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Bid to honour conjoined twins who hit big time ‘against the odds’

Violet and Daisy Hilton were born joined at the base of the spine in Brighton and shot to fame in the 1920s and 1930s.

A campaign has been launched to honour conjoined twins who were exploited for their condition but became international entertainers “against the odds”.

Violet and Daisy Hilton were born joined at the base of the spine in Brighton, East Sussex, in 1908 and became famous as an act in the 1920s and 1930s, touring Europe and the United States.

Local historian Alf Le Flohic, who also works at the University of Brighton, is raising funds to install a plaque in their memory outside their childhood home, 18 Riley Road.

His bid for the commemoration was accepted by Brighton and Hove City Council and is supported by the homeowners, he said.

He hopes money raised from hosting city walking tours in the summer will contribute to the campaign and help a charity which supports children with facial disfigurement.

Mr Le Flohic said: “The twins were huge stars in their day – at the peak of their fame around 1927 they were earning 4,000 dollars a week, about three times the average annual American salary, but they have largely been forgotten in the UK.

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Violet and Daisy Hilton (University of Brighton courtesy of the Wellcome Collection/PA)

“They were definitely talented. They could play numerous instruments and had lovely singing voices. They danced with a young Bob Hope and were befriended by escapologist Harry Houdini.”

The sisters were rejected by their mother, an unmarried barmaid, and adopted by landlady Mary Hilton who saw their financial potential, Mr Le Flohic said.

They were originally known as “Brighton’s United Twins”, a reference to “The United Brothers” Chang and Eng Bunker who were the original Siamese Twins.

But they were exploited for their disability – just weeks after being born they were put on show for money at a pub.

As adults they toured sideshows as well as vaudeville and burlesque circuits. They sang, danced and appeared in two films; Freaks in 1932, and Chained For Life in 1952.

Mr Le Flohic said: “As adults the twins took the Hiltons to court and gained their freedom, but settled for only a portion of the money they had earned over the years.

As a city that embraces people who don’t necessarily fit the norm, they are definitely ‘one of us’ and deserve to be more widely known in Brighton Alf Le Flohic

“They fell out of favour with the American public after Violet’s big celebrity wedding in 1936 was quickly revealed to be a publicity stunt.

“There were rumours that Violet preferred women, and her husband Jim Moore was well known to be gay.”

The twins’ last show was in North Carolina in 1961 and eight years later they died within a few days of each other, reportedly from Hong Kong flu.

Mr Le Flohic added: “It’s a fitting tribute to Violet and Daisy – they had hard lives but became stars against the odds.

“As a city that embraces people who don’t necessarily fit the norm, they are definitely ‘one of us’ and deserve to be more widely known in Brighton.”

To donate or for information on the walking tours visit www.thebrightontwins.co.uk

Any additional funds will be donated to UK charity Facing the World.

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