Freda Winifred Hooper was born on the 19 December 1902 to Albert and Lillie Hooper. Freda’s father Albert was a master butcher. He ran his business from 137 St Sepulchre Gate, Doncaster and lived above the shop with his family.
From a young age, Freda showed a flair for entertainment. Freda was a talented singer, dancer, comedienne and impressionist. During the First World War, Freda put these talents to use and entertained wounded soldiers at the Hooton Pagnell Hall hospital, overseen by Julia Warde-Aldam. Freda was only around 14 years old when she entertained these soldiers, but with the photographs kept by Julia, there was a small business card with Freda’s address on it. Freda also entertained inmates and troops at the Balby Union Workhouse. The Hooper family were close personal friends of the Owen family who ran the workhouse, and Freda often entertained there with their son Frank. During Christmas 1915 Freda entertained inmates and soldiers at the Workhouse.
Freda also entertained the population of Doncaster, including one show at the the Divisional Office on South Parade, fundraising for the Christmas Gifts for Soldiers at the Front fund.
Additionally, Freda performed duets with Stanley William Milan, an ex-soldier who was invalided out of the army due to his wounds and who lived on Thorne Road, Doncaster. When he returned from the war, he performed shows dressed in a clowns costume and a military cap.
Freda’s son Albert fondly remembers his mother talking about Stanley, saying that she spoke very highly of him for her whole life. Freda and Stanley were part of ‘The Nobodies’ troupe. One of their programmes from 1918-1919 describes them as ‘The Original Hospital Entertainers.’ It’s possible that this troupe entertained the wounded soldiers being treated at Hooton Pagnell Hall hospital.
In the collection of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Museum, there is a letter from 1916. Written by a group of soldiers, they wrote to thank a ‘Miss Hooper’ for cigarettes and tobacco sent to them using money raised by the sale of a photograph. Although we can’t definitively tie this letter to Freda, it’s very likely she was responsible for this act of kindness.
When Freda married Albert Cooper on 19 July 1928 at St James Church, Doncaster she was living at 64 Stirling Street. Albert was an electrician, and Freda’s father, also called Albert and brother Albert Kinnersley were witnesses to the marriage. The local Doncaster newspapers reported on Freda’s marriage, emphasising how well known she was around the town. It also mentions that she was offered the opportunity to be a child film star, but turned it down.
However, her marriage didn’t mark the end of Freda’s show business career. The couple moved to 72 Balby Road, where Freda set up her dance teaching business. She taught students in the house, naming it ‘Kingsway Studios’. On the 1939 register, Freda is listed as ‘Teacher of Dancing’ while Arthur is listed as ‘Assistant Colliery Electrician.’ Freda taught a variety of dance styles to the children of Doncaster. During the Second World War, Freda entertained troops again with a variety of dance troupes made up of her students. Freda continued teaching dance until her later years and was close personal friends with Nellie Stagles, another well-known Doncaster dance teacher. Nellie was godmother to Freda’s daughter.
Freda continued running and performing in a variety of troupes including ‘The Jollities’ and the ‘The Kingsway Varieties’ until her death in 1971, aged 68.
Freda’s son Albert kept many of her business cards, show programmes, personal and troupe photographs. All images in this story, kindly shared with the Doncaster 1914-18 project, appear by permission of Albert Cooper.