27 Nov

D’Arc Treasure!

Allanna Brough, Archive

I remember the first time I saw the original Shareholders’ Ledger. It was the very first session of Raiders of the Lost Archive and Robin had brought along the metal box which the builders had found in the boiler room of the Picture House. It was like a treasure chest but instead of being full of gold and silver, it was full of something much more precious. It had old books inside. Old ledgers and account books. Books with names!

The ledger containing all the names of those original shareholders of 1912 generated a lot of interest and excitement. The handwriting was beautiful and, more importantly, it was legible. As I looked down the list of names, I recognised several names that are still local Campbeltown names today: Armour, MacTaggart, Greenlees, McKersie, Weir, McArthur, Revie, Blue, to name just a few. But the name that caught my attention wasn’t a local name. It was  “D’Arc”. William John D’Arc of Cardiff. Why would a person in Cardiff be buying shares in the Picture House? How would someone from Cardiff even know about the Picture House? And a name like D’Arc had to be a made up name, surely? So I decided there and then that William John D’Arc definitely required investigating.

William John D’Arc (his real name) was born in Dublin in 1873. He was born into a family of entertainers. His Father was Lambert D’Arc, born in Paris about 1835. Lambert was a waxwork modeler. He made waxwork marionettes and produced his own entertainment shows. It was very much a family run business and for the most part, wherever Lambert went his wife and children went too. Lambert’s career began in Dublin where his reputation and business really took off. Lambert performed his shows world wide, as far away as Australia and South Africa. He must have been quite a character because in 1876, Lambert was arrested and charged with keeping a disorderly house and was sentenced to four months hard labour at Belle Vue Prison, Manchester! By 1884, the D’Arc family had settled in Cardiff. It was at 90 St Mary Street that Lambert first opened his show “Mons. D’Arc Grand Waxwork Exhibition”.

As the youngest son of Lambert D’Arc, William travelled the world with his Father and siblings, learning and mastering his craft. Not only did he make the waxwork marionettes and scenery but, after his Father’s sudden death in Australia in 1893, William helped to produce the most extravagant shows, continuing to work with his sisters. William’s mother had been left running the waxworks in Cardiff for much of the time while the rest of the family were touring. After a court libel case against his mother in 1922, William settled in Cardiff and became the Proprietor of D’Arc’s Waxworks Exhibition. He produced his own show called “D’Arc’s Marvelettes” and continued with performances until 1938.

There is so much more to tell about William D’Arc and the D’Arc family but I would need to write a book, not just this blog.

Anyhow, back to The Picture House. What was the connection and why did William D’Arc buy 50 shares in 1912?

The D’Arcs knew Frederick Rendell Burnette, the Managing Director of the Picture House. Frederick had performed with the D’Arcs, early in his career as a conjurer/magician/mind reader, under his stage name of Professor Burnette.

And, (drumroll please) Frederick Rendell Burnette married William D’Arc’s sister, Emily D’Arc!

Image credits

Edith and William D’arc, copyright Media Wales Ltd.

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