The Van Biene family

The Hastings and St Leonards Observer, 12 October 1918 issue, contained the following brief notice:

Edward van Biene, late manager (3 ½ years) St Leonards Pier, open for employment in similar capacity. 10 Maze Hill.

St Leonards Pier, c. 1918. From the author’s collection

It is odd that he quit (or was he fired ?) before he found a suitable job. The same issue has a detailed write-up. Using his experience he was able to make St Leonards Pier “a paying concern”, i.e., profitable. Numerous actors are named, as well as the Russian Ballet and the Turner Opera Company. The article also says that he introduced a Ladies Orchestra, and concludes “Mr van Biene tells us that he desires to remain in this town if a suitable position can be obtained, and we wish him all success in this direction, as we feel that he is a citizen that we can ill afford to lose.”

The 26 October 1918 issue contains a long poem by him satirizing the German Kaiser, “The Kaiser and the Fly”, which begins “Will you walk into my peace trap ?”/ Said the Kaiser to (each) Ally/ “’Tis the prettiest little peace trap/ That ever you did spy.

Edward van Biene was born in Lambeth in 1879, son of Dutch composer, cellist and actor Auguste van Biene and an English mother. Auguste van Biene has a Wikipedia article, due chiefly, it seems, to the popularity in his lifetime of The broken melody, a tune which he played on numerous occasions on different instruments. Auguste died on stage in 1913 at the Brighton Hippodrome while playing the cello, as his son Edward was conducting the orchestra. He received a Jewish funeral at Golders Green.

Edward married Kate Hallam in 1901 in Lancashire. An advantage of researching actors is the wealth of information from the newspaper adverts of their performances. In this case, the Van Bienes travelled across the north of England, both performing in a play named The power of the eye, billed as “Mr & Mrs Edwd. Van Biene (Miss Kate Hallam)”.

In the 1911 census family in Edmonton, Middlesex there was a family consisting of Edward Van Biene, age 32, a theatrical manager, born Lambeth, with wife Kate, assisting in the business, age 35, born London. This suggests that she was born in about 1876, but she was in fact born in 1883, and was about 28. As she would have been under age (that is, 21) at marriage possibly this related to a need to avoid getting her parents’ permission to marry. Their 8-year-old daughter Rachel was born in Eastbourne, and there was also a servant. They appear to have moved into the Hastings/ St Leonards area in late 1911.

In March 1914 his partnership with George Herbert Child as picture theatre proprietors at The Palacette, Pelham Place, Hastings, was dissolved. This was announced in the newspapers and in the London Gazette.

Sadly Edward died shortly after leaving the St Leonards Pier. He was only about forty. The Observer issue of the 18 January 1919 announced his death at his residence, 10 Maze Hill, and gives him a good write-up. He had been a “very efficient” Special Constable and Assistant Quartermaster of the local detachment of the British Red Cross Society. He had been ill for a month, and his last outing had been for an interview with government officials at Lydd. They had written to offer him the post, and the letter arrived while he was still alive, but he was too ill to be made aware of it. He was buried in the Borough Cemetery.

His widow and child continued to live at 10 Maze Hill. The 1921 census says it consisted of 11 rooms and gives the residents of two flats before listing Kate’s household.

10 Maze Hill

Richard Doughty, age 71, married, born Sussex Worthing, clerk in holy orders

Florence Lena Doughty, age 63 years 6 mos, wife, born Surrey Croydon, home duties

[separate household]

Agnes Hurst, age 73 years 1 mo, widow, born Durham, home duties

Charlotte Hurst, dau, age 46, single, born Glamorgan Cardiff, home duties

Winifred Hurst, dau, age 44, single, born Glamorgan Cardiff, home duties

[separate household]

Kate Van Biene, age 39, widow, born London, proprietress boarding house

Rachel Van Biene, age 18 years 6 mos, single, born Sussex Eastbourne, teacher of music

Lily Crouch, servant, age 23 years 10 mos, single, born Sussex Watlington, domestic servant

During 1922-25 Rachel frequently advertised music lessons in the Observer at 10 Maze Hill. This consisted of “pianoforte and theory”. In 1931 she married, in Hastings, Frederick Chapman, electrical and mechanical engineer. In the 1939 Register (compiled for rationing purposes) they were at 38 Mildenhall Drive, Hastings.

In 1929 Kate was listed in the electoral registers in a ground floor flat at 10 Maze Hill. The 1930 register lists her as one of eight voters at 56-59 Eversfield Place. She was a housekeeper in the 1939 Register at the same address, which was the Medlow Private Hotel, run by A.W. Godwin. This was Annie Wynne Godwin. She was born in Blackpool, and in the 1911 census was daughter in law to a retired builder at Clive Avenue, Hastings, having married Thomas E. Godwin. The 1921 census shows that the 31-roomed hotel was run by both of them.

Kate was still there in the 1946 electoral register, by then in her early sixties. Then, despite her unusual surname, Kate vanished into history.

Discover more from The Burtons’ St Leonards Society

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading