 19th Century press cuttings which accompanied the British Library’s collection, it appears that Lilian may actually have produced hand-drawn caricature maps as part of her pantomime or theatrical stage act, probably during the late 1870’s, sitting at the front of the stage and using members of her audience as the models for her map designs. Further examples of her work as a map designer, now working under her married name Lillian Tennant, appeared in 1912 as colour illustrations to E L Hoskyn’s Stories of Old. Like the maps from Geographical Fun, these novel map designs draw their imagery from popular nursery rhyme, history and mythology. The 12 maps incorporate such figures as St.George and the Dragon, St.Patrick, Robert the Bruce and the Spider, Joan of Arc and the Pied Piper of Hammelin. Lilian lived well into her 80’s and died in London in August 1939, just one month before the outbreak of the Second World War.
The artistic and creative talents of the Lancaster family continued through her nieces, Dora and Lilian, the daughters of her elder brother, William James Lancaster. Lilian junior was a noted artist herself, studying at the Slade School of Art under Walter Sickert. In 1921 she married Alfred Clive Gardiner [1891-1960], a well- known poster artist and designer for London Transport and noted book illustrator. He later became Principal of Goldsmiths’ College, London and they had two children. In 1914 Dora married the important sculptor, Edmund Thomas Wyatt Ware (d.1960) and they also had two children.