Kate Townsend (Mrs. Tommy Dodd)

An obituary of Kate Townsend (nee Hattersley) published in The Sheffield Telegraph, 15th March 1886, refers to her burial at Wardsend Cemetery the previous day. Records of her death state that she was born in 1849 and died at the age of 37, however her date and place of birth is disputed across some sources. The obituary notes that she was ‘taken ill’ within 10 days of her husband, William Townsend, having died of ‘inflammation of the lungs.’ Notably, the same obituary was reproduced in The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, New South Wales, Australia in May of the same year; it is unclear whether Kate Townsend had any links to the area.

It is said that Kate met her husband, whom she married in 1876 in Leicester, while both were travelling and being exhibited due to their small stature. Advertised as “Mr and Mrs Tommy Dodd” – “The Smallest Living People”, records show they were exhibited in Islington’s Royal Agricultural Hall, notably at the 1873/4 Christmas Fair and Bazaar held at the Hall. Alongside Kate and her husband were numerous exhibits including “[Tom] Norman’s Musical, Talking and Performing Fishes and French Artillery Giant Horses,” the proprietor who later became well known for his links to ‘The Elephant Man.’ Crecraft, one of the early exhibitors of Waxwork, were also present and went on to exhibit “Mr and Mrs Tommy Dodd” at the same hall later in 1874. At this event, “Mr and Mrs Tommy Dodd” were the main attraction, billed as “The King & Queen of the Lilliputians!” which refers to Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726).
An article titled “An Old-Fashioned Fair” published on January 18th 1874 in the Sunday Times gives us a unique insight into the exhibitionary nature of Kate Townsend as Mrs Tommy Dodd, and how her and her husband were received. The author reflects:

‘… having paid two-pence, I found myself in the presence of Mr and Mrs Tommy Dodd. This diminutive couple are said to be the smallest human beings in creation… Mr and Mrs Dodd are unquestionably very diminutive. Unlike Italy they do not possess the fatal gift of beauty, but they are civil spoken, well-conducted dwarfs, and they were exceedingly polite to me and a pony, who were the only spectators present. Mr Dodd sang a song, so did Mrs Dodd; and being passionately fond of music, I was glad when both songs were over. So too, I think, was the pony, who began to neigh on his own account as soon as the vocalists had left off. The tide of popular favour evidently sets rather in the direction of giants than dwarfs. The Dodds were deserted, but Master Smith, the fat boy and Mrs Mace, the fat girl, had a numerous level of admirers…’

Despite this review, which suggests a humorous interpretation of their performance and that they are slightly out of date, the duo, as previously noted, were exhibited independently later that year. This means they probably were quite popular, and could draw a crowd on their own! Similarly, having married in 1876, the obituary suggests that they were travelling and being exhibited until their death again alluding to a level of success.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Picture References

We would like to thank the National Fairground Archive for their kind permission to use these images

Programme; Islington Royal Agricultural Hall, Christmas Fair and Bazaar, The National Fairground & Circus Archive, The University of Sheffield, Dec 27th 1873, NFA_178TI.166_0. Reproduced with the Permission of The National Fairground & Circus Archive, The University of Sheffield – 20/03/2017.

Programme; Islington Royal Agricultural Hall, Christmas Fair and Bazaar, The National Fairground & Circus Archive, The University of Sheffield, Dec 27th 1873, NFA_178TI.166_1. Reproduced with the Permission of The National Fairground & Circus Archive, The University of Sheffield – 20/03/2017.

Handbill; Islington Royal Agricultural Hall, “Crecraft’s Exhibition Mr and Mrs Tommy Dodd,” The National Fairground & Circus Archive, The University of Sheffield, c.1874, NFA_178TI.247_0. Reproduced with the Permission of The National Fairground & Circus Archive, The University of Sheffield – 20/03/2017.

Sources

Sheffield Local Studies Library:

The Sheffield Daily Telegraph, “Death of a Pair of Dwarfs,” Sat 15 March 1886, (Sheffield, England) p. 3.

Findmypast.com:
England and Wales Marriages 1837-2008 Transcription
National Burial Index for England and Wales Transcription
England and Wales Deaths 1837-2008 Transcription
Yorkshire Burial Transcription

National Fairground Archives, Sheffield:
NFA_178TI.247
NFA_178TI.166

The Sunday Times, “An Old-Fashioned Fair,” Sun, 18 January 1874, (London, England) p. 2.

The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser, “Death of a Pair of Dwarfs,” Tue 18 May 1886, NSW: 1843-1893 p. 7. – http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/18881812?searchTerm=wardsend

Profile Researched by Miriam Emanuel

Profile Written by Miriam Emanuel