The Blackburn Standard, 17th November 1900 p.7, reported that Miss Donegani of Manchester was one of a number of entertainers at the meat tea for the old and infirm men resident in the Blackburn Workhouse on the previous Thursday evening. She played selections on the banjo and mandolin whilst other musicians sang, accompanied by a string band. The Union guardians also provided apples, sweets and tobacco to the old folks, who “enjoyed the treat very much indeed”.
Such charitable teas or treats were relatively common, if not frequent, by the 1900’s and were funded and organised by church congregations, charities, social clubs, local councils and other local groups. A couple of years later, the Wigan Observer and District Advertiser, 10th Jan 1902, p.8, carried a report of the annual “treat to the old people”, a tradition which commenced in 1876. The old folks were provided with a meat tea provided by the nearby Legh Arms and served by a bevy of volunteer ladies. Some 204 residents over the age of sixty attended and were entertained by “a Manchester party” including Miss Lucy Donegan (soprano) singing “The Toilers” and “Tatters”. The entertainers also included the “Misses Donegan (banjo duettists)” performing “Cromertee March” and “Skipping Rope Dances”. The reporter assures us that the “humorous” element of the event caught on tremendously, and all the other items were performed in first-class style”.
Lucy’s musical talent is further documented by her entry in the 1901 census where her occupation is shown as a Musician and Music Teacher. However, as we have found only two mentions of her work in the newspapers of the day, it is perhaps surprising that she appears, as Lucie Donegani, on card number 78 of Ogden’s Gold Guinea Cigarette Cards, Actresses Series. This Series was issued around 1900 and Lucy is shown with her four-string banjo festooned with ribbons.
A clue to her connection with the music halls is provided in the above press report, as another member of the “Manchester party” was Kendal Thompson. According to the Music Hall and Theatre Review, 2 July 1892, p.17, Thompson was “Manchester’s favourite tenor vocalist” who had a successful career from the late 1870s to the 1900s appearing at music hall venues throughout the north and midlands including the Manchester Palace of Varieties. It may be that Lucy met Thompson through the music halls and maybe had supporting stage roles, unreported by the press reviews.
Biographical note: Lucy Donegani was born in 1879 in Rochdale and was the grand-daughter of Anthony Donegani who was born in Moltraiso in about 1829. She moved with her parents Joshua (a house painter and later a tobacconist) and Sarah to Manchester some time before 1891. In 1902 she married Frank Nixon, a dairyman and went on to have two children, Frank (b. 1904) and Alice (b.1906). We have found no trace of a musical career after her marriage. She appears as Lucie on the Ogden's card but also in a press report relating to the burial of her uncle, Santino Donegani, in the Rochdale Times, 6 Nov 1912, p.3.