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Sir Walter de Frece MP

3 Shevat 5695 (07 January 1935)

Basic Information

Unique reference:
Other first name:


Date of birth:
Place of birth:


Date of death:
3 Shevat 5695 (07 January 1935)
Died in combat?:
Place of death:
Monte Carlo
Burial place:
Putney Vale Cemetery, Londohn



Parents' home:
34 Russell Street Liverpool (1871)
34 Grafton Street London (1891)
26 Bedford Court Mansions London (1911)


Liverpool Institute
 < Close personal journey map
Personal Journey map
Sir Walter de Frece MP


Abraham Walter de Frece was one of four sons of Henry (Harry) de Frece, of the Gaiety Music Hall in Camden Street, Liverpool. A prosperous agent in the Roscoe Arcade, prominent theatrical manager, and a pioneering actors' agent from a large theatrical family.
Henry de Frece had his sons educated well to keep them out of theatre, with Walter attending the Liverpool Institute and a school in Belgium But by the time Walter returned home, his elder brother Jack was managing the Alhambra wooden theatre in Manchester Street, Liverpool, and Isaac managed the old Theatre Royal in Clayton Square, Liverpool. Walter's younger brother, Lauri de Frece, later became a celebrated comedian
Walter was apprenticed with a notable Merseyside architect, when his father's Gaiety Theatre engaged the 25-year-old Tilly Ball as principal boy in pantomime that Christmas. Known professionally as Vesta Tilley Walter fell for Tilly. Walter resigned his apprenticeship, and leaving home secured himself a job in the office of Warner's Theatrical Agency. Walter married Tilley, at BrixtonRegister Office on 16 August 1890.
Noting the decline in popularity of melodrama, and the increase in music hall revenues, de Frece secured the lease on the Metropole Theatre at Camberwell. Leaving Warner's, he turned it into the Camberwell Empire, a modern music hall. After this success, he began building a tour circuit by buying out the leases of other theatres which had fallen on hard times, including: the Grand Theatre, Margate; the Grand Theatre, Colchester; the Prince of Wales, Southampton; and a theatre at Boscombe managed by his brother-in-law, Harry Ball, junior. All were refurbished and renamed "Hippodromes," with music hall productions run by his company "The South of England Hippodromes, Ltd.," where his wife Tilley was a regular performer. He later added new Hippodromes in both Portsmouth and Southend.[1]
After taking over the lease of the Empire Palace, Wolverhampton (later renamed the Hippodrome), in 1906 he joined the board of directors at the Manchester Palace. He then opened the New Tivoli Theatre of Varieties in Lime Street, Liverpool, in December 1906, but being so close to the Empire Palace of Moss and Stoll, the New Tivoli never made a profit.[1]
After this setback, in 1908 he bought the old Metropole in Birkenhead, renamed The New Birkenhead Hippodrome, with an opening night that was topped by his wife. He then built his northern chain at a far quicker pace, acquiring the Bolton Hippodrome and then building the new Oldham Palace, which couldn't be named Hippodrome as there already was one in the town
After the retirement of fellow impresario Thomas Barrasford, de Frece acquired most of his Barrasford Halls, and in 1914 formed the holding company "Variety Theatres Controlling Company Ltd." By 1914 this also controlled 18 theatres across both Southcoast Hippodromes Ltd and Barrasford Halls Ltd but during World War I, audience taste changed again, and with the advent of moving pictures, many theatres were being converted either in part or whole to new format cinemas. Resultantly, at the end of hostilities and after his knighthood, de Frece resigned all of his positions, allowing Charles Gulliver to succeed him as managing director of the Variety Theatres Controlling Company
Sir Walter was first elected as MP for Ashton-under-Lyne at a by-election in 1920, after the constituency's Conservative MP Sir Albert Stanley was elevated to the peerage.
Sir Walter was re-elected at the 1922 general election and at the 1923 general election, when his majority was cut to only 239 votes. At the 1924 general election he did not stand again in Ashton-under-Lyne, but moved to the more promising Blackpool constituency, where he was returned with a majority of over 7,000 votes.He held the seat with a similar majority in 1929. He represented Blackpool between the two wars.

http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1920/aug/09/ambulance-trains-disposal#S5CV0133P0_19200809_HOC_69 , 09 August 1920


Sir W. de FRECE
asked the Minister of Transport whether he has seen the advertisements in the Press issued by the Disposal Board inviting tenders for four ambulance trains now lying at Didcot, composed of 61 passenger vehicles; and whether, seeing that the railway companies express their difficulty in running excursion trains owing to the shortage of rolling stock, and that these trains were originally the property of the Great Western, the London, and North Western, and Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Companies, he will advise the withdrawal of these advertisements so that the companies concerned can recover their rolling stock and refit the trains for ordinary passenger use?
The answer to the first part is in the affirmative. The second part does not correctly state the reason given on behalf of the railway companies, as it was shortage of locomotives and not coaches which was given in evidence as the principal obstacle to running excursion trains. As to the conclusion of the question, the companies have been invited many months ago to do what the hon. Member suggests, but the offers which they submitted to the Disposal Board were insufficient in the opinion of that authority.
§Sir W. de FRECE
Is it possible for the right hon. Gentleman to suggest that any other persons or companies can pay more for railway trains than the railway companies themselves?
I do not know what other people want, but the railway companies are short of locomotives, not rolling stock.



Mathilda Powles "Vesta Tilley" (female)
Other surname / Maiden name:
de Frece
Place of marriage:
Brixton Registry Office
Country of marriage:


John de Frece "Jack" (male)
Isaac de Frece (male)
Lauri de Frece (male)


Father: Henry de Frece (male)
Mother: Marion (female)


What was the impact of this:
His wife Vesta Tilley was very popular during the First World War, when they ran a military recruitment drive, as did a number of other music hall stars. In the guise of characters like 'Tommy in the Trench' and 'Jack Tar Home from Sea', Tilley performed songs like "The Army of Today's All Right" and 'Jolly Good Luck to the Girl who Loves a Soldier'. This is how she got the nickname 'Britain's best recruiting sergeant' – young men were sometimes asked to join the army on stage during her show.
She was prepared to be a little controversial. Famously, for example, she sang a song "I've Got a Bit of a Blighty One", about a soldier who was delighted to have been wounded because it allowed him to go back to Britain and get away from extremely deadly battlefields.
"When I think about my dugout / Where I dare not stick my mug out / I'm glad I've got a bit of a blighty one!"
Tilley performed in hospitals and sold war bonds.


Military Record

Military service:
Manchester Regt
Rank at discharge/death:
Hon. Colonel
Sportsman's Bttn

Other Occupations

Type of employment:
Theatre Proprietor


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