The Fays

It was billed as “The Greatest Treat for Children Ever Given” – but The Fay’s variety show at the Victoria Hall became the scene of one of Wearside’s worst disasters. The deaths of 183 children at the theatre, following a stampede for free toys during a performance on June 16, 1883, has been well documented over the decades.

Much less well known, however, is the story behind the performers that afternoon – Victorian conjurer Alexander Fay (which was a stage name) and his spiritual magician sister Annie – who were based at Tynemouth Aquarium.

A notice in The Commercial Gazette on January 12, 1882, announced that a John Butters had loaned £60 to one Alfred Hutchinson on December 30, 1881. Hutchinson’s address was listed as Trinity Buildings, Dewsbury, and his profession was given as a ‘professor of conjuring.’ It was also stated that he was ‘commonly known’ as Alexander Fay.

Alfred Hutchinson, born on July 14, 1851, to William and Mary Hutchison, at 7 White Horse Lane, Lower Mile End Old Town, Middlesex. The earliest records relating to Alexander date from March 1877, when he was advertising for an assistant. By November 1877 he was performing with spiritual magicians Colonel Cordova and Nella Davenport at the Royal Hall in Jersey. Fay’s ventriloquial entertainment formed a prominent part of the show. In 1878, the show featured Miss Annie Fay (younger sister) – billed as a ‘world-renowned American Enchantress.’ Annie and Alexander went on to perform the same act with slight variations well into the next century.

Annie was hailed as an “inimitable phenomenon” when she received top billing at Penryhn Hall, Bangor in 1878, and, following three “successful engagements” in the capital, a Daily Telegraph critic reported in 1877 that the Fays performed “The most extraordinary entertainment ever introduced to a London audience.”

Following the inquests into the Victoria Hall disaster The Fays were immediately back to performing at Tynemouth Aquarium. By the end of July 1883, just a month later, they had once again adopted their arduous touring schedule – and continued this pattern the next 25 years.

It is believed Alexander married around 1887, and he may have had three daughters. The last trace of Alexander is in the 1911 census, when he was listed as a boarder at a house in Barnsley.

Toward the end of the article in The World’s Fair magazine from 1936, the author mentions seeing Alexander Fay and Miss Annie Fay and then says ‘Poverty overtook Fay and he died in Leeds Workhouse.’ 

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