Eric James Williams was born on February 28th 1911 in No 203 Homend the only child of Egbert Charles Williams (1866 - 1918) and Margaret Louisa née Morris (1883 - 1964) Margaret was born in Hereford, sadly, Egbert died in 1918 when Eric was just 7.
Educated at Ledbury School for Boys in the Homend, his interest in magic was aroused by a visit by a magician to the school. His mother probably insisted he had a 'proper' job and he became a cost clerk for Masefield solicitors. He was also a successful semi - professional magician.
Egbert and Margaret married in Ledbury in 1908, he was 42 she 25.
The early Williams family lived in and ran a grocers shop for many years at No 132 Homend, seen here on the right.
As early as 1861 Edward Williams is here as a Grocer and Baker, the census reads:
Edward Williams Head of Household 31 born Ledbury.
Lucy Williams Wife 27 born Berrow.
Edward and Lucy were Eric's Grandfather and Grandmother.
Anne Louisa Williams Daughter 3 born Ledbury.
William John Williams Son 1 born Ledbury.
Ernest George Williams Son 1 month born Ledbury.
Plus various servants.
Edward died in 1870 having had more children, the 1871 census reads:
Lucy Williams Head of Household Widow 37 Grocer and General Dealer.
Annie L Williams Daughter 12 Scholar b Ledbury.
William G Williams Son 10 Scholar b Ledbury.
Matilda Williams Daughter Scholar 8 b Ledbury. Egbert C Williams Son Scholar 4 b Ledbury.
Egbert is Eric's Father
Lucy E Williams Daughter Scholar 3 b Ledbury.
Fanny Williams Daughter 1 b Ledbury.
In the 1871 census this house is known as Birmingham House.
Lucy, now 37, remarries to Samuel Bebbington (1847 - 1893) on 31st May 1871. They have more children so in 1881 the census reads:
Samuel Bebbington Head 32 Grocer b Cheshire. Lucy Bebbington Wife 46 b Berrow.
Anne L Williams Stepdaughter 22.
William G Williams Stepson 20.
Matilda Williams Stepdaughter 18. Egbert C Williams Stepson 14.
Lucy Williams Stepdaughter 12.
Fanny Williams Stepdaughter 11.
William H(arper) Bebbington Son 9.
John W(esley) Bebbington Son 8.
Samuel H(arvey) Bebbington Son 7.
Adelaide L(ucy) Bebbington 2.
All children were born in Ledbury and baptised in the Ledbury Wesleyan chapel just a few doors down and opposite from their house. Interesting to note the name given to John Wesley Bebbington, John Wesley of course being the founder of Methodism.
With 12 occupants, many grown up, they must have been glad it was a big house and on Sundays filled a large section of the chapel!
Some of the children have moved on by 1891 here is that census:
Samuel Bebbington Head 44 Grocer & Baker. Lucy Bebbington Wife 57.
William H Bebbington Son 18 Grocers Assistant.
John W Bebbington Son 17 Grocers Assistant.
Samuel H Bebbington Son 16 Grocers Assistant.
Adelaide L Bebbington Daughter 12 Scholar. Egbert C Williams Stepson 24 Grocers Assistant.
Lucy E Williams Stepdaughter 22.
Fanny W Williams Stepdaughter 21.
Samuel Bebbington died aged 45 in 1893 and by 1901 the household is much reduced as shown here:
Lucy Bebbington Head Widow 66 Grocer Shop Keeper.
Egbert C Williams Son 34 Grocers Assistant.
Lucy E Williams Daughter 32 Grocers Assistant.
Fanny W Williams Daughter 30 Grocers Asistant.
Adelaide L Bebbington Daughter 21.
In 1908 Egbert Charles Williams married Margaret Louisa Morris in Ledbury, he was 41 she was 25, and by 1911 they are living in No 203, The Homend, seen here. Eric James was just one month old and the family lived here for the rest of their lives. Egbert died in 1918, Margaret in 1964. Eric on January 3rd 1981.
From Tilley's Almanack 1982 retrospective of 1981.
Eric, also known as " Eric 'Nitwit' Williams" and 'The Whimsical Wizard', was entertaining people all his adult life and probably earlier at school as well!
Apart from his stand alone magic and comedy shows he was the inspiration behind the Superiotts Concert Troupe (see later).
In 'The Sphinx', an American journal of the magical arts, of May 1934 under Who's Who in Magic is the following entry:
WILLIAMS, THE WHIMSICAL WIZARD; Eric James Wlliams; b Feb 28, 1911, Ledbury, Eng; semi - pro; comedy magic, since 1929; ed.School for Boys, Ledbury; mbr. I.B.M.;add. 203 The Homend, Ledbury, Hfds., Eng.
NOTES on the above:
ed = Education
mbr = Member
add = Address
The I.B.M. is the International Brotherhood of Magicians founded in 1922.
It seems he was recognised as early as 1929 when he would have been just 18!
A later article, but still giving some useful information on his early career, in a publication called "Abracadbra" of December 8th 1956 gives an early biography:
Some thirty years ago a strolling magician, one Charles Henry, visited the school at which Eric Williams was a pupil and gave a show for which he charged a penny and twopenny admission.
Eric was present (we have not discovered whether on the penny or twopenny benches), and it proved his initiation into the world of magic. Despite enquiries, he has failed to find anyone else who ever heard or knew of Charles Henry, and that's a pity because he looks on him as a sort of magical godfather.
Of course he gained much of his experience in concert party work. No one who has seen him could possibly doubt it. Between the ages of fifteen and seventeen he played with a junior political group, singing comic songs (if singing is the word), joining in sketches, playing a washboard, the one string
At this point the article ends and moves on to the next subject so we shall never know what one string item he played!
There are frequent newspaper reports about Eric's entertainment, too many to include here.
The first item I can find is a report in the Gloucester Citizen, part of which is shown here, about the Ledbury Bowling Club holding their ninth annual dinner at the Feather's Hotel on
November 27th 1929. Eric was just 18 and didn't have to travel far for this booking!
This report in the Gloucestershire Echo of Feb 27th 1934 is the first mention of the Ledbury based "Superiotts" Concert Party with a useful list of the members, which included Eric. More on them later.
'The Era' of July 1st 1936 shows that he attended, and entertained at, a magician's convention:
(The Era was a British weekly paper, published from 1838 to 1939. Originally a general newspaper, it became noted for its sports coverage, and later for its theatrical content.)
TWO HUNDRED magicians from all parts of Great Britain and delegates from abroad, attended the sixth annual convention of the British Ring (International Brotherhood of Magicians), on Saturday, and Sunday, at Southampton.
The proceedings opened with a number of "Special Outside Attractions." These included a spectacular "Death Drop," devised by Brunei White and presented by Cardi, and a blindfold tennis match by Paul Graham, who also walked round the parapet of Waterloo House, over 200 ft. from the ground, after being blindfolded by members of the public. More than 5000 people gathered in the Market Square to view this.
In the evening the Mayoress received the members and friends, and a programme of magic was given by Djinn, J. Milton Woodward, Cardi, Eric J. Williams, and Milicent Cooper.
A report in the Gloucester Journal of November 21st 1936 shows the Supierriots were well received in Dymock.
This notice from the Ledbury Reporter January 20th 1940 is about a Dymock concert organised for evacuees.
This advert is from the Gloucester Citizen December 16th 1941. The Plaza Cinema, in Barton Street Gloucester, also known as The Odeon is now a Bingo Hall.
From the Gloucester Citizen February 22nd 1949. This concert may be within living people's memory, anyone know who 11 year old Kathleen was?
A protégé of Eric's perhaps?
From the Gloucester Citizen November 11th 1950,
the last report found as there are no searchable relevant newspapers after 1950. Eric is still only 39, and introducing a new troupe 'Funzapoppin'!
A video of Eric Williams walking through Ledbury and a demonstration of some close up magic. We also see excerpts from his stage act in front of an audience that combines magic with stand-up comedy.
More on The Supierriots.
As they were based in Ledbury I thought it would be interesting to see who they all were and what I could find out about them! I cannot find out anything about Eric Gould but
here is a summary showing the ages of the others in 1934, the date of the first newspaper report listing the members of the troupe:
Ruby Maddox Violet Higginbotham Maymie Brookes Eric Williams Eric Gould Harold Brisland Douglas Higginbotham
24 24 26 23 ? 25 27
Eric, Harold Brisland and Douglas Higginbotham all attended the Boys' School in the Homend. For more on this school see the Old Ledbury website (click here) where a list of names appearing in the School Magazine of 1921 shows they were all there at the same time.
Ruby (Kathleen) Maddox was born in 2 York Villas, New Street in November 1909 to William and Elizabeth. By 1931 they are in 'Anglesey' in Belle Orchard.
She married Harold Charles Brisland, (NB the forenames are often transposed) her fellow Superrioter, in June 1937 and they are settled in Wyche Road Malvern in 1939. He was born in Ewyas Harold in Nov 1909, to Charles and Edith.
Violet Rose Higginbotham was born in 1911 to Alfred Ernest (1874 - 1946) and Mary Elizabeth (1874 - 1957). Alfred was from Birmingham and married Mary Elizabeth Walker of Ledbury in Ledbury on August 6th 1902. I am not listing all their children here but they also had Eugene Douglas in 1907. NB This is the Douglas in the Supierrots troupe and Ledbury Amateur Film Society (see below). Violet never married and the family are in "Strathearn" Newbury Park in 1939. She died in 1985.
Eric is not mentioned in this notice from the Ledbury Reporter of February 3rd 1940 but it shows the Superiotts are still entertaining.
Douglas Higginbotham's life was tragically short, these newspaper extracts tells us a little about his life;
From the Gloucester Citizen August 13th 1937.
LEDBURY COUNCIL CHAIRMAN'S DAUGHTER WEDS:
Considerable interest was taken in the wedding which took place at Ledbury Methodist Church yesterday between Mr. E. Douglas Higginbotham, son of Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Higginbotham, of Newbury Park, and Miss Marjorie Ethel Bray, B.A., elder daughter Councillor and Mrs. W. J. Bray, of Langford House, Ledbury.
The bride's father is chairman of Ledbury Urban Council and the bridegroom has taken part in a number of local public activities. A large congregation was present at the service which was conducted by the Rev. A. Lockwood (Superintendent Minister), and the Rev. Norman B. Cooper. The bride, who was given away by her father, wore a gown of silver lame, cut on classical lines with a train. She wore a finger length net coat with flat pleated bishop sleeves with a veil and halo of orange blossoms and silver shoes. Her shower bouquet was of dark red roses. The three bridesmaids were the Misses Mary Bray and Violet Higginbotham (sisters of the bride and bridegroom respectively), and Miss Edna Miles. who were similarly attired in dresses of stiff cere-cobweb lace trimmed with silver sashes over white satin slips, with silver shoes to match and head dresses silver leaves and small veils. They carried bouquets of gerberas pastel tints.
The best man was Mr. Eric Williams.
A reception attended 80 guests was field in the Methodist Schoolroom, and later the bridal pair left for their touring honeymoon Cornwall. They were the recipients over 100 wedding presents, including those various local public bodies with which they were associated.
From the Gloucester Journal Nov 10th 1945
WELL KNOWN IN LEDBURY AREA Death of Mr. Douglas Higginbotham Mr. Douglas Higginbotham, of Greenway, Dymock,
who died in the City General Hospital, Gloucester, at the age of 38, was well known over a wide area by his
appearances before concert audiences. He was co-producer and pianist the Ledbury Supierrots Concert Party for 12 years
and founder of the Ledbury Amateur Cine and Dramatic Society. He wrote scripts and filmed many pictures which have been
seen by local audiences in the past. He did outstanding work in organising functions for charitable purposes and had been
instrumental in thus raising many hundreds of pounds. Mr. Higginbotham did a considerable amount of voluntary public work
and held many local appointments. At one time he was organist at Dymock Church and was the local Assessor of Income Tax.
While serving as Link Trainer instructor with the R.A.F., he developed an illness which finally proved fatal.
He was discharged on medical grounds and had been in and out of hospital since April 1944. He married the elder daughter
Mr. W. J. Bray, Ledbury, and leaves a widow and two young children.
The Ledbury Amateur Film Society.
From the Gloucester Citizen January 28th 1937
AMATEUR FILM SHOW
LEDBURY SOCIETY'S LOCAL SCENES
Ledbury Amateur Film Society gave their second annual film show to large audiences at the Church Room. The Society, which was formed in 1935, presented an ambitious programme of films, shot and adapted for the screen by the members during last year. The show included The Ledbury News Reel, record of local happenings during 1936 and two stories "The Scoop" written by L. Hunt and adapted by D. Tow, both members of the Society, and high speed comedy picture 'The 38 Strides' written by Eric Williams and photographed and adapted by Douglas Higginbotham.
The scenes were laid in Ledbury, Eastnor and Holly Bush, and proved a popular success. The Rev. Father A. E. F. Goatman, Rector of the Catholic Church, Ledbury, is the Society's president. He takes an active interest in the affairs of the Society, who carry out the whole business writing the stories, shooting the films and adapting them for the screen.
This report from the Ledbury Reporter of January 27th 1940 shows the Society were very busy.
What a pity these films haven't survived! Could they be lurking in somebodys's attic?
Eric was a regular contributor to a magazine called " Demon Telegraph, Ace Magical Magazine" and I hope to be able to collect some of his writings which I will add here.