Biddall Family

The Biddall family travelled a variety of exhibitions consisting of menagerie attractions, freak shows, ghost illusions and finally bioscopes. The family consisted of the sons of Henry Freeman, a flamboyant character, whose hair turned white after landing amongst cannibals and seeing his ship-mates eaten. This new appearance helped him impersonate a wizard in an early walk-up show. His sons, who included Albert, William and George, to add to the confusion all presented shows under the Biddall family name in different regions of Great Britain.

George Biddall was the youngest son of Henry Freeman who married Selina Smith, sister of King Ohmy, and travelled with a theatre booth around Scotland and the north of England. Possibly due to the influence of his father in law, George Biddall started to exhibit a ghost illusion show and advertised it as the main presentation. The exhibition comprised a two-wagon fronted show, with 'Phantospectra Biddall's Ghostodramas' in gold lettering across the top. Some of the adventures and experiences that happened to the family in the pre-bioscope days are recalled in an article that appeared in the World's Fair following his death in 1909. This includes an account of how the locals, believing his show to be responsible for bad luck in the area, were convinced that the family had the evil eye.

However, despite this mishap, the show continued travelling, with his children helping with the main feature, The Ghost Illusion, and his son Joey performing a clowning routine. In 1898, the show was converted for the use of moving pictures, and travelled extensively to the major fairs, including Newcastle for the 1899 for both the Hoppings and the Christmas festivities, and Cockermouth in 1906.

Another member of the Biddall family who presented moving pictures was William Biddall, a nephew to George Biddall, who travelled around the London area. William, or Billy, Biddall was one of four sons of William Biddall, elder brother to George, and travelled with a menagerie under the name of Biddall Brothers. Billy left the family in 1901 and it was possibly then that he started to exhibit moving pictures in one of his uncle's former shows. Biddall Brothers also continued to travel the Menagerie.

The new show was recorded open at Wormwood Scrubs at Easter 1901, whilst the Menagerie was reported open on Deptford High Street and Banbury the following year. By 1908 the two shows were appearing together at Mitcham. Biddall Brothers show travelled until at least as late as 1912. Although this show never achieved the status or size of one of the larger organ fronted parading shows, it was still exhibited by the London branch of the family who travelled the show extensively until its final appearance at Wanstead Flats in 1915.

Another branch of the family that presented shows and moving pictures was Albert Biddall, yet another son of George Freeman Biddall. Albert's involvement with the cinematograph began when he purchased Randall Williams' No. 1 show, which was billed as 'Biddall's Electric Bioscope' and transported by the Fowler traction engine. Eventually Albert's show was updated and the old barrel organ was also replaced by an 87 key Gavioli organ.

In 1914 Biddall's cinematograph show exhibited opposite Cyril Getcliffe's New Picture House in Braintree, Essex. Despite this, the show continued to attract packed audiences due to the presence of soldiers awaiting transfer for the hostilities in Europe, and there were more than enough customers to keep both proprietors happy.
George Freeman Biddall died on April 7th 1909 and after the demise of the bioscope shows, the other members of the family built up their various travelling concerns. The Biddall connection with early cinema continued when Victor Biddall, grandson of Henry Freeman, opened permanent cinemas in south Scotland.