THE TRAGIC TILLER GIRL
Many of us will remember watching Sunday Night at the London Palladium and the ever energetic and synchronised Tiller Girls. The Tiller Girls have a long and illustrious history and as records show a sad connection to Leigh.
The Tiller Girls were among the most popular dance troupes of the 1900s, first formed by John Tiller in 1890. Tiller had noticed the overall effect of a chorus of dancers was often spoiled by lack of discipline and he found that by linking arms the dancers could dance as one; he is credited with inventing precision dance.
After John’s death in 1925 the troupe was continued by his son, Lawrence.
The Tiller Girls in the early 1930s – Dorothy may be in this picture. Reproduced by kind permission of John Snelson
On 1 October 1932 the Lawrence Tiller Girls were booked to perform in a Tom Arnold review entitled ‘Walk this Way’ at the Nottingham Empire, and indeed the show went on under the strain of the Troupe knowing that a tragic accident had claimed the life of one of their number.
Dorothy Lussignea was only 22 years of age and lived with her parents (when not on the road) in Southsea Avenue, Leigh. She had been born in Leytonstone and in 1911 the family was living in Brixton. Her father was a motor insurance agent.
The very afternoon of the Nottingham performance, Dorothy and her friend, Betty Rowe, and two young gentlemen were returning from an afternoon out to Newstead Abbey when on their way back for the evening performance the car suddenly skidded on the greasy road. The vehicle overturned and Dorothy was pinned beneath it. No one else was hurt but the newspaper report says ‘the pluck of Miss Rowe can be better imagined than described when it is explained that she went straight on to Nottingham after crawling out of the overturned car and appeared on stage at both the first and second performances.’ In fact the heading of the report was ‘TILLER GIRL’S AMAZING FORTITUDE IN NOTTINGHAM’.
The inquest was also reported in the local newspaper. There was no explanation for why the car skidded and the driver felt his speed had not been excessive and he knew the road well, but nevertheless could not explain the accident. Dorothy had been sitting in the front of the car and the ‘sunshine’ roof had been locked. She was thrown through the ‘sunshine’ roof and trapped by the top of the car and instantly killed.
Dorothy never came back to Leigh, she was buried in Nottingham.