The next entry reads Alice Burton 9/07/09 and the following Alice Eliza Burton 31/03/09, 25/11/09. These entries relate to the same person.
Alice Eliza was born on 19 June 1859 in Birmingham; her parents were Edward, a comedian and Amelia. The census return, of 1861, records an elder brother, John, born circa 1850 in Nottingham. Edward’s family was a theatrical one; his father had acted and managed the Brighton Theatre and his mother had been an actress. Alice led an itinerant life moving from own town to another; from one theatre to another. As a child, Alice went on the stage; an advertisement in the Era announces the availability of her mother and Alice, ‘Children’s parts, opening of pantomimes’. Alice was nine years old. Her brother, John, who initially worked as a needle maker later entered the profession. By 1881 Edward had retired from the theatre settling in Newcastle upon Tyne where he offered elocution lessons. In 1894 he gave an interview to a local newspaper talking of his experiences as an actor.
As an adult Alice toured across the country travelling from Glasgow to Plymouth; from Newcastle upon Tyne to Blackburn. At one point she was a member of the touring company operated by Marie and Frank Majilton. At the beginning of 1882 Alice is advertising her skills as ‘juveniles, light comedy and burlesque’. Later that year she joined another touring company, Fawcett Lomax, and Company, receiving favourable reviews. One reads, for a performance at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Chester, Alice ‘resumes [her] old parts both in farce and burlesque, and [is] as successful as heretofore’.
By the summer of 1883, Alice’s latest tour had come to an end and she, living in Norwich, advertised for work. After a role which ended early in 1884 Alice, again, advertised; to her resume was added the ability to play ‘chambermaids.’ By the autumn of that year Alice had joined the Compton Comedy Company. The company toured the provinces performing plays from Sheridan’s The Rivals, when Alice’s performance was described as ‘lively’ by one; ‘vivacious’ , to Twelfth Night in Bournemouth. In 1886 the company performed at the Strand Theatre in London for six months before touring the provinces.
In October 1890, the company was performing at the Prince of Wales Theatre in Birmingham. Robert Courtneidge, a comic actor and later a theatre manager, campaigned for better backstage facilities; the dressing rooms were described as ‘the most pronounced evil, insanitary’. He was sued for libel. A letter was published in the press signed by the cast at the Prince of Wales Theatre, among them Alice, in support of Robert. Edward Compton decided to take his company to London persuading Henry James to write a script based on his book, The American. The production premiered in Southport in January 1891. Alice played the part of an old nurse, Mrs Breau ‘who is in possession of the indiscriminating document, played with much discrimination, but her scene with ‘The American’ in the last act might be curtailed with advantage.’ A review a few weeks later dismissed all but a few of the actors: ‘The other expositions were hardly above mediocrity.’ Edward took a lease of the Opera Comique, situated in Westminster off the Strand. Alice either chose not to be part of the Edward’s grand plans or she was replaced after seven tours.
Alice placed an advertisement in the Era on 6 June 1891 seeking employment in the theatre. She was swiftly to perform the lead role in the musical comedy My Sweetheart at the Gaiety Theatre in West Hartlepool followed by a short spell performing in Blyth. From there she moved to Newcastle upon Tyne. Robert Courtneidge was one of the founding members of the Actor’s Association and persuaded Henry Irving to be the first President. Alice was one of the first subscribers. Alice was next engaged for a tour of A Mad Passion playing the juvenile lead. The tour concluded by November and Alice, now resident in Derby, was again seeking work. Alice was taken on to join a company performing at the Rotunda Theatre in Liverpool, the city where she became involved in the suffragette movement. When the run was over Alice moved to Birmingham. Over the next year Alice moved around the country playing small roles or seeking work.
By 1893 Alice, as an actress, has disappeared from the newspapers reinventing herself as a qualified teacher of Pitman’s shorthand offering lessons to the residents of Newcastle upon Tyne. In an interview in Votes for Women several years later Alice said that alongside teaching shorthand she also gave typing and elocution lessons. However, Alice still had the occasional foray back into the world of theatre; she and her father produced a comedy with the local amateur dramatic society and intermittently on the provincial professional stage. In 1906 Alice placed an advertisement in the Era again seeking work in the theatre; ‘character, comedy; old women.’ The following year, Alice joined the WSPU. By 1909 she was the ticket secretary of the Liverpool branch.
Alice along with four other Liverpool women volunteered to attend as the delegates to the Women’s Parliament to be held at Caxton Hall in London. The meeting passed a motion agreeing to deliver a resolution calling for the vote for women to the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith. All five of the women from Liverpool were selected to march to the Houses of Parliament. All were arrested. Alice, who stated she was a teacher, was charged with obstruction. Found guilty she was sentenced to one month in Holloway prison.
On their release, a reception was held with four of the five women as guests of honour, the fifth had received a longer sentence. Alice drew on her thespian history quoting from Macbeth ‘I dare do all the may become a woman, who dares do more, is none’. The women were feted when they returned to Liverpool, conveyed from the station in a decorated carriage to a reception. A few weeks later, Alice participated in another attempt to gain entry to the Houses of Parliament. One hundred and twenty-two were arrested including fourteen men. The records are unclear as to the sentence Alice received. In an interview Alice said that she was drawn to the fight for suffrage due to her ‘practical experience of the underpay of women, having been for some time been manageress of a typewriting firm at 12s 6d a week’.
Alice was arrested for a third time for causing an obstruction in the vicinity of the Houses of Parliament. Brought before the court, the following morning, Alice was discharged along with sixteen of the eighteen defendants; the only person found guilty was Dorothy Pethick, sister of Emmeline Pethick Lawrence. Following the court hearing Alice along with several of her co-defendants were arrested again for breaking windows. The charge brought against Alice was maliciously damaging one pane of glass in a window at the Home Office. She was tried alongside Florence Spong, Hilda Webb, Eva Stevenson, and Kathleen Houston. All were found guilty and sentenced to two months in prison. Although another record notes that Alice was sentenced to one month. Alice had by this stage moved to London; the official records give her occupation as teacher living at 32 The Orchard, Hampstead Gardens. To the magistrate Alice said ‘it [was] a protest against the Government. [I have] no mania for window-breaking’.
Alice and fifteen other women spent Christmas 1910 in prison. The WSPU ensured flowers, books, fruit, and festive food were sent to them. Alice was released on 21 January. Met by a number of WSPU members she was taken to the Kilburn branch for breakfast. Alice sent a message to all the readers of the Votes for Women newspaper thanking them for their support and gifts. A gathering followed at the Athenaeum in Kilburn for all those recently released. Christabel and Adela Pankhurst attended. Alice confessed to being rather ashamed she had not done anything violent to raise awareness of their cause; although she had had thrown three stones at the window the glass did not break. Alice gave an account of her treatment to Dr Jessie Murray ‘Carried across the road frequently and thrown into the crowd. One when down struck on head by uniformed PC. Pain in right side of chest for five weeks after’.
Alice continued to be active for a brief while following her release, addressing an open-air meeting in Walthamstow with Mrs Brindley [see earlier blog] but thereafter, while she donated money to the cause, she does not appear to have been particularly active. Alice disappears from the records and newspapers. It is believed she died in 1934 in Lambeth.