Guild pulls strings to save rare puppets for nation
A rare collection of 41 historic puppets will be saved for the nation, thanks to a £24,800 award from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) it was announced today.
The troupe of professional, fully- working marionettes, or puppets with strings, have been bought from a private collector and will be restored and put on display at the Childhood and Costume Museum in Bridgnorth, Shropshire. The British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild (BPMTG) will also take the puppets on tour around the country.
The puppets were made from 1840 onwards by two companies, The Rozella Troupe and the Lanchester Marionettes. If the BPMTG had not been able to buy the troupe, it is likely the puppet collection would have been broken up and sold on the international market.
The purchase includes 14 Victorian marionettes and 27 puppets carved by Waldo Lanchester which were used to perform Circus and Underwater Ballet stories – once seen by the young Princess Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace.
Marionette expert, and BPMTGs archivist Michael Dixon said he was delighted the HLF grant had prevented the break up of such a rare historic collection.
“The marionettes are in excellent condition, an almost unheard of situation for professional puppets of this age. We will be able to conserve them properly so that the public can appreciate them for generations to come and they will not deteriorate and be lost forever.”
He explained:” Puppets are an integral part of the history of entertainment. The Victorian showmen that toured the fairgrounds were around long before cinema, television and computer games and the knowledge and understanding of those times, the people and their work, is fast disappearing. We will now have a complete troupe of Victorian marionettes for people to see and find out how they shaped the future of theatre and entertainment within the United Kingdom.”
The puppets will go on display and be used in performances from time to time. An online archive will display the puppets, helping to increase the wider understanding of marionettes, their manufacture and history and also of the Victorian and Edwardian eras when puppet theatre was most popular.
Mr Dixon said :”There is no better way to teach people about puppetry and its heritage than by performing with the actual puppets used at any particular point in history. We also pride ourselves on including within each event, shows and workshops aimed at adults targeted to break down the commonly held UK view that ‘puppets are just for children’.
Paul Atterbury, a BBC Antiques Roadshow expert, backed the plan to buy the marionettes. He said:” I am delighted with the news; it was crucial that this group of marionettes remain in Britain in order that future generations may be able to understand and appreciate the history of puppetry during this period.
HLF’s Regional Manager Anne Jenkins said, “By keeping this collection together and maintained by experienced people, we have ensured that this fragment of Victorian life will be protected for the future for everyone to learn about and enjoy.”