Jackeydawra Melford

Jackeydawra Melford

Continuing with the subject of British women filmmakers of the silent era, one remarkable name – literally – is Jackeydawra Melford. She was almost but not quite the first first women to direct a fiction film in Britain (that honour usually goes to Ethyle Batley). She produced and performed in The Herncrake Witch (1912), The Land of Nursery Rhymes (1912) and The Inn on the Heath (1914), the latter of which she also scripted and directed. None is known to survive. [Update (December 2011): a copy of at least part of The Herncrake Witch exists – see comments]

She was the daughter of actor and author Mark Melford (c.1851-1914), who towards the end of his stage career turned to film production. His daughter Jackeydawra was born around 1890 (I haven’t been able to find a birth record), possibly getting her extraordinary name from a comedy opera Jackeydora, or The Last Witch, which toured Britain in 1890. Her name seems to be written differently in every source: Jakidawdra, Jackeydawra, Jackeydora, Jackiedora. She acted in her father’s stage productions from a young age, sometimes billed just under first name. She married Wallace Colegate in London in 1915, and then slips out of history. But we have the above picture of her which accompanied this short profile from The Cinema, 19 March 1913, p. 37:

This young lady, but just out of her teens, is the only daughter of Mark Melford, and, developing an ambition to master the mysteries of the camera, she has acquired that technical knowledge of the art of film-making that, coupled with her artistic gifts in dress, colour, light, &c., has rendered her an invaluable assistant to her able chief. Her clear-cut features and pathetic face are indispensable to the pictures, and her experience of acting from an early age has given her that ease, repose, grace, and power of expression so necessary to ensure good results in this department of her profession.

Miss Jackeydawra Melford has played all the principal parts in her father’s plays and sketches throughout the United Kingdom, and will prove an invaluable addition to the acting staff of this enterprising firm – nay, more, Miss Melford is so admirably adapted to picture work that she will, we think, make a name in the cinema world as she has upon the stage, and Jackeydawra will become a household word.

How much might we want to pursue someone none of whose films are known to survive? Or is the story of lost films and those who made them a special kind of history? Who needs films to write film history anyway?

23 responses

  1. Greetings to the Bioscope from film historian F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre. I thought you’d like to know that there is a mention of Jackydawra [sic] Melford in the (London) Morning Post for February 1913. Her age as given tallies with the 1888 birthdate. The ‘catapult’ mentioned in the text is the same device that Americans would call a ‘slingshot’. Here is the cutting:

    At Westminster Police Court yesterday Jackydawra Melford, twenty-four, described as an actress of Sedgeford-road, Shepherd’s-bush, was charged with discharging leaden bullets from a catapult to the common danger at Victoria-street, Westminster.

    Mr. H. Muskett, for the prosecution, and defendant had been detected in an extremely wicked act which might have had the most serious consequences. On Thursday night, from a seat on the top of a motor-bus, she was seen by a constable to fire a missile from a powerful catapult. It was afterwards found that leaden bullets, weighing nearly 11⁄2 oz., were being used. It was to be regretted that the penalty under the Police Act was so small.

    Constable Cheshire, bearing our Mr. Muskett`s statement, deposed that the missile which defendant discharged from the motor-bus struck the Westminster Palace Hotel with resounding force, and then dropped into the basement area. It was found to be a heavy leaden bullet, with “Votes for Women” moulded on it. When defendant was removed from the top of the `bus she had a catapult in her lap, and apparently she dropped other bullets, for they were found in the roadway where she stood.

    Divisional Inspector Shipper said another woman, who had been on the `bus accompanied defendant to the station. When Miss Melford was being taken to the cells a second catapult was discovered on the seat she had occupied in the charge room.

    Mr. Mark Melford, actor, father of the defendant said one of the catapults belonged to him. He had a gipsy caravan at Sheppey Island, and he used the catapult for shooting rabbits. (Laughter.) Proceeding, Mr Melford said: “My daughter – an enthusiastic Suffragette through no fault of mine – (Laughter.) – I don’t blame her; it is her business – must have borrows my catapult.”

    Mr. Horace Smith – But you don’t have bullets for rabbits with “Votes for Women” on them?

    Mr. Melford – Well of course, I known nothing about that. This bullet – a specimen of the one I use – is enough to kill a rabbit.

    Mr Muskett – The ones we have are quite enough to kill men, if only it hits them.

    Mr. Melford – I have no control over my daughter.

    Mr. Muskett – I ought to say that this new warfare has taken place in different parts of the Metropolis for several days.

    Mr. Horace Smith imposed the full penalty under the Police Act of 40s., or a month’s imprisonment.

    Mr Melford at once paid the fine.

  2. Greetings to the estimable F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre, and thank you for passing on the Jackeydawra Melford newspaper story, which I see comes from a genealogy site. We definitely need to find out more about her.

  3. Her real name was Alice Bradshaw Jackeydora Melford. Her birth was registered in Basford, Notts as mentioned. She died in 1986 in Kent. She was my Grandmothers Aunt.

  4. Thank you for letting us know about your family relationship with Jackeydora Melford. There is growing interest in her career as (arguably) Britain’s first woman film director, though sadly none of her films is known to survive. Do you have access to any information on her career, or that of her father, Mark Melford, who was also an occasional filmmmaker and film actor?

  5. Good to hear from all these Jackeydawra Melford relatives – it connects the people from the past that much more with reality. I should imagine the Complete Index to World Film record is complete – it’s a pretty reliable source for this period.


  6. Jackeydora was our grandfather Paul Melford’s sister. I have a photo of her as a young women if you would like it. Does anyone know why she was named Alice Bradshaw? Mark Melford was very fond of birds – hence Jackeydora. (Birds in Town and Village / Hudson, W. H. (William Henry), 1841-1922).

  7. Delighted to hear from you. As you’ll see above, other relatives have got in touch. She was definitely born Alice Bradshaw J. Melford (see her entry at http://freebmd.rootsweb.com). I’d didn’t know about the W.H. Hudson connection – her 1888 birthdate precedes the theatre production Jackeydora, or The Last Witch (1890), so clearly her father picked the name from somewhere else.

    I’m intrigued to discover that when I searched for her name on Ancestry.co.uk, the image above and a link to this website turned up – an interesting development (presumably done by a family member).

  8. fantastic stuff.
    I am one of her three surviving grandchildren. Two of her own children are still alive (my dad & his sister) & we can all vouch for the fact that she was a lovely lady. I new a little about her early life & find reading about it on here very enlightening. Would be interested to know more.

  9. Thanks for leaving a comment – I think you’re the fifth Jackeydawra Melford family member to get in touch. It’s wonderful to hear that two of her children are still alive. Now if only we could find one of her films…

  10. I am also related to Jakidawdra. She was my fathers grandmother. I find all this realy interesting. Nice to have such interesting family.

  11. Pingback: Films from the fens « The Bioscope

  12. Thanks so much for the link to the film. My mother is very excited about being able to see the grandfather she never met, Mark Melford, in the film. Also I think I have managed to track down the “Bradshaw” in Jackeydawra’s birth name. A Mrs Albert Bradshaw co-wrote with Mark Melford “The Skyward Guide”, a drama in 4 acts, produced at the Royalty Theatre on May 9th 1895 ( reviewed in “The Theatre”, monthly review and magazine June, 1985). However I don’t think her name was Alice, likely to be Annie Cropper Bradshaw, listed as novelist and author in 1901 census and married to Albert Septimus Bradshaw.

  13. I’m going to email all of the family members who have added comments to this post to let them know about the film. There are other films that star Mark Melford, but not his daughter, that are held by the BFI National Archive, though none is available online.

  14. Thanks for the email with the link to the film. Very interesting. The following book is also interesting:

    ‘They thought it was a Marvel’, Arthur Melbourne-Cooper (1874-1961), Pioneer of Puppet Animation
    by Tjitte de Vries and Ati Mul.

    There is a fair amount of information about both Jackeydora and Mavis Melford in this book.

    Regards, Mark

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