E. Willis Fletcher (1842 - 1880)


Edward Willis Fletcher was born October 5, 1842 in Bryanston Square, Westminster, London, England a son of Robert (1817 - 1912) and Rachel (1815 - ) Fletcher. 1 By 1861 he had established himself at the age of nineteen as an artificial florist. On September 29 of that year he married Harriett Emma Handley (1837-1902) a daughter of soldier, William Handley.2 Harriet and her sister, Selina, had both worked as artificial florists as children. During the next ten years he built his business in Finsbury, Islington to employ "4 boys, 1 man and 6 females." At the same time the couple's family grew to include four children: Amy, Edward Robert, Ivy, and Mildred.3

Harriett Handley Fletcher
Nothing is known of his musical training or his interest in the horn, however in 1868 at the age of twenty-six he began compiling the manuscript of horn excerpts from symphonies, oratorios shown here. 4 In it he records that he played a "Sextette of Haydn's for Winds"  in F. for two clarinets, two bassoons and two horns in December, 1873.  The soiree took place at  Dr. Stone's house in Dean's Yard, Westminster. The other players listed by Mr. Fletcher were Lazarus, Beddome, Hutchins, Dr Stone, and Mr. Hanart [sic, Hanhart]. 5

His son, Edward Robert Fletcher, became an accomplished horn player, organist, and professor of music (see below).

Edward Willis Fletcher died May 9, 1880, at the age of thirty-eight. He had been a patient at the Middlesex Lunatic Asylum, Banstead, Surrey, perhaps a victim of the chemistry used in the manufacture of artificial flowers (e.g. compounds of arsenic, mercury, lead, and chromium). His widow, Harriet, continued the business for many years thereafter. She died at Highbury, Middlesex on January 16, 1902.

The contents of the manuscript represent an eclectic mix of repertoire performed in London in the nineteenth century. Popular opera composers such as Rossini, Bellini, Gounod, Weber, Auber, and Balfe are well represented. Symphonic works are limited to Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn. Contemporary British composers such as Cipriani Potter, George Alexander Macfarren, George Herbert Rodwell, and Alexander Lee are also present. In addition thee are numerous transcriptions for horn of opera arias and popular songs of the day, a few etudes and duets, including one by Giovanni Puzzi. 6
In addition to the horn, Mr.. Fletcher had an interest in music for the voice. In August 1861 (a month before his marriage to Harriett Handley) he published lyrics for a song, "His Eyes" in The Musical World (see right). This song attracted the attention of one reader, who requested his address. Subsequently, Mr. Fletcher offered to send it to either of two publishers. An anthem, "Rejoice in the Lord" was published by The London Music Publishers (bottom right). In 1870 Mr. Fletcher's comment to the Sunday Times regarding the use of secular tunes in sacred music caught the eye of an editor of Notes and Queries:
HYMN TUNES. A correspondent of the Sunday Times, May, 1870, referring to the dispute about performing secular music in the parks on Sundays, states that many hymns presently in use were sung to tunes composed for secular melodies, and gives as one instance the famous Advent hymn beginning "Lo! he comes with clouds descending." "This," the writer says "was composed as a hornpipe for a Miss Catline, who danced in a pantomime called Harlequin Tom Thumb, and played at Covent Garden (long before it was the E. I. O. many years ago.) To be told this would shock the nerves of many a steady-going churchman while he listens to the beautiful hymn as it rolls forth from the organ in slow common time." This curious piece of information is signed E. Willis Fletcher, Islington, April 28, 1870.

By "Miss Catline" probably Miss Catley was meant. There is no notice of any pantomime called Tom Thumb mentioned in the Biographic; and although Miss Catley was a charming singer, and was celebrated for her appearance in Dr. Arne's delightful opera of Comus, I was certainly surprised by finding her brought forward as a dancer. Is there any truth at all in this curious statement? J- N

The Musical World, August 17, 1861

The Musical World, October 19, 1861

The Musical World, November 23, 1861

The Literary World, February 12, 1892
Other Writings

In 1860, at the age of seventeen, Mr. Fletcher was keenly interested in the theater and its history. As a charter subscriber to The Players, a weekly journal dedicated to the theater arts, he submitted a brief article entitled "The Licensing of Plays" which was published in the "Notes, Anecdotes, &c." column on February 13, 1860. According to Mr. Fletcher, the Licensing Act of 1736 was "exceedingly unjust" and would not have been passed except for self-serving efforts of the prime minister himself. 

The following month The Players published his short story "A Morning Rehearsal." In the story the unnamed protagonist, narrating in first person, meets by chance his friend, Mr. Roscius Scrawl, who invites him to a morning rehearsal of his new play, Crossboned Cavern or the Pirate of the Rolling Wave at the Royal Bomberdash Theatre.

The Players, April 12, 1860

Two weeks later, apparently satisfied with his writing skills, The Players published the first of eleven chapters of his novelette "The Fortunes and Misfortunes Before and Behind the Curtain or Buzzen Fitz-Buzzen" (see above right). In this story two gentlemen, one younger (Mr. Charles Buzzen) the other substantially older (Mr. Joshua Merry) are clerks in a law firm and have in common an affinity for the theater. Taking lunch alone at a local restaurant one day, Buzzen overhears three other young gentlemen "of a very showy and attractive appearance" discussing a disastrous performance of Macbeth by one of their other friends, that one of them had witnessed the night before. Buzzen joins in the conversation, and afterwards confides to Mr. Merry that he has aspirations to the stage himself, hoping someday to play Othello. Mr. Merry says he knows the men at lunch and can make some connections for him. They agree to meet later that evening, however Mr. Merry is delayed due, as he explains later, to encounters with his landlady and his washer woman who are among his several creditors. They proceed to the "Merry Wives of Windsor", a bar in Covent Garden frequented by amateur actors. In the Club Room Mr. Buzzen is introduced to the '"Thespian Trumps'", an amateur thespian society where he recognizes two of the men he had met at lunch. He is elected as a member to the Society by unanimous vote and then to his delight is offered a double role in the following week's performance of Beauty of the Village. Out of gratitude for his assistance he loans Mr. Merry some money to pay his debts and hopes someday to introduce him to his wealthy maiden aunt. For some time Mr. Buzzen has been enamored of Miss Letitia Primrose, age 18, and he now becomes nervous about his first appearance on the stage, especially since it will require him to kiss the lovely maid, "Becky", in front of Letty and her mother who are expected to be present in the audience. He explains to her that the kiss is required in the script, but she strictly forbids it. She finally consents "after a time and much persuasion, coupled with a promise of a new pair of mauve or magenta colour gloves."7

The Players, May 5, 1860

The Players, May 19, 1860

On May 5, 1860 Mr. Fletcher submitted a humorous anecdote called "Laconic Epistles" (above), which, however, was shown by another reader two weeks later to be impossible due the fact that the two parties depicted could never have met.  

In the intervening week Mr. Fletcher submitted another humorous story ( right).

The Players, May 12, 1860

Edward Robert Fletcher, son of Edward Willis and Harriett Fletcher, was born June 15, 1868 in Pimlico. He became an accomplished organist, conductor, and horn player.  In 1900 he was admitted to the Royal Society of Musicians of Great Britain. He described his occupation as "music master in genteral." He was an organist for five years at  "Spa Fields", Islington, and also taught piano. For three years he performed as second horn at the St. James' Theatre. and also played in the Sunday League Orchestra and on the Harrison concert tour. In 1926 he was listed as "E.W. Fletcher" (his father's initials) in the "French Horn" section of the Musicians Union (London Branch) membership book, residing at 49 Rosebank Avenue, Harrow. In addition he served as conductor of the Opera Company on tour. As a concert organizer he became good friends with ballerina Anna Pavlova and her musical director, Theodore Stier. He also contracted the orchestra for the 1924 Italian Ballet at Covent Garden.

On July 10, 1902 Mr. Fletcher married Johanna Wilhelmine Helene Dorothea Heitmann (ca. 1880 - 1960), daughter of Johann Nicolaus Heitmann (deceased), a timber merchant in Germany. Together they had two sons, Edward Burbage Fletcher, (ca. 1903 - 2002) and Ronald T. R. Fletcher (1921 - 2001). During World War I he enlisted in the British Army. 

Edward Robert Fletcher died December 18, 1942.8  

Very special thanks to Rowena and Pauline Fletcher, great-granddaughters of Edward Willis Fletcher for sharing family photos and related information. Special thanks also to John Humphries for providing the 1926 Musicians Union Membership List and for his always valuable correspondence. Thanks too, to Gary Trew for sharing additional information regarding Edward Robert Fletcher's association with Anna Pavlova and Theodore Stier.

1. According to an unverified genealogical source in addition to Edward Willis, the family also included Fanny Mary, George, and William Fletcher.

2. Genealogical data for Harriet's family is incomplete and the available evidence somewhat contradictory. It is fairly clear that her mother was Harriett Mullen who was born in Brompton, ca. 1803, the daughter of carpenter James Mullen, and who married John Handley at St. Mary's, Lambeth, Surrey on May 2, 1827. From census data it appears that the couple had four children: Catherine Handley (ca.1831- ), William James Handley (ca.1832-1896), Selena Charlotte Handley (ca.1834- ), and Harriett Emma  Handley (ca.1836-1902).  Subsequently John Handley died and on January 25, 1838 Harriett married Joseph Thornell, also at St. Mary's, Lambeth. Joseph was a corporal in the 1st Regiment Foot Guards, and having also been widowed, had a daughter, Charlotte Thornell (ca. 1834). Harriett and Joseph had a daughter Mary Ann Thornell (ca.1849- ) and the 1841 census lists Harriett Thornell, Cathr. Handley, Selina C. Handley, Mary Ann Thornhill [sic], Charlotte Thornhill [sic], and Harriett Handley living in the Tower of London barracks of the 1st Battery Grenadier Guards. By the 1851 census Harriett was once more a widow and living in St. Johns, Westminster with her children William J., Selina, and Harriett Handley, and Mary Ann Thornell. On December 23, 1860, sister Selena Handley married Charles Jenkins, and identified her father as John Handley, soldier, with Harriett Emma Handley as a witness. The next year when Harriett married Edward Willis Fletcher, however, she identified her father as William Handley, soldier. It is certainly possible that in the four years between the birth of Selina and the marriage to Joseph Thornell, Harriett Mullen Handley was also married to a William Handley, but no record has been found to support that, nor has evidence that her first husband was named ambiguously John William Handley. Nevertheless, Harriet's statement that her father was William Handley is taken here on face value.

3. Census, Finsbury Borough, Islington Parish, London, England, 1871. Also listed is Maria Thornell, sister-in-law. Another son, Theodore A. Fletcher (1871 -1874) was not included in the census. In the 1871 census, Harriett's name is erroneously listed as Henrietta. 

4. Mr. Fletcher's brother-in-law was William James Handley, an established professional horn player.. He was born in 1832 and was about ten years older than Edward. Mr. Handley played third horn in Her Majesty's Theatre. He was a soloist at St. James Hall at which Charles Gounod was the conductor. He most likely had some influence on Mr. Fletcher's interest in the horn and is mentioned in his manuscript as having played the hunting chorus from Der Freischutz on October 14, 1865. Mr. Fletcher also included a duet by Giovanni Puzzi (1792 - 1876), who was perhaps the greatest horn virtuoso in the first half of the nineteenth century. He had been the first professor of horn at the Royal Academy of Music and a prominent impresario in London. As late as 1852 he wrote a set of harmony lessons, Studi d'armonia, which suggests he was still engaged in some teaching when Mr. Fletcher was about ten years old. It is tempting to suggest that Mr. Fletcher might have been his pupil, however Puzzi biographer, Bradley Strauchen, concludes, that "it is highly improbable that his private teaching activities would have involved the horn to any extent."

5. Henry Lazarus (1815-1895) was the distinguished professor of clarinet at the Royal Academy of Music from 1854 to 1895, principal clarinet of the Royal Philharmonic, Opera and other major musical organizations. Leonard William Beddome (1851-1920) was a very active semi-professional clarinettist and Havana cigar importer. Bassoonist John Frishney Hutchins (1834-1915) was also a professional musician active in London. He and Mr. Beddome were members of the Oxford University Musical Club. Dr. William Henry Stone (1830-1891), Lecturer on Physics at St. Thomas's Hospital, "was an excellent musician, chiefly choosing wind instruments, and was a member of the 'Wandering Minstrels.' It was said of him the even in orchestral practice he had a tendency to take a line of his own, somewhat to the distraction of his fellow-players.... Although usually performing on the clarinet, he took great pains to improve the effectiveness of the double bassoon, and introduced it into orchestral performances."Apparently Dr. Stone was playing second bassoon on this occasion. Michael Hanhart (1811-1884) was the other horn player for this soiree. He was a partner with his brother Nicholas in the printing and lithographic firm of M & N Hanhart, and both were members of the Wandering Minstrels.

6. It is possibile that Mr. Fletcher intended this manuscript for publication. As mentioned in the previous note he was a colleague of Michael Hanhart who was a noted engraver, printer, and a publisher of music. If it had been published, it might have predated the famous Hornstudien series by Friedrich Gumpert (ca. 1873) generally attributed as the first published books of horn excerpts. Some of the entries are in a different hand, probably added much later by Mr. Fletcher's son, Edward Robert Fletcher, who was also a horn player (see contents).  The manuscript bears the date 1868, the year Edward Robert was born, and perhaps Mr. Fletcher had hopes that his son would someday share his own passion for the horn.

7. The story ends abruptly at this point after eleven chapters with the promise "to be continued" (The Players, vol. II, n.38, September 15, 1860, p. 83). It appears that the journal abandoned its fiction column "The Players' Tale Teller" in favor of current news of the theatrical arts. Nothing was heard since from Mr. Fletcher.

8. Some of the information in this section has been taken from unverified genealogical sources and from the Royal Society of Musicians Directory of Members. Wherever possible it has been substantiated by primary or published contemporary sources.

Hadden and Anderson; Saint Thomas's Hospital Reports, J. & A. Churchill, London, 1892

The Royal Society of Musicians of Great Britain Membership Catalog

Strauchen, Elizabeth Bradley; Giovanni Puzzi: His Life and Work. A View of Horn Playing and Musical Life in England from 1817 into the Victorian Era, (c. 1855), Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of D.Phil in Music History, Somerville College, University of Oxford, Trinity Term, 2000.

Thomas, William John, et. al., eds; Notes and Queries, "A Medium of Intercommunication for Literary Men, General Readers, Etc.", series 4, v. 6,  London, 1870

Thompson, W. Gilman, M.D.; The Occupational Diseases, Appleton, New York, 1914

The Literary World, vol. XLV,  James Clarke & Co., London, 1892

Wisgast, Wilfred, ed.; The Players, "The Abstract and Brief Chronicles of the Time", vols. 1 and II, London, 1860

England Census, 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891. 1901, 1911, 1921

England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations)

London, England, Births and Baptisms

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