Magic and Sheffield

Poster advertising Houdini's Water Torture Cell

From 1895, many of the famous names from the Golden Age of Magic began to delight audiences at the Empire in Sheffield.

Sheffield attracted some of the biggest names and most daring acts in the history of magic. The great Harry Houdini appeared in Sheffield on seven occasions in the early 1900s, performing his famous Milk Churn Water Escape act in 1911 and paying his final visit to the city in 1920, six years before his untimely death. The great American magician Chung Ling Soo also performed in 1913 with his death defying bullet capturing trick, which five years later cost him his life while performing at the Wood Green Empire in London.

In 1920 the city inaugurated its own magic society, Sheffield’s Circle of Magicians with the motto ‘True Art is to Conceal Art’. Its first honorary President was David Devant and subsequent Presidents include Russell Hall, one of the largest dealers of magic in the North of England and proprietor of the Magick Emporium and the Magic Shop in Sheffield and organiser of the Sheffield Festival of Street Magic in 2013. Sheffield’s Circle of Magicians is still active today and continues promoting the art of magic in the city

Hamilton Kaye

Hamilton Kaye

Hamilton Kaye was born Ronald Kaye in Sheffield, 20 May 1921. At the age of four he was taken to see a variety show at the Sheffield Hippodrome where he fell in love with show-business and especially with magic.

Hamilton began performing magic to family and friends and progressively adventured into public performance through social gatherings such as church and garden parties and started producing his own shows, plays and Dances at Ranmoor Church Hall.

During the early years of the war he was a member of the 'Steel City Stars', a group of semi-professional entertainers that performed variety shows in many local venues including Sheffield City Hall. Later on, he enlisted and served with the RAF in India and Ceylon where he was a member of ground crew, servicing flying boats and bombers. Even during this trying times Hamilton remained faithful to his love of performance and magic and produced and performed in concert parties on the front line to lift the spirits of his fellow servicemen.

On his return home Hamilton Kaye worked in the laboratories at Sheffield University and later at the Sheffield Corporation Water Department while moonlighting as a dealer, collector and entertainer, combining his career in industry with his lifelong love of magic and performance. He soon built a reputation in the local area as a conjuror and children's entertainer. He was a voracious collector of anything magical and ran a magic business supplying tricks and his speciality, flash paper and string.

Hamilton was President of the British Ring of the International Brotherhood of Magicians in 1982-3 and continued performing and dealing in magic until his death in 2006, age 85.

Professor De Lyle

Professor Delyle

Sheffield’s Professor De Lyle was a Victorian magician, illusionist and puppet master performing in front of crowds across Yorkshire.

Born Arthur George Fox in 1871, he adopted the stage name Professor De Lyle inspired by the famous Lyle’s treacle and performed under this alias for nearly 60 years. Professor De Lyle made his first professional appearance in 1885 age 14 and went to become one of the most popular acts in Sheffield during the golden age of popular entertainment.

De Lyle was a regular in the Sheffield’s great Christmas Fair held on Blonk Street, which at the time was one of the most prominent travelling fairs in the United Kingdom. His conjuring shows included magic lantern recitals, early cinema performances, ventriloquism and his Punch & Judy show, which was a favourite with the crowd.

During World War One Professor De Lyle performed for wounded soldiers in Sheffield hospitals accompanied by his daughter Winnie who started her own career in show-business at the tender age of nine and went to become an accomplished ventriloquist on her own right.

Winnie continued the family tradition and although she mainly performed as a ventriloquist she was also an accomplished magician.

Professor De Lyle continued performing until his death at the age of 77.