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The Sad Tale of Madam Warton

July 1st, 2010

Having written about tableaux vivant in A Brief History of Nakedness, I was fascinated by a story and some photographs that member Fi Ware sent to me.
Tableaux vivant are theatrically posed, motionless scenes of models or performers, quite often in scenes from mythology or reproductions of well known paintings or events and were once extremely popular forms of entertainment. The 19th Century saw the heyday of the nude tableaux vivant, and readers might be familiar with the idea from the film ‘Mrs Henderson Presents’ about the Windmill Theatre in London.
Fi discovered an extraordinary gravestone of a lady who was re-interred in her local cemetery following the collapse of a retaining wall at the church where she was originally buried:

The inscription reads:
‘Sacred to the memory of Eliza Crow Her professional name Madam Warton who
died Jan 27th 1854 aged 27 years.  This tablet raised to her memory by a
dear and sincere friend Arthur Nelson’

Here Fi tells Madam Warton’s story:
‘When I took over our cemetery tour some years ago it was always assumed that
the stone was erected by a grateful customer! However my research has revealed that Eliza Crowe starred in and produced tableaux vivant at Saville House in Leicester Square, Soho, London. In 1845 these included subjects such as ‘A Night with Titian’ and ‘Venus Arising from the Sea’ all noted for their ‘fleshly embodiment’
It is thought that Landseer may have used sketches of Madam Warton as a
basis for his painting of Lady Godiva. Certainly she did play the part at
the Coventry Fair – there was speculation that this time Godiva would
actually be naked, but in the end she wore fleshings much to the crowd’s
The establishment at Soho must have been quite famous in its time and it,
and Eliza, were mentioned in one of William Thackery Makepiece’s novels –
some of the characters looked at the ‘illuminated picture of Madame Wharton
as Ariadne until bedtime’
I have found a reference to the club which describes poor Eliza’s fate –
‘For a very long time the name was changed to the “Walhalla,” when the
classical and chaste poses plastique performances of Madame Wharton, and her
celebrated troupes of living models, male and female, attracted very large
and first class audiences. Poor Wharton, she met with a sad end, and paid
the debt of nature at a very early age. Let her faults pass away with the
bottle to which she became so devotedly attached, ere snatched from the
scenes of her many triumphs’ Paul Pry 1857
I still haven’t found out how she came to be buried in Macclesfield. The
show continued without her, and I think there very well may have been
another Madam Wharton given that there is a reference to a ‘Madame Wharton
and troupe’ in a handbill for the Theatre Royal, Marylebone in 1857.
There may well have been some sexual element given that it was almost expected of actresses and artist’s models at the time. Certainly some of the ladies of the troupe were used as models for erotic photographs.’
It is sad to think that poor Eliza met with such an untimely end. As Fi suggests, the life of a female tableaux vivant artist was undoubtedly a complicated one, the assumption that women in theatre were of low virtue was deeply rooted and many must have found themselves in the most compromising of situations in order to continue to make a living. For all the surface glamour and contrivance of respectability that those frozen poses presented, what moved beneath was often far seedier, and spoke of the hypocrisy at the heart of Victorian morality and attitudes towards sex and gender.
Many stories must have been lost but it is good to know that something of Madam Warton’s tale remains. Look at the extraordinary detail on her headstone.

17 Responses to “The Sad Tale of Madam Warton”

  1. Madame Wharton also gets a passing memtion in “My Secret life”, the anonymous memoirs of a Victorian man who identifies himself only as “Walter””. He tells of how one of his female acquaintances says that “Ï am Madame Wharton now”and that she is the neice of the original one. So this explains how “Madame Wharton” continued to have shows after the original one died. He identifies her (the neice) only as “Sarah Mavis”almost certainly”a fictitious name, but possibly indicating that she was known by two forenames, e.g. “Mary-Jane”or “Sally-Anne”.
    Unfortunately she must have been a poor businesswoman because she was forced to resort to prostitution to support herself, her children and her indolent and idle husband. (This was how Walter first met her).
    The Tableaux Vivants business eventually failed after a European tour where the stage props were seized to pay the creditors. and despite “Walter’s” çontributions to the business. This seems to have been the end of “Walter’s” long and unhappy relationship with Sarah Mavis.
    It would be an interesting footnote to a minor historical question to identify the real Sarah Mavis. Apparently she posed as an artist’s model (as did original Mrs Wharton) for Etty (in his later years) and Frost (in his early years).
    As to why Madame Wharton was buried in Macclesfield, she first cames to notice as posing for Etty in York so seems she may well have been from the North Country originally.

  2. Further to above, I have now noticed that the reason Masdame Wharton was buried in Macclesfield was because that was where her troupe was performing just before her death.The Manchester Times of Saturday 21 January 1854 has the following report: “On Thursday night [being the 19th January] for the benefit of Nelson the “Clown King” the house was again crowded. Madame Wharton appeared as”Lady Godiva”and Nelson as “Peeping Tom”. The performance was of the highest order of horsemanship etc and the company is the best that has apeared here for a length of time.”
    So it seems Madame Wharton was alive and well and still performing up to a very few days before she died on January 27th 1854. Later comments that she “Died in a workhouse” (Lloyds Newspaper 31 August 1854), or that she suffered from an overfondness for alchohol. (As Paul Pry No 33 May 1857 put it “let her faults pass away with the bottle to which she became so devotedly attached ere snatched from the scenes of her many triumphs”) must be treated with considerable reserve.

    The Nelson mentioned is of course the same Arthur Nelson who erected her gravestone. Previously he had been a separate music-hall act as thge”King of Clowns”or equestrian clown but at this at this time seems to have joined Madame Wharton’s troupe. By August he had taken over the management of Madame Whartons act. The Era of 27 August 1854 had the following advertisement:
    “Madame Wharton and her unrivalled Troupe from the Wallhala Leicester Square. The Troupe is under the management of Mr Arthur Nelson whose inimitable performance on the rock harmonicon, pinesticks etc never fail to draw thunderous applause”
    But the very next notice finds him advertising his availability to Australian Managers as öpen to make an engagement in the colonies as a stage clown, or produce pantomimes or equestrian clown or low comedian” so it seems he did not have much faith in the future Madame Wharton’s troupe as a long-term prospect.
    In the Era of 6th August 1854 he advises that”The late and much-lamented Madame Wharton has been re-interred in St Pauls Churchyard, Macclesfield Cheshire. A splendid monument with the statue of Eve at the fountain adorns the grave with a drooping elm oérlying the resting place of the once-admired artist.” He does not fail to point out that “The expenses have been defrayed from the private purse of Mr Arthur Nelson.”
    Just what was Arthur Nelson’s relation ship with Madame Wharton will never be known, especially as there was it seems a “Mr Wharton” and a Mrs Ann Nelson around in the background.
    Arthur Nelson was described (in a court case where he and his wife were the defendants in a bar room brawl) in Lloyds Newspaper of 31 August 1856 as having a “Ghastly look” and a profusion of moustach and whiskers.

    There is one event which can only be an eerie coincidence: Nine years earlier Arthur Nelson was the cause of a disaster in Yarmouth on 2nd May 1845 where he was being drawn by four swans in a wash-tub across the harbour. A bridge weighed down by spectators collapsed and seventyseven people were drowned. One of those was a girl calleed Eliza Crowe aged 14. This was Madame Wharton’s real name apparently.
    Arthur Nelson seemed to drop out of the Madame Wharton troupe and by 1860 a second Madame Wharton was mentioned the Morning Chronicle of 20nd December 1860 as being the occupier of rooms where a young Frenchman committed suicide at her and her husbands premises in the Adelaide Rooms near the Lowther Arcade in the Strand which were then used for her”Poses Plastiques”.

  3. Wow! Angus, thank you for that! What a fascinating story! I feel rather pleased that she didn’t end up dying in the workhouse, a victim of drink. And Nelson is quite a character, isn’t he? Can’t help but feel sorry for the second ‘Madame Wharton’.

  4. I am fascinated by the idea of Arthur being towed in a wash-tub by four swans…! Thank you so much Angus for sharing all your research on Madame Wharton and for filling us in on her story. Arthur must have been a good friend to go to so much trouble to arrange her burial and memorial. ‘Eve at the fountain’ is a sculpture by Edward Hodges Baily, a famous sculptor in his day, and the figure on the headstone is a copy of it. It’s a very apt choice of image for her stone – a religious subject (suitable for a churchyard) that reflects her profession, I expect it may well have been one of her poses!

  5. I came across you by accident as Im on the trail of Arthur Nelson…king of clowns…I am bringing to light the story of one of the worst disasters Great Yarmouth, Norfolk has eve had, Its true Arthur ( NELSON THE CLOWN) as he was known came down theGreat Yarmouth river pulled along by 4 Geese, many flyer had gone out that day Friday 2nd May 1845 so children came from all over town to see the clown for free, the banks of the river were full both sides, and the Suspension Bridge had 400 women and children on it , as the excitement of the clown coming into view grew, they all rushed to get a good view moving to one side of the bridge,the children where smiling and cheering “here comes the Geese” not hearing the snapping of the chains and sent them all into the river below, 79 died, 3/4 were children for babies to 17, the horror of that day can not be imagined, one mother had 2 of her children in her arms and death could not devide them, her body with her children still in her arms was pulled up later that evening,the heart break that the town sufferd is unimaganable, after the children lay in there family homes for days as there parents just didnt have the money to bury them, till the bridge owner and a few others put there hands in there pockets so they could be put to rest, It was proved later the bridge was substandard, and a new one was going to be put up, there was only one gravestone with the story on it that has told this for the last hundred and odd years and this is so faded it has gone , so Im starting a memorial with all the names who died to be put on it and also tell the story, Im taking £1.00 per person as people are struggling and taking every name of the giver to be put in a box under the memorial just to say we do care what happened to you all and we will remember from now on, as there has been nothing for years to say this disaster ever happened, I start to collect next week 12th march 2012, I even got Prince Charles to put the first £1.00 in ,,,lol…but I was trying to find out what happened to Nelson after the disaster, the cirus was told to leave as anger was high but cant seem to find out what happened to him till I read this today , I know he died 1860 but nothing else..If anyone can help please email me….thankyou for the information regards Julie Staff wish me luck x

    • The ERA of 26 August 1860 has the following obituary:

      “The death of Mr Arthur Nelson the Clown

      The death of Mr Arthur Marsh Nelson popularly known as the “Clown King”took place at Burnley on the 27th ultimo and he was interred in the Burnley Cemetery a few days afterwards.
      He was born about 1811 and on his first introduction to the stage played the leading parts in the legitimate drama in provincial and minor theatres. He subsequently adopted the “Talking Clown”as his vocation and his repartee in the ring were often remarkable for their readiness and humour. He was a good musician and his clever performance on the pine-sticks exhibited the skill with which he had cultivated the eccentric branch of the art he had adopted.
      At Vauxhall Gardens and at several of the minor and provincial theatres he was a great favourite.
      His last appearance in London was at the Alhambra Palace a few weeks back when he introduced the female horse trainer to the public.”

      Regarding Nelson’s relationship with Madame Warton, the following notice appeared in the Bradford observer 9 Feb 1845, Huddersfield Chronicle 11 Feb 1845 and Preston Guardian 18 Feb 1845:

      “The well-known Madame Warton (wife of Mr Arthur Nelson the Clown King) died at Macclesfield after a few days illness of fever on Friday last. She was interred the following day a St Paul’s Church in that town.”

      What fever is not specified but sitting around in an unheated tent in Macclesfield in February wearing little or nothing, pneumonia would have to be a serious contender.

      Rather strangely the notice (obviously put in by Nelson himself) was not put in the ERA or any other newspaper that I can trace.

      While claiming her as his wife then, by the time it came to putting the inscription on her gravestone he had modified his claim to being only her “dear and sincere friend”. I think we can assume that they were more than “just good friends”

  6. Hi Angus, thankyou so much for the info,regarding theBradford observer do you mean 1854 her death, because that is when she died, its strange he does not admit to her being his wife , perhaps he was already married ? It is a strange journey I am on regarding “The Great Yarmouth Suspension Bridge disaster”….It fills my head most days and because the story is so sad it tears at your heart, But all I want is a memorial with all the names of the dead to finally give them respect , because I feel they never recieved any from the day they died, the boatmen charged for pulling out the bodies,there parents couldnt remove the bodies till the jury had seen them,at one point leaving children in a hall for 2 days , because they couldnt proceed because it was market day !!!, also the jury charged for looking over each body,their parents had the heartbreak of not having the money to bury them, Even the Reverand at there group services in St Nicholas,s Church , said a prayer over each one but also said The people of Greatyarmouth were been punished for there wickedness….what was all that about,But I think there is more surprises to come, thankyou again Angus.

    • Hi Julie: Yes of course it should 1854 (for all three). I must have had an attack of digital dyslexia for a moment then! Sorry about that.

      Yes Arthur Nelson seems to have been already married to a woman called Anne who featured as a co-defendant with him in a court case involving a fight in a pub. Madame Warton was also married to a Mr Warton who appeared in some of her shows but seems to have been separated from him by the time Nelson appeared on the scene.Perhaps the risk of being charged with bigamy changed his attitude!

      The Ipswich Journal of 10 May 1845 lists most if not all of those who died in the Yarmouth disaster if you do not already have this information. Good luck with your project on this


      Angus McDonald

      • Hi Angus, I am trying to go through the list of the died and many of the names are spelt incorrectly, so it is hard as I want to get it as close as possible as I can to the corrct names and ages, Its a strange one with Madame Warton, as Eliza Crowe is on the list of died she was 14 years old, at that time Eliza Crowe(madame warton) would have been 17 if she died in 1854 aged 27, I wonder if she knew Arthur Nelson then and was with him the night it all happened could it have been a younger sister with the first name misspelt ,as this is a strange one….I was sickened to find out that a number of years later Nelson the clown was doing the exact same stunt, I was beginning to warm to him the more I found out about him, but that info just put a stop to my feelings….how could he do that after what he had created in Great Yarmouth on May 2nd 1845…. today Im on the trail of Eliza Crowe, back to the library and burial records thanks Augus

  7. Further on Madame Warton’s mixed up personal life, “Walter” in his memoirs adds the following details When speaking of his own personal charm, good looks and sexual prowess he almost certainly exaggerates, but on more mundane matters he seems reasonably reliable;
    “Madame Warton ,known as a splendid model, first got them up [the poses plastiques shows], her husband was a splendid man. Sarah was her niece and also had the beautiful form which ran in the family; she was poor.and Madame Warton took her to live with them,and at seventeen years of age she appeared as Venus. At nineteen she [Sarah] had a child by Madame Warton’s husband, at twenty a second. Madame found out the father and kicked Sarah out.Mr Warton then kicked Madame out, and went to live with Sarah…..he could not get his living, he knew a trade but was I expect too lazy to work at it: so Sarah took to letting herself out as a model. and that being poor pay, to letting out her cunt to get their bread: she had just begun it when I first met her” .

    He also quotes the words of the operator of the house of assignation in James Street (Now Orange Street off the Haymarket) where Walter and Sarah conducted their relationship:Why did he (Mr Warton) not work? he had a trade? No because he was no longer able to get work as an actor he preferred to let Sarah get the living for the whole of them And also “Bah! her husband indeed! she is not married, – he’s got a wife besides , and Sarah knows it, he’s blackened his wife’s eyes more than once when she has been annoying them, but that don’t pay, for she is his lawful wife, so he allows her something, and it keeps her quiet, and she won’t last for long, for she is drunk from daybreak till night. Sarah’s a real good one to keep the lazy beggar,-she keeps them all, poor thing, ever since he could not get any engagement; there’s she, and their children, and her sister, who lives with them, and then there’s her old mother who she keeps, and his wife as well – she has enough to do poor thing”.

    So it seems their may a good basis in Paul Pry’s comment about Madame Warton having a drinking problem. Hardly surprising really!

    I have been unable to trace the marriage of Madame Warton in the records under her apparent real name of Eliza Crowe but possibly my amateurish attempts were at fault. If she was eally born in 1825 certainly her lawful marriage should be on the record as the requirement came in in 1835.Also search of the censuses for 1841 and 1851 also drew a blank but without knowing “Mr Warton”s real name this was probaly inevitable.

  8. Hi
    Where did you find the anonymous memoirs of a Victorian Man ‘Walter’. I may be able to identify him. Also did Eliza Crowe marry a Warton? Her death is registered in her maiden name?

    • HI Linda: You can buy hard copies through the internet(at a price of course) You can also down load it (all 4000+ pages of it !). Enter Walter “My Secret Life” Look for the “free information” sections to download.
      The section on Madame Warton starts at Volume 3 Chapter XII and ends at Book 4 Chapter I. Happy reading!. Note that Walter never seems to meet Madame Warton himself. His involvement is with a woman who says she is her niece and whom Walter calls Sarah Mavis. Almost certainly not her real name.I have no idea who (if anyone) Eliza Crowe married.

      Best of luck in identifying Walter! several names have been suggested over the years, but none gaining general acceptance. He seems to have covered himself very well! Let me know how you go.

      Regards Angus

  9. Hi Angus,
    Well its a year since I wrote to you, and my journey is still on going I have worked hard in the town to raise the story of the disaster that happened in Great Yarmouth May 2nd 1845, , I have met many people and connected descendants, in the summer I had the pleasure to meet 2 descendants of the disaster who had been looking for their relation Sarah Gilbert aged 12,, I was then able to connect them with another cousin who had also got in touch with me who they knew nothing about who lived in Australia who also was looking for Sarah Gilbert , There has been so many stories with the things I have found that it would take me all day to write, some have been very strange and I really believe from my heart that I have had help to point me in the right direction of things on many occasion , I have always felt that I may be in the front line but behind me pushing me forward are a force of unsettled souls who need respect and closure to something that has never been acknowledged correctly .On Sat march 23rd I had a fund raising day in The priory (the building that was founded because of the disaster) , I got a descendant Carol Maron to open it, on show was one of the 50 medals that the bridge owner Robert Cory had had proudly made when he opened the bridge in 1829, then to my happy amazement a Lady who was married to one of Robert Cory descendants arrived, a cadet band played in the hall which brought a tear to my eye because it felt that a building that was build out of such sadness had under its roof for the day all the connections of the past of that terrible day, yet it was such of a happy atmosphere ,So my journey continues I have still £2,000 to find without grants, it may be slower but this is how it should be done to put it all right , the lady above Linda Smith has helped me find one of the victims Reeder Thurston Balls aged 15 which was very uplifting for me, I trailed round a Lowestoft cemetery in 2ft of snow, but I couldn’t go till I found him which I did with the help of a man I met in the Lowestoft Library another very strange day. So it seems the story of the Clown Arthur Nelson who everyone turned out to watch on that fateful day still unfolds.

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