Hugh Ward (1867-1940s)

Tattered leaflet with photograph of a man wearing top hat and tails with a cane and text 'The Emerald Gem. Hugh Ward'

The Emerald Gem

In the City Lives gallery at the former Museum of Liverpool Life there was a poster advertising the New Princess Theatre in Ballymacarett, Belfast. On the bill 'at great expense' was Hugh Ward, an 'Irish Comedian, Patterer and Dancer' from Liverpool. His granddaughter spotted the poster during a visit to the museum. She was able to tell us more about the life of this popular local entertainer.

Hugh Ward was born in Liverpool on 28 May 1867. Like thousands of Irish settlers in Liverpool, the family lived in court dwellings on Slade Street, off Vauxhall Road. Hugh would have been brought up surrounded by the songs, patter and dancing remembered by his parents and neighbours.

His career on the stage began when he entered a talent competition at a local Liverpool theatre at the age of 14. He was the youngest contestant and came first. He won a silver cup that from then on had pride of place on the family mantelpiece. When he was 19 he married Mary Alice Pendlton and the couple had their first child, Lilley, in 1886.

At a time when the music hall was in its heyday his act, which included a mixture of comedy, songs and Irish dancing, was popular with local audiences and especially with those from Ireland. He became known on stage as 'The Emerald Gem' with his signature tunes 'Lily of Laguna' and 'Eileen Allanah'.

Hugh travelled all over the north west and Ireland with his act while his family remained in Kirkdale. By 1901 Hugh and Mary had six children - Lilley, Mary Alice, Hugh, Frances, Henry and Robert.

After retiring from the stage he worked with his eldest son at the Dunlop Rubber Company in Rice Lane, Liverpool. However he never lost the urge to entertain. He took part in the company's annual parade, started a concert party, had a minstrel show and put together a production of the 'Mikado' at Hudson's Soap Works in Bankhall.

Hugh died in the early 1940s after a lifetime of bringing entertainment to generations of Liverpudlians.

"Myself and the family are thrilled by this discovery." 
M Delaney (Hugh Ward's granddaughter)