ONE OF THE OLD SCHOOL
DEATH OF MR. JAS. RAYNER
OF PORTABLE THEATRE FAME
It was with very sad grief that I received the news of the passing away at the age of 76 of Mr. Jas. Rayner,
familiarly known as “Jimmy”. His decease has removed from our midst the last of a generation of the old portable
theatre proprietors, so well-known and patronised in almost every town and large village throughout the country until
the late war, but now almost extinct, there being only about two or three such entertainments left.
James Rayner was the oldest son of the well-known (and in his day) renowned Mr. Samuel Rayner (“Sammy”), who lived
till nearly 90. He was not only a portable proprietor close on a hundred years ago, but a clever actor and spade
dancer. He died about 28 years ago. In his earliest career, “Sammy” Rayner was a very close friend and acquaintance
of the late Lord George Sanger, who on several occasions has spoken to me of him as his dear friend, “Sammy.”
Both of “Sammy” Rayner’s sons followed in their father’s footsteps, and were celebrated not only throughout Derby,
Leicester, and Nottingham, but also Northampton, and occasionally Bedfordshire. Their theatres were in the habit of
visiting these places and remaining from three to six months, and sometimes longer. Should you visit any of the towns
or good-sized villages in any of the above-named counties you will see hundreds and thousands who, although now
middle-aged men and women, and a great many older, will remember, and speak of visiting, either “Jimmy” or “Teddy”
The portable theatre at that time was the principal and best patronised and most recognised and respectable
entertainment and the oldest in the country and from them a great many of our celebrated actors and actresses, past
and present, have sprung from.
It will be remembered that Mr “Teddy” Rayner died a couple of years back. He had been living in retirement at
Underwood (Notts.), since just before the commencement of the war. He was the father of seven sons, all actors and
mummers; also splendid musicians and capable of manipulating marionettes or taking bogey or mumming in a ghost, as
well as on the theatre stage. All were in the Great War, one of the sons being killed.
The late James Rayner, like his father, was a most popular actor, also a remarkably clever spade dancer, as well
as the husband of a very clever wife who pre-deceased him. Before her marriage she was Miss Elizabeth Parkin, of
Northampton, a well-known amateur actress at that time. She was the talk and draw at their theatre and always drew
large crowds to witness her performances in among many others as herein mentioned: Lady Audley in “Lady Audley’s Secret
”; Lady Isabel in “East Lynne”; “Leah, the Jewish Maiden”; Esmeralda in “Hunchback of Notre Dame”; “Dick Turpin,” “Pilot
’s Grave, “ “Sweeney Todd,” “Two Orphans,” “Ticket-of-Leave,” “Two Little Vagabonds,” “Corsican Brothers,” etc. in which
plays she took the part of the lead.
Mrs Rayner was indeed an actress in every sense of the word, and a name to conjure with. Her late husband being
renowned for his celebrated “Tom” in the “Dumb Man of Manchester,” and his wonderful and clever acrobatic part as the
“Monkey” in “Jack Robinson and his Monkey.” It was one of the deceased’s features to present a fresh performance
each night, six nights weekly, winter and summer, no pulling in for the winter months, and among other plays besides
those above-mentioned were such old favourites as “Maria Martin,” “Lost in London,” “Too Late,” “The Octoroon Girl,”
”Ten Nights in a Bar Room,” etc., etc.
During his long career as a proprietor, James Rayner had travelled with both elaborate marionettes, also ghost shows
as well as theatre. He has left one son, Rudolph (Dot), proprietor of the well-known colliery and other exhibits,
also three daughters who were well-known in their time as clever all-round performers and dancers, all of which have
at various times been engaged either singly or altogether at the principal shows, travelling as leading paraders and
dancers, namely with such shows as Randall Williams’, Twigdon’s, Kemp’s, Relph and Pedley’s, Ashington and Estrops,
Jim and Tom Norman, and others. They are now Mrs. Charlie Relph, Mrs. Albert Rayner and Mrs. Tom Norman. Alas the
portable theatres, mumming and ghost shows, together with the marionettes, are no more.
James Rayner, who had been living in retirement for several years, had been in failing health for several months, and
passed away at Bulwell, where he was well-known and respected, on Monday of last week, April 19th, and was laid to
rest in the family grave there in the presence of a large number of relatives and friends. Wreaths and floral
tributes were sent from all parts of the country. James Rayner was indeed a man of many parts during a useful
and highly respectable career of over 50 years, a public servant. May he rest, as he died, in peace.