Samuel Rayner was born in 1812. He married Sarah Stevenson on 31st January 1839 at Loughborough in Leicestershire, when she was 18. In 1844 they were living on Charles Street, Leicester, when their first child, Rebecca, was christened. By 1858 Sarah had had 8 children, who were christened either in Leicestershire or at Nuneaton in Warwickshire. Sarah died in 1871 at Sneinton, Nottingham. The inquest into her death was reported in "The Era" on 19th March 1871:
"Melancholy Death at a Play Show"
"An inquest was held at Nottingham, on Monday last, touching the death of Sarah, wife of Mr Samuel Rayner,
Proprietor of a portable Theatre which had been erected in Sneinton-market a few days before. On Saturday evening,
while Mrs Rayner was engaged taking money at the show, she complained of feeling poorly, and soon afterwards
fell down insensible. She was carried into the van used as a dwelling-house, and Dr Sutton was summoned, but she
remained unconscious and speechless until Sunday [12th] when she died. The verdict of the Jury was "Died from natural
causes." Thirty years ago the deceased was a member of Carter's travelling theatrical company, and for the last twenty
years her husband has been Proprietor and Manager of a portable Theatre in the Midland district. Mrs Rayner was a
native of Loughborough, Leicestershire, and was fifty years of age."
On 2nd April 1871, when the Census was taken, Samuel was a widower, aged 58, living in a caravan at Sneinton Market, Nottingham, the proprietor of a travelling theatre. Also in his company were his children, James (21, comedian), Edward (20, musician), Albert (14, musician), Henry (13) and Sarah (10, dancer). There were four other musicians in nearby caravans, and also James Henry Hammersley and his family; he was a "sugar boiler", who must have made and sold boiled sweets.
'About 52 years ago Sammy Rayner's penny show was an attraction in the old Sneinton Market-place. I used to save up my halfpennies to go to the show. Front seats were twopence, and back seats one penny (no tax). Of course, my limit was a penny in the gallery. This was made of narrow planks of wood about 5 in. wide. There was no foot rest, your legs had to hang down, and if you were not careful you would fall through.
Sammy Rayner used to play 'Maria Marten in the Red Barn'. I was there one night when there was a snow storm in one of the scenes in which Sammy was taking the leading part. All at once the snow stopped. Sammy shouted: Snow on, snow on". The scene shifter at the back shouted: "Can't snow no more - got no more white paper". Sammy shouted back: "Snow brown, then!"
During the play the gas collector came for the gas rent, and the scene shifter did not know what to do to let Sammy know that the gas man was going to cut the gas off. So he bounced on the stage and shouted: "My lord, my lord, McNabs have arrived and says if the money is not forthcoming he will squib out the glim". Sammy answered by saying: "Go back, man, and squib him". None of the audience knew till after that the scene was not in the play.'
Sammy Rayner was also the subject of an article in the "Owl" magazine in 1900:
'RECOLLECTIONS OF OLD SAMMY RAYNER, THE SHOWMAN
Walk Up! Walk Up!
The once-familiar figure of old Sammy Rayner - now no more - is still remembered by many hundreds of the inhabitants of Nottingham and district. For generations his well-known "Acting Show", with its travelling company of real tragedians and pantomime performers, who were once the pleasure of the multitude of sightseers, and charmed the minds of youthful playgoers until they became transformed into "gods".
These sights and scenes are still fresh in the memory of people of mature years, and probably many front-seaters and occupants of the boxes at our Royal and Grand Theatres received their first dramatic impressions in Old Sammy's temple of Thespis. No Goose Fair, or March Fair, was looked upon as an orthodox holiday without Sammy Rayner's Show; but then the outside show, that brought to our gaze so many familiar faces and figures, surrounded by all their glittering glare of tinsel and spangles, made us almost envy them in their exalted sphere. And as we have watched them in their princely garbs and kingly crowns, they have almost led us to think that they were the actual people whom they represented. Then came the long train of mail-clad knights, noble Romans, and brigand Chiefs, looking with disdain upon "Joey" the Clown, Pinafore Billy, and the weak-kneed Pantaloon, as if they were in the wrong shop.
Then came the fairies and other celestial beings, dressed in spangled muslins and pink tights, to go through
a series of evolutions for our delight, to the harmonious strains of the gentle musicians. There was one familiar
figure which deserves our special notice, whose tall, gaunt, imposing and majestic appearance was the cynosure
of all - that was, "Old Smalley", whose demoniacal countenance, and lank jet-black hair, used to cause all the
little boys who saw him to dream of hobgoblins and rat-tailed ghosts.'
"Rayner's Travelling Theatre" performed at the Goose Fair in Nottingham's Market Square at the beginning of October each year, and at Sneinton Market, Nottingham at Easter. In between they visited smaller towns, such as Ilkeston, Eastwood, Heanor and Long Eaton. They wintered at Eastwood, where D.H.Lawrence went to see the show. Most of the cast were "family", but other families, including the Briggs and the Hendersons, were part of the company. Behind an elaborate facade they performed in a much worn old tent lit by coal oil flares. Plays they performed included "Sweeny Todd" and "The Murder in the Red Barn".
Sammy's son, Edward (Teddy Rayner
Senior), carried on the family tradition, and was succeeded by his son, Teddy Junior. The travelling theatre was
finished off at the end of the First World War by the new "Picture Palaces".
We are very grateful to Bonnie Burns, Sammy's great-great-granddaughter, for the above photograph of the Rayner Theatre and for giving us so much additional information on Sammy and his family. If you wish, you may e-mail her here.
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|Grandparents and great-grandparents.|
|Earlier generations of John's ancestors.|
|Earlier generations of Lorna's ancestors.|
|BATTERSBY ancestors in Lancashire and Liverpool.|
|BOADEN ancestors in Devon and Nottinghamshire.|
|NAYLOR ancestors in West Yorkshire.|
|Sergeant-Major Herbert Hirst Naylor's obituary (1879-1917).|
|POLLOCK ancestors in Newry and Liverpool.|
|RAYNER ancestors in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire.|
|Obituary of James RAYNER, showman, (1849-1926).|
|Florence RAYNER, actress, (1882-1978).|
|STARBUCK ancestors in Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire.|
|STEPHENSON ancestors in Lancashire and Liverpool.|
|WEBSTER ancestors in Childwall and Wavertree.|
|WHYLD ancestors in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.|
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Most recent update: 28th February 2009