Hertfordshire Postcard Artists, Photographers, Publishers, etc.

James Joseph Colville DYKE


of Watford, circa 1890

When you start a piece of historical research you sometimes have no idea where it will lead. As I am currently  rushed off my feet I was looking for a quick item for the next update of the web site. I recently purchased a carte de visite made by Dyke & Coy, of 96 Queen's Road, Watford. A quick check of the Hertfordshire trade directories showed that 1890 was the only year they were listed. I foolishly thought that a short page with a copy of the picture and a brief timeline would only take a few minutes. Little did I realise that, many hours later  I would still be busily chasing the seductively named Miss Lena Love all round the country.

The directory entry suggested I might find the photographer in Watford in the 1891 census but what I found was two young sons under the care of a housekeeper and no sign of Colville Dyke anywhere in England. A search of the 1881 and 1901 censuses showed the only Colville Dyke was a ventriloquist! In 1911 he had become a herbalist and changed his place of birth from Herefordshire to Lancashire. However in 1901 and 1911 there was a daughter born in Watford - who was recorded as Oliver in 1891. Further scrambling around on Ancestry, FindMyPast, Familysearch and FreeBMD revealed the marriage of John Joseph Colville Dyke, ventriloquist, and the baptisms of the two children - when he was described as a photographer!

So was Colville Dyke a photographer, a ventriloquist - or what? I decided to look further afield - in the British Newspaper Archive and on Google. It would seem that for much of the time he had a shop where he ran a business, but that he and his wife - on the stage Miss Lena Love - also arranged shows such as the one at the left which happened when (or shortly after) they lived in Watford. I have only selected a few of the many references to their Music Hall style activities in the timeline below.


Whitstable Times 11 July 1891


date   source   data
1851   Birth   John Joseph Dykes, Burnley (Dec)
21 September 1851       John Joseph Dykes in Holme by Cliviger, Lancashire
1861   Census   John J Dykes (9, scholar, born Lancashire) was the son of Thomas Dykes (39, Superintendent of Police, born Broomhill, Cheshire) and Maru Ann (31, born Warburton, Cheshire). They were livinga at Burton Street, Leominster, Herefordshire.
1871   Census   John J Dykes (19, mercer's apprentice, born Burnley) was living with a number of merce's salesmen at 31 High Town, All Saints Hereford.
1872   News   Hereford: Corn Exchange. The "Hereford Amateurs" gave an entertainment in the above room on Monday, the said entertainment consisting of singing, ventriloquial sketches, &c. Where all did their best it would be invidious to criticise; but we think that a meed of praise is due to Messrs Dyke (ventriloquist) and Bustin (comic vocalist) for the manner in which the entertainment was got up. The audience was good. The Era.
8 February 1874   Advert   "Colville Dyke with his Happy Family" was on the programme of the Albion Theatre, High Street, Poplar. (Reynolds News).   Later adverts during 1874/5 describe him as a ventriloquist - so presumably the family were ventriloquist's puppets.
27 September 1874   Advert  

The Era

27 December 1874   Advert  

Col. Dyke, the Prince of Ventriloquists, Two Hours Melange, "Make Life Happy." Tonight Corn Exchange, Watford. Music Hall Tour (arranged some months since) commences January 25th, Evan's Varieties, Newport; following on to Queen's, Dublin; Alhambra, Belfast, People's, Manchester; Pullan's, Bradford; Gymnasium, Huddersfield; Alhambra, Sheffield; Mechanics', Hull; Wear, Sunderland, &c.  The Era.

2 January 1875   News   Entertainment. - On Tuesday evening Mr Colville Dyke gave his entertainment, consisting of Ventriloquism, &c., at the Mechanics' Institute [Slough]. The attendance was moderately large, and the entertainment appeared to give great satisfaction. Bucks Herald.
28 October 1875   Advert  

Lancaster Gazette

1876   News   Albert Hall, Hull. Mr Col. Dyke, with his Royal Diorama, is still there. The Era
6 March 1880   News  

MAKING LIFE HAPPY. - Mr. Colvil Dyke, ventriloquist, gave an entertainment on Friday evening to a large companny in the Town Hall [Berkhamsted]. The entertainment was of a superior character, Hertford Mercury.

1 July 1880   News  

JERSEY - Royal Hall - Mr Colville Dyke opened on June 14th with his entertainment entitled "Make Life Happy," and has met with a fair share of patronage.   The Stage.

1880   News  

"MAKE LIFE HAPPY" - An entertainment with this title was given at the Assembly Room [Princess Risborough, Bucks] on Friday (yesterday) week, by Mr Colville Dyke. The entertainment consisted of some clever sleight-of-hand and ventriloquism, followed up by electro-biological experiments upon persons selected from the audience. The entertainment was both refined and interesting, The disappearance of a silver bird-cage, the transmutations of liquids and fairy bells, were executed with wonderful skill, and every feat was received with loud applause." Bucks Herald.

14 March 1881   News  

I don't know where the parents were on Census night but a couple of weeks before they were in Leicester: Kibworth Village Hall - Colonel Dyke gave his "feast of fun" at the above hall on Wednesday evening. Leicester Chronilce.

1881   Census  

Colville Dyke (28, born Hereford, ventriloquist) and his wife Lena (24, born Liverpool, pianist) were visiting a house in Macclesfield.

18th July 1881   Marriage  

John Joseph Dyke (ventriloquist) married to Helena Albertina Jonathan at St Judes, East Brixton, Surrey. - Father Thomas Dyke, Superintendant of Police

9 September 1881   News   GUERNSEY - St Julian's Hall - On Monday evening Colville Dyke, assisted by Mr. J. D. Hunter, gave the first of a series of performances in the above hall, under the title IMake Life Happy. The entertainment is exceedingly clever and amusing, and attractive. The audience is kept in a continual state of merriment from beginning to end.   The Stage.
28 January 1882   News   DYKE'S POPULAR ENTERTAINMENT. - OnWednesday and Thursday evenings of the present week the noted American, Colville Dyke, gave his popular merry sensational and novel entertainment in the Town Hall [Rickmansworth]. Watford Observer.
17 March 1883   Advert   Wanted - Caterers to know Col. Dyke has fixed all dates for his successful Two-hour Entertainment "Make Life Happy" to June 4th, when Col. Dyke rests for Four Weeks. Col. Dyke is booking dates for July and August (Seaside only). Col. Dyke Tonight at Town Hall, Teovil,. Col. Dyke rests during Passion Week, reopening Easter Monday at Bedford. Col. Dyke will purchase Novelties. Price secondary consideration if a positive draw. Address, care of Smith's Cigar Divan, 190, Wardour Street, W.   The Era.
7 December 1883   Baptism   Thomas Colville Dyke, son of Colville Dyke (photographer)  and Helena of 4 Tonsley Hill, was baptised at St Faith, Wandsworth
[I have not investigated the "American Tour" mentioned in the following advert.]
21 March 1884   News   TENBY: Royal Assembly Rooms (Miss Bright, manageress). - Mr Colville Dyke has occupied the rooms during the past week with his clever illusionary entertainment. He is ably assisted by Miss Lena Love and Messrs Stirling and Vernon.   The Stage.
1 May 1884   Advert   Bath Chronicle
20 May 1884   News   ... The programme embraces science, music and feats of legerdemain, all full of humour, without a tinge of vulgarity. Mr. Dyke is a ventriloquist of first rate order, and in Miss Lena Love he has an assistant whose contributions to the marvellous séances are invaluable. We have no hesitation in commending this entertainment.  Cheltenham Chronicle
13 October 1888   News   Act reported "Mr Colville Dyke and Miss Lena Love, exhibitors of second sight" [During the 1880s and 90s there were a number of adverts for him working as a conjuror or ventriloquist.]
21 September 1889   News  

Entertainment. —Mr. Colville Dyke, who has been giving performances in America, India, and China during the past four years, is now having a tour England. On Monday and Tuesday evenings he gave his entertainment to enthusiastic audiences in the Public Hall [Much Hadham], his very varied programme winning him repeated applause. As conjuror he is almost unrivalled, and each evening began and ended his performance with some most astonishing sleight of hand feats. A mystical sword seemed to pass through his body at will; coins vanished, rings reappeared in the most unlooked for places, and an enchanted watch had quite a little history of adventures. To merely catalogue the articles he produced from an old hat would make a lengthy list that would appear like romance, so we content ourselves with chronicling the fact. The entertainer is also a good musician, singing humorous songs, imitating church bells with an apparatus that must require careful manipulation, and rendering Laretti’s music on the mandoline with surprising skill. His ventriloquism was a treat. With figure representations of the Sloper family he solved conundrums, sang duets, and kept up a lively patter that kept the audience in roars of laughter. Following this was an exhibition of clairvoyance or second sight, and here the professor was aided by Miss Lena Love, who was seated blindfold on the platform. She answered all queries and correctly named with detailed particulars all articles that were lent the audience to Mr. Dyke. Certainly the most astonishing performance of the evening was the amusing scene “John Buttercup m two pieces.” As Herefordshire farmer Mr. Dyke seeks a cure for his many maladies, from Dr. Dodge (Miss Love) and she informs him that to regain health he must lose his head. This he at length agrees to. and after his head is cut off, the trunk rises from the chair and reels from the stage. It left the audience m much bewilderment and was a very clever illusion. Herts Mercury

5 October 1889   News  

Col. Dyke the County Club. — Mr. Colville Dyke, who styles himself "The Novel American Deceptionist,"  gave three performances at the County Club [St Albans] on Wednesday and Thursday. The programme consisted largely of conjuring tricks, all of which were very well executed by Mr. Dyke. also showed his ventriloquial powers to very good effect, whilst Miss Lena Love greatly interested audience by her exhibitions of "second sight," naming when blindfolded any article touched by the "wizard." A very sweet effect was produced by imitation church chimes and bells by Mr. Dyke, and this part of the programme secured well earned applause. The entertainment was well patronised on each day. Herts Advertiser

19 October 1889   Advert  

The Era

5 November 1889   News  

Essex Newsman

1890   Directory   Colville Dyke, photographer, 98 Queen's Road, Watford
8 February 1890   News   BIRTH - On Tuesday, February 4th, at Mysteria Villa, Watford, Herts, the wife of Col. Dyke (Miss Lena Love), of a daughter. The Era
22 February 1890   Adverts   Adverts started appearing in the Primrose League Gazette at various dates for "COLVILLE DYKE'S Refined, Amusing, Unique Entertainments, Original Magical Illusions, Ventriloquism Extraordinary, Musical Solos, Character Songs, Miss Lena Love's Bewildering Clairvoyance. For Programmes, Press Opinions, Testimonials, address - Queen's Road, Watford, Herts. Patronised by the Royal Family, Nobility, ..."  at various dates until April 1891.
12th March 1890      

CDV by Dyke & Co, Watford  
12 July 1890   Advert   Wanted, Dates, Share and Certainty, for Col. Dyke's Magical Illusions and Original Mysteries, Ventriloquism,  and Funny Folks, Comic Character Songs, Musical Solos (Banjo, English Concertina, Cornet, Mandoline, Fairy Bells), and Miss Lena Love, Second Sight and Silent Mind Reading, Pianiste and Zither Soloist. Dates Vacant Aug 4th onwards. Seaside only. Thirty Minutes to Two Hours. Col. Dyke, Mysyeria Villa, Watford, Herts. The Era.
7 February 1891   Advert  

At Colchester - Essex Standard  à

14 February 1891   Advert  

... This week. Public Hall, Colchester. Vacant Dates in Summer months. Address next week Col Dyke, Corn Exchange, Chelmsford. The Era

28 February 1891   Advert  

... Col Dyke's Two Hours Entertainment. Tonight Wolverton. Next Week, Drill Hall, Nuneaton. The Era.

1891   Census  

Colonel  Dyke (professional ventriloquist) and Lady Dyke (professional though reader) were boarding with John Ward (blacksmith) in Berry Road, Sittingbourne. [Thanks to Trevor for finding this entry and letting me know]

Thomas Dyke (7) and Oliver [sic] Dyke (1, born Watford) were at 98 Queen's Road, Watford, in the care of Eliza Janes (49, born Chipperfield, Herts) housekeeper, with Gertrude Barnes (15, born Lambeth) general servant.

4 April 1891   News   Why the couple were in Sittingbourne

 East Kent Gazette à

18 April 1891   News  

 Colville Dyke visited Sittingbourne on the 4th and 6th instant, and gave a variety entertainment at the Town Hall each evening to a good audience. Conjuring formed the principal item of the "bill of fare." This. wee truly "wonderful," aod the repeated applause of those present testified to their delight as they watched with intense interest the magical performance. Another special attractive was the mysteriously clever clairvoyant performance of Miss Lena Love, who held the andantes spellbound as she (whilst blindfolded) correctly described various articles belonging to some of those present, even giving the name marked on the handkerchiefs. The ventriloquial performances with the "Phunny Pholks," proved another attractive item, while music, both vocal and instrumental, filled up a good programme. East Kent Gazette

23 May 1891   News   At the Public Hall [Croydon] - Col. Dyke gave a pleasant and intersting entertainment to a large audience. His ventriloquism feats were extrordinary, and the automaton "Phunny Folks" were most cleverly manipulated. Surry Mirror
11 July 1891   Advert   Whitstable Times  - see above
26 November 1892   News  

Biggleswade: Entertainment. - Col. Dyke's Company gave a good variety entertainment in the Town Hall, on Monday and Tuesday evenings.

 Bedfordshire  Mercury

29 November 1892   Advert  

Col. Dyke's entertainment ay the Corn Exchange, Leighton Buzzard included a "Comic Concert Party" and ... Col. Dyle's Diaramic Diversions. Sixty lovely Scenes. Beautiful Limelight Effects, Fairy Transformation Scenes, Grand Spectacular Tableaux, surpassing anything presented to the public before. ... Reserved seats were booked at Messrs Rush & Warwick. Leighton Buzzard Observer  à

1895   Directory   Colville Dyke, photographer, 20 Granby Street, Leicester.
7 September 1895   News  

Bedford: An Attractive Entertainment in the Town Hall is promised for three evenings of next week, commencing on Wednesday, when Col. Dyke will give an entirely original performance, happily blending scientific novelties, laughable eccentricities, and wizard wonders. Humorous songs and good music, diaromaic diversions, ventriloquism, and a shadow pantomime are only some of the items that come in the program, The press notices speak well of this entertainment.

Bedfordshire Times

1896       Prior to 1895 there were many appearances of "Col. Dyke's show" all over the country reported in the press,  only a few mentioned here. The number fell off in 1895, the one at Bedford being the last noted. However there are some smaller scale performances by Colville Dyke and Miss Lena at a more individual entertainer level. The following adverts would seem to be relevant to the fate of the big show.
29 February 1896   Advert   Col. Dyke, Wizard and Ventriloquist, 1,000 testimonials: Concert or two hours. - 7 Sunderland Road, Bradford. Yorkshire Post [Advert repeated in paper 4 weeks later]
16 May 1896   Advert   Wanted, Known, Col. Dyke is Vacant Whit Week. Thirty Minutes to Two Hours' High Class Conjuring, Ventriloquism, Miss Love's Clairvoyance, Shadowgraph, and Grand Diorama. Col. Dyke, 7 Sutherland Road, Bradford. Era.
28 November 1896   Advert   Wanted. Engagements by Experienced Lantern Operator, Four Years with Col. Dyke Manipulating Complicated Effects. Principal Halls in Britain. Knowledge of Animatographe. Honour, Bidborough Street, King's Cross. Era.
14 January 1898   Advert  

A real come-down in the world - the first performance listed as "Col. Dyke" (BNA April 2016) since 1895 - and only a 2d collection at the door.

Sunderland Daily Echo

1901   Census   Colville Dyke (49, born Leominster, ventriloquist), his wife Helene (49, born Liverpool) and daughter Olive (11, born Watford) were living at 92 Balmoral Avenue, Gateshead, County Durham.

The enumerators check list includes Colville Dyke, Stationary & Confectioner, 207 High Street, Gateshead, but it would seem that this was a shop with no residents.

22 January 1903   News  

At Melrose - reported in the Southern Reporter

1904   Directory   Colville Dyke, News Agent, 207 High Street, Gateshead in the 1904 Kelly's Directory of Printers, etc ... ?
26 August 1905      

Cheltenham Chronicle

I found no later references to his stage career

12 January 1911   Advert   Wanted Bioscopes, Opertators, etc. ... Wanted, Operator (competent Electric) State references, lowest wages, age. Open Monday next. Colville Dyke, 56 Burnett Avenue, Bradford, Yorks.   The Stage.
1911   Census   Colville Dyke (59, born Burnley, Lancs, herbalist), his wife Helena Albertine Dyke (59, born London, married 30 years), and daughter Olive (19, born Watford, Herts) were living in Eccleshill, Yorkshire.
12 January 1912   History   The Idle Picture House, Bradford: The proprietor and manager was Colville Dyke who opened his new Idle Picture Palace on Friday 12th January 1912 with The Doomed Ship" (1911 USA B/w Silent) Starring Charles Sutton, Mabel Trunelle and James Gordon and supporting short films. Popular Prices 2d to 1/-d. Programme changed Mondays and Thursdays. Dyke's Perfection Pictures. The Bradford Timeline Web site give a lot more information about this cinema.
1912   Directory   Colville Dyke, picturedrome proprietor, 128 Highfield Road, Idle, Bradford.
15 December 1915   Advert   Conjuring, Ventriloquiam, Punch, Judy, Farmyard imitations,  fun without vulgarituy. - Colville Dyke, Idle, Bradford. Yorkshire Evening Post [last advert noted]
Oct-Dec 1925   Deaths   Wife Helena dies aged 74.
December 1925   Ancestry Tree   33 Hartoft Street, York
Jan-Mar 1932   Death   John J Dyke died York, 1932, aged 80

Rowan Gibbs wrote from New Zealand :

I'm researching panoramas / dioramas in 19th century Britain and Dyke had one of his own (in fact more than one) and also worked with other diorama operators as a supporting variety act

Assuming that JJC's marriage certificate is correct in giving the Superintendent as his father, it seemed unlikely that Dyke was a stage name. (and many 19th century theatricals claimed to be American)

His father, Police Superintendent Thomas Dyke(s), appears from 1853 in Herefordshire papers in http://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/ and I think his wife, JJC's mother, was named Mary Ann -- there is an account in the Hereford Journal - Wednesday 26 October 1853 of Superintendent Dyke apprehending a thief whose wife is wearing a stolen petticoat, proved by Mary Ann Dyke-- presumably Mrs Dyke searching a female prisoner. And have now found him in 1851 census living Cliviger, "police constable", wife Mary Ann; no children.

There is a Thomas Dykes marrying Mary Ann Perrin in Manchester 24 June 1850 but the church register online annoyingly reveals he was a gardener. [Could it be the wrong Thomas and Mary Ann?? Purchase of a birth certificate should give maiden name]. He was in charge of the Weobley area in 1853 and 1854 and I saw this promising birth reg for Sep qu of 1852: Dykes James: Weobley: 6a 120 but there was another Thomas Dykes in the area, apparently a landowning farmer and magistrate, and Thomas was not appointed to Weobley, from Lancashire, until March 1853 (Hereford Jounral 16 Mar 1853 p.3 and 23 Mar 1853 p.4)

Thomas was later in Leominster (http://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/HEF/Leominster/Kelly1879 & www.maths.lse.ac.uk/Personal/norman/HEF.pdf ) In 1861 census they are all living in Leominster, now with our John J., age 9, born Cliviger, and a daughter Ann M., 6, born Weobley. This suggests John's birth was registered as John Joseph Dykes (Dec 1851, Burnley, 21 234. [A Mary Ann Dykes registered on the same page and dying the same quarter was presumably a twin.] In 1871 and 1881 parents are still in Leominster with the younger children but John has gone his way.

I found one earlier reference to JJC on stage -- The Era - Sunday 05 May 1872,an amateur in Hereford - aged about 20 I suppose. I could find no later appearance on stage than the one you quote.

One of his dioramas played in Berlin in 1876 but I can find no trace in US papers of his performing there -- and there are no long gaps in his career.

There is now a tree on Ancestry that seems reliable - good sources - but no birth (http://person.ancestry.co.uk/tree/13900264/person/1178016376/facts) The probate there gives the exact date of death. This tree has some siblings for Thomas which I haven't checked. (http://person.ancestry.co.uk/tree/35619435/person/20178544092/facts).

I have updated the time line using Rowan's comments - and added the 1871 census which shows he was in Hereford at the time - shortly before his first recorded stage performance. I have also added some extra news items including a visit to Watford in 1874, some references to his being in Watford and other items from the 1890s - suggesting that the last performances of his travelling show were in Bedfordshire in 1895. [Note that the Watford Observer has not yet been digitised for the relevant dates.]

February 2014


Page created

April 2016


Timeline updated

August 2016


Addition entries to time line from The Stage

March 2020


Update to 1891 census - Thanks to Trevor

Plus details of  Sittingbourne performance