The beauty of genealogical research is not just adding names to a tree but considering the social history of the people being added and formulating a picture of what life might have been like for them. Before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948 whereby “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth…without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion…”. It wasn’t always easy for our ancestors to live life as their true authentic selves without fear of ridicule or imprisonment for example, but some more spirited people took what life had given them and used that as a way to make a decent living.
It was while looking through one of the genealogical Facebook groups I belong to, Who Do You Think You Are Magazine, that I came across a request for help from a member in regard to her potential Great Aunt, Maud Temple – Britain’s bearded beauty! I was immediately intrigued.
Maud Eliza Cobb was born 1877 in Southwark, London, to parents Annie and Noel Cobb. In historical records Noel was listed as an actor and Annie as a singer and sometime in the early 1890s they adopted the stage name Temple. This photo of Maud Temple was for a promotion at Pickard’s Museum and Waxworks in Glasgow. Albert Ernest Pickard was a showman, publicist and eccentric who became a millionaire and philanthropist and on purchasing Fell’s American Museum and Waxworks, he introduced cine-variety, with four shows a day comprising of waxworks, side shows, a zoo and freak shows.
Maud Temple, a bearded woman at Pickard’s Waxwork exhibition, Glasgow. Process print, ca. 1910.
Description: Maud Temple displaying a beard with styled hair and wearing a robe. She was a popular ‘bearded lady’ who made appearances in England and Australia.[i]
This rather lovely display advertising Maud as being ‘Alive’ from Pickard’s Museum, Glasgow is a far cry from a newspaper advertisement stating: Miss Maud Temple, genuine Bearded Lady, most attractive Freak, seeks re-engagement. I found two further articles on Trove promoting Maud appearing in Australia in 1911 but sadly that is the extent of information surrounding her life
But Maud was not the only celebrity within the family. Her Father’s brother was Richard Barker Cobb Temple who was an English opera singer, actor and stage director, best known for his performances in the bass-baritone roles in the famous series of Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas.
Equally as famous is the woman who is believed to be Maud’s sister, Alice Coleman, aka Alice Stevens/Temple/Cobb, born c1874, the first female pavement artist. A book written by Philip Battle on Alice Coleman shows just what a force she was and how she forged an amazing career at a time when social change for women was in its infancy.
“At the end of the 19th century Alice endured inclement weather, overzealous policing, sexism, physical threats and marriage proposals to support her family by illustrating the streets of London.
As her work captured the public imagination, she became something of a celebrity – not just in London, but around the world. Her work covered the politics of the time, satire and popular culture, and influenced the burgeoning suffragette movement. Bold, distinctive and romantic, Alice was part of a ’screever’ movement that led to the street art we see today; an instinctive, accessible cultural movement that has shifted from subversive to celebrated, and become an accepted part of the established art world”.[i]
We know what became of Alice Coleman and of Richard Cobb as their lives are documented but what became of Britain’s Bearded Beauty Maud Temple? There was some talk in a news article of Maud going to America to work but so far no records have been discovered. Did she move there, get married and live a life of anonymity instead? Hopefully one day Maud’s story post 1911 will be discovered.