Mary Ann Blanch Roe was the third of the five children of my great great grandparents Daniel and Mary Ann Roe. Born in 1857 at Herberts Passage, off the Strand, Mary Ann was christened, together with her brothers Daniel Ellis and John Richard, at St James’ church, Piccadilly, in 1861. By then, the Roes were living in Great Crown Court, Soho. By the time of the next census, in 1871, Mary Ann’s parents would be dead and she and her siblings were being looked after by their grandmother Keziah Blanch in Broad Street, Soho. Mary Ann Blanch Roe was now fourteen years old and an orphan.
For a long time I could find out nothing about Mary Ann after 1871, until I was contacted by Sara Calvert, who is one of her descendants. Sara shared the fascinating information that, at some point in the mid 1870s, Mary Ann Blanch Roe married Leonard Kew, an actor and comedian, and that the couple both made careers as theatrical performers.
St John’s College, Hurstpierpoint, Sussex
Leonard Kew was born in Islington in 1855 and was the eldest child of Leonard Alfred Kew, described variously as a mercantile clerk and stockbroker, and his wife, the grandly named Caroline Marian Charlotte Adelaide Vanderpant. Born in Great Munden, Hertfordshire, Caroline was the daughter of Dirk Vanderpant, a Dutch military officer who gave himself the suffix ‘Esquire’ when he wrote his will in 1841. Leonard Kew the younger grew up in Clapham with his parents and four younger sisters. His parents could afford to keep a domestic servant and to send Leonard away to boarding school: the 1871 census finds him, aged seventeen, a pupil at St John’s College in Hurstpierpoint, Sussex.
Leonard’s mother Caroline died in 1864 at the age of thirty-two and in 1872 his father married again, to Elizabeth Thimbleby, and moved to South Hornsey. However, Leonard Kew the elder died in 1876. By that date, Leonard Kew the younger and Mary Ann Blanch Roe must already have been married (though I’ve yet to find a record of their marriage), since their daughter Ruth was said to have been born in about 1875, in Mary Ann’s home parish of St James, Westminster. That was where Mary Ann had been living, with her grandmother Keziah Blanch, before her marriage. It’s surely no coincidence that Leonard and Mary Ann Kew’s second child would be born in Ealing, where Keziah had moved by 1881. Leonard Vincent Kew was christened at St Peter’s church in Ealing on 9th October 1887 but, according to census and other records, he had actually been born six years earlier. The parish register gives his father’s profession as ‘actor’.
Ruth Kew was five years old and Leonard Vincent six months old when the 1881 census was taken. It finds both children living with their great grandmother Keziah Blanch, her daughter Eliza Maria Blanch and granddaughter Flora Blanch, at Cumberland Terrace, Ealing. Neither of their parents was present, and when we search the census records for them, we discover why. On the day of the census, Leonard Vincent, a twenty-six-year-old actor, and his wife Blanch Vincent, a twenty-four-year-old actress, both said to be from Islington, Middlesex, were boarding at a house in Scarborough Street, West Hartlepool, County Durham. Apparently Leonard Vincent and Blanch (or Blanche) Vincent were the stage names of Leonard and Mary Ann Kew.
Newspaper advertisement for performance featuring Leonard Vincent (via britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)
On Wednesday 30th March 1881, just a few days before the census was taken, the Northern Evening Mail carried an advertisement for a performance at the Gaiety Theatre in West Hartlepool of Offenbach’s comic opera Madame Favart, with Mr Leonard Vincent in the leading role of Charles Favart. In the following year, Leonard would be performing with ‘Mr D’Oyly Carte’s Opera Company’ in Dublin, in Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘New and Original Aesthetic Opera’ Patience. He was obviously a regular member of the company by this time, since an announcement in the same of year of his appearance in the annual pantomime at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth carried the rider, ‘By permission of Mr D’Oyly Carte’. A year later, also in Plymouth, Leonard was one of the ‘celebrities’ making an appearance as the Khedive in a ‘Grand Egyptian Spectacle’ (featuring a live camel) as part of the ‘grand Christmas pantomime’ Robinson Crusoe.
The website of the D’Oyly Carte Company includes the following information about Leonard Vincent:
Leonard Vincent appeared on tour with Mr. D’Oyly Carte’s “D” Company in the first provincial production of Patience from August to December 1881. A chorister in Patience, he also played the role of Mr. Wallaby in the Desprez & Solomon companion piece Quite an Adventure. Vincent later toured with Mr. D’Oyly Carte’s No. 1 “Patience” Company in 1882-83. In 1882 he played Mr. Wranglebury in another curtain-raiser, Mock Turtles, and in December of that year filled in briefly for Walter Greyling as Archibald Grosvenor in Patience. In May 1883 he was once more playing a part in a Patience curtain-raiser:this time as Sisyphus Twister in a piece called Matrimony, or, Six & Six Where Suited. He also served in the chorus with Carte’s No. 1 “Iolanthe” Company in 1884.
Photograph of Blanche Vincent, date unknown (via its-behind-you.com)
As for Leonard’s wife Mary Ann – ‘Blanche Vincent’ – she seems to have made a stage career of her own, and is described in newspaper advertisements of the time variously as a vocalist, a burlesque artiste, and a ‘dainty comedienne’. I’ve found notices of her performances in a variety of theatres, including those in Plymouth, Hull, Belfast and Dublin. Her heyday seems to have been the first decade of the twentieth century, with the last notice I’ve found being from 1910.
I can find no trace of the couple in later census records: their use of stage names (even in official records), and their itinerant lifestyle, makes them particularly difficult to find. Nor have I come across any later records for their daughter Ruth, so she may not have survived to adulthood. As for Leonard and Mary Ann Kew’s son Leonard, he seems to have had to fend for himself from an early age, while his parents were travelling the country performing. At the time of the 1901 census, he was boarding with gardener Charles Shallis and his family in Glenfield Road, Ealing, and working as a ‘House Boy. Boots etc.’ – presumably some kind of domestic servant?
On 12th August 1906 Leonard Vincent Kew, now employed as a painter, married Emily Jane Harris, at the parish church in Hayes, Middlesex, where they were both said to be living. Leonard’s father’s name is given as ‘Vincent Kew’ and his occupation, enigmatically, as ‘professional’. No members of Leonard’s family were among the witnesses. Leonard and Emily would have a number of children together, all of whom bore the double-barrelled surname Vincent-Kew, including Leonard James, born in 1907; Kezia, 1908, her name presumably a tribute to the fondly-remembered great grandmother who looked after Leonard as a child; Hilda, 1910; and William,1912. Kezia died when she was only a few months old.
Report of Leonard Vincent Kew’s arrest, Nottingham Evening Post, 1st November 1901 (via britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)
In 1901 Leonard and an associate had been remanded in custody after being found loitering in Kilburn High Road at three o’clock in the morning carrying weapons and house-breaking tools. The case was tried at the Old Bailey with the following result: ‘A conviction was proved against Kew, and property was found at their lodgings connected with other cases. Five years’ penal servitude.’ At the time of the 1911 census Leonard was behind bars again. The census record finds Leonard Vincent Kew, a twenty-nine-year-old married man born in Ealing, at Portland Prison in Dorset, where he was employed as a ‘tinsmith – bottles and cans’, which must have been preferable to the stone quarrying in which some of his fellow convicts were engaged. Meanwhile, his wife Emily was staying with her parents and siblings at their home in Hayes, together with her three-year-old son Leonard and nine-month-old daughter Hilda. Emily was making ends meet by working as a gramophone record ‘edge grinder’.
Leonard Vincent Kew was released from prison in time to serve in the First World War, enlisting as a private in the Royal Army Service Corps in 1915. He was living in Bakers Lane, Ealing at the time and gave his occupation as motor fitter. Leonard’s army pension record informs us that his wife Emily had deserted her husband in 1914 (perhaps when he was in prison). Her name has been crossed out in the record and that of Dora Booth substituted, though I can’t find any evidence of their marriage.
Leonard Vincent Kew saw active service in France but was discharged in 1918 on the grounds of sickness. After the war he and Dora moved to Leicester where he worked briefly as a gardener. However, whether as a result of his earlier illness or from other causes, Leonard Vincent Kew died on 13th March 1919 at the Sanatorium Isolation Hospital. His effects, worth £50, were passed to his widow, named as Dora Wonocott Kew.
I don’t know when Leonard (‘Vincent’) and Mary Ann (‘Blanche Vincent’) Kew died, or whether they had any contact with their wayward son. Since ‘Blanche’, at least, was still working as late as 1910, she must surely have been aware of Leonard junior’s criminal activities. Whether she had any contact with him, or what kind of relationship if any existed between the celebrated ‘dainty comedienne’ and her son the convict, is an open question.