Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Poole family's Amazing Myriorama show

When Florence Poole married Elver Milsom in 1900 her family was at the peak of their profession, enjoying celebrity status across the country.  Florence was the daughter of Joseph Poole who with his four brothers developed novel techniques in the art of myriorama, introducing explosive special effects, which caused great excitement amongst audiences, especially when the scenery caught fire.

The family business began in the 1840s when Malmesbury brothers George, Walter and Charles Poole, itinerate musicians working south coast resorts, met old showman Moses Gompertz.

By 1863 the brothers were managing Gompertz's panorama and diorama touring productions.  However, it would be their nephews who would take the myriorama, a presentation of painted pictures moving across the stage on rollers, to new heights of popularity.

One of the Poole brothers most successful shows was 'The Bombardment of Alexandria' which included realistic gun fire achieved by a network of brass tubing loaded with small pieces of gun cotton and finely ground gunpowder.  A performance at the Colston Hall in Bristol literally brought the house down when parts of the ceiling plaster fell off.

A handbill advertising the arrival of the show at Lowestoft in September 1896 announced among the many variety acts supporting the myriorama were, soloist Miss Ada Violet Poole (Joseph's daughter) and Professor De Voye's Performing Dogs who waltzed, skipped, somersaulted and sang.

By 1897 the brothers had added 'cinematographie.' a combined film camera, projector and developer, to their repertoire.

Eldest brother Joseph and his wife Susannah led a very peripatetic lifestyle with their four children born on tour - Florence (pictured bride) in Leighton Buzzard, Minnie in Plymouth, Ada in Leek and Joseph junior in Cardiff.

However, Malmesbury continued to remain base camp for the family.  The 1881 census reveals that George had given up the travelling life and was landlord at the Railway Hotel in Malmesbury with his wife and four children, assisted by his parents John and Matilda.

By 1883 Joseph had bought a house named Verona where he established a studio for the maintenance of the paraphernalia associated with the shows.  He later went on to become an Alderman and served as Mayor of Malmesbury in 1890-91.

Florence's wedding took place on August 29, 1900 at the parish church Malmesbury.  Most of the travelling Poole clan were present for the big occasion.  The bride's parents Joseph and Susannah are to the right of the photograph on the end of the front row, with Charles and Fred in the middle row and Harry and George at the back.  In 1901 Florence's sister Ada married Elver's brother Percy B. Milsom, their brother Joseph's business manager.

At the time of the 1900 wedding the Poole family had seven elaborate shows touring the UK, Ireland and the Channel Islands.

The third generation of Poole family entertainers moved into cinema.  Charles Poole junior, son of Charles William, opened Taunton's first cinema, the Empire Electric Picture House in 1910 while Percy Milsom, Ada's husband, managed The Grand Cinema at Newport on the Isle of Wight in the 1920s.

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