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Fox, Charles Jr.

‘One of the creators of modern Douglas, whose influence on the entertainment industry was considerable’.

Born: 1871, Manchester.

Died: 1939, Manchester.

Father: Charles James Fox Sr., born c. 1838, died 6th August, 1909, Onchan.

Mother: Ellen Dyson, née Murray, born 1840, died 27th June, 1906, Arnside, Cumbria.

Wife: Maria Isabel, née Rowe, born 1872, Laxey.

Issue: Daughters: Mabel, born 18971 and Doris Eileen, born 1899.2

Charles Fox Sr brought his family to the Isle of Man in 1889,3 ostensibly to retire from a life in business in Manchester, but he soon became a director of the Falcon Cliff Hotel & Estate Company, a board member of the Regent Hotel Co., and later of Woolf’s Brewery, the Villiers Hotel Company, and the Central Hotel Company. The earliest reference to Charles Fox Jr comes from the 1891 census, where is he described as ‘a clerk in the wine and spirit trade’, living at the family home at 24, Hawarden Avenue, Douglas.4

In 1893 Charles Fox Jr - henceforth referred to simply as Charles Fox - was appointed the acting secretary and manager of the Palace Company in succession to G.W. Morrison, with Arthur Brittain as his chief assistant. At the age of just twenty-two, he had made the first important step towards becoming arguably the most significant force in the Island’s entertainment industry. In February 1896 he married Maria Isabel Rowe, one of the daughters of Captain Richard Rowe of Laxey, at St. George’s Church, Douglas.5 The 1901 census gives the family address as Alexander Road, Onchan.6

The Great Amalgamation of the Douglas entertainment venues, brought about in order to negate the intense rivalry between the Derby Castle, the Palace, the Falcon Cliff and the Marina Pavilion in 1898, was accomplished under the guiding hand of the ‘father of amusement’ in Douglas, John A. Brown.7 A new company was formed and, at the age of twenty-seven, Charles Fox was appointed secretary and manager by unanimous consent. A winning combination of talents was put together including W. J. Fell as advertising manager, and Harry Wood as musical director,8 which successfully catered for the varying tastes of every class of holiday maker. Indeed, visitors would reckon their holiday incomplete unless that had danced at the Derby Castle or Palace ballrooms, attended one of the Sunday Sacred concerts or joined the crowds hoping to see and hear Vesta Tilley, Little Tich or Florrie Forde, the last named one of the best-loved variety artistes ever to appear in Douglas.

 The Palace & Derby Castle Company eventually acquired control of all the principal places of entertainment in Douglas, and went on to build the Gaiety Theatre on the site of the Marina Pavilion; the Palace Coliseum, Buxton’s Pierrot Village, the Grand Theatre in 1920, the Onchan Head Pleasure Ground, and the Royalty, Crescent and Regal cinemas. No doubt some mourned the passing of the Falcon Cliff and Marina Pavilions, but the realistic - some might have said ‘ruthless’ - appraisal of the state of the entertainment industry in Douglas, was timely, if not long overdue, and heralded the golden age of the Island as a holiday venue, and ‘the home of popular song’.9

Charles Fox’s wide-ranging interests and energy were directed towards many aspects of Island life. He was active in a number of public companies: Director of the Sefton Hotel Co; vice-president of the June Effort Season Extension Committee, and chairman of the Amusement Committee, which sought to establish a longer summer season in Douglas from Whit-week until the end of September; he was chairman of the Motor Car Races Committee; the first president of the Douglas Rotary Club (1923-25) and a Past Provincial Grand Master of the Tynwald Freemason’s lodge;10 a committee member and later chairman, of the Jane Crookall Maternity Home; a member of the house committee at Noble’s Hospital, and a supporter of the Actor’s Church Union and other local organisations.  It was said of him, that, as a chairman, ‘he never wasted a word . . . and abhorred anything that was not really relevant’.

Perhaps his most unusual business venture occurred in 1911, when he became part of an American syndicate of owners, including local businessmen, who brought the famous convict ship Success to Douglas, her last port of call before she was towed to Glasson Dock, near Lancaster, to be fully rigged as a barquentine, and sailed to America.11  At the first annual meeting of the owners, held at the Hotel Metropole, Douglas, in December, 1912, the proprietors congratulated themselves on a very profitable outcome, for the ship had earned then a handsome $170,000 since setting sail for America, resulting in a ten per cent dividend for the shareholders. An even richer ‘harvest of the sea’ was anticipated when the Success called at New York, and later Montreal.12

Charles Fox’s mother died in June 1906 at Langholme, Arnside, near Grange-over-Sands, Westmoreland, and his father at the family home, ‘Norwood’, Burnt Mill Hill (now Summerhill), Onchan, in August, 1909, his health having caused some concern throughout the summer. Fox Sr’s business career had been marked by ‘sterling integrity’, and many also recalled his remarkably retentive memory and wide range of interests. An obituary paid tribute to a man noted for ‘a kindly disposition’.13 By 1911 the Isle of Man census describes Fox Jr as a ‘Secretary Chartered Institute and Theatre Manager, residing at ‘Summerland’, Brunswick Road, Douglas.14 With the coming of the First World War, and the closing of the Palace and Derby Castle ballrooms and their adaptation for war work, Charles Fox endeavoured to ‘do his bit’ on the home front. In 1915 he became commandant of the Loyal Manx Volunteer Corps (LMVC, junior division), and later commander of no. 2 Company and Transport Officer at Knockaloe Internment Camp, near Peel, and subsequently at the Douglas Internment Camp, with the rank of Captain.

In 1919 he was appointed managing director of the Palace & Derby Castle Company, but the following summer the Palace was destroyed by a disastrous fire. When the ‘White Palace’ arose phoenix-like from the ashes, and was officially re-opened with much pomp and ceremony on July 18th, 1921, the ceremony was accompanied by the voice of Manx soprano Ada Mylchreest singing Elgar’s Land of Hope and Glory. The new Palace was dedicated to Terpsichore, the muse of dancing, and the Coliseum to Polymnia, the muse of singing and harmony. In 1925 he succeeded J.A. Brown as chairman. The directors praised his years as secretary, manager and managing director, and acknowledged that his ‘enterprise and fine business abilities have contributed very greatly to the equipment of Douglas with as fine a series of entertainment venues as could be boasted of by any watering-place anywhere in the Kingdom’.15

Although he rarely spoke in public, he was by all accounts an effective and stimulating public speaker. ‘He could express himself with lucidity and cogency’,16 and was both entertaining and informative, witness the luncheon lecture he gave to Douglas Rotary Club in May 1925, entitled ‘The Development of the Cinema’, during which he enthusiastically anticipated the coming of ‘Talking Pictures’. The paper he delivered to the Douglas Debating Society in 1926 entitled Douglas Amusements, their Origin and Development, during which he looked back over the previous sixty years, charting the development of the entertainments and the rise of the grand entertainment venues in Douglas, the variety and concert artists, was more contentious.17 He used the occasion to take vehement issue with the development of the Villa Marina into an entertainment venue by Douglas Corporation,18 and deeply resented the ‘unjustifiable competition with private enterprise’ (ie the Palace & Derby Castle Company). He queried, ‘what inducement has the Palace and Derby Castle Company to embark upon a big scheme . . . while faced with the constant menace of unfair competition on the part of the Corporation with rates to fall back upon in the event of failure? The nub of his grievance was that Noble’s Trustees had sold the Villa Marina house and grounds to the Corporation at a very advantageous figure, as practically a gift to the town, for the use of the public. ‘Villa Marina is being sailed under false colours . . .’ he suggested and, furthermore, regarded the situation as ‘a perversion of the principles of municipal funding’. Nevertheless, he concluded this far- reaching and, some may have thought, provocative, paper, on an optimistic note:

Beyond Blackpool there is no other British watering place which can pretend to compare with Douglas in the quality and state of its amusements.

In 1927 he was appointed a Justice of the Peace, and proved to be courteous, patient, and sympathetic to the plight of those brought before him, particularly those young people whose aspirations he felt were blighted by the drudgery of ‘blind alley employment’, which led them down the path of delinquency. He resigned his position as chairman of the Palace and Derby Castle Company in 1937, and many of his peers expected him to further enter public life as a politician. However, he quietly retired to his home at ‘Daleside’, Cronkbourne Road, Douglas.

His death at the age of sixty-eight in a nursing home in Manchester during the evening of Wednesday 18th October, or early hours of Thursday 19th, 1939, reached the Island the following day, and came ‘as a profound shock’.19 He had travelled to Manchester to consult a specialist regarding treatment for ‘an internal problem’, but contracted pneumonia on the journey. His condition worsened; peritonitis set in, and his wife and youngest daughter were called for. The interment took place at the Birkdale Cemetery, Southport, on Saturday 21st October. Arthur Brittain, the new managing director of the Palace & Derby Castle Company, and Arthur E. Kitto MHK, the vice-president, were present, along with many others associated with the Island’s entertainment industry. There were many wreaths, including one from Adeline Wood, the sister of his long-serving musical director, Harry Wood; from Haydn Wood, the composer of Roses of Picardy, and his wife, and from the wife of the variety star Billy Danvers; from the Steam Packet Company; the Tynwald Masonic Lodge and the Douglas Rotarians. His estate in the Isle of Man was valued at £16,000; a personal estate in England, considerably more. He left a legacy of one hundred pounds to Noble’s Hospital, and fifty pounds to the Jane Crookall Nursing Home.

For forty-six years Charles Fox had been at the heart of the entertainment industry on the Island. With a single-mindedness of purpose, combined with a steely business acumen, he not only engineered the raising of standards of all aspects of entertainment on the Island - and even managed to improved the catering facilities at the Palace & Derby Castle Company - but could justifiably be described as one of the creators of modern Douglas. He was generally regarded by those who worked closely with him as a man with a strong will and personality backed up by high moral principles. Whilst he remained influential in the running of the Company, the Douglas entertainments were always ‘family’ entertainments’. His legacy in that respect continued after the war, but with the death of Harry Wood in 1938, and Florrie Forde in 1941, and the depressing pall of gloom that for the second time that century descended on an Island at war, it must have seemed as if the end of an era had been signalled.

Maurice Powell, Andreas, August, 2017.

Notes

1. Mabel married Harry Theodore Gosnell and, according to the Isle of Man Times, 13th February, 1937, ‘is believed to be the only one of her sex in the world following the profession of stockbroker’, attached to a famous firm in Throgmorton Street, London’. Around 1932 she applied to become a member of the London Stock Exchange - her ultimate goal - but was rejected by ‘one of the most exclusive committees in Britain’. She was a much-travelled lady who sought first-hand knowledge about the financial conditions prevailing in South Africa, Argentina, Central America, the West Indies, Turkey, Brazil and America, so as to more properly advise her clients. She planned to apply to the LSE again, but it is not known whether she succeeded. Perhaps the advent of World War II intervened. Women were not barred from the LSE, but were invariably voted down when applying to become members. Thus, they could handle clients’ money and become stockbrokers, but could never become partners in their firms. Women were fully admitted to the LSE only in 1973.

2. Married John Taylor.

3. Manx Sun, 1.4.93.

4. The household consisted of Charles Fox Sr, his wife, Ellen, and also a married daughter, Liza P. Haynes and husband Joseph Haynes, and a domestic servant, Elizabeth Rawson.

5. Captain Richard Rowe MHK (1823-86), originally from St. Agnes in Cornwall, was the Captain of the Laxey mines, the owner of the Laxey Glen Flour Mills, the Laxey Glen Gardens grounds and a large grain warehouse at Laxey harbour, the frequent venue for concerts, meetings, dances, Rechabite and Temperance events. He oversaw the construction of the great Laxey Wheel, and Rowe’s Pier, Laxey, is named after him. At least two of his daughters were musical, and took part in many local concerts. His house in Laxey is now the Mines Tavern. See Maurice Powell, A Very Gifted Manx Lady, the life of Kathleen Rydings, Wibble Publishing, 2014.

6. The household consisted of his wife and two daughters, Harriet Kermode, a domestic servant, and Elizabeth Radcliffe, a servant nurse.

7. John A. Brown JP, editor of the Isle of Man Times.

8. Maurice Powell, Manxland’s King of Music, the Life and Times of Harry Wood, Lily Publications, 2017.

9. So described by Harry Wood in A Cavalcade of Music, 1938, unpublished. Manx Museum.

10. It was widely believed that the real business of the Douglas entertainment industry was carried out in the Masonic lodges.

11. The Mona’s Herald, 1st May, 1912. The Success, sometimes referred to as ‘the Agony ship’ or the last of the ‘Felon Fleet’, was a grisly floating museum, and, supposedly, a unique relic of the harsh penal system that survived into the mid-Victorian era. She was, in fact, a fake, built in 1840, and carried emigrants to Australia, never convicts. Around 1890 she was fitted out with cells, a branding room, wax effigies of languishing prisoners, a flogging frame, whips, balls and chains, and all the paraphernalia of a convict ship, and exhibited in Australia. She first visited the UK in 1895 and remained in British waters until 1912. (note: See The Convict Ship ‘Success’: A Very Successful Hoax, The Book Collectors Society of Australia, posted online by Neil A. Radford, for further details of the ship’s chequered career.)

12. Peel City Guardian, 28th December, 1912.

13.  Manx Quarterly #7, 1909.

14. The household consisted of his wife and two daughters, and Gertrude Eleanor Brew, a general domestic servant. After 1932-4 this house became the home of the Manx composer and conductor J. E. Quayle. See Maurice Powell, J.E. Quayle in A Supplement to New Manx Worthies, Culture Vannin.

15. Isle of Man Examiner, 19th June, 1925.

16. Obituary, the Isle of Man Times, 21st October, 1939.

17. Subsequently published in the Isle of Man Times, 13th November, 1926.

18. The Villa Marina Kursaal was fully opened to the public in 1913.

19. Ramsey Courier, 20th October, 1939.

Photographs of Charles Fox Jr:  Isle of Man Examiner, 20.10.39; Isle of Man Examiner Annual, 1922.

by Maurice Powell

 

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