‘So there was a murder. In 1878 down by the river Thames late at night: it was a man who was killed, his head stoved in with a jagged metal bar – well that was found at the scene afterwards. The man’s name was Robert Curbishley. He was a performer, an excellent acrobat with fast comic’s patter, who could sing too, and he worked in the east end of the city, at Wilton’s Music Hall, reckoned by The London Daily News in 1864 to be ‘‘the handsomest pleasure room in the district’’’.
And so abruptly was the life of poor Robert Curbishley brought violently to its end: but now begins his untold story and the quest to find his murderer. For this was a Victorian ‘whodunnit’ without a neat ending: no one seemed to know anything about the killing and no one was ever brought to stand trial for his murder. Catherine, Robert’s widow, was distraught, warn, cupped hands cradling her most precious possession: a glass paperweight containing an artist’s impression of her man in his Wilton’s costume, beneath which an engraved love-knot entwined their initials ‘R’ and ‘C’ – an enduring symbol of their love. Catherine now put her trust in the power of nemesis, for she firmly believed that – if not in her own time – then in some future age, another human would discover her paperweight, and that the little man inside the glass would provide the inspiration to discover the identity of her Robert’s murderer.
Fast-forward to 2018 where Kate and Bob Wright are trawling through the sale contents of an auction in Hertford: what’s this, then? Oh, a charming paperweight of a Victorian Music Hall performer and the little figure within the glass seems to be calling to them.
Please take time to look at Mike Spencer’s fine photographs of the actors in rehearsal. This has been an exciting all-round creative experience for the children, who – aside from the acting skills they have learnt – have discovered much about the history of the English Music Hall under the inspiration of their English teacher, Becky Hadfield.
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