A peculiarity with researching the story of people’s lives is that it is often easier to work from their death backwards. Whilst some people might consider this to be ‘a spoiler’, finding out first how the story ends, it can also be viewed as a gateway into seeing how a person’s life developed into the end result.
His death and funeral announcement was placed in The Stage (21st October 1976) and read:
“Charles Hayes who spent his last years at Brinsworth House, died aged 82 at South West Middlesex Hospital on Saturday, October 16th leaving two nieces. He worked on stage in the 20s with the Fol de Rols and also did summer seasons plus broadcasting. The funeral will take place at the South West Middlesex Crematorium, Hounslow Road, Hanworth, Seltham at 2:45 October 22nd. Instead of flowers it is preferred that donations be made to the Entertainment Artists Benevolent Fund.”
The Entertainment Artists Benevolent Fund evolved into the Royal Variety Charity and still exists today, providing support and care to artists in need. Brinsworth House is a retirement and nursing home for former performers Brinsworth House | Royal Variety Charity.
Once I knew Charles’ death date, I was able to find his birth record. Charles William Hayes was born on 25th October 1893 and was christened exactly a month later at Holy Trinity Church, Wimbledon, Surrey. His parents were William Henry Hayes and Emma Jane Kilby, who had married on February 13th 1890 at the church of St Mary the Less, Lambeth. Their first child, Charles’ older sister Lillian Maud Hayes, was born on May 18th 1891. Her baptism record shows the family living on Kingston Road, Wimbledon which was the home of William’s parents Jonathan and Jane Hayes.
Lilian started at Dalmain Road Infant School, Lewisham on 8th June 1896, and her address is given as 31 Beadnell Road, just around the corner from the school. Charles followed his sister to the same school, starting there on 9th May 1898. William and Emma moved their family across London, to 30 Minet Avenue, Willesden by the time of the 1901 census. This is quite a dramatic move, so there must have been a good reason – perhaps a promotion at work for William?
On the 1901 census, William’s profession is given as Foreman, but the 1911 census gives a little more insight – he is listed as working for the Electric Supply Company, which is likely to have been the Metropolitan Electric Supply Company, and he was possibly working out at Willesden Power Station. At this point, the family are living at 32 Craven Road, Willesden. Lilian is a shorthand typist for an exhibition fitter whilst Charles (17) is a Printer Traveller. Also in the household are Jane and Jonathan Hayes (William’s parents) and Charlotte McKenning, a 19 year old boarder.
In 1911, we also have the first glimpse into Charles’ future career. The Willesden Chronicle (2nd June 1911) reported on The Vanston Amateur Dramatic Party, who gave a “highly successful concert at the People’s Hall, Goodson Road, Willesden”. Charles, Lilian (named as Lillie in the article) and Charlotte McKenning (the Hayes’ boarder), amongst others, took part with the artists “reflecting great credit on the club”.
There is no real evidence to suggest that Charles took up performing as a career prior to World War 1. On the 24th February 1916, he enlisted in the 5th Battalion, London Regiment. His service record has been lost, although part of his pension record still remains and is viewable via www.ancestry.co.uk. At some point towards the end of the war, Charles sustained a gun shot wound to his right hand which left him with some permanent damage. Perhaps this rendered his former career in the print trade unworkable, or maybe he decided that after his experiences of WW1 that life was too short and that he should follow his dreams?
The Stage (16th March 1922) features a report on the Stationers’ Social Society annual winter dinner. Appearing as entertainment at that event include Charles Hayes and another familiar name – George Ellis. From that point, Charles Hayes appears in The Stage with increasing frequency. In reports about his performances, he is often identified as delivering humorous songs and “effusions” (The Stage, 26 April 1923); some of his material are songs written by others, by increasingly it seems that Charles was writing his own material. There is an advert in The Stage (5th June 1924) by the Cavendish Music Company who were publishing a new chorus song “One little one more” by Charles Hayes and T.C. Sterndale Bennett (a grandson of composer William Sterndale Bennett). Other compositions by this partnership include The Carol Singers (performed here Sterndale Bennett: The Carol Singers – YouTube).
By the mid-1920s, Charles’ sister Lilian had got married (in 1916) to Gabriel Threlfell and they had two daughters (in 1918 and 1924) who were the two nieces that were mentioned in Charles funeral notice. According to electoral rolls, Gabriel and Lilian lived at 32 Craven Road with William, Emma and Charles up to 1929. Gabriel had declared himself to be a bachelor at their wedding, although a newspaper report in the Maidstone Telegraph (11 November 1916) suggests that he was being slightly economical with the truth – he was already married and didn’t divorce his first wife until November 1916.
Charles had continued success during the 1920s, proving to be very popular with audiences who appreciated his humour and comic timing. This caricature from The Stage (10th Jan 1929) represents how he was viewed:
In 1929, Charles was initiated into the Grand Order of Water Rats, Grand Order of Water Rats – Wikipedia which is indicative of how well respected by his peers Charles was. As the decade turned, Charles began to appear on BBC radio programmes, and appears to have taken on the middle name of Plantagenet (at least, no Charles Plantagenet Hayes appear on the birth, marriage or death records of England and Wales). Other changes were happening with his family. In 1930 his sister Lilian died, leaving two nieces in the care of Gabriel Threlfell. Gabriel died in 1935, Charles’ father William died in 1937 and Charles’ mother Emma died in 1938.
In March 1939, Charles was part of a programme of entertainment at a Musicians Club dinner which Myra Hess presided over. However, by the time of the 1939 register, Charles was in Bethlem Hospital. It is not known how long Charles was in the hospital for, or the reason why he was there, but possibly having lost his sister, brother in law, father and mother within the decade, and for the world to be on the brink of war, Charles may have felt overwhelmed with the pressures upon him. On the 1939 register Charles’ niece, Barbara, was living with a neighbour on Craven Road. I have not yet found where Charles’ other niece was.
Barbara Threlfell joined Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in WW2 and married Clifford Hexter-Stabbins (who amongst other achievements seems to have been the first announcer to appear on a New Zealand television programme in 1959).
The next time I can securely locate Charles is in 1947 when he appeared in a concert at Victoria Hall, Bloomsbury (The Stage, 10 April 1947). According to subsequent reviews of this performance, Charles’ absence from the stage had been due to his work entertaining the troops. Charles continued to appear on stage until the late 1960s.
Shortly before his death, Charles did appear in the papers one more time. On March 25th 1976, Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother opened a new wing at Brinsworth House. On her visit, she met several residents including Charles “Plantagenet” Hayes.