Lydia Thompson as 'Harry Halcyon'

Lydia Thompson as 'Harry Halcyon'

The Queen of Burlesque, Lydia Thompson, is seen here dressed as the character 'Harry Halcyon' in Middy Ashore, in which she appeared at the Lyceum in April 1860.

Born Eliza Hodges Thompson on 19 January 1838 in the parish of St Paul’s, Covent Garden, Lydia Thompson first appeared on stage in 1852 at the age of fourteen in the dance chorus at Her Majesty’s Theatre. She gained fame in Thomas Selby’s The Spanish Dancers, in which she caused a small sensation with her parody of the Spanish dancer Perea Nina.

From 1855 she was touring Europe and in 1868 she began appearing before American audiences. After a well-publicised arrival, her first appearance was at Wood’s Museum and Metropolitan Theatre in New York on 28 September 1868. What had been intended as a six-month tour eventually lasted six years and Lydia Thompson didn’t return to Britain until 1874. The sex symbol of the nineteenth century made her last appearance in burlesque in 1888, by which time her voice was not what it had once been. By 1899 her financial circumstances were straightened enough for a benefit to be held for her the Lyceum Theatre. Her last stage appearance was in 1904.

Lydia Thompson died in London on 17 November 1908.

She was married twice, the first time in 1863 to John Christian Tilbury, who was killed in a riding accident fifteen months after their marriage. Her second marriage (which may or may not have been legitimate) was to her manager Alexander Henderson. Her daughter Zeffie Tilbury (1863-1950) became a film actress, appearing in sixty-eight films between 1917 and 1941, including The Grapes of Wrath in 1941.

Photographed by Camille Silvy of London in the Spring of 1860.


Code: 124404
© Paul Frecker 2023