Three Generations of Actors

William John Roberts was an actor and comedian in the 19th century in England. I have written a little about him previously here. I’d found William in most of the census but not in 1881 or 1891 nor had I had much luck finding him in 19th century British newspapers, but that has all changed.

I thought he must have a stage name but what was it? A descendant of his sister Martha remembered seeing a playbill that an uncle of his had in England decades ago but couldn’t remember what was on it. His daughter was registered as Eliza Maria Roberts but went by the stage name of Lillie Roberts. I searched on her name in the 19th British century newspapers through the State Library of Victoria’s (SLV) website. If you are a member of the library, free to join, you can access these and other online databases for free from home.

William Roberts – stage name Walter Roberts

There were quite a number of hits on the  name Lillie Roberts and they revealed her father’s stage name. He went by the name of Walter Roberts. In December 1867 Walter was performing in ‘The Village Blacksmith – a Tale of Three Christmas Eves. He played the blacksmith and it was ‘a masterly piece of acting’. Performing alongside him was his daughter Lillie who was an ‘exceedingly clever juvenile actress’. She played the part of Miss Daisy. They were performing at the Theatre Royal in Stockton-on-Tees.

June 1968 saw them performing at the City of London Theatre. They were performing under the management of Messrs W Harmer, F Wright, W E Lane and Walter Roberts. All the men were performing as was Miss Lillie Roberts. The name of the production was ‘Our Dear Old Home’ licensed by the Lord Chamberlain.

By the next February they were performing in Portsmouth as part of Mr Walter Robert’s benefit. He ‘enacted the grandfather with great feeling’ and his ‘clever’ daughter played the part of Little Nell with ‘great truthfulness.

In the Era paper in June 1869 there is a good description of the family. Listed are Mr Walter Roberts, his fourteen year old daughter Lillie and his wife Mrs W Roberts.

Screen Shot 2018-03-04 at 6.04.23 pm
From the Era, May 9, 1969, issue 1598

William was finally found in the 1891 and 1901 census’ enumerated as Walter Roberts. In 1891 he was alone in Longton, Staffordshire and in 1901 he was in London with his second wife Clara Louisa Harsant. He was an actor and she a dressmaker. They had married in London in 1898.

Lillie Roberts had a child with Rupert Samuel Woods, they were married in Sheffield on July 5, 1877. Their child was Daisy Ethel Woods who also was on the stage from an early age. I wonder if she was named for her mother’s earlier part of Miss Daisy. Daisy was born in 1878 in Sheffield and was with her grandmother Ann Maria Roberts nee Griffiss (Griffiths) in 1881 on the night of the census. Later that year she was with her grandfather and parents touring. The Walter Roberts company was on tour with the drama ‘The Dead Letter’. In the cast were Walter Roberts, Rupert Wood, Lillie Roberts, Mrs R Roberts and Little Daisy.  Three generations of the same family on the one stage.

In 1891 Daisy was in London with her parents. They were living at the Queens Music Hall where her father was a secretary. Neither of her parents have been found in the 1901 census. Were they perhaps overseas performing? By 1911 her mother was living with her father enumerated as William Roberts and was a widow with the name of Lillie Bowman. A look at her performances in the contemporary newspapers show that she was performing with a Bowman but again no marriage as found.

Daisy performed under the stage name of Ethel Griffies. I think her stage surname may be a tribute to her grandmother, Ann Maria Griffiss (Griffiths). She married John Walter Williamson Brettell in 1901 at St John the Evangelist church in Walworth, Southwark. His stage name was Walter Beaumont. He died in 1910. She later married Edward Cooper.

Ethel Griffies as she was known to the public died in 1975 at the age of 97. She had performed on Broadway and Hollywood. One of her more well known performances was as Mrs Bundy in Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘the Birds’. She made her last Broadway appearance in 1967 when she was said to be Britain’s oldest living actress.

For all the cousins out there this is on the Baldwin side. William (or Walter’s) sister Maria married Joseph Baldwin and migrated to Australia. The Baldwin’s are on my father’s side of the family.

One thought on “Three Generations of Actors”

  1. Thank you so much for your research and sharing it. Ann Maria Griffies was the sister of my great grandfather. I have been researching my family history especially for my uncle (Ann Maria’s great nephew), who has inherited the family genes – he’s 97. He will be so interested to hear about the success of these relatives. Who knew that when I watched ‘The Birds’ years ago I was watching a relative!


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s