During May at the Norfolk Heritage Centre we have been celebrating the life of Vernon Blyth, better known as Vernon Castle. His name is familiar to any regular visitors to the Millennium library as our training room here is named after the Norfolk born man.
Vernon went from Norwich to become a worldwide dancing star, was awarded a medal for bravery in WW1 and had his life cut tragically short in 1918.
Castle, was of course a stage name. Vernon William Blyth was born in Norwich on May 2nd 1887 to William and Jane Blyth. He went on to become a dancing star, appearing on Broadway, in vaudeville and on the silver screen. Vernon was just 30 years old when he died in a training accident during WW1.
Vernon Blyth spent much of his childhood living on the Prince of Wales Road in the Great Eastern Hotel, where his grandfather and father were landlords. He appears on the 1901 Census at this address and .he attended the Norwich School in the City. In his earlier years Vernon had lived for a time with his parents in London, appearing on the 1891 Census at 24 James St in Marylebone.
Vernon left Norfolk for New York in 1906 eventually meeting Irene Foote who was to become his wife. Vernon and Irene Castle had huge success around the world but Vernon returned to England in 1915 to join the Royal Flying Corps. In 1917 he was awarded the Croix de Guerre for bravery, he had shot down at least two enemy planes. In the same year he was retired from active duty.
Vernon was sent to the USA and Canada where he trained pilots. He was seriously injured in a flying accident near Fort Worth, Texas and died on February 15th 1918.
Vernon and Irene Castle were played by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in the 1939 film “The story of Vernon and Irene Castle”. Vernon had inspired Astaire in his younger days and the story of the Castles on the cinema screen inspired a whole new generation to dance.
Captain Castle, who had completed 150 flying missions during WWI, is buried at the Woodlawn Cemetery in New York.
The Norfolk Heritage Centre is a partnership of the Norfolk Library and Information Service and the Norfolk Record Office. If you are interested in tracing your WW1 Family History we have many records and subscriptions that may be able to help you.
Orla – Archive Specialist
Until the end of May you can pop into the Millennium Library and see various items relating to Vernon Castle, including his Croix de Guerre
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