Sunday, March 21, 2010

Constance Burleigh

(Update: 22 March: Thanks to finding Eric Burleigh on the 1911 census I've now resolved number of problems relating to researching Constance Burleigh. Rather than fully revising the original posting, I'll add some additional material at the end.)

Sometimes the most minor authors can be the most difficult to research, although I thought at first that Constance Burleigh was not going to prove much of a problem. She turns up on the 1901 census which gives some useful information about her and her family, namely that she was born in around 1882/83 in Bedford, Bedfordshire, the second of five children who were living with their parents Charles and Lucy G. Burleigh in Croydon, Surrey. Dad Charles, born in Blackheath, Kent, in around 1863, was the proprietor of a steam laundry and elder brother Eric was a manufacturer's clerk, aged 20.

The first clue that there was going to be a problem was that Lucy G., the mother of the family, was only 35 and was unlikely to have had a 20-year-old son. Not impossible, but unlikely. There was something of a gap between the second and third child and the fourth and fifth child which made me think that Lucy might be the second wife of Charles, married to him around maybe 1887 or maybe 1897. A look in marriage records turned up nothing. Problem number 1.

Nor was there any sign of Constance Burleigh in the 1891 census although I did eventually track down some of her family. Thanks to OCR they were listed as Burlergen on the Find My Past records and Burleyson at In 1891 Charles and Lucy (or Gwendoline as she was listed) were boarding at 22 Hanover Crescent, Leeds, with children Maud and Bertram. But no Constance or Eric. Problem number 2.

Working forward from 1901 proved that the family had quite interesting theatrical careers. Maud Gwendolen Burleigh, born in Birmingham in 1889 (and one of only two of the children I could trace a birth record for, although annoyingly listed as Maud Guendolen Burleigh), was later to become a dancer and singer at the Drury Lane Theatre. This little snippet was appended to the IMDB entry of her younger brother, Charles Bertram Burleigh, who dropped his first name and was a prolific actor for many years. Born in Birmingham in 1890, he appeared in dozens of silent movies as can be seen in his entry at imdb. Bertram subsequently retired from acting and turned to management: his later career involved managing theatres, hotels and inns. He was married in 1912 to actress Dorothy Margaret Green, although they divorced in 1924; he re-married in 1946 to Mary E. Reay (the former wife of Herbert M. Sabiston), but died, in Goring-by-Sea, Sussex, only five years later on 24 April 1951. Proving it's a small world, Bertram starred alongside Meggie Albanesi in The Great Day (1922), daughter of Effie Adelaide Rowlands, who was the subject of one of these columns only recently.

Constance Burleigh was also an actress, active in the 1920s and 1930s, and a journalist, contributing to Cinema Chat. In 1925 she penned a book entitled Etiquette Up to Date and in 1939-40 penned a couple of novels for Mellifont Press which would probably not earned her a great deal of money (perhaps the reason she was not a very active novelist).

Miss Constance Burleigh lived at 33 Castlin Road, Paddington, W.9 [1927/36], 131 Grove End Gardens, Maida Vale, N.W.8 [1936/39], 12 Glenilla Road, Primrose Hill, N.W.3 [1949], 611 Maitland Court, Lancaster Terrace, W.2 [1950], 10 Loudon Road, Primrose Hill, N.W.8 [1951/55]. In May 1933, aged 40 according to the ship's passenger list, Burleigh travelled to Melbourne, Australia, her occupation described as actress and her permanent future home to be Australia—presumably it proved to be not a permanent move as she intended, although she is not listed in the phone book for 1933-35.

She died in Holborn, London, on 17 November 1955, aged 73.

The likelihood is that she was born in 1882. But I can find no record for her birth, nor the birth of her elder brother Eric. If dates in census records have been recorded accurately, her father, Charles Burleigh, was still in his teens (around 17 or 18) when Eric and Constance were born. Lucy, who would appear to be the mother of the other three children—Maude Gwendolen, Charles Bertram and Dorothy Madge (b. Croydon, 1899)—was born Lucy Gwendolen Harrison, the daughter of Charles C. and his wife Ruth M. Harrison, in Nottingham in 1865 and was two or three years younger her husband.

All of which convinces me that Lucy was Charles's second wife. It may explain why Eric and Constance were not with the family in Leeds in 1891... could they have been living with their mother and registered under their mother's maiden name? Problem number 3.**

** A small update: the 1911 census reveals that Charles and Lucy had been married for 23 years and presumably married around 1887/88, so Lucy was certainly not the mother of Eric and Constance.

For a two-novel mystery author, Constance Burleigh has proven to be an interesting subject. Her connections with the theatre and the pre-talkie days of cinema might still reveal more... for instance, was Charles Burleigh her father's real name or was he, too, originally an actor using a stage name? In 1891 his occupation was given as "traveller" which tells us very little, although I suspect it means he was a salesman rather than what we nowadays think of as a traveller. In 1911 he was a commission agent.

Update: 22 March 2010

Jamie Sturgeon did me the favour of checking out the family records for the 1911 census where I managed to spot Eric Burleigh, the older brother of Constance. A small difference appeared in his 1911 record compared to the 1901 record... he was born in Oxford rather than Bedford. With this tiny clue, aa number of mysteries can be resolved.

Only two people called Eric were born in Oxford in 1880/81: Eric Otto Winstedt and Rupert Eric Brune. For brevity's sake we'll ignore the former as he's not our man. A search for Rupert Brune in the 1881 census shows 1-year-old Rupert living in Oxford with his father, Charles R. Brune, commercial traveller, born in Blackheath, Kent, in 1857 and his wife Angelina Elizabeth Swifte Brune (nee Broers), born in Lee, Kent, that same year. They were married at Holy Trintiy, Haverstock Hill, in 1879. Charles Rupert Brune was the son of Charles Williams Brune, a government clerk, and gave his age as 21 on his marriage certificate. Angelina Elizabeth Swifte Broers's birth was registered in Lewisham in 1851, although her age on her marriage certificate is only 26.

In 1901 Angelina Brune, still listed as married, was a pauper patient at the Marylebone infirmary. She died in 1936, aged 85.

The couple had two children, as previously surmised: Rupert Eric Brune, born in 1880 and Lena Constance Brune, born in Bedford in 2Q 1882, although her birth was not registered until 1886. By 1901, Constance was living with her father under his new name, Burleigh.

I still can't find Constance in the 1891 census but this might be explained: Angelina, her mother, was born in London but I believe was of Dutch descent and Angelina's sister Emma was living in Holland by the mid-1880s when she married Willem Lodewijk van Grasstek (1855-1905). Perhaps sister Angelina was in Holland at the time of the 1891 census. Just a guess.

Update: 12 September 2012

Stephen Kirkman has dropped me a line to add a little about Rupert Eric Burleigh from his research into his family tree. Rupert married Ellen M. Kirkman in Croydon, Surrey, in 1913. They had a daughter named Erica N. Burleigh born in Croydon in 1916 who, sadly, died that same year.

Ellen M. Burleigh died in 1921 in Croydon aged 43 and Rupert Eric Burleigh remarried to Florence Bevington in Croydon in 1932.

He died, aged 76, at the County Hospital, Redhill, Surrey, in 1957. He lived at Haverbrack, Park View Road, Woldingham and 64 Strathmore Road, Croydon, both in Surrey. His estate was worth £212,850 when he died.


A Woman's Honour. London, Mellifont Press, 1939.
A Fettered Life. London, Mellifont Press, 1940.

Etiquette Up to Date. London, T. Werner Laurie, 1925; New York, G. H. Watt, 1925.


Plays as actress: Dawn (Portsmouth, 1927), The Tragic Woman (Garden Theatre, London, 1928), The Gates of Ur (Arts Theatre, London, 1932), The Wooden Idol (Ambassadors Theatre, 1933), Murder in Motley (Winter Garden, 1934), Having No Hearts (Prince's Theatre, 1934), The Woman (Player's Theatre Club, 1935), Pigs in Glory (Arts Theatre, 1935), High Fever (Aldwych Theatre, 1938), Mice and Men (Fortune Theatre, 1938), King of the Air (Torch Theatre, 1939).

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