This series aims to explore Lancashire’s unique history through a selection of unusual objects

At the turn of the last century the tradition of music hall was in full swing. Contortionists, ventriloquists, comedians and magicians would travel from all over the world to perform in Lancashire’s brand new-state-of-the-art theatres such as Burnley’s Empire and Hippodrome and Nelson’s Palace.

Mr and Mrs Robinson were an enterprising couple who decided to capitalise on this surge of international artists by opening a theatrical lodgings guesthouse. The only witness to this enterprise is a faded and battered guesthouse book which charts some of the histories of their rather unusual clientele.

The book which was left to Burnley Library and then passed on to the Lancashire Archives is packed with theatrical bills and testimonies from music hall performers, many of whom have since faded into obscurity.

Ossi Souplessi ‘The World’s Greatest Bender’ stayed with the couple while performing at the Burnley Empire in 1902. He said: “My first visit to Burnley and have had a very good feed at Mrs Robinson’s.”

Other, more famous guests included Harry Houdini, GH Elliot (Rochdale’s very own minstrel performer) and parents of magician Fu Manchu, Tobias and Lillian Bamberg.

Lillian wrote in 1907: “This is our first visit to Burnley and we have been exceedingly comfortable with Mr and Mrs Robinson, only we had rather too much soup. I may say that is rather a silly habit Mrs Robinson has of giving her guests too much soup.”

Performers often toured with their families many of whom thanked Mrs Robinson for the kindness she shows to their children.

However, life as a music hall performer wasn’t always straightforward. In 1901 Horace Pickett, the double voiced ventriloquist, stayed at the guest house with his wife and baby.

Despite his comment, “excellent a sure return,” Mr Pickett was destined to never enjoy the hospitality of Mr and Mrs Robinson again. An obituary later in the book documents the young ventriloquist’s death after a brief illness in Harrogate and his young widow’s subsequent financial hardship.