Search

Granddaughter of actress who performed at Alexandra Palace's 'hidden' Victorian theatre shares memories and photographs

PUBLISHED: 18:00 17 August 2016 | UPDATED: 18:17 17 August 2016

Mary Wells stands on the stage at Alexandra Palace theatre. Her grandmother, Nancy McMillan, appeared there in the 1920s. Photo: Polly Hancock

Mary Wells stands on the stage at Alexandra Palace theatre. Her grandmother, Nancy McMillan, appeared there in the 1920s. Photo: Polly Hancock

Archant

The granddaughter has revealed precious mementos as Alexandra Palace plans to restore its theatre, closed to the public for 80 years

Nancy and a fellow actor in VeroniqueNancy and a fellow actor in Veronique

Mary Wells, granddaughter of Edwardian actress Nancy McMillen, came forward as Alexandra Palace launches its fundraising campaign to re-open the theatre.

Mary described how she remembers her grandmother, Nancy, as “very elegant, very good looking” and a “presence in the room”, even in her later years.

Born in 1889, Nancy was a semi-professional actress, playing the leading lady in Edwardian musical comedies and operettas at The Alexandra Palace Operatic and Dramatic Society between 1923 and 1930.

She was a “striking” pianist and singer, as well as a dressmaker, clothing herself in style.

Nancy McMillanNancy McMillan

Born of Victorian middle class parents, it was perhaps bold for Nancy to perform on the stage, but Mary said her grandmother was a “strong personality”.

“She was quite conventional, but she was quite forceful about the things she cared about. She liked to get her own way,” Mary described.

Nancy also most likely enjoyed the support of an Edwardian husband, who played in an amateur orchestra and was the honorary secretary of The Alexandra Palace Operative and Dramatic Society.

The pair met in the choir at Andrew’s Church in Muswell Hill, marrying in 1914.

The full cast of the Alexandra Palace Operatic and Dramatic Society on the stage of the Alexandra Palace TheatreThe full cast of the Alexandra Palace Operatic and Dramatic Society on the stage of the Alexandra Palace Theatre

Nancy starred in at least nine productions at the Victorian Theatre at Alexandra Palace, with performances including “Veronique” by Andre Messager.

Reviews in The Stage, the Hornsey Journal and the Islington Gazette described Nancy as “chic” and a “notable artiste”, with praise for her “dainty singing and acting”.

Mary only discovered the priceless trove of theatre programmes, photographs, reviews and notelets after her grandmother died in 1976.

She had lived in Muswell Hill for more than 40 years. Nancy’s diary from 1913 records that she and her fiancé, Herbert Wells, went on 104 visits to the theatre, cinema or concerts locally and in central London that year alone.

“I knew her very well, but she never really talked about her performing days,” Mary said.

“Her and my grandfather used to love theatre – I would get taken to pantomimes.”

Mary believes Nancy would be delighted to hear the Victorian theatre will open once more.

“She would be amazed to know that this theatre that was a very important part of her life is coming back to life in a very different age – I think it’s amazing.”

Alexandra Palace and Park trust needs to raise £1m to restore the theatre. Visit support.alexandrapalace.com.

Most Read

Most Read

Latest from the Hampstead Highgate Express

Hot Jobs

Show Job Lists