Britain’s oldest Punch & Judy

link_to_welsh_translation link_to_french_translation Link to Russian translation Button link to kids version of page Button link to kids version of page

Britain’s oldest Punch & Judy

This area of Llandudno promenade is home to the longest-running Punch & Judy puppet show in Britain, founded by Richard Codman in 1860.

He was born in Norwich in 1831 into a family of Hungarian Romany origin. He became a travelling entertainer playing a banjo and fiddle at fairs. He sometimes took part in bare-knuckle fights.

photo of Mr Punch puppet

In 1859 he married Charlotte Asker of Birmingham and inherited a showman’s caravan drawn by two horses. They travelled round fairs until one of the horses died, just after they’d reached Llandudno in 1860. Unable to afford another, Richard sought inspiration and employment. He found it in driftwood on the beach, from which he carved his Punch and Judy puppets. All of the puppets used today are the originals, as is the proscenium (the décor around the miniature theatre).

His shows were originally near the Empire Hotel. In 1864 he performed for the Mostyn Estates, and was then given a pitch on the prom.

When the Queen of Romania stayed in Llandudno, she had his booth relocated opposite her hotel so she could watch the show through her window! He gave four command performances to Queen Victoria and the Prince and Princess of Wales, at Sandringham and Windsor.

photo of puppet theatre

Needing winter employment, he started performing outside Liverpool’s Lime Street station. His eldest son Richard took over at Liverpool after turning 18. As the passing traffic grew and detracted from the show, the pitch was moved to the nearby St George’s plateau. During the winters Richard senior performed in Rhyl (Punchinella, as in Punch & Judy’s Italian predecessor), Bournemouth, Hastings and York, and toured the USA twice. A plaque at York Museum commemorates his entertainment for ‘1,000 waifs & strays’.

All his four daughters became actresses, Leah (stage name: Leah Marlborough) being the most famous. In the film industry’s early years, John – another of Richard’s sons – toured music halls in Wales and Lancashire with his mobile cinema, showing films he had made. He also established some early fixed cinemas.

Richard senior died in 1908. His youngest son, Herbert, took over in Llandudno. Herbert died in 1961 and his son, John, continued the show. John died in 1980 before he’d had a chance to teach his son-in-law, Morris Millband. Morris learned the show from a tape which John had left. Jason Codman Millband took over in 2008, the fifth generation of the family to run the show, which relies entirely on audience donations and sales of Punch & Judy souvenirs from the exhibition trailer behind the booth.

With thanks to John Lawson Reay, of the Llandudno & Colwyn Bay History Society, and Jason Codman Millband

Where is this HiPoint?

Wales Coastal Path Label Navigation anticlockwise buttonNavigation clockwise button
Bute Park Tour Label Navigation previous buttonNavigation next button
Llandudno Showbiz Tour Lable Navigation previous buttonNavigation next button