Padey Pennington

The Herbarium
The University of Hull
Cottingham Road
HULL HU6 7RX
United Kingdom


by Richard Middleton, 2009

Padey Pennington was the son of the prosperous Wolverhampton cooper and coal merchant, Henry Paddey. He was baptised James Smith Paddey at Wolverhampton St Peter's on 18th November 1863. Henry and Isabell had a large family with 14 children appearing in St Peter's parish register and at least one who was baptised elsewhere. James Smith Pennington was among the youngest of the family with only two younger siblings - David Smith (1864) and Sidney (1867).

Padey spent his childhood years at Waterloo Road, Wolverhampton, and Wergs Farm, Tettenhall. It is significant that he was almost the same age as Paul Wilkes Fraser. Padey was an enthusiastic sportsman and newspaper reports in the summer of 1880 show that he was running for his school, Wolverhampton Grammar, as James S Paddey.

There is also an interesting set of references to a J S Padey of Wolverhampton in the newspaper athletics reports during the summer of 1882. He seems to have been competing in cycling and running races, even travelling to Ireland in August. The name is used consistently and may represent the first step in his name change.

In 1885 Henry Paddey died and at around this time Padey seems to have adopted his stage name. As yet no evidence has emerged to suggest a reason why he may have chosen the name Pennington. It must be significant that Padey and Mary were married by the Rev Septimus Pennington - who had himself only adopted the name Pennington in 1887.

In November 1887 The Era records that 'Mr J P Pennington had the honour of presenting his mimical, musical and venriloquial "At Home" and thought reading séance at the Brighton residence of his Highness the Maharaja Gaekwar of Baroda' and that he was 'personally congratulated by his Highness'.

To promote his stage shows Padey was not averse to organising public stunts. In November of 1888 he was to present his "At Home" to the people of Southsea, Hampshire. During the preceding afternoon he was to attempt, while blindfolded, to find a pin that would be hidden somewhere in the town by a "committee of local gentlemen". The Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle of the time records the feat in great detail and also describes other similar thought-reading tricks that he performed to an enthusiastic audience. At this time Padey seems to have been based on the south coast and a report of his 1898 appearance in "Silent Sorcery" with the conjuror Signor Isidore Corelli at the St James Hall London, gives his address as Brighton.

Things did not always go well for the showman and in 1895 he was assaulted by a disgruntled member of the audience with whom he had had an angry exchange. Mr Beal waited for him after the performance and "struck him a violent blow" in the face. Fortunately a constable witnessed the attack and Mr Beal was fined £1 by the Magistrate.

A report in "The Truth" September 1896 reports on another performance that went badly. Padey had been appearing in Sandown, Isle of Wight, with his medium Miss Grosvenor. Members of the audience had been invited to write questions on pieces of paper, the medium would later provide answers from the spirit world. It was a simple trick - they were provided with blocks to rest on while they penned their questions and the blocks contained carbon paper … A Mr Bounstead from the audience had worked this out and suggested that the blocks should be examined. Padey lost his cool demeanor. "Mr Pennington lost his temper and responded with various offensive personalities as well as incitements to some of the roughs in the place to turn out his interrogator". Mr Bounstead managed to procure one of the blocks and returned the next night to demonstrate to the audience how the trick was done - ripping it open to show the paper. "Pennington, like all of his class when tackled in this fashion, took refuge in abuse …". It appears that Padey wrote to the local newspaper stating that a warrant was to be issued for the arrest of Mr Bounstead for stealing the block and that an action for defamation would follow. He then went on to claim that he had no idea that the medium was a fraud and that he had now dismissed her.

Trewman's Exeter Flying Post reports that things got even worse for Padey in Teignmouth the following year. He had leafleted the town advising that he was to be hypnotising a man and then throwing him into the sea from the pier. A large crowd gathered on the promenade but it appears that neither of the chosen subjects could be put under "the influence". The crowd became aggressive and treated him to derisory hoots; Padey eventually taking refuge behind the pier gates. After haranguing the crowd for a while he needed a police escort to get to the Assembly Rooms for his evening performance. Things then got out of control and he eventually decided not to give his performance, forcing the proprietor to make refunds to the audience. Eventually Padey himself had to be ejected from the theatre and was jeered back to his lodgings.

By 1898 Padey Pennington was making farewell performances - whether this was because he had had enough of the theatre or in preparation for life as a respectable married man is not clear. On 7th June 1899 Padey Pennington married Mary Martin Fraser ate St Clement Danes, The Strand. Three clergymen are named as officiating - Rev Septimus Pennington (Rector), Rev R A Wood (his brother-in-law) and Rev C H V Pixell. Both the choice venue and the identity of the rector were obviously important but their significance has not yet been fully resolved.

A few months after the wedding, news of the shooting in Australia of Mary's brother Paul, by his wife Kathleen, must have reached the couple. Contemporary newspaper reports demonstrate that Padey traveled to Australia and was in St Kilder, Melbourne, by early February 1900. He, and other unspecified men, made in an attempt to gain custody of his niece, Katie, by snatching her from the residence of her mother. This was the evening before a decision was to be made on whether Kathleen Fraser would be released on bail. Padey became involved in a lively confrontation with an angry crowd - something he had plenty of experience of. He also made an attempt to return to the scene in disguise "… in accordance with the custom of the music hall stage". It is interesting that the report of this incident in the Melbourne Argus provides a hint of his physical appearance as "… a tall, well-dressed, gentlemanly-looking, man." Padey was still in St Kilda for Kathleen's trial on 23rd of March and his presence in the court room was specifically commented upon by Mr Purves QC, the defence council during his examination of Paul
Is your brother-in-law here? - Yes.
Is he a lawyer - No.
What then - a music hall singer? (laughter.) No.
Has he any profession? - He is studying for the law now.
Much to the surprise of everyone in court, including the judge, Kathleen had to be acquitted when the jury decided that the shooting had been an accident.

Among the passengers listed in the Melbourne Argus as departing in the R.M.S. Victoria on 10th April 1900 are Mr and Mrs Pacey(sic) Pennington (as are a Mr and Mrs Budden). This shows that Mary had also made to voyage to see her badly injured brother. On 31st March 1901 he was living at Newry Lodge, The Avenue, Twickenham (just across the river from Richmond Hill), with his wife Mary and his older sister-in-law Kate Fraser. Although his occupation is difficult to decipher it seems to be "Studying for Solicitor". This is obviously only a snapshot in time and whether Kate's presence was temporary or permanent cannot be ascertained. It may, however, be significant that Martin Fraser Pennington, Mary's first child, was born later that year. Their son was christened by Rev R A Wood in November 1901 at the church of St James the Apostle, Islington (Robert Wood's parish). Other than the fact that the couple also had a daughter, Olive Noel - christened by brother-in-law Robert in January 1903, little more is known. In 1911 Padey was living in Weymouth but with no sign of wife or family.