JENNY HILL (1849-1896)
Jenny Hill
1   The Song Of The Thrush
2   Masks And Faces
3   Thereby Hangs A Tale
4   I'll Meet You Love, Along The Line
5   Maggie Murphy's Home
6   The Captain With His Whiskers
7   The City Waif
8   The Boy In The Gallery

The first woman to be acclaimed 'Queen of the Halls' was Jenny Hill, who was also the first to be described 'Comedienne'. She was born Elizabeth Jane Thompson in Marylebone in none too salubrious surroundings, her playground the street; her constant companions, the pangs of hunger and cold. While but a child she was found an engagement in a pantomime at the 'Aquarium', Westminster, upon the site of which the Central Hall and Headquarters of the Wesleyan Movement now stands.

Later she was apprenticed to a Bradford publican whose treatment of the waif-like little soul would, today, have brought him into conflict with the authorities. Her day began at 5 a.m. with cleaning the bars, glasses, and scrubbing floors. At opening time, very often without breakfast, Jenny helped to serve drink and between whiles
had to sing to the customers. Often, in spite of regulations, business would be extended to the wee small hours with Jenny in attendance throughout.

Eventually her five years bondage came to an end, and in due course she married John Wilson Woodley, an acrobat who eventually deserted her and their three children; she never saw him again. Scraping together a few pounds, Jenny returned to London where she at once began the weary round of the Music Hall agents without success. One of the gentry with considerable booking influence became annoyed at the persistence shown by her and in order to get rid of her, gave Jenny a note to a prominent proprietor, a Mr. Loibl, telling her that some extra turns were required by that worthy. The note stated that the bearer was becoming a nuisance and there was no necessity for Loibl to bother to see her!

Loibl decided, after seeing the note, to see Jenny anyway and what he did see was a pale, careworn wisp of a woman desperately anxious to convince him of her accomplishments and longing to get back to her baby who had been left in charge of a kindhearted neighbour. He decided to give her a chance that night and fortune was with her, for she met with a tremendous reception, the audience clamouring for
more. Jenny actually sang herself to a standstill and came off hardly able to stand. In fact, George Leybourne, the great 'Lion Comique', practically carried her back on stage to receive the acclaimation of the folk in front. When at last she made her exit the truth came out; poor Jenny was nearly starving. Loibl quickly remedied matters in that respect, gave her lucrative contracts there and then, and presented her with the note the agent had written to him. Jenny read it and promptly fainted.

Her success from that time was, however, assured and she rose to eminence and affluence. Her vivacity and animation caused the theatrical agent Hugh J. Didcott to give her the sobriquet 'The ‘Vital Spark’, a title she used thereafter.

From 1868 to 1893 Hill was at the peak of her fame, enjoying top-billing at music halls in London and the north, usually appearing at three or four different halls a night, earning £30 at each hall.Many and varied were the songs she sang, the best remembered being the tuneful 'Maggie Murphy's Home'. As a descriptive actress her marked ability was shown in her rendering of 'Masks and Faces' an epic portraying the virtuous maiden's downfall and the punishment of the villain responsible.

The years of privation undergone by Jenny, coupled with the strenuous nature of her work, ultimately forced her into retirement and in 1896, aged just 46, she passed from life's stage, greatly mourned by an adoring public. Her daughter, Peggy Pryde, achieved some fame on the Halls and was the wife of Maurice De Frece, a well-known agent.

From 'Music Hall Stars Of The Nineties'
by George Le Roy (Published 1952)

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