Lillo and Elspa

Lillo and Elspa

A carte-de-visite portrait of two circus performers identified verso as ‘Trevanion’s Gymnastic Wonders / pupils Sillo and Elspa.’ According to the 1871 census, Edward Trevanion (a pseudonym) was a ‘Gymnast’ born at Bolton in Lancashire in 1846. His wife Cerissa (another pseudonym), born at Middlesbrough in 1851, was also a gymnast. An advertisement in The Era (26 September 1869) billed them as ‘The Original Flying Lady, through a Fire Hoop and Two Balloons, MDLLE. CERISSA and MONS. TREVANION (Sister and Brother), acknowledged by Public and Press to be the Greatest Gymnasts in the World, conclude a Successful Engagement of Twelve Nights at the People’s Concert Hall, Burnley.’ On 2 July 1871 The Era reported on the death of Mademoiselle Cerissa: ‘It will be remembered that while performing on the trapeze with her husband (E. Trevanion) at the Alhambra Music Hall, Nottingham, on Thursday, the 8th ult., she fell upon the stage, and was unable to appear again. […] She left Nottingham, we believe, on Sunday, the 11th ult., for Middlesbrough, where her husband’s parents reside. There premature labour came on, and she died in childbed on Monday, 19th June.’

By the following year Edward Trevanion was appearing with a child billed as Lillo. According to The Era: Mons. Trevanion and Lillo as trapezists are clever, and their numerous feats meet with great applause’ (21 July 1872). Another child, Elspa, first joined the act at the Theatre Royal in Huddersfield, as reported in the London and Provincial Entr'acte on 28 September 1872: ‘On Saturday Signor Trevanion brought out another pupil in the person of Little Elspa, along with Lillo upon the double trapeze, with great success.’ A third child, Echo, later joined the troupe. Contemporary reporters offer conflicting accounts of the children’s genders, but Lillo was definitely a girl and Elspa was definitely a boy.

There appears to have been at least one other performer with the name Lillo who was appearing on the music hall circuit at the same time, necessitating a change of name for this Lillo, who became Sillo instead, although she later reverted to using her original name.

In addition to performing with Trevanion, Lillo/Sillo was also appearing with the comic vocalist and dancer Paul Dillon (yet another pseudonym), who may or may not have been her father. An advertisement in The Era (8 November 1874) mentions ‘Lillo, Lillo, Lillo, Flying Angel, Fairy Gymnast, the Greatest Wonder of the World’ and Paul Dillon appearing at the Royal Star in Harrow-in-Furness. A few months later ‘Princess Lillo, Flying Venus, Glittering Star, Fairy Gymnastic Wonder’ and Paul Dillon were appearing together at the Alhambra Palace in Hull (The Era, 7 February 1875).

Around the same time she was also appearing as 'Sillo' in an act with Elspa. At the end of January 1875 the pair were on the bill at the Royal Music Hall in London: ‘Elspa and Sillo, juvenile gymnasts of marvellous precocity and skill, have considerably varied their entertainment, the smaller of the two now donning motley, and creating no end of fun by his antics both in the net and on the ladder and trapeze.’ (The Era, 31 January 1875). The following month they were appearing at three separate London venues every night. An advertisement in The Era (7 February 1875) touted: ‘Trevanion’s Pupil’s Sillo and Elspa, Gymnasts and Acrobats Superior to Any in their line. Thousands are nightly entranced by their exquisite Performance […] These Marvellous Wonders, SILLO, the Flying Hercules [and] ELSPA, the Funny Clown’ performed at the Sun in Knightsbridge at nine fifteen, then at the Bedford Music Hall at ten o’clock and finally at the Royal in Holborn at ten forty-five. They begged to inform interested parties that they were fully booked until April 1876.

The following year, Trevanion was presenting two new gymnasts at the Gaiety in Barnsley who went by the names of Tell and Tell. The advertisement was at pains to imply that these were a rebranded Sillo and Elspa: ‘Innumerable inquiries have been made to ascertain Mr Trevanion’s reasons for changing the celebrated names of his celebrated pupils to the novel and mysterious titles of Tell and Tell’ (The Era, 27 August 1876). However, these were clearly two entirely new pupils. Immediately below this, another advertisement publicised the ‘New Startling Novelty at the Gaiety Theatre, Barnsley. LILLO and ELSPA, London Stars and Champion Flying Children of the World.’ The advertisement included a quote from a Wigan newspaper, where the act had recently been appearing: ‘whenever Mr Dillon thinks well to bring them again to Wigan he may rest assured that both himself and the children will be greeted with a hearty welcome.’ So, it seems that Lillo and Elspa had left Trevanion and were now working with their father-manager, Paul Dillon. In fact, Dillon explicitly stated as much in an advertisement he placed in The Era a week later (3 September 1876): ‘LILLO and ELSPA, London stars, King and Queen of all Champions. I, PAUL DILLON, consider it my duty to thank Proprietors, Managers, and the Elite of the Profession for their congratulations on my success in taking my son Elspa from a Man so unworthy, and so incapable to insure his safety. This Man’s habits, nature, and history are well known to the Professional World. Paul Dillon first taught Elspa, then condescended to let this man Crowl [presumably Trevanion’s real name] have his Child. Elspa was the first of that name in London, and dragged this Man out of poverty. […] Why did Paul Dillon take his Son from this Ill-used Man? For Cruelty and Over-working him. Three Halls Nightly is too much for any Child or Man Gymnast.’ The previous month Trevanion had already fired off a salvo of his own: 'All who are acquainted with Edward Trevanion, his habits, nature, and history, can understand his determination not to be classed with a would-be Comic Song Singer, who has hesitated at nothing to achieve mercenary ends. [...] he who, as for mercy, implored the aid of the law, that children might be taken from the lawful and loving care of their legal and experienced master, to become his victims – victims of his glaring and deplorable incapacity to ensure their safety' (The Era, 27 August 1876). This feud continued for some time, with the two men conducting a ‘paper war’ [Trevanion’s phrase] through the classified columns of The Era. The following year (The Era, 15 July 1877) Trevanion claimed that Dillon had turned down his challenge to have the two acts compete ‘in a Trapeze Entertainment’ to settle which pair were the real ‘Champion Flying Children.’

In 1881 Paul Dillon ‘of Lillo, Elspa and Echo fame’ announced that he had acquired the Red Lion Commercial Hotel on Smallbrook Street in Birmingham (The Era, 18 June 1881). The following year, his underage daughter eloped with one of the customers. When the case came to court, it was widely reported. The following account appeared in the Nottingham Evening Post (22 March 1884) under the headline ‘ABDUCTION OF A FEMALE GYMNAST’: ‘At Birmingham yesterday, Samuel Neale, wholesale newsagent, was charged on remand with abducting Florence May Lillo Stone, otherwise Dillon, professionally known as ‘Lillo,’ of the Lillo, Elspa and Echo troupe of female [sic] gymnasts, the girl being under 16 years of age. The defendant was also charged with felony by inserting in a register of marriage a false entry relating to the age of the bride. The girl, who had previously fulfilled various engagements at concert halls […] was “resting” with her father, the landlord of the Red Lion Hotel, Smallbrook-street, after the completion of her Christmas performances.’ The magistrate apparently managed to bring about ‘an amicable arrangement’ between the bride’s father and his new son-in-law. ‘The case caused great interest, especially among persons connected with the concert hall stage, many of whom were present. The defendant was cheered on leaving the court.’

This marriage appears not to have lasted. According to one genealogical forum, Florence (Lillo) may have emigrated to the United States in 1885, where she possibly married an American circus performer by the name of William Frederick Wallett in Illinois on 24 August 1895. The marriage produced at least six children.

On a finally note, the report of her ‘abduction’ in 1884 gave Lillo’s full name as ‘Florence May Lillo Stone, otherwise Dillon.’ A Florence May Lillo Stone was born on 13 August 1868 and baptised on 24 November 1878 at St Martin’s Church in Worcester. Her father was Albert Edwin Stone, whom the 1871 census describes as a ‘Wood Turner.’ Could this be Paul Dillon? Or was Dillon possibly Lillo's stepfather? Perhaps he wasn’t related to her at all.

Photographed by Henry Thomas Reed of 16 Tottenham Court Road, London.


Code: 126784
© Paul Frecker 2022