On May 1, 1905, 13 years after he settled in Dublin, Maurice became a British subject, granted a Certificate of Naturalization under the Act of 1870. He was then 32 years old, a fruiterer and florist, and father to three children — Abraham (Abe), then seven, Rachel Rose (Rosie), four and Louis, aged two. His fourth child, Max, was born later that year
During those 13 years between arriving in Dublin and becoming a citizen, as his family grew, Maurice had looked vigorously for ways to increase his income. The first attempt was a failure. He learned of premises at Coliemore near Dalkey, Co. Dublin, which comprised a restaurant and access to the sea for bathing. As Leah was an excellent cook and they now had children who could contribute to running the business, he rented the premises for the summer months. The weather that summer, however, was poor, and the enterprise failed.
His next venture was to lease a shop, with living accommodation upstairs, at 42 Aungier Street in Dublin. Here, he became a greengrocer and florist, living with his family above the shop. This business was relatively successful. He was able to open a second store in Dame Street, and became the proud owner of a horse and cart, which he drove to market to collect produce to deliver to his two outlets. In 1911, he moved to Raymond Street, and the Irish Census of that year lists his recently married niece Rosie living here with her husband, Jacob Kynoch.
While Maurice was building his fresh produce business, he dipped regularly into the entertainment then being offered Dubliners. He and Leah were both music-lovers and, whenever they could, patronized concerts and opera. All his brothers were to be involved in the industry — Jacob with his Dublin theatre-furnishing business; Charlie, as a variety agent in Liverpool; and Hymie in the cinema and entertainment world in Birmingham.
As Norman Lebrecht writes in his wonderful Genius and Anxiety: How Jews Changed the World, 1847 to 1947 (2019): “The city invents leisure. No longer obliged to draw water, wash clothes or hew wood for daily needs, the middle classes have time to waste and money to spend. Department stores turns shopping into fun. Theatres fill empty evenings. Jews enter the entertainment industry.”
Dublin of the day offered plentiful entertainment. The best shows were at the Gaiety Theatre, the Theatre Royal, the Empire Palace (Olympia), the Lyric, the Queen’s and the Rotunda, where many well-known figures appeared. In 1907, Maurice saw Charlie Chaplin in Casey’s Circus at the Empire Palace. In 1910, Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the British suffragette movement, addressed a meeting at the Palace Rink in Rathmines, and Dublin-born playwright George Bernard Shaw lectured in the Antient Concert Rooms in Great Brunswick (later Pearse) Street.
Increasingly on offer to the well-served Dublin population as the century began were not only lectures and live shows, but also early efforts at projection. The Lyric and the Empire — which both advertised War Pictures! — projected photographs of Boer War battles onto screens behind their live shows. At the Gaiety, a man named René Ball gave a well-received illustrated lecture about the war.
News shows caught onto the new medium; they began displaying not only images of the war in Africa, but also (LEFT) Queen Victoria’s April 1900 visit to Dublin and the fleet of warships at the Kingstown (later Dūn Laoghaire) seaport in the foothills of the Dublin Mountains
By 1910, most Dublin theatres were exhibiting Perfection New Living Pictures, supplied by the Irish Animated Picture Company. In April of that year, one of the city’s first cinemas opened at 51 Lower Sackville (now O’Connell) Street. Admission was 6d and 1/-. The Rotunda lost little time in undercutting them, showing cinematograph pictures for a 3d admission.
For Maurice, a hardworking immigrant with a passionate love of music, the entertainment industry glowed brightly. He enthusiastically accepted a job managing Samuel’s Palace of Varieties at 30 Henry Street in Dublin. Samuel’s Palace had opened in the late 1890s, when it offered marionette and ‘picture’ shows for children at 1d and 2d a head. The first show was at 2.30 p.m. and, from then, on the hour. From this modest beginning, Samuel’s had grown into the World’s Fair Varieties, showing super-animated pictures and a live variety show. It was a stage for dancer and comedienne Kitty McShane and the music hall, pantomime, radio and film character Arthur Lucan. The two later teamed up — both marrying and forming the comedy team, Lucan & McShane, a successful double act which enjoyed enormous popularity from the 1930s to the early 1950s . Admission rose with the level of entertainment: tip-up seats could be had for 6d and 3d; children were admitted for 2d.
Maurice’s interest was caught by an infant technology — the bioscope, a hand-turned mechanism which projected moving pictures onto a screen. Named from the Greek bios (life) and skopeein (to look at), it was developed by two Americans, Charles Urban and Walter Isaacs. Their bioscope incorporated a handle that freed it from an electricity supply, and an attachable spool-bank that allowed continuous projection. By forgoing a shutter, it avoided flicker, the chief complaint of all early film audiences.
Maurice was intensely excited by the bioscope’s potential, and decided to pursue it. Because bioscope shows at this time were a fairground attraction, in 1910 he acquired the requisite canvas tent, screen and the projector, and set himself up alongside the menageries, ghost shows, waxworks, peep shows, illusion booths and freak exhibitions of the 19th century travelling circus. He invested, as well, in a travelling boxing booth as a financial backup: there was 10/- for any member of the audience who lasted through a three-minute round against the resident boxer.
Each of Maurice’s shows comprised a bioscope screening (initially, of the funeral of King Edward VII on May 20, 1910), the boxing booth and, on a stage in front of the screen, entertainment by local singers and dancers. It was a formula that proved successful, and he took it to towns and villages throughout Ireland (as he had travelled to Lithuanian villages as a cantor, more than a decade earlier), playing in local halls where he could and in the tent when necessary, regularly updating the bioscope projections
As he would throughout his business life, Maurice staffed the enterprise from within the family: Abe, 12, travelled with him as projectionist and electrician, and Rosie, 10, provided the musical accompaniment.
A year after Maurice acquired his bioscope and boxing booth, he still cautiously describes himself as a fruiterer (misspelled ‘fruteier’) in the 1911 Census of Ireland. He sold the business early the following year. Conducted 19 years after Maurice sailed into Dublin Port, the Census locates him and his brother Jacob and their growing families, as well as his mother Mollie, and his in-laws the Smullens (Smullions).
At the time of the Census, Mollie is boarding with a family called Matlin at 18 Lombard Street. She is described as a Jewish widow, aged 65, born in Russia and a retired cap-maker. The Census notes that she is unable to read or write. Her landlord Michael Asher Matlin, 29, and his wife Rebecca, 28, list Russia as their birthplace. Their daughters, Ray, Bessie and Millie, aged three and under, are Dublin-born. He will become Rabbi of the Walworth Road Synagogue that Maurice Elliman cofound.
On the page that describes Maurice’s household, he claims that he and his wife are Dublin-born — possibly a misunderstanding of the official English.
Maurice’s brother Jacob acknowledges Russia as his birthplace in his Census entry. He is father to seven children at the time. An eighth child, the form notes, has died. (One more will be born.) He describes his occupation as a “picture framer.” Jacob and his wife Rachel have two boarders: a Jewish picture-framer named Bernard Berstock and a Presbyterian shop assistant, Annie Montgomery.
Leah’s family are living in St. Alban’s Road at the time of the Census. Leah and Jane are married, but the boys are still at home. Bernard Smullen describes himself as a draper.
Jane, Leah’s younger sister, is married and living with her husband, Jacob Kynoch, at 42 Aungier Street. This is the same address as Maurice’s fresh produce store. No date of marriage appears on the form, but their only child, Rosie, who joined the family of Maurice and Leah when Jane died, was born the following year.
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