Will the real Roy please stand up?

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May 25, 2015 by auntkatefirmin

Harriet Firmin adopted a daughter Felicia who became an actress. What is the identity of the man Felicia married? Felicia herself performed under different names and was known as “Little Felice,” Felicia Firmin, Felicia Blackley and Felicia Lorraine-Hill (or Lorraine or Hill). At least Felicia is not a common name and she stuck with it!

When Felicia’s husband died in 1967, he was indexed as Roy Lorraine-Hill. His earliest performance notices list him as “Master Roy Lorraine.” A man named Roy L Hill married a woman named Felicia Blackley in 1919. But I’m pretty certain he wasn’t born as Roy Lorraine …

Recently two discoveries have come together: the service record of Thomas Taylor Hill and photographs I took of the diary of of Roy Lorraine when I visited the V & A Theatre & Performance collections. Rather than go back to the very beginning I’ll start with this most recent find to show that Thomas and Roy are the same person.

The documents are separated in time but both contain handwriting of named individuals. On the military records, the signature of Thomas Taylor Hill dates from 1915. The diary of Roy Lorraine dates from 1907 and is inscribed to “Roy Lorraine” from an unknown person.

The signature of Thomas Taylor Hill about 1915.

The signature of Thomas Taylor Hill about 1915.

Roy Lorraine's 16th birthday in 1907.

Roy Lorraine’s 16th birthday in 1907.

The writing of the boy of 16 and the man of 24 are not identical but I think there’s enough resemblance to confirm the other information.  For backup, here is another page of Roy’s diary showing the letter “H” for comparison:

Roy Lorraine's Diary from April 1907.

Roy Lorraine’s Diary from April 1907.

The writing from 1915 is more practiced and confident but there are other reasons to believe this is the same person.

Why would I connect Roy and Thomas? Mostly because officially Roy doesn’t seem to exist prior to the 1911 census. As time went on, I think Roy began to merge his stage identity as Roy Lorraine with his birth as Thomas Taylor Hill into the name of Roy Lorraine-Hill.

Working back in time and starting with the 1911 census, Roy Lorraine (comedian, age 20) and Amy Lorraine (comedienne, age 42) are both boarders at 54 Gurney Street, New Kent Road, Walworth. The census does not confirm their relationship to each other but the 1915 military document does: the mother of Thomas Taylor Hill is Amy Hill living at 54 Gurney Street, Walworth. His father is Thomas Hill, address unknown.

However the evidence is more than just Thomas and Roy living at the same address, Roy in 1911 and Thomas in 1915 and both having a mother named Amy. In fact, before discovering the enlistment paperwork at findmypast.com, there was a fair amount of guesswork involved as Amy is never exactly named as the mother of Roy.

The Amy Lorraine in the 1911 census was the mother of one child with one child living in 1911. Assuming this is correct, and also assuming that she is the mother of the Roy Lorraine at the same boarding house, then if she is the Amy, mother of Thomas Taylor Hill, living at the same boarding house in 1915 that means that Thomas and Roy are the same person. So far it’s an interesting argument but perhaps not compelling so I tried going back in time. The Amy of the 1911 census was born in Jarrow around 1869 and Roy Lorraine was born in Liverpool around 1891.

There was an actress named Amy, age 32, born in Jarrow listed in the 1901 census, Amy Taylor. Amy Taylor lived at 54 Gurney Street and so did Thomas Taylor, age 10, born in Liverpool. Since Amy and Thomas are both boarders we don’t know for a fact that he is her son, but the occupation for Amy as well as the ages and birthplaces match the Amy and Roy from 1911. In his 1907 diary Roy speaks of interviews & engagements for his mother and himself but he did not record his address. Still it seems reasonable to conclude that Amy Taylor/Lorraine/Hill and Roy/Thomas Lorraine/Hill boarded at the same location from at least 1901 to 1915 when they were not on the road based on their performing engagements. A more thorough review of the documents from the Firmin/Lorraine archive may turn up more evidence, although the bulk of the items relate to Felicia rather than Roy or Amy.

Other bits add to the picture: Roy Lorraine returned from a performance in New York City on 23 January 1905 aboard the Minnehaha. Also on board was Alice Lorraine, an adult female British subject – since I can find no other references to an Alice Lorraine, I will assume for the moment that she is also Amy. (She did not need a passport to travel to the US in 1905 so there’s no help there.)

The first mention I can find in a newspaper that is clearly Amy is short and simple: “Mr & Mrs T Taylor (Amy Lorraine) Diesengaged. Heavies, Character, Juveniles, Chambermaids, Wire, 19, Victoria-st, Scarborough.” This was printed 27 July 1889 in The Era, a London theatrical paper. This confirms that Amy Lorraine is also  went by Amy Taylor and that she was performing as early as 1889. The last newspaper clue I can find that places Amy in the same place as Tom Taylor is a performance in 1899 in London. Since both Thomas Taylor and Thomas Hill are common names I have not tried to trace Tom outside a theatrical context.

As the husband of Felicia, Roy was not a primary focus so at first I thought that she had two husbands: Thomas T L Hill (who she married in 1916) and Roy L Hill (who she married in 1919). I couldn’t find a death for Thomas (but stranger things have happened), and I thought it was odd that Harriet’s probate from 1942 referred to her daughter as “Felicia Lorraine-Hill wife of Thomas Taylor Hill” (but then wills do get out of date). It wasn’t until I changed the focus to Roy that the picture became clear.

I found the Thomas born in 1891 in Liverpool that was probably the Thomas Taylor of the 1901 census – Thomas Taylor Hill whose birth was registered in the second quarter of 1891. According to Roy Lorraine’s entry in his diary, he turned 16 on 27 February 1907, which places his birth in the first quarter of 1891, and according to the 1911 census Roy was born in Liverpool so that’s close enough for me. At this point, I really should order the birth certificate in case there’s more information about Amy and any other names she used. Even without the birth certificate there’s a good case that Roy Lorraine is Thomas Taylor Hill and that his father was Thomas Hill who acted using the stage name of Tom Taylor.

The military record serves as a sort of capstone to all the other clues. When Thomas Taylor Hill enlisted in the military it was important to use his most “official” identity. By the 1925 voting register it’s clear that he close to live as Roy Lorraine-Hill, which was sometimes indexed simply as Hill.

The next mystery is who was Amy Lorraine at her birth and how did she choose her stage name? Well – there’s also the mystery of why Felicia married the same man twice  – once to Roy as Felicia Blackley and once to Thomas as Felicia Firmin …

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