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Claude Hender Henderson was born in 1891 in Livorno, Italy.  His ancestors lived in Fife, Scotland.  His great-great-uncle, Lewis Henderson, was born in Pittenweem and press-ganged into Nelson's Navy and deserted at Livorno.  It was there that Lewis married and set up a successful shipping company trading in marble and coal, linked to his brother in Glasgow.  Claude was educated in Switzerland and Germany and was fluent in four languages; German, Spanish, Italian and English.  From a young age, he had always been fascinated by toys and puppets, but his early life as a soldier in WW1 and then as a spy recruited by the British Secret Service in 1936 left little time or opportunity to develop these interests.  He became a code-breaker, diplomat and finally a puppeteer.

The Henderson Puppets were made by Claude sometime between 1945 and 1953 when he was based as a diplomat in Rome.  In 1971, he moved to Kingham Village in Oxfordshire where he met a remarkable school teacher and music headmaster named Harry Potts.  The puppets were handed over to Harry and he used them in his international teaching in Columbia, Tanzania, Tripoli, and in The Turks and Caicos Islands.  The puppets were not used for commercial gain but for their entertainment value and their community and educational worth.  They stayed with Harry Potts for some 45 years, as a teaching tool for work with children and families, before he gave them back to Nancy Henderson, the granddaughter of Claude, who has now lodged them with the Scottish Mask and Puppet Centre for safe-keeping and preservation.  

Claude Henderson Icon.jpg




Annual Journal British Puppet and Model Theatre Guild

Volume 17:5
Autumn 2019

Writer:  Dr Malcolm Knight

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