Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue

Bessie Bellwood (1856-1896), Victorian music hall entertainer

Music hall entertainer; born Catherine Mahoney 30 March 1856 in London and baptized 4 June 1856 at St George’s Cathedral, Southwark. [1] Worked as a rabbit-skin dresser in Bermondsey, south London; began singing in music halls in her teens; by Christmas 1876 had changed her name to Bessie Bellwood; [2] first performed hit song ‘What cheer, ’Ria’ 1884; in same year married her agent, John Nicholson; career started to falter in early 1890s though a season at Koster and Bial’s Music Hall, New York, in 1895 proved successful; last public appearance at London Pavilion Music Hall, July 1896; died of heart disease 24 September 1896 at home in West Kensington; buried in St Patrick’s Catholic Cemetery, Leytonstone, east London.

Bellwood’s reckless behaviour frequently landed her in court: for assault (1887, 1889, 1893) and for debts (1890, 1895). She defended herself thus in 1895: ‘Asked whether she was a woman of business, witness said she knew her business on the stage, to sing, and dance, and laugh. She was Catholic, and Irish, and therefore straight.’ [3]

The theatrical producer and showman Sir Charles Blake Cochran said of her:

I was very young on the one occasion when I saw Bessie Bellwood, and my very clear impression still remains of an electric personality, exuding cheery friendliness as she came on the stage, with, too, the somewhat defiant attitude of someone who says: ‘I’m as good as you, and if you give me any lip you’ll get more than you expect in return!’ Bessie Bellwood had the gift of being on the friendliest and most intimate terms with her audiences, and her ‘backchat’ was a feature of her turn. [4]

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) Information from Wikipedia (accessed 20 Sept. 2016). Bellwood has no ODNB article and sources disagree on her name, date and place of birth: according to Baker 2005, p.172, she was born Kate Mahoney in Monkstown, Co. Cork in ?1856.
2) Baker 2005, p.172.
3) Weekly Standard and Express (Blackburn), 3 Aug. 1895, p.2.
4) Cochran 1945, pp.43-4.

Referencesback to top

Baker 2005
Baker, R.A., British Music Hall: An Illustrated History, Stroud, Glos., 2005.

Baron 2006
Baron, W., Sickert: Paintings and Drawings, New Haven and London, 2006.

Bromberg 2000
Bromberg, R., Walter Sickert: Prints. A Catalogue Raisonné, New Haven, 2000.

Busby 1976
Busby, R., British Music Hall: An Illustrated Who’s Who from 1850 to the Present Day, London and Salem, NH, 1976.

Cochran 1945
Cochran, C.B., Showman Looks On, London, 1945.

Disher 1974
Disher, M.W., Winkles and Champagne: Comedies and Tragedies of the Music Hall, Bath, 1974.

Emmons 1941
Emmons, R., The Life and Opinions of Walter Richard Sickert, London, 1941.

Felstead 1946
Felstead, S.T., Stars Who Made the Halls: A Hundred Years of English Humour, Harmony and Hilarity, London, 1946.

Hall 1930–34
Hall, L.A., Catalogue of Dramatic Portraits in the Theatre Collection of the Harvard College Library, 4 vols, Cambridge, MA, 1930–34.

Mander & Mitchenson 1974
Mander, R., and J. Mitchenson, British Music Hall, rev. ed., London, 1974.

Shaw 1997
Shaw, G.B., Bernard Shaw on Cinema, ed. B.F. Dukore, Carbondale, IL, 1997.

Sickert 2000
Sickert, W., The Complete Writings on Art, ed. A.G. Robins, Oxford, 2000.