Recalling South Shields playwright and publican

It must be fascinating to have a famous person in the family '“ the chance to look-back at their life and uncover facts that may have become lost to our present generation.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 9th October 2017, 9:07 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th December 2017, 10:00 am
The riverside at South Shields.
The riverside at South Shields.

So it was with local historian Pam Siegel and her ancestor, Francis James Daniel (1864-1919), who was an author, actor, play writer and publican.

“Francis was married to my second great aunt Ethel Emily Dawes, sister of my great grandfather Percival Charles Dawes,” reveals Pamela, who goes on to tell us more about the man and his work – his most memorable being a book and play entitled The Angel of Comical Corner.”

“Daniel, a publican in Shields, wrote the book at the end of the 19th century.

“He based The Angel of Comical Corner on that wonderfully-named spot on the riverside in South Shields, reflecting its associations with poverty and, correspondingly, violence and prostitution.

“Comical Corner, by the end of the Victorian era, was somewhere where the police patrolled in pairs.

“Daniel was the manager of the Stirling Castle, an old-established public house, situated at the bottom of Longbank, Wapping Street. It was there he got his inspiration.

“He had a warm heart for the rough and ready men who earned their scant livelihood in the boats, and in other hazardous occupations on the riverside.”

The Angel of Comical Corner was both a book and a play, the latter being performed at the Theatre Royal in King Street in June 1914, where it broke all records.

“The role of The Angel was taken by a local actress, Cissie Bellamy, who was 80 when she died, in 1957,” says Pamela.

“Daniel took the company on tour but it never repeated the success of its first production. Periodically, it was revived over the years in South Shields houses and did good business.”

Francis Daniel, who was also a publican at the Queen’s Head, in Brunswick Street, High Shields, also wrote “many, and some of them better plays, afterwards, and toured with them in the dual part of actor-manager.

“He was always well favoured by his audiences in South Shields.”

Pamela gleaned much of the information for her research from the book itself, a copy of which was held in Shields old library.

“I was not allowed to take the book home, so I spent two afternoons sitting on a hard chair at the library reading it. Shortly afterwards, I was visiting Shields to do more family research and found out that my cousin Tommy has a copy that had been handed down in the family.”

Another copy found its way across the Atlantic to the USA.

A posting by a chap called Peter Nicholson reads: “‘After more than 20 years of searching I finally got my hands on a copy of The Angel of Comical Corner.

“A previous owner of this book lived in what I think is Madra Street in Tyne Dock, can anyone throw any light on its location or even if that is the correct address?

“I love the fact that a book about South Shields, written and published in South Shields, made its way from Tyne Dock to California where I got it from – quite a journey!”

Francis Daniel is buried in Harton Cemetery where the inscription on his memorial stone reads: –

“He died April 16th 1919 aged 54 years.

A man of great intellect and beautiful thought.

We often treasure most, what we have lost

And fain would knit once more, the tangled ends

Of severed ties. By memory’s pain, we count the past

Of thoughts that bring regret for absent friends.

Leo Swift Daniel, son of the above, died June 10 1907, aged 14 months.

Remembered and revered by his loving wife Ethel.”

His first wife, Catherine McCarthy died in 1903.