Joe Kilbride

Joe Kilbride - Bradford, Hull, Grimsby, Dublin, Belfast, London and New York.

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Professor Joe Kilbride was born Joseph Charles Henderson in 30 Waile Street, Manningham, Bradford on 7 Jan 1869.

Joe’s father died when he was young and his mother Elizabeth remarried.  Joe did not get along with his new stepfather and decided to run away from home when he was aged 13 years old.  He was taken in by a well known Boxing family from Bradford named Kilbride whose surname Joe adopted and used throughout the rest of his life.

When he was in his late teens Joe Kilbride went to sea and served as a crew member on board the S.S Martello, an ocean going cargo ship registered in the port of Hull on England's East coast. This ship sailed to New York via Boston and would have offered young Joe a working passage to America's Eastern Coast.

Tattooing was entering a new dawn in the USA due to the arrival of electric machines. New York was home to Edwin Thomas and also Samuel O'Reilly who were tattooing at that time in the city. This could have been the starting point to Joe Kilbride's tattoo journey as he would almost certainly have encountered tattooing in the docks area of New York when he landed onshore.

He returned to Britain on board the S.S. Arizona arriving in Liverpool in August 1889.

Joe married his first wife Florence Columius Murphy in 1890 in Edinburgh, Scotland when he was 22 years old and they had 2 children: Joseph ‘Nunkie’ Kilbride and Elizabeth Ellen Kilbride.  On his marriage certificate he describes himself as a scenic artist. This occupation involved working within Theatres and Playhouses hand-painting stage sets and backdrops. It was a skilled occupation that was in high demand at the time.hannah kilbride picture for website

The marriage last around 9 years and in 1898 Joe got together with Irish girl Hannah Cronin who came from Cork, Ireland. 

Hannah would later go on to become known as ‘Madam Eileen the Tattooed Colleen’ (pictured right) and she performed and travelled on the circuit alongside Joe Kilbride. She was very heavily tattooed and is rumoured to have done some tattooing as well.

By 1901 Joe and Hannah were living in Morecombe on the North West of England as one of their children was born at that time in the area.

The first documented records of Professor Kilbride tattooing professionally are in Ireland in 1901. He had set up a tattoo studio in the docks area of Dublin and tattooed from a premises at 27 Lower Ormond Quay. His advertising at the time boasted that he’d been tattooing for around 15 years and that he’d tattooed in London and New York.

If this is true this would make him around 17 when he began working in the tattoo profession in around 1886. This ties up with his earlier sea adventures and visit to New York.

kilbride dublin 1901

In February 1903 he had moved to the North of Ireland and began tattooing at Carter’s Waxworks in Belfast.

kilbride at carters 1903

‘JC’ Carter was always on the lookout for good tattoo artists to work in his pitch and he regularly advertised in The Era Newspaper (a showbusiness trade paper) looking to secure the best artist around. Professor Laurence had tattooed there in 1902 and in 1903 Joe Kilbride was one of many skilled ‘professors’ who answered the call. But by April 1903 he had left Carters and had set up on his own account at 115 Donegall Street in Belfast City Centre.

Business must have been brisk. Over the coming summer months he found himself so busy that in August he placed an advert in the Belfast Newspaper offering the unique opportunity for a ‘young gentleman’ to work alongside him and learn the tattoo trade. Kilbride stated that there would be a small premium to be paid (naturally!) in advance but the lucky gentleman would soon be on a share of the profits once proficient at the art.

kilbride advert for apprentice

That month Professor Vallar and Madame Rosene were appearing at Carter’s Waxworks. It’s safe to assume that Prince Vallar’s father Stephen stumped up the cash to enroll his young 14 year old son as an apprentice to Joe Kilbride. These type of opportunities were few and far between and in those days this type af rare offer would have to be grasped with both hands. Prince Vallar’s father had been around enough showmen, entertainers and circus people in his career to know that a good Tattoo Artist would never be out of business and always in great demand.

It was a successful venture all round as by 1905 Prince had learned a sufficient amount of knowledge from Professor Kilbride to begin tattooing as a professional on his own account.

By 1905 Joe Kilbride was heading back to Bradford, England and Prince Vallar was off to begin his professional tattooing career in the Scottish Port of Greenock.

Joe and Hannah Kilbride began working in a tattoo parlour called Henderson’s Tattooing Saloon at 94 Manningham Lane, Bradford. His advert at the time announced that he also sold colours, designs and machines. Joe had a brother called William Henderson and there is a possibility that he was taught to tattoo by Joe or persuaded to put his name or money towards the new Tattooing Saloon.

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Whatever the true background of this story is it looks like a short-lived endeavour as in 1906 Joe places an advert in the Era Newspaper announcing that he is now available to take up a position at a Waxworks or Permanent Exhibition as a previous arrangement was disappointing (Henderson’s tattooing Saloon?) He is contactable at his address at 9 Wellington Road, Pakefield, Lowestoff on the Suffolk coast.

It’s not known at present where they went after this period but one of their children Mary Kate was born in South Shields in 1909 so it’s safe to assume that Joe was living and tattooing in this area during this period.

In 1911 Joe and Hannah finally marry (he never divorced Florence!) and they are recorded in the Census as living at 5 Burnett’s Buildings, 266 Burgess Street, Grimsby. The census records Joe’s occupation as ‘labourer’ and Hannah’s as ‘tattoo Artist.

This is a recurring theme when researching tattooists from this vintage era. Many would simple deny they were tattooists, listing themselves instead as sign writers, commercial artists, showmen, booksellers and even coffee house proprietors! There’s no doubt that many of them were hiding a colourful past or hiding from someone. Many altered their age, marriage status and had multiple identities and aliases. It makes the research difficult at times but certainly interesting!

In June the following year Joe is back tattooing on familiar ground. He crossed the Irish Sea and was working at the Ponoptican Exhibition in High Street, Belfast, Ireland.

kilbride 1912 panopticon Belfast

In the following years very little is known about Joe Kilbride’s tattooing career.  He did tattoo for a while during WW1 in Islington, London but records after this period seem to fade out. It further complicates the research when the person in question changes their name or identity. Joe Kilbride had several aliases over his 50 year career including Professor Kilbride, Captain Kilbride, Joe Kilbride, Joe Paddy Kilbride, Pat Kilbride etc. Like the other tattooists featured on these pages there will be a perfectly good explanation behind this. It is wrong to speculate when we don't know the full facts but you can guess that they were hiding from someone or something that 'may' have happened in the past!

In the 1920's he had reinvented himself as Pat Kilbride, a show promoter putting on plays and performances featuring Queenie Morris in the lead role.queenie morris

Queenie Morris was a famous Irish comedienne, actress, variety performer and tattooed lady. She was a seasoned entertainer who worked on the variety circuit all over Britain (even appearing alongside Professor George Norton) and Ireland.

Joe Kilbride had tattooed her extensively and he had enjoyed some extensive press coverage and notoriety in regards to that claim. He had postcards printed up with her image on them and these were used to advertise both Joe's artwork and Queenie's tattooed bodysuit. (Pictured Right|) 

He had completed a full colour vista of the Last Supper across her back as well as covering her body with elaborate full colour designs. This also gained her great publicity and kept her in work for many years in Variety and exhibiting on the showbusiness circuit. She became romantically involved with Joe, who had now seperated from Hannah (Madam Eileen the Tattooed Colleen) and in the later years of his life Joe and Queenie were married.

Joe's story is similar in many ways to the other tattooists featured on these pages. There's always an early hardship or family upheaval, a mysterious background to their early life, travel to foreign parts, showbusiness links, several marriages and multiple identities and aliases. The itinerant nature of tattooing at the time meant that there was rarely a settled home life or routine for the artist. The tattooists of of the early 1900's had to adapt, travel extensively and self-promote themselves on a constant basis.

The only option left open to most professional tattooists who wanted to make a living from their art was to open a permenant tattoo shop in one city, port or seaside location and tattoo there exclusively. This was the route Joe Kilbride took at the end of his career. He gave up the constant travelling, the promoting of shows and plays and eventually settle in Rhyl in Wales.

Joe tattooed at Victoria Tattooing Saloon on Vale Road and died there aged 74 in 1945.

kilbrides card

Joe Kilbride had been a sailor, scenic artist, show promoter and was a pioneer tattoo artist.