Actress Kate Santley, the hissing audience, and her ghost

In 1874 London actress Kate Santley had to take her audience to court. Later she came back to haunt them.

Kate Santley and Rose Bell in “La Belle Helene”

One of the rising stars of the musical theatre in the 1870s, Miss Santley had the charms a girl needs to get ahead: good looks, talent, and as it later turned out, a good mind for business.

Kate Santley, about 1875. (Wikipedia credit info PD-US,

Kate Santley, about 1875. (Wikipedia credit info PD-US,

She wasn’t the only light in the firmament. At the Alhambra on Leicester Square, Kate often performed with a French actress, Mlle. Rose Bell, and critics couldn’t resist comparing the two of them.

In this review of “La Belle Helene” from August 18, 1873, you can sense a distinct and not very subtle preference. The house was full and “hundreds were unable to obtain admission”. The second show on the same bill was a ballet. The Morning Post reported on both. In “La Belle Helene”, the story of Helen of Troy, Rose Bell played Paris.

“Rose Bell is evidently a true mistress of her art. Gifted with a fine voice held in famous control, she brings to aid it all the traditions of opera bouffe. Endowed with a fine presence, graceful in all her movements, spritely without being boisterous, never idle and yet never obtrusive, the management of the Alhambra have played a very high trump card in Madlle. Rose Bell.”

So far, so good. Now here’s what the same writer says about Kate, playing the fair Helen.

“Of Miss Kate Santley, as La Belle Helene, it must be said that she was very much overweighted. She sang very nicely, it must be admitted, sometimes charmingly, but her “consciousness” on the stage is most painful: she is continually searching for applause by the most inartistic means. At one time there were hopes that Miss Santley would develop into an artist, but she is the goddess of the music hall habitué, who on certain occasions is in great force at the Alhambra. With the adoration of this unwholesome creature Miss Santley appears to be content, caring little for educated suffrages. … Her method of concluding Helen’s last song was moreover in singularly bad taste … Upon the question of costume, it is to be hoped that Mr. Alfred Maltby, who is credited with the design, and whose good taste is now proverbial, is not answerable for the absurd dress worn by Miss Santley … A very short bathing dress, with a thin gauze over it, would be positively vulgar were it not considerably more grotesque ….”

Kate Santley as Princess Toto (Wikipedia credit info PD-US,

Kate Santley as Princess Toto (Wikipedia credit info PD-US,

Thanks to those music hall habitués, Kate’s career lasted a long time.

The extremely devoted fan

Early in 1874, strange things happened at the Alhambra.

When Kate and Rose appeared together in a performance, the audience would be raucously partisan. Rose’s entrance would be wildly cheered and applauded. Kate was met with hisses – there is no mention of boos, just hisses – and the hisses and jeers went on and on, with an intent to drive her off the stage.

This distressed her greatly.

Richard Belt (the jailbird sculptor) was the first to notice how upset Kate was. He’d agreed in November 1873 to sculpt her and that was how they met. On February 28, 1874, Richard was at her home for artistic purposes when it became clear to him that something was wrong with Kate. The sad tale of the hissing came tumbling out.

Victorian actress Kate Santley

Victorian actress Kate Santley

“Well,” said Richard, “leave it with me.”

Off to the theatre went Mr. Belt, where he met a Mr. Carlo. Mr. Carlo has the first initial J, but I don’t know his first name. Belt already knew Carlo; we don’t know how. Interestingly, Belt hadn’t given Carlo his real name. Carlo thought he was Mr. Howard.

Carlo had no idea that Richard Belt / Mr. Howard knew Kate Santley.

Says Carlo to Belt something along this line, “I’ll give you all the free tickets you want if you bring your friends with you. The only thing is, whenever Rose Bell comes on stage you must cheer, and when Kate Santley appears, you must hiss.”

Carlo also asked Belt to sell a picture for him. The proceeds would be used to fund his campaign against the “little savage, Kate”, whom he hated.

Belt played Carlo along for a few days, gathering evidence and making sure there were witnesses to back him up.

Then, in the middle of March Kate’s lawyer went to court and got a summons against Carlo. Carlo had to answer to her charge of conspiracy to ruin the reputation of an actress. The court case was odd, just the stuff the newspapers like.

In the end there was no need for the magistrate to decide the case as an out of court settlement was reached. Carlo made it clear then that Rose Bell had nothing to do with his actions. His hatred of Kate Santley apparently arose from his having been refused entry to the Alhambra at some earlier point.

What became of Carlo, Rose, Richard, and Kate

I haven’t found any records of Carlo. His address was 11 Golden Square but he is not listed in the 1871 or 1881 censuses at that place.

Rose Bell had already had a successful career performing in France, the USA, and England, before the incident with Carlo et al. She was born Celine Delapommeraye, and her brother Henri became a noted theatre critic in France. In her teens, Celine was sent to the conservatory, where she excelled. When the works of Jacques Offenbach jumped across the Atlantic in 1868, Rose Bell was in some of the first performances in New York and Chicago. In 1872, she first appeared in London.

Rose had nothing in particular to gain by fighting against Kate Santley. She claimed to have been completely uninvolved with Carlo’s actions.

In 1877 Rose was involved in another theatrical spat but only as a witness. A theatre manager said that an actress (not Rose) was not very good, and the actress’s husband sued for defamation.

From 1880, the reviews began to be less kind to Rose but she kept on performing, though not in starring roles all the time. She died in Nice, France in 1886, at which time her obituary mentioned she left a husband and two young children.

Richard Belt, the sculptor, was on his way up at the time of the Carlo incident in 1874. He had a few years to go before becoming sculptor to the stars, followed by a spectacular downfall. I wrote about this in “Richard Belt, the jailbird sculptor“.

Belt v Lawes courtroom scene

Belt v Lawes courtroom scene

That just leaves Kate, whose story carried on for an unusually long time.

Kate Santley, actress, theatre proprietor, and ghost

Kate Santley made her career in the music hall, and was quite successful at it. Like Rose Bell, she wasn’t English. Her real name was Evangeline Estelle Gazina von Heidt, born in Germany and raised in the USA.

Also like Rose, Kate performed on Broadway. She had a well-established reputation as a singer and actress, especially in comic roles.

From 1877 on, Kate Santley was the manager of the Royalty Theatre on Dean Street. She did this for 30 years.

In 1879, Kate fell seriously ill. During the second half of the year, the papers occasionally mentioned this, and at least one reported that she might lose her sight. Another said in January 1880 that she had barely left her bed in six months. The dire news continued for almost a year until in June 1880, this went out:

“The death is announced of Miss Kate Santley, the opera-bouffe actress.”

That’s from the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, June 10, 1880, but the Chronicle was hardly alone.

On June 13, 1880, The Era printed this:

“Miss Kate Santley, who has recently been killed in print a great many times, has, we are pleased to state, so far regained health and strength that she promises to return to town in a week or two, and in the autumn to resume her professional duties.”

And resume she did, in front of the curtain as well as behind it.

Kate was in the theatre for many years. In 1901 she married Lt. Col. Lockhart Mure Hartley Kennedy. She was a spinster, he a widower, and they were together until his death in 1921.

Kate died the second time on January 18, 1923.

Death was not the end

Death wasn’t the last of Kate. This is from The Era, January 25, 1933, page 22:

“My Night in a Haunted Theatre | Ghost of Kate Santley?”

by R.B. Marriott

“The ghost of Kate Santley, which has been haunting the Royalty Theatre for several years, has appeared again.

“The other day, Mrs. Green, Leon M. Lion’s personal representative, was coming out of the manager’s office when she saw a tall lady dressed in grey, standing in the passage.

“Mrs. Green was just going up to ask the stranger her business when the lady turned and walked quickly down the passage.

“Mrs. Green followed for a few steps. Then, suddenly, the passage was empty.

“Mrs. Green told me about this just before I settled myself in the theatre for the night.”

“R.B. Marriott then says he’s heard “various stories about ‘the lady in grey,’ that I would like to see the ghost, now definitely identified as Kate Santley, who rebuilt the theatre in 1883 and had some of her great successes there.” He sat in the theatre all night with no ghostly sightings.

“The ghost was first seen about six years ago, Miss Santley having died in 1926. I believe the housekeeper of the theatre was the first to see it, and since 1927 it is claimed that she has seen the ghost several times.

“… in September, 1931, Athene Seyler, while on stage, saw her in a box.”

R.B. has one more testimonial from “a man who sat in the stalls of the theatre last year.”

Are you convinced that “the Royalty’s former owner had returned to the scenes of her triumphs and successes”?

Here’s more from The Era,  February 1, 1933, page 3:

“The Ghost of Kate Santley

“I was interested in your article on Kate Santley’s ghost at the Royalty, the more so because my late father, Paul Perron, played with Miss Santley at the Royalty in 1884-5, and I possess the photograph of her, autographed, which she herself gave to father. Unfortunately, I have lost (through demolition of a house in an air raid) some letters Miss Santley wrote to me in her retirement (she died January 18, 1923, not 1926).

“In 1925, whilst acting as secretary to Lady Forbes-Robertson, I was sitting in the stalls of the Royalty Theatre watching her performance in ‘Dancing Mothers’, my gaze was unaccountably drawn to the left-hand box, for there in the open space of the box I saw clearly the face of Kate Santley just as she looks in the photograph I possess, although I did not think of that photo at the time. It was just her face and head in the position it would be if her body was sitting in the box!

“It was not until I happened to be turning out some old photographs a few days later that I realised the face was assuredly that of Kate Santley.

“This week I have placed my memoirs (‘Veritas Looks Back’) with the publishers Werner Laurie, and in my book, whilst writing of father’s stage career, I mention Kate Santley and give the photograph I mention.

“I have had long theatrical experience; indeed, I started on the stage at the age of ten months as a stage baby at the Old Gaiety and toured in Shakespearean repertoire with my father at the ripe age of eight years!


Daisy Allbeury, the witness to Kate Santley’s ghost

The newspaper made a mistake in calling the letter-writer “Daily”. Her name was Daisy Allbeury and Kate Santley wasn’t her only experience with the paranormal.

In the American Journal of Psychical Research in 1931, Daisy reported having dreams that later came true. One was the death of Lord Kitchener.

Whether Daisy was as psychic as she believed is something I can’t judge without more evidence. However, her non-supernatural achievements were significant. When she died in 1961, her short obituary in The Stage said:

“Daisy Allbeury died in Camberwell on October 20, in her mid-seventies. She was the first woman ‘show business’ Press agent, starting a long career that also included provincial house-management, at the old Crystal Palace. From there she became the first woman to be airborne, on a test flight with Claude Graham White. She was courageously active on occasions as a film “extra” until, towards the end, fast-failing sight forced her into retirement.

“Her married name was Holden. Florence Nightingale was her godmother, and Daisy Florence Nightingale she was christened.”

If the surname Allbeury rings a bell, it’s because you have heard of Ted Le Boutillier Allbeury, a famous spy, novelist, and founder of pirate radio. They were related but not closely. Daisy’s father George and Ted’s grandfather Henry were brothers two years apart in age. Daisy was 33 years older than Ted.

And so we have moved from an actress who had to take some of her unruly audience to court, to a lady who was convinced she had seen the ghost of that same actress.

London Heritage Hotspots to see

The Royalty Theatre, formerly at 73 Dean Street, Soho, closed in 1938 and was demolished in 1953. The website has a detailed description and pictures of the theatre. The building standing there now, Royalty House, is an office building designed with a symmetry and form similar to the old Georgian theatre. I wonder if Kate Santley’s ghost visits the offices, looking for her theatre.

The old Alhambra Theatre on Leicester Square, now replaced by the Odeon Theatre, is also well covered by the Arthur Lloyd website. On that page you can see the program for “La Belle Helene” where Miss Kate Santley has top billing, though Miss Rose Bell’s name gets the same font size.

Mr. J. Carlo, the villain of the hissing conspiracy, lived at 11 Golden Square. The front of that house was rebuilt in 1954 but the 1778 building is apparently still there behind the modern bricks.

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