On notice of his retirement to the U.S.A. reported in “The Era” in April 2, 1898 Charles Steen had been in show business for over thirty-five years. ”The Steens” were Charles N. Steen and his wife Martha E. Steen. They presented an act of mind reading and conjuring and were described as “Mystifiers”, (see handbill for Theatre Royal Darwen for February 1897.) They did include a select company of Vaudeville Entertainers in their shows and whilst the main body of their act is of little interest as part of the study of the growth of the cinema in the North West of England, the fact that as part of the show they presented to their audience a programme of films using the “Steenomatographe” is of interest. It was reported in The Era on the 12th of December 1896 that The Steenomatographe had been introduced into the programme and it was “without doubt the finest specimen ever placed before the public.” After successful weeks at The People’s Palace at St Helens and The Theatre Royal, Birkenhead the manager of the latter, Mr Thomas Boardman, stated that “Your Steenomatographe is the finest I have seen and I think I have seen them all.” (Era 9th January 1897)
The Steens toured with the Steenomatographe throughout 1897 and 1898 with reported appearances recorded in The Era as follows: –
Theatre Royal, Darwen,6th February 1897
The Grand, Chorley, 20th February 1897
Rotherham, 29th May 1897
Bilston, 10th April 1897
Tudor’s Circus, Cambridge, 3rd July 1897
Prince’s Theatre, Preston, 24th July 1897
Batley, 4th September 1897
Royal English Circus, Wolverhampton, 25th September 1897 (Steenomatographe but no Steens)
King Ohmy’s Circus, Blackburn, 6th November 1897 where they exhibited “The Queen’s Jubilee” and “The Greek and Turkish War”
People’s Palace, St Helens, 16th January 1898
Theatre Royal, Castleford, 29th January 1898
Darlington, 5th February 1898
Theatre Royal, Runcorn, 26th February 1898
Theatre Royal, Bilston, 2nd April 1898
Grand Theatre, Hebburn on Tyne, 3rd October 1898
New Theatre, Consett, 10th October 1898
What films they presented are not indicated in their advertising except when they were at Darlington where “The Steenomatographe with its original animated photographs concludes a capital entertainment”.
The reason the Steens are included inthis study is, like King Ohmy, they were around at the birth of the cinema in the North West of England ant they were amongst the first to realise the potential of this form of entertainment which was still a novelty at this time. The Steens appeared at Ohmy’s Circus on a number of occaisions their fourth visit to King Ohmy’s Circus at Blackburn was advertised in The Era on the 6th November 1897 and it was followed by performances at Tudors’ Circus, third visit, and at Lord John Sanger’s Circus, billed as “The Greatest Show on Earth”. After touring with the Steenomatographe The Steens again performed for King Ohmy, at Oldham in April 1899 with no mention of films.
Charles Steen didn’t retire as planned and formed a touring company that for fourteen weeks included The Great Gillin and his associated partner D’Eston. Towards the end of 1900 Gillin was still with The Steens and when they played Grimsby there was an exhibition of animated pictures. (Era 24th November 1900). After this Gillin was due to play at The Prince’s Theatre in Preston but was prevented from doing so because of the fire that destroyed much of the stage area.