The Musical Legacy of The Countee Family Part 2

Following on from Part 1…

At the time the 1911 census was taken in June, Eliza and Mabel were boarders living at 4 Durham Road, Tudhoe in Durham. Eliza was listed with her stage name Marion and she and Mabel are described as Music Hall Artistes. They were boarding with David Moore – a Confectionery Sugar Boiler and his wife Edith. That month they also appeared at the Maesteg Palace and then in July at Treherbert Palace both in South Wales and then later in August at City Varieties, Leeds. Eliza’s mother Elizabeth passed away in 1911 after the census was taken.


Interior of City Palace of Varieties in Leeds from

What was the situation for Eliza’s two other children during this period? Where were they?

William Nelson Countee was lodging at 65 Cambridge Avenue, Whitley Bay, Northumberland at the house of a widow Catherine Scott. His occupation was given as Music Hall Artist – so he too was treading the boards and entertaining people, touring by the looks of it. I’ve not been able to find any mention of him in the papers under his official name, so it is likely he had a stage name.

George Frederick Countee was living with his Carter grandparents still, working as a Shoe Fitting Cutter – a rather less glamorous job!

In August 1911 Mabel married William Elkington in Cheltenham, but she continued to perform, even when expecting their first child Charles William who was born at the end of that year in Barnsley.

We then pick back up with the timeline for The Two Countees appearances:

Feb 1912 – Hippodrome, Longton, Staffordshire

May 1912 – Hippodrome, Wigan, Lancashire

July 1912 – Cooperative Hall, Seaham Harbour, Durham

Sep 1912 – The Empire, Hull, Yorkshire

Oct 1912 – City Palace, Leeds, Yorkshire

Jan 1913 – Electric Theatre, Boston, Lincolnshire

Mar & Apr 1913 – Empire, Coventry, Warwickshire

Aug 1913 – Queen’s Palace, Shipley Yorkshire

Oct 1913 – Hippodrome, Chesterfield, Derbyshire

Dec 1913 – Pooles Picture Palace, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

Mar 1914 – Hippodrome, Aston, Warwickshire

Mar 1914 – Regent Theatre, Salford, Lancashire (again on the same playbill as Lillie Langtry)

Feb 1915 – Royal Hippodrome, Nottingham, Nottinghamshire

Mar 1915 – Palace, Glossop, Derbyshire

wigan hippodrome

The Wigan Hippodrome from


Eliza’s great grandson Allan Countee who has provided me with a wealth of information about the family from his research, also sent me this picture of a playbill mentioning Eliza as Madame Countee in an appearance at the Hippodrome in Langley Park, Durham in May 1915. I had been a little confused over the use of this name as I had come across much earlier mentions of Madame Countee which I think had morphed from Miss A Countee into Madame A Countee and then to just Madame Countee.

Madam Countee

Langley Park Hippodrome Playbill courtesy of Allan Countee

We know that Charles Countee’s sisters were also singers, I’ve found references in the papers as early as March 1887 which mention the Misses Countee – which covers Miss. L. Countee and a Miss A Countee – I think this would be either Louisa or Lucy – I’m erring towards Lucy and Mary Ann Amelia – she is occasionally noted as Miss Annie Countee or Miss Amelia Countee.  His sister Florence was mentioned as a singer in a few early papers in the 1890s. The earlier mentions involving Miss/Madame Countee have performances being held at much smaller venues, no big showy theatres like Charles, Eliza and Mabel were appearing at. They appear together a few times in places like the Assembly Rooms of the Aylestone & District Liberal Club, The Lincoln Temperance Society – at the Corn Exchange, various schoolrooms attached to churches, non-conformist chapels, village halls etc. Mentions of Miss. L. Countee drop off in the late-1890s and Madame Countee continues through to at least 1912 playing in the same kinds of venues. Often, they were fund raising events, for example a Patriotic Concert at Coaville, Leicestershire in aid of the Soldiers Families Association Fund in November 1899 which raised £70 and a St. Patrick’s Day concert in the Temperance Hall in Leicester in 1900 raised £7 8s 6d for the widows and orphans of the Dublin Fusiliers. These mentions of Madame Countee show that she rarely went further than the surroundings of Leicester, with the occasional trip to nearby Lincolnshire. The mentions in the papers do however give us details of the songs she sang, such as “The Gleaner’s Slumber Song”, “Kathleen Mavoureen”, “Gentle Spring”, I Know A Bank”, “The Promise of Life”, “When Evening Twilight”, Mona”, “Sunshine and Rain”, “The Swanee River”, “The Stranger in the Tea Cup” and “My Ain Folk.”

Gleaners Slumber Song



To hear a recording of a version of Kathleen Mavoureen – take a look at this video on YouTube –

The eldest of the Countee sisters Louisa Maria was listed as a nurse in the 1901 census at the St. George Holborn Union Workhouse in Croydon. She then went on to have her own nursing home in Manor Park, Lewisham between 1916 and 1924. She married James Forrest in 1918 in Westminster. They didn’t have any children as she was 49 when they married. She died of cancer of the liver in 1930.

Mary Ann Amelia married George Seville in 1893 in Leicester – it is likely she went from calling herself Miss Countee to Madame Countee around this time. They stayed in Leicester for a period, where their four children were born, Beatrice Amelia, Phyllis Mabel, Sidney George and Olga Marion. George died in 1928 and she died in 1939 in Wittering, Sussex.

Lucy married Ambrose Day in 1901 in Leicester and they had one child, William Ambrose Day. Lucy died in 1944 of pneumonia.

Lucy Countee & Ambrose Day

Ambrose Day & Lucy Countee on their wedding day – photo courtesy of Allan Countee

Florence married William Carver Bott in 1904 in Barwell, Leicestershire and they had two children Lucy Ethel and George William. William died in 1945 and a couple of years later in 1947 Florence married her widowed brother in law Ambrose Day. Florence died in 1962 and Ambrose died in 1963.


So – back to Eliza and Mabel.

As an update to this post – Allan sent me copies of a pamphlet for The Two Countees and a clearer photograph of them both – Eliza and Mabel. It is so wonderful to get to see pictures of them in their full regalia!

Two Countees Pamphlet

Pamphlet featuring the Two Countees – courtesy of Allan Countee’s personal collection

Two Countees Photo

Eliza aka Marion and Mabel Countee –  courtesy of Allan Countee’s personal collection

Mabel had another child during the period they were performing – a daughter Beryl in 1913 in Cardiff and it wasn’t until 1920 that she and William had another son Derick, also in Cardiff and three years later Kenneth back in Barnsley. They lost their eldest son Charles in 1929 aged just 17, and then five years later Mabel’s husband William died in Blackpool where they had settled. Mabel never remarried, and she eventually moved back to Leicester where she died in 1972. She had run a shop and a boarding house in Blackpool.

Mabel Countee

Mabel Countee – photograph courtesy of Allan Countee

It seems that perhaps sometime after 1915 Eliza and Mabel stopped performing, I don’t seem to find any references to them after then. Perhaps the war reduced the amount of performances being booked, or maybe just the increase in popularity for moving pictures, or maybe Mabel just wanted to settle down into being a mother with her increasing family and Eliza wanted to retire?

Eliza married Edgar Sykes, eight years her junior, in 1918 in Barnsley, they lived in Wombwell where Edgar had lived all his life and he worked for the colliery. Her father Joseph died in 1922. By this time her sister Leah had been married twice, first to a Pierce James Simons who was sadly killed in WWI and then to Cornelius George Darby in 1921. The following year they would have their only child Cornelius Pierce Darby – rather sweetly named after her dead first husband. It seems quite touching that they would honour him in that way. Known as Pierce, he was my partner’s grandfather.

Leah & Cornelius

Leah & Pierce (Darby personal collection)

Eliza’s eldest son William Nelson married Amy Ellen Page in December 1911 in Lanchester, Durham. His occupation was given as Stage Manager, living at Elm Street, Langley Park. I wonder if he managed the Hippodrome his mother appeared at? He had been a Private in the Yorkshire and Lancashire Regiment – also known as the Barnsley Pals, during WWI and he entertained the troops. He also apparently used to perform at the local workhouse at Christmas for the poor. He and Amy went on to have several children, Marion Elizabeth b. 1913 in Lanchester, Frederick William b. 1914 in Barnsley – he died of Bronchitis aged just 2 months at the start of 1915. Frances Mabel b. 1916, she too died of Bronchitis, aged 22 months in 1918, Vera Frances b. 1919 and Charles Frank b. 1921. Amy also performed as a vocalist – I do not know what her stage name was. Tragedy struck the family in 1923 when both Nelson and Amy died within two months of each other. Amy died in the August of Tuberculosis and Nelson died in the October of Chronic Nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys.) This left their young children orphans, the eldest being ten and the youngest just 2. The children were separated with Vera staying with some relatives in Durham and Marion and Charles spending some time in an orphanage. Initially he was fostered by a couple in the entertainment industry, but in 1926 his step-grandfather Edgar Sykes fostered him. When he was six years old he went to live with his aunt Mabel and her husband William in Blackpool where he stayed for about 16 months before moving back with his grandparents.

Nelson and Amy Countee

Nelson & Amy Countee – photograph courtesy of Allan Countee

As for Charles and Eliza’s youngest son George Frederick Louis he married a woman called Florence Gertrude some time after 1915, however I have not been able to find a marriage entry for them. It may be that they never officially married, or perhaps it is under a different name? They too were performers. I found a few references to them as Fred and Flo Countee, a humorous double act. They do not appear to have had any children, Florence was on her own on the 1939 Register living at Flat 196 Humberstone Road, Leicester. She was down as being married and her occupation was “Unpaid Domestic Duties” aka Housewife. It may be that Fred was in the armed forces, hence his absence in the home. I found a mention in the local paper about his life following his death in 1962.

The Stage 01 November 1962 Fred Countee

The Stage 1st November 1962 – from Findmypast

Flo made a comeback appearance in 1967 for a one-off show, before she died five years later in 1972.

The Stage 22 June 1967 Leicester Scene Flo Countee

The Stage 22 June 1967 – The Leicester Scene – from Findmypast

Fred and Flo Countee

Fred & Flo Countee – sent to Eliza and Edgar in 1919 – photograph courtesy of Allan Countee

Eliza passed away in May 1931 following a brain haemorrhage. Her widowed husband Edgar remained living at the same house, 86 Main Street, Wombwell, Barnsley, Yorkshire. He is there in 1939 – there is one closed record at the address which is probably his grandson Charles. His occupation is hard to make out due to the closed entries above and below it, but it looks like Colliery Cutter. Edgar’s grandson Charles remained in the house after his death.

What a legacy of entertainers – a whole extended family of singers and musicians. I often wonder what Eliza’s family made of her becoming a singer, touring off around the country while they worked riveting shoes or making gloves and stockings in the hosiery factory? Did they like showing off about their “famous” sister? Were Eliza’s family musical too? I know that her sister Leah’s son Pierce was in a church choir for many years and music has been an interest for his son and grandson too.

17 thoughts on “The Musical Legacy of The Countee Family Part 2

    • i have just found your research into the Countee family and thought you might find it interesting to know that I knew Fred and Flo Countee – they were friends of my parents and my Aunt Margaret. This would be in the 40s 50s 60s. Fred and Flo were very popular performers in and around Leicester but my parents and Aunt Margaret (all Mitchells) only knew them socially. I can remember that my mother, aunt and Flo would meet once a week whenever possible and have a drink together at one of the local pubs or Clubs. These three women were all so different but very firm friends.

  1. Hello Alex, thank you for your fascinating research into the Countee Family History. My Grandmother was Amelia Countee, married name Seville. There is so much in your blogs that have explained my mother’s family background. I always knew that my Great Grandfather was a black American and that he was a lay preacher and a cooper, but not much else. Both my brother and I are musicians. As a small child I met Florence (Aunty Florry). I am not a great modern computer user, but your research was pointed out to me by my Cousin Charlotte (her mother was my first cousin).
    From your writing about Nelson Countee I reckon he must have had a great sense of humour to have survived all that he went through and I think that sense of humour carried through his descendants.

    • Hi Elizabeth – so good to hear from you. I have had contact from another descendent of Amelia. I will put you in contact with each other if you aren’t already. It is so interesting to see the musical legacy continuing through the family. So glad you have enjoyed reading about them – they have been such an interesting family to research. Any time there are new record sets available that might shed some light on the family I will keep looking for more information. 🙂

  2. Hi Alex, I don’t know how, but I somehow managed to miss this part 2 until now. Once again, you have done a marvelous job with your research and it is so very much appreciated.

  3. Hi and Hello Alex AMAZING job love love your format you just found another distant relly of Paul’s yes the singing continues my older brother writes and sings plays guitar has some things on YouTube I sing in a small choir love to sing we both have as siblings do have great sense of humour never made any money at it met Mable Ellington when I was about 3 and 5 if you would like to be in contact another strand in the tree is Alex pleon longer story my battery is about flat have previously been in contact with Allan countee I think he is my 3rd cousin my friend Joyce like a sister and through family history is distantly related does a lot family history as I am not so good at it sorry rabbiting on my name is Kim would be great to have a chat best wishes sorry I lost contact with Allan and Diane hope to chat

  4. grandmother was Flo countees best friend and aunty Flo was my favourite “aunt”who used to tell me wonderful stories of life on the boards and always showed great love..she was very dear to me and I can still recall her “glammed” up and ready for a show..beautifully dressed and made Grandmother appeared with her and Fred
    on the local theatre and club circuits in nan was a comedic singer called Gladys Gertrude Bray,and her opening line was “I’m me Gert and leave out the rude part”…my mother was Hazel Bray who,when young,had a very successful career in the “A” theatres and clubs and appeared in a few films including.. “2000 women “..and “the hundred pound window”..thank you for this informative history of the countee family…i knew Fred came from a long line of Artists as aunty Flo talked a lot about him and I always felt their story was a love story worth writing about…Gilles Bray.

  5. Hi Alex,
    Just wanted to say thank you for this wonderful and insightful research into the Countee family. I work for a Black arts and heritage organisation in Leicester who hold a growing archive of Black history for the East Midlands and we would be really keen to talk more! Best Wishes, Amy

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