Harry Wilding was one of the Great Puppet Showmen of the Victorian Era.  Born in Suffolk in 1857, he started out in show business as an apprentice acrobat in a Circus at the age of six.  Harry's Father had a marionette show (the skeleton puppet used in Wilding's shows was his Father's and was his most prized possession) and it was Harry's Father who, concerned for his son's welfare, decided when Harry was thirteen, that he should return to the family business of puppetry and learn his craft by working as a puppet operator with the leading marionette troupes of the day.

Harry Wilding aged 81
Harry Wilding aged 81

Using all the skills he learned working with other Companies, Wilding later set up his own Company, touring with his wife and six sons, who all helped with the show.  He moved to the Midlands in the 1870s and based his touring operations firstly from West Bromwich and later from the Cannock Chase Area.

Wilding’s Marionette Theatre was one of the largest ever toured, reportedly seating up to 700 people.  The inside of the marquee had raked seating and the rafters inside were ornamented with fancy scallops.  On one side of the proscenium were drums and on the other side, a small pipe organ.  These instruments, augmented by a cornet (played by Wilding himself), provided the musical accompaniment.

The show was illuminated with paraffin oil lamps, with three or four ceiling lamps for house lights.  Heating during the Winter months was provided by coke fires situated in various parts of the marquee, which always had its floor sprinkled with fresh sawdust (yes, it did burn down - three times in fact).

Performances lasted about two and a half hours and prices ranged from one penny to the top price of sixpence.

Wilding's shows were noted for their elaborate scenery and effects, transformations etc, which mirrored the popularity of such mechanical stage effects on the Victorian Stage.


H. Wilding's Marionettes, 1877
Wood-Cut illustrating Wilding's Marionettes 1877

In his long and varied career, Harry Wilding visited almost every country in the world, including France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Poland and Russia along with almost every Town and City in Britain.

1914 saw the beginning of the end for Wilding's Touring Show, as five of his sons were called up to serve their Country.  Harry made an attempt to continue, but the shows were too elaborate to be presented without the assistance of his large family and eventually, he was forced to close the show down.

He settled, for the last thirty or so years of his life in the Cannock Chase area, in Chadsmoor, between Cannock and Hednesford to be exact, where he continued to live in his converted touring wagons and ended his working life in the Cannock Chase Coal Mines.

All his sons miraculously survived the First World War, with only one - John Wilding - being wounded at the Battle of Loos.  However, when they returned from War, interest in puppetry had waned and the sons' only option was to join their Father working in the Coal Mines - the area's main employer.

Wilding's Touring Wagons
Wilding's Touring Wagons

Harry did return briefly to puppetry in his late 70s, assisting his son Bert, who toured the show again for a few years with limited success.

According to his son Bert, Harry  continued to make puppets and remained a skilled manipulator.  In an interview published in the 'World's Fair' on 13th October 1934, Harry commented "I have made all my own figures for years, painted and designed all my own scenery, written scores of plays and sketches, dressed all my little actors and actresses and played the cornet in my own band."

Harry Wilding died at his home in Moreton Street, Chadsmoor, in 1941, aged 84.


Two Little Vagabonds
Colleen Bawn
Sea of Ice
Maria Martin
Babes in the Wood
Old House at Home
Turpin's Ride to York
Poor Jo
Silver King
Dead Witness
Death Ship
Black Eyed Susan
Grandfather's Clock
Jack Sheppard
Lady Audley's Secret
Queen's Evidence
Uncle Tom's Cabin
Lost in London
Face at the Window
A Tale of Mystery
Sweeney Todd
East Lynne
Father Dear Father Come Home
Faith, Hope and Charity
Fallen Among Thieves
Beggar's Petition
Little Red Riding Hood
Beauty and the Beast
Robinson Crusoe
Dick Whittington
and many many more ...

Wilding Playbill

Due to the Wildings' vast repertoire, they were able to stay in many towns for a considerable time.  Sometimes presenting six different plays a week.

Harry's Son Jim & Wife with Marionettes
Harry's Son Jim & Wife


The Entertainment is manipulated by the Wilding Family only.  These Marionettes are on a scale equal to life.  They move and apparently speak with a facility equal to human beings.  The entertainment is essentially different from theatricals; the characters in the plays are represented by miniature marionettes.

The Proprietor wishes to impress upon the minds of the public that he intends to bring forward such a class of entertainment that cannot fail to please.  All such abundance of sensational novelties and mechanical skill that have never been witnessed in any other travelling exhibition of the kind.


The Entertainment will Terminate Each Evening with a Screaming Farce
Agent in Advance:  Mr Harry Wilding Jnr.
Stage Manager:  Mr James Wilding      Acting Manager:  Mr Herbert Wilding
Wardrobe Mistress:  Mrs L. Wilding      Proprietor:  Mr Harry Wilding

Researched from Articles Published in "The World's Fair"

  Wilding's Marionette Stage
Right:  Harry Wilding and Puppeteer Mary L Williams (nee Fanning)
Left:  Bert Wilding & His Wife Tottie (Mary's Twin Sister) in front of the Marionette Stage

Programme from the Wilding Marionettes Revival in the 1930s
as Bert Wilding's Crown Marionette Theatre