Sheffield city changes bring back memories of Victorian entertainer Professor De Lyle and his talented daughter

A story about an old chapel in Sheffield city centre whose frontage is being revealed by demolition of an extension reminded one Retro reader of his grandfather, who was an entertainer.

Tuesday, 13th July 2021, 10:30 am
Professor De Lyle with puppets and props - he used this image on a card advertising his act
Professor De Lyle with puppets and props - he used this image on a card advertising his act

David Monks also sent in a picture of a poster for a concert that his grandfather staged in the Bethel Chapel Sunday School on Cambridge Street in 1908. He was called George Fox and his stage name was Professor De Lyle –inspired by the famous Lyle’s golden syrup.

David, who lives in Coventry, wrote: “I was interested in the report in The Star about the development of the old Victorian Sunday school in Cambridge Street.

“My Grandfather was conjurer Professor De Lyle who put on a Grand Concert there on November 30, 1908. My brother, Sheffield-born Bob, and myself visited the former school on its centenary, as reported in The Star.

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“The poster, which was printed by himself under his real name, George Arthur Fox, advertised a variety of acts, as well as his conjuring and animated pictures, including a Royal procession in London and a hypnotized police inspector.

“Professor De Lyle performed professionally for 63 years, never retiring. He brought happiness to thousands of local people.”

You can see a short film about him, called Professor De Lyle's magic and wonder show, on YouTube. David has also written a book, The Magical De Lyles - The story of a Sheffield family, which is available on Amazon for £5.

George, who was born in 1871, lived and worked on Ecclesall Road and had his own stationery and printing business.

A poster for Professor De Lyle's grand 1908 concert, held in the Bethel Chapel schoolroom on Cambridge Street, Sheffield

The University of Sheffield’s National Fairground and Circus Archive says that Professor De Lyle made his first professional appearance in 1885, aged 14, “and went to become one of the most popular acts in Sheffield during the golden age of popular entertainment”.

He was a regular in the Sheffield’s great Christmas Fair held on Blonk Street, which was one of the most prominent UK travelling fairs. His shows included magic lantern recitals, early cinema performances, ventriloquism and his Punch & Judy show, which was also a favourite in city parks.

During World War One Professor De Lyle performed for wounded soldiers in Sheffield hospitals with his eldest daughter Winnie. Calling herself Wynne De Lyle, Winnie began as a child and was an accomplished ventriloquist and magician.

Wynne De Lyle's ventriloquist puppet Jimmie in his RAF uniform - some of the puppets are on show in Weston Park Museum's Sheffield Life and Times gallery

Puppets were dressed in army uniforms for the hospital performances, a tradition that Winnie continued when she performed during World War Two. Her puppet Jimmie was dressed as an airman and Winnie appeared in a WAAF uniform.

The Bethel Sunday School chapel is a three-storey building next to the Bethel Chapel, the frontage of which is concealed behind a 1930s front extension. Contractors working on the next stage of the Heart of the City project want to reveal the original frontage as part of the restoration work in the street, which includes the neighbouring Leah’s Yard, a listed former Little Mester’s workshop.

The frontages of several other Cambridge Street buildings that were set to disappear under the previous, abandoned Sevenstone shopping centre plan will now be retained.

Find the fairground and circus archive website at www.sheffield.ac.uk/nfca

George Fox as conjurer and ventriloquist Professor De Lyle