Daisy Dormer

“…the dainty little lady with the bewitching ways, who is here with all her latest songs”

Having inherited no discernable theatrical talent of my own, I have been dining out on tales of my music hall family for some years. I have been basking in the reflected glory of having a great grand aunt who once trod the boards of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Her name was Daisy Dormer and in her day she was Portsmouth’s equivalent of a 21st century Cheryl Cole, and by far the most successful member of my music hall family troupe.

She was a great beauty as can be seen in these photos, and at the time of her death in 1947 her funeral cortege brought Streatham High Road to a standstill. Her name lives on today by a housing development in Brixton – Daisy Dormer Court on the Trinity Gardens estate (not far from Morley’s Department Store). Like many music hall stars she spent her final years in Clapham and Brixton, drawn to the area by the quick and easy access tram travel provided to the theatres of the West End.

“Dainty” Daisy was born Kezia Beatrice Stockwell on 16 January 1883 in Southsea, Portsmouth and died at her home in Clapham, London on 13 September 1947, aged 67. I often wondered how she got her stage name until I read that Daisy Dormer is old English slang for a bottle warmer! Her rise from working class poverty in Portsmouth, where her father was a riveter in the Dockyard, was common to many young girls who saw the music hall stage as a way to get out and on in the early years of the Twentieth Century. Sarah Water’s character Nancy “Nan” Astley in Tipping the Velvet makes a similar escape from her life as an oyster girl in Whitstable.  And what a life Daisy had. From a pantomime debut at the Theatre Royal, Portsmouth in 1894 she was soon appearing at all of the leading London music halls and those in Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds. In 1912 she was the Principal Girl in the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane pantomime, under Augustus Harris, whose lavish productions were trailblazers for what we now think of as modern pantomime.

Daisy had many hit songs (I have traced over 40) but the song that is reported to have launched her career was “I Wouldn’t Leave My Little Wooden Hut For You” by Charles Collins and Tom Mellor (1905). It is a tale of a ‘pretty Southern Maid’ seeing off a suitor, with a rousing chorus:

I wouldn’t leave my little wooden hut for you-oo

I’ve got one lover and I don’t want two-oo

What might happen there is no knowing

If he comes around so you’d better be going

Cause I wouldn’t leave my little wooden hut for you

Unfortunately Daisy didn’t make many recordings of her songs and the quality of those that survive is poor. She also made a couple of films, neither of which survive. In the absence of sound and vision I can only conjure up her stage persona from the many glowing reviews she garnered, here are a couple of examples:

“Miss Daisy Dormer, a comedienne who is full of real ability and artistic intelligence”

“a charming artist who not only has a most captivating way but is a really magnificent dancer”

My Dad and his brother often visited Daisy in Clapham and recalled her cart-wheeling around her sitting room when well into her mid-50s, voluminous undergarments flowing, much to the embarrassment of a couple of eight and nine year old boys.

Kenneth Williams talked of his beloved mother Lou’s admiration for Daisy – he wrote to my Grandmother to say as much and he recounted a story in this 1985 article where he claimed Daisy asked his mother to be her dresser.

In 1908 Daisy married Albert Jee, better known by his stage name Albert Egbert of the Brothers Egbert (“The Happy Dustmen”).  Now that is a story for another day.

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9 thoughts on “Daisy Dormer

  1. Fascinating and I want to know more! I love the phtotos too. I wonder whether these were publicity shots and if so how that all wokred in th eary 20th Century.

    • A couple of the photographs are postcards. I imagine the performer arranged for their production and sold them in the theatres where they were performing. I don’t know if you could buy them in the local newsagent equivalent. Cigarette cards were a massive part of the publicity machine – all of the cigarette manufacturers produced series of music hall performers.

  2. Wow what a background! I love these insights into the theatrical past. Love the Portsmouth connection too, who knew I had so much in common with a musical hall star!
    Looking forward to the next instalment..x

  3. I am late finding your interesting comments on Daisy Dormer, but maybe you can still get back to me.
    The music hall star, Gus Elen (1862-1940), was a relative of mine, and I have written his biography. (www.guselen.co.uk) In the book, I refer to Daisy’s song, ‘I Wouldn’t Leave My Little Wooden Hut For You’. The title is also the last line of Gus Elen’s song entitled ‘I’m Going To Settle Down In England’, which he first sung about eighteen months before Daisy sung hers.
    The writers of Gus’s song often used to work with Tom Mellor, and it is possible that one influenced the other. Do you have any insight into this?

  4. Hi Peter,
    Thank you for your message. I was aware of your biography of Gus Elen. I need to do some more research into the songwriters behind Daisy’s songs (and those of the other members of my music hall family) but Tom Mellor does pop up frequently. I believe I have a photo of him with my great grandfather, Larry Lewis. I think there was a lot of overlap of song subject matter, lyrics etc. If I find anything significant I will let you know.

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