Sunday, 1 March 2015

A Victorian Mystery.....

Miss Bella Pateman

It all started when I decided to face the horror of clearing out the space under our stairs! Dubbed ‘the computer room’ it was actually a hidey hole of hell. I rolled up my sleeves and dragged everything out to sort and tidy. Whilst in there I discovered a box of photographs and bits from my Nan’s house. I have dabbled with Family History over the years and absolutely love old photos so this was a double treasure to unearth.

In amongst the photos was an old newspaper cutting with a handwritten message across it. The cutting was the obituary of an old actress called Bella Pateman and the handwritten note was by someone who clearly knew her personally – here was a mystery. Who was Bella and was there a connection to my family?

Finding Bella the actress proved fairly simple – she was a Victorian actress who saw fame both here and in America in the late 1800’s. She was married to another famous actor of the day, Robert Pateman. But I wanted to know more and here is where the story got a little more difficult.

I have access to the Ancestry site and so following up births, marriages and deaths and other useful Census info is usually a time consuming but fruitful job. This one proved otherwise! It seems that Bella and her pre marriage records suffered from a catalogue of alternative spellings and without the magic marriage certificate (which I cannot locate anywhere so far) I cannot be certain I have the right family – but playing along with hunches and some matched details this is what I have so far....

Bella was born in 1846 to Caroline and Robert in Reading. She appears in the 1851 census in Chatham Street as Isabel Radborn living with her parents and siblings. Mr Radborn was an engine cleaner and supported his wife and four children, William, Thomas, Jemima and little Isabel.

By 1861 Mr Radborn had passed away leaving his widow (now documented as Radbowin) with two teenage girls. Jemima is now listed as a 17 year old comedian and Isabel is 15.

I could now link to facts from her professional career, she met and married Robert Pateman in 1869. Robert hailed from Ireland and so far I cannot locate any further information on him. Later that year the newly married Pateman’s set sail for New York. They remained in America touring some of the major theatres for the next few years, returning to the UK in 1876. There are tantalising clues as to the plays they appeared in and some of the famous people of the age that they mixed with. These included their friend Edwin Booth, actor and brother to the notorious John Wilkes Booth who assassinated Lincoln.

Robert Pateman - Google Image

By 1881 the Pateman’s were living in Hammersmith and it was here in 1886 they had a daughter, Isabel Roberta ‘Robbie’ Pateman. They continued living in Hammersmith and then Barnes while taking a number of prominent roles on the London stage. Bella is listed at the Adelphi amongst other places. She carried on as a significant actress until 1902, her last role being that of Lady Ridgeley at the St James’s. Bella died at her home in Barnes on 30th January 1908 at the age of 64. Robbie followed her in 1910 at the young age of 24. Robert continued acting, travelling to the USA for further roles before he, too, passed away in 1924 at the age of 83 leaving the not inconsiderable sum of £11000 to his nephew and another acquaintance.

My Ebay find!

There is still much I do not know. The link between Bella and my family is intriguing. I do have connections to the Reading area and so I assume this is where it might be – but until I can prove Bella’s early details I cannot go further here. An interesting aside, while I was searching for links to Bella I found a signed photograph of her for sale on Ebay. It came as a pair with a signed photo of Hermann Vezin, a well-known American actor of the same period whom Bella had acted with at the Adelphi in a production of ‘Amy Robsart’. Of course I had to buy them! I will continue the search in the hopes that new details come to light and the mystery is finally solved.

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