The Great Padtoeski

The new “Performance” exhibition opening at Abbey House in January 2012 looks at aspects of sport, dance, music and theatre. The Great Padtoeski was a variety performer who embodied musical, theatrical and gymnastic talents within one eccentric act. Also known as “The Marvellous Toe Piano Player” he would sit on a high stool so that his bare toes could reach the piano keyboard, his hands being free to perform on a violin and sometimes sang a ballad at the same time. A variation on this act was to play the piano, concertina and cornet simultaneously. Padtoeski appeared frequently on the bill at the Stoll Moss Empire theatres, including the Leeds Empire, throughout the 1920s.

Padtoeski’s real name was Mark Vincent Dearlove, a member of the large musical Dearlove dynasty of Leeds. He was the 3rd son of Richard Dearlove (born 1831) and thus a grandson of Mark William Dearlove (1802-1880) who’s music shop on Briggate was lovingly reconstructed at Abbey House Museum for many years. The Dearlove collection forms a major part of the museum’s musical instrument collection and archive. The descendents of Mark William Dearlove all seem to have inherited musical talent and learnt a wide variety of instruments, so that they were able to form orchestras and bands almost entirely from within the family. On the family tree Mark Vincent is listed as “conductor, piano and violin”, with no reference to his unique speciality!

One of the joys of researching for an exhibition is stumbling across unexpected treasures and stories. The promotional advertisements for Padtoeski made no mention of his real name and it was only because of a paragraph in a 1950s newspaper cutting in the Dearlove archive that I was able to make the connection with Mark Vincent Dearlove. Without this chance find, the colourful Padtoeski would have remained hidden in store.

I would love to have been around to see Padtoeski in action (although I’m not sure that it can have been a very subtle musical experience).

The exhibition opens at Abbey House Museum on Saturday 21st January at 12.00 and runs until the end of December.

Kitty Ross, Curator of Leeds History

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