According to the names written on the back of this photo, George Ellis is the gentleman in the middle of the back row. I started by doing a basic ancestry.co.uk search, but couldn’t really narrow down my George Ellis with the c. 2,400 other George Ellis’ that appear on the 1911 census. I decided to try a different approach – eagle eyes will have spotted that at the bottom right hand corner is the name and location of the photography studio where this picture was taken – Porters in Ventnor, Isle of Wight. Using the newspaper archive on Find My Past, I searched for George Ellis, keyword Ventnor and it was here that I had my first break through. Several newspapers referred to concerts and entertainment being provided by George Ellis – this began to make sense of the photo including why all the women are wearing the same clothes.
Working on the theory that George Ellis was connected to the theatre, I limited my search to copies of The Stage – the national newspaper for the entertainment industry. Lo and behold there appeared a death notice, stating that George Ellis had died on 24 March 1956. He was described as “a stalwart of the profession and became a leading figure………as an entertainer but also as an author. A born actor, he was also blessed with a sense of humour and there was good fun in his work as well as in his writing” (The Stage, 29 March 1956). With his death date in mind, I went back to Ancestry and used their probate index. The only entry that came up for the correct death date was one for a George Latham Steed Solman, but fortunately when viewing the corresponding image, it confirmed that GLSS and George Ellis were the same person.
Now that I had his birth name, I could start to investigate his story………
George Latham S Solman’s birth was registered in Sept qtr 1885 in Wandsworth. The 1891 census shows him living with his parents, George and Grace Solman at 16 Trollope Street, Battersea. By 1901, the family had moved to 63 Grayshott Road, Battersea and the 15 year old George was working as a Copyist. The 1911 census is the first indication that I have found so far for George’s future career in the theatre – he describes himself as a Concert Artiste. Two years later, George L S Solman married Ethel M Bowden in Bedford.
Proof again – one can never have enough evidence to back up arguments, just ask my Other Half – of GLSS and George Ellis being one and the same comes from this anecdote in The Era “On Saturday last, Mr George Ellis, the well known, all-round entertainer was married at the parish church in Bedford, to Miss Ethel Bowden” (14 May 1913).
It seems at this point that GLSS was keeping his stage name and personal name very separate – he enrolled at Lewisham Freemason Lodge in 1914 as George Latham Solman “society entertainer”, and he appeared on electoral registers up to, and including, 1939 as GLSS (sometimes George Nathan Steed Solman – haven’t got to the bottom of that one yet!).
However, on the 1939 register, Ethel – at the same address as on the electoral registers, so I know it is the right person – is listed with the surname Ellis. George (also using surname Ellis) is not with Ethel – he is lodging at 11 Fisherton Street, Salisbury which is now Ladbrokes betting shop but in 1939 was The Bull Hotel. Lodging with him were several other entertainers and vocalists, all of whom (including George) were part of the NAAFI ENSA group.
George died on 24 March 1956 at Beech Hill Nursing Home in Enfield. In Memoriam notices appeared in The Stage until 1959. Ethel died in 1971 in Brighton.