Jeffrey Green

Jeffrey is a historian
based south of London

184 : Robert Cropp, entertainer 1872-1934

Robert Sylvester ‘Bob’ Cropp was born in Washington, DC in 1872 and in April 1897 he was one of about 40 members of the Oriental America theatrical troupe which reached England, where it toured for a year. He remained in Britain working under the stage name of Bob Pueblo. In 1905 he formed Pueblo and Cropp with his English wife ‘music hall artiste’ Kate Bradshaw. He continued until 1934 when he died of cancer in London. Kate Cropp lived alone into 1939, when she obtained a place at the Variety Artists’ Home in Twickenham where she died in 1952. Black entertainers were far from rare in Britain, and Cropp might represent those who were respected yet never made top billing. Touring to towns and cities all over the British Isles, with one spell in Norway and Denmark in 1912, he appeared on experimental BBC television broadcasts in 1931-1933.

He sang (he was a baritone), performed comic routines, and danced. Cropp was a sand dancer – a mat would be placed on the stage, and sand sprinkled on it. In contrast to most dancing (where the feet would seldom stay on the floor) sand dancing was a sophisticated shuffle with the feet staying in contact with the sand. He seems to have been partnered by fellow American James D. Johnson as the Pueblo Brothers.

Musical theatres had different performers presenting a variety of turns every day, a popular entertainment that decayed with the spread of cinema especially ‘talkies’ from 1930. Those known to have employed Cropp include:

1898 June – Empire Palace in Doncaster; July in Barrow in Furness. 1899 April – Empire in Northampton; May – Regent in St Helens; September – Barrow in Furness; December – Roscommon Music Hall in Liverpool. 1900 June  – Haymarket Music Hall in Liverpool. He was in Greenock in May, Southport then Blackburn in September and Grimsby in November where the two men was ‘screamingly funny’. 1901 saw them in Belfast, Leicester, Nottingham, the Royal Standard Music Hall (opposite London’s Victoria station) and in Belfast where Cropp married Miss Bradshaw of Crewe on 21 August.

When the two men were back at the Standard Music Hall in May 1902 they were billed as ‘darkey comedians and dancers’ and their act judged to be ‘very entertaining’. They told amusing stories and ‘do an exceptionally fine sand dance’. Places where they appeared  included Sunderland, Middlesbrough, North Shields and Bristol, then in 1903 they were in Plymouth, Huddersfield, Belfast, Leeds, and Liverpool. London appearances included the New Cross Empire in December 1904, then in March 1905 Camberwell Palace – ‘darkie dancers who import a large amount of merriment into stepping’ after which they went to Gravesend. In May 1905 as the duo made its final performances, their show at the Empire in Edinburgh was by ‘good coon singers and dancers’.

As Pueblo and Cropp ‘creole speciality artistes’ they used Kate’s sister’s home in Crewe as their contact address. It has to be assumed that readers of the Era and local newspapers were clear on what ‘creole speciality’ meant. Reviews suggest that sand dancing and comedy, and singing duets formed their act. The summer season of 1907 saw them in the resorts of  Lowestoft and Jersey, with Christmas in Belfast. In January 1909 their act at the Empire in Greenock led Cropp to be described as ‘Pueblo, a dusky coloured Gentleman scores greatly with his droll dancing and burlesque of the different walks of different people’. On 26 June 1912 they sailed from Hull to Christiania (Oslo) in Norway. The summer crowds in Copenhagen (Denmark) enjoyed the sand dancing.

The outbreak of the First World War led Cropp to register with the American consulate in England. The pair entertained at military bases in Britain and Ireland but they reduced their appearances after 1918, with Cropp usually working as a solo performer. Kate’s last known stage appearance was in Braintree, Essex in 1924. He added the Charleston dance to his act, and as noted above, was employed on the BBC’s experimental television broadcasts. It is not known if the decrease in appearances was a choice by Cropp, or due to changes in popular taste. He had entertained many thousands of Britons for twenty years.

Cropp kept in touch with his brothers William and John. A descendant of John Cropp supplied photographs of his brother to researcher John Bradshaw, descendant of Kate. The location of the grave of Robert ‘Bob Pueblo’ Cropp is not yet known.

This articles owes a great deal to John Bradshaw. 

 

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