Billy the Big Boots Dancer by Harry Wilding  

A Year in the Life of Billy Big Boots
- A Marionette by Harry Wilding -

In addition to the many plays staged by the Wilding Family detailed on the previous page, Harry Wilding was also known for his variety and trick marionettes.  One such figure was "Billy the Big Boots Dancer from Kentucky" who appeared in Variety Bills throughout Harry Wilding's long career and continued to be performed by Wilding's sons after his death.

In 2005, the figure was offered, by its then owners, to the Staffordshire County Museum at Shugborough for a year's temporary display among Douglas Hayward's Marionette collection.  Billy made his first appearance at Shugborough in March 2006 for the 2006 Season.

  The puppet had been re-costumed approximately 40 years earlier in a suit of pink crimplene, which whilst well-made, was not in keeping with his Victorian origins.

At the end of the 2006 Season, the marionette returned to its owners and subsequently came up for auction in Lichfield in February 2007, where it was purchased by Harry Wilding's Great Grand-daughter, who, by an amazing set of coincidences, decided to return the figure back to Shugborough for a further period of display.

So, like any Seasoned Trouper, Billy Big Boots was back on his marks ready for Curtain Up on Day One of the Shugborough 2007 Season, where he remained for a further year.

  Billy Big Boots by Harry Wilding  
  Billy Big Boots by Harry Wilding   Before his Second Season at Shugborough, Billy was re-costumed by Glenn Holden & Ian Denny.  The aim was to restore his appearance to an approximation of how he would have looked in his Victorian heyday.

Similar Marionette Troupes of the period with the same type of character were used as reference material, along with mechanical toys of the time which utilised this recognisable 'Minstrel' character, although the 'big boots' element is probably from the Music Hall performer "Little Titch".

The picture at left shows how the figure looked when the pink costume was removed.  The bright yellow PVC tape was serving no purpose and has now been removed.

  The new costume is seen here being patterned up in paper.

A green velvet tail coat was made for the figure, but not eventually used.

  Billy Big Boots by Harry Wilding   Costume Restoration - Wilding Marionette  
  Billy Big Boots by Harry Wilding  

The figure is pictured here on display in the Victorian Bay of the Puppet Collection at the County Museum, Shugborough Estate, near Stafford in 2007.

Billy has now found a new permanent home at the Museum of Cannock Chase in Hednesford, Staffordshire, the town where Harry Wilding lived for most of his life.

In an article in the "World's Fair" dated 13th October 1934, the writer visited 78 year old Harry Wilding at his home in Hednesford and was shown into a store room full of puppets.  "Look," Harry said, "do you remember any of these little people?" pointing to long rows of marionette figures that hung on the walls.  Here was Jack Sheppard, Ally Sloper, Clowns, Poor Jo, The Big Boot Dancer, The Wire Walker, The Bender and the once-famous Chinese Jugglers.