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Star that Music Hall forgot

Nelly Power, ‘a really important female star amid a male-dominated profession’, lives on through a blue plaque

01 September, 2017

Thousands lined the streets for Nelly Power’s funeral – she died in 1887 aged just 32. Photo: The Music Hall Guild Theatre Archive

NELLY Power graced the stages of Drury Lane and the Strand and became one of the most sought after names of the 19th century, enthralling audiences with her voice and burlesque costumes.

She began performing at age eight and by the time she died in 1887 at just 32 she was so popular that thousands lined the streets for her funeral.

But in the following decades she was overshadowed by Music Hall stars who lived longer or were born later so their performances survived in audio recordings.

“I think she was a really important female star amid a male-dominated profession,” said Matthew Neil a historian at the Music Hall Guild Theatre Archive. “She held her own. When you look at the level of success she had or her profile, she was billed at the same level as the biggest men at the time.”

Now her name lives on through a blue plaque installed on a building at 97 Southgate Road, Islington, by The Music Hall Guild of Great Britain and America.

As a young star, Nelly first performed in the pantomime Hop o’ My Thumb based on a French fairytale where a young child abandoned by his family defeats a carnivorous ogre.

“You can’t underestimate how hard it was for these performers. There was no welfare state, so they always had to be able to deliver. If they didn’t perform, they didn’t eat. She worked hard and gave an awful lot for her art,” said Mr Neil who also a chairs guild.

Reviewers described Nelly’s comeback following a bout of illness at Piccadilly’s Trocadero theatre in the 1870s as “bright and dashing” while she “ensures a hearty reception wherever she appears”.

Nelly should be most famous for singing The Boy I Love Is Up in The Gallery which was penned by her agent, George Ware, in 1885. Nelly died from pleurisy just two years later and the song became associated with Marie Lloyd.

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