The decline of the Music Hall and Vulcana’s accident!
Approaching the new decade of 1930 the music hall was beginning to decline perhaps it was due to the popularity of the cinema but for whatever reason Atlas and Vulcana decided to retire. She was after all 55 years old in 1930 and although the ATLAS GIRLS were now with them as performers it was unlikely that the show would go on without Atlas and Vulcana. I believe they finally retired in 1932 and lived permanently in London.
The following photographs show her with members of the troupe in their costumes which are unusual group pictures as she is usually alone or with their daughters. She is obviously a mature woman in this group as are two of the others.
The following are of Vulcana in her later years, at the time she was performing with her two daughters as these publicity shots show.
This is her with my Grandmother Mona in a gorgeous beaded costume.
With Mona and Nora (with short hair) in some differing outfits
Note Vulcana’s long hair in the second picture and the one below. It was her pride and joy!
Costumes varied for Vulcana and the girls!
Shirt and tie with shorts.
Music hall continued during the interwar period, but no longer as the single dominant form of popular entertainment in Britain. The improvement of cinema, the development of radio, and the cheapening of the gramophone damaged its popularity greatly. It now had to compete with jazz, swing and big band dance music. Licensing restrictions also changed its character.
My father who was born to Mona and Hayden her husband in 1925 had lived with his Welsh Grandparents since he was a baby due to his mother Mona and his father travelling with Atlas and Vulcana. He had had a wonderful some what idyllic childhood growing up in Wales until he was seven when his Paternal Grandmother Sarah died in 1932. Now it was felt that he should go to London as the touring was over and should live with his parents in London. It must have been a real shock to him to be uprooted from all he knew so well. His parents had visited him when they could but he had not lived with them so this was to be a new life for him and his family. His parents now had a younger brother for my father and he says he has a vivid memory of arriving at the house and looking down to the basement window and there he saw his little brother peering up at him “like a pale fish in a well” I have always remembered this sentence as it must have made a huge impact on Dad as a seven year old and is wonderfully vivid. This was when he got to know Atlas and Vulcana and hear all the family stories. After living with his Grandparents for a while his parents moved to a home near by with his little family as it was then. For the next seven years he was able to really get to know his Grandparents as he visited whenever he could even when he was later in boarding school in the holidays.
1939 Vulcana’s Death?
In 1939 when Vulcana was 64 years old she was knocked down in the street by a London cab. As she lay on the road she heard someone say “She’s gone”. Unable to move or speak she was taken to the mortuary and laid out on a slab. For some time she lay there probably going in and out of consciousness but with some realization of what was going on. After what must have felt like an eternity a mortuary attendant noticed a tear was running down the side of her face and knew this would not happen if she was really dead! The alarm was raised and she was hurriedly transferred to the hospital. The family were shocked to think of the close shave she had had but were sad when later it was realized that she had some brain damage due to lack of oxygen. The beautiful, strong and vibrant woman who William had fallen in love with all those years ago when she was just a young woman was never to be the same again. She had been the star of the show and had worked hard all her life, at times she had commented that she was never allowed to be a proper mother to her children as she was always travelling. However they had managed to maintain a large family of six who I know relatively little about which makes me think I must do more research on their other children. What I think is correct is that they had Ernest Augustus in 1892 (there is some doubt in my mind about which woman was his mother but it has been said he was Vulcana’s), Nora in 1896/7, Mona in 1901, William in 1903, Hedley in 1909 and Arthur who’s date I do not know. She had carried and given birth to all these children whilst working for as long as she could. I find this incredible but that is just part of her amazing story.
Atlas who the world thought was her brother was devoted in his care of her. He had supported his wife in Wales and had provided for his family there. Some of these joined the troupe when they were old enough and were still on good terms with Atlas and Vulcana. But now he concentrated on caring for Vulcana until his death.
The following two photographs are of Vulcana on the left as an older woman possibly before her accident. On the right is what appears to be his wife Alice, as it is the only other older woman he photographed as a portrait.
Atlas hasn’t been mentioned as much as Vulcana in this family story but he was always behind the scenes as manager, publicist, promoter trainer and performer. He also was very involved as a Mason and was at this time Master of a Lodge so perhaps he had help from the Masons in his later years as he had done so much with the Masons in earlier years. He belonged to the Liverpool Dramatic Lodge, The Lodge of King Solomon’s Temple, The Cranbourne Lodge, The Chelsea Lodge and the Proscenium Lodge the last two of which he was Worshipful Master
Here are some photograph of him another in his regalia also one in his later years.
Atlas is still caring for Vulcana until his death on May 13th 1946 aged 83.
July 20th 1946 – their younger daughter Mona ( my Grandmother) dies in the same summer of that year aged 45.
August 8th 1946 – Vulcana dies. Her age was given as 72 in the press.
Atlas and Vulcana were buried in Streatham Park Cemetery where they are laid to rest in a Variety Artists grave.
That brought an end to the life and loves of the strongwoman and her strongman who traveled the world when she became a star of the Music Hall. I like to think she must have inspired a lot of women to take fitness more seriously especially as she was so widely featured in publications such as Health and Fitness at the time. However she also has a legacy in the 21st century.