View from Portsdown Hill Overlooking Portsmouth Harbour; Dominic Serres; Hampshire County Council's Fine Art Collection

Robert Carpenter, Drury Lane actor

Robert Carpenter was another actor who was in regular employment at Drury Lane Theatre and who had close links with Sophia and Robert Baddeley and we thought his story was worth recording here.  Although virtually nothing is known of his early life it seems likely he was born somewhere close to Monkton Farleigh, Wiltshire. There is an entry for Robert Carpenter in J.P. Wearing’s American and British Theatrical Biography which states that he was an actor and singer, born in 1748 and died in 1785; quite where the information regarding his year of birth came from we cannot say as yet as we have not been able to find any record of it.

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, anonymous painting dating to c.1775.
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, anonymous painting dating to c.1775.
Victoria & Albert Museum.

On the 21st of November 1768, Robert married Praxty (or possibly Praxey, we have seen it written in a variety of ways) Wyatt at Monkton Farleigh, Wiltshire. The marriage record says that Praxty was from Inglescomb, Somerset (as with Robert, if she was born there, we haven’t managed to find a record of her baptism as yet).

It appears that the couple moved to London, presumably for Robert to pursue a career in the theatre and three years after their wedding the couple had a son, Robert (1771);  records show that his wife Praxty gave birth at the British Lying in Hospital at Holborn, London. There were four such hospitals in London at that time and were intended for the wives of poor industrious tradesmen or distressed housekeepers and the wives of soldiers and sailors, so clearly at that time, Robert was not earning much money. The record shows that she was admitted on the 12th November 1771, Robert’s occupation being that of a gentleman’s servant, aged 30 from Monkton Farleigh, a village in Wiltshire not far from Bath. She delivered a boy on the same day, two days later he was baptized, Robert, after his father; mother and son left the hospital on the 4th December 1771; the recommenders name was Michael Adolphus, a beneficiary of the hospital according to his will.

The British Lying-in Hospital, Holborn: the facade and an allegorical scene of charity. Engraving by J. S. Miller after himself. Wellcome Library.
The British Lying-in Hospital, Holborn: the facade and an allegorical scene of charity. Engraving by J. S. Miller after himself. Wellcome Library.

Robert managed to make the transition from servant to actor and for the next few years seemed to be gainfully employed at Drury Lane theatre taking on a variety of roles including that of Filch in Beggar’s Opera at The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on Monday 11th, 1778. This was a benefit performance for Mr Carpenter, Mr Butler and Mr Wright. This cast list included Locket played by Mr Baddeley, with the role of Polly being played by his wife Mrs Sophia Baddeley both of whom we have written about previously. Tickets for this performance could be obtained from Mr Carpenter at Mr Sutton’s house, 11 Little Russell Street, Covent Garden, Mr Sutton also being well known within theatrical circles of the day. Carpenter and Sutton also appeared in a newspaper article a few months later pertaining to a boating incident on the Thames where two of their friends died.

Covent Garden Piazza and Market, London by Samuel Scott (showing St Paul's Church), 1749-1758 out of copyright; (c) Museum of London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Covent Garden Piazza and Market, London by Samuel Scott (showing St Paul’s Church), 1749-1758
out of copyright; (c) Museum of London

For Robert Carpenter, his seemingly flourishing career came to an abrupt end. Allegations were made that he was dismissed from the theatre in December 1778 for forgery, a ‘skill’ which would, in the future cost him his life, but newspaper reports show that he was still performing into early January of 1779.  From this point onward his life began a downward spiral and shortly after this in 1779 he was arrested for an alleged rape – the case was dismissed due to lack of evidence.

Robert performed for many years at Drury Lane but unlike many in his profession, he seemed to have been able to acquire a reasonable amount of money, whether this was honestly gained or not we can only speculate upon. However, after leaving Drury Lane he moved to Gosport near Portsmouth where he and his wife purchased an elegant house and he began to work as navy agent; this proved to be a lucrative business allowing him to acquire considerable wealth.

It does, however, appear that rather than working hard Robert grew so impatient to become rich that he took to forging seamen’s wills and powers, a skill he had managed to cultivate during his time in the theatre according to a report in The Public Advertiser 8th March 1785. This robbery of widows and orphans continued for some considerable time without him being caught until eventually his luck ran out.  He was surprised by court officials in his own house, which was spacious, and elegantly furnished whilst busy entertaining some friends. He was arrested and placed in prison in Winchester to await trial.  He was tried and his fate sealed – his crime warranted the death sentence! 

The Hampshire Chronicle reported that there was to be a further respite for Robert until Saturday 2nd April 1785. This article was then followed by:

Following the Lent Assizes Robert Carpenter had been convicted and would be hanged at twelve noon at Winchester. His crime was that of forging seamen’s will and powers in order to defraud them of their wages. He was then conveyed from the goal in Winchester to the place of execution where after he was launched into eternity in the presence of a vast multitude of pitying beholders. He was said to have left a fortune of upwards of £7,000 [approx half a million in today’s money] and a house in Portsmouth, a wife described as very genteel and three children; they were all left un-provided for as all his effects were forfeited to the Crown.

His execution attracted a vast number of spectators, by whom, from his penitence and resignation to his unhappy fate, he was generally much pitied. This man had been for long a public character on the dramatic boards, and he made his final exit on a stage erected for the purpose under the gallows.

The European Magazine and London Review Containing the Literature History also provided its own version of the events of 2nd April 1785.

Was executed at Winchester, Mr. Robert Carpenter, for some time part a navy agent at Portsmouth, and who was convicted at the last assizes of forging seamen’s wills and powers, in order to defraud them of their wages. He was, in conformity to his sentence, conveyed from the gaol to the place of execution; where, after spending some time in acts of devotion, he was launched into eternity, in the presence of a vast multitude of pitying beholders, a great part of whom shed tears upon tho melancholy occasion.

He was dressed very genteelly, in a new suit of mourning, and was conveyed to the place of execution in a mourning coach. He did not deny the crime for which he was to suffer; but said that Mr.Miller, one of the principal evidences, never saw him in this life. This was all he said, though exhorted by the gaoler to unburden his mind to the public. He died very penitently, and struggled hard and long in the agonies of death. Carpenter formerly belonged to Drury-lane Theatre, and was the Clown in the pantomimes.

The sentence was carried out as all were at that time at a place known as Gallows Hill and it was commonplace for the people of Winchester to turn out in their thousands – apparently, they enjoyed nothing more than a good hanging and this one was as popular as any!

Robert wrote his will on the 17th March 1784 in which he left all his worldly goods in Gosport, near Portsmouth, Hampshire to his wife Praxty and two children Robert junior (born 1771) and Carolina (born 1775 back in Praxty’s home town of Inglescomb, Somerset ), so whether there was a third child as reported in the newspapers we’re not sure, but there doesn’t seem to be a baptism for the child.

His will was proven within a month of his death, although whether there actually was any money left for his wife and children who knows, but Praxty returned to London where she finally died and was buried on the 5th April 1807 at St George’s church, Hanover Square, the Bishop’s transcript records erroneously recorded her burial as that of a male rather than a female. So far we have not been able to find out anything about what happened to their children, although there was a possible mention of their daughter Carolina working in the theatre in Bristol.


Header image: View from Portsdown Hill Overlooking Portsmouth Harbour; Dominic Serres; Hampshire County Council’s Fine Art Collection

Westminster Hall and New Palace Yard by Thomas Sandby (attributed to) (c) Palace of Westminster;

Elizabeth Steele

Mrs Elizabeth Steele was the friend and companion of the actress and courtesan Sophia Baddeley.  Known to Sophia as her ‘dear Betsy Steele‘, she was born on 24th March 1740 (the last day of the year in the old style calendar), in St Margaret’s, Westminster, to parents Richard and Antonetha Hughes and was baptized there on  1st April 1741.

Mrs Baddeley in the character of Clarissa (from the Cornell University Library)
Mrs Baddeley in the character of Clarissa (from the Cornell University Library)

After Sophia Baddeley’s death Elizabeth published ‘The Memoirs of Mrs. Sophia Baddeley’ recounting Sophia’s history and putting in a little of herself too.  In Volume 3 of the Memoirs Elizabeth writes:

. . . I mean, some time or other, to write my own history; which has been full of adventures, though not of amours, and will entertain the public greatly.  I shall not say, therefore, too much of myself here.

Elizabeth died shortly after this and never got to write her own history.  We hope she would approve of this short account of her life.

The Memoirs of Mrs Sophia Baddeley, late of Drury Lane Theatre by Mrs Elizabeth Steele.

Elizabeth’s father, Richard Hughes, possibly originating in Caernarfon, North Wales, worked as a slater, respected enough to be appointed Slater to his Majesty.  In 1749 he lived in Channel Row, Westminster and by 1753 he was of Parliament Street.  This is where Elizabeth grew up with her siblings, and where she became friends with the young Sophia Snow who was to achieve fame as Sophia Baddeley.  Something which intrigues us is that Sophia had a brother named Anglesey Snow born a couple of years before her and who died at just a few weeks of age.  It’s an odd name to choose but Caernarfon looks out onto the Isle of Anglesey and this curious name could hint at a closer relationship between the Hughes and Snow family than has yet been thought.

Richard Hughes was responsible for slating the roof of Westminster Hall in 1748-49 (Georgian Group Journal vol. 13, 2003), and of  22 Arlington Street but seems to have overstretched himself somewhat; in 1753 he took out a 72 year lease on the Westminster Fish Market, building eight new houses there.  The terms of the lease stipulated that these houses could only be occupied by fishmongers and with such a restriction on them they failed to sell and remained empty.  Richard also held leases on eight more houses (four of which were new builds) in Strutton Ground and Duck Lane, Westminster and two further houses in Southwark.

Westminster Hall and New Palace Yard by Thomas Sandby (attributed to) (c) Palace of Westminster; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Westminster Hall and New Palace Yard by Thomas Sandby (attributed to)
(c) Palace of Westminster; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

With the Fish Market houses not returning his investment Richard, by 1757, was heavily in debt and had to declare himself bankrupt.  An auction was held in February 1758 to try to sell his leasehold properties but by June 1761 he was a prisoner for debt in the King’s Bench Prison, his address now listed as St George’s Fields in Southwark where the prison was.  Perhaps his family were living close by?

Elizabeth was no stranger then to hardship and poverty.  At around this time she married Hugh John Steele, also a slater like her father, marriage offering an escape from the trials of her parents.  The couple lived in the St Margaret’s area of Westminster where Elizabeth had grown up, three children being born to them there, a daughter also named Elizabeth in 1762 who died within the first year of her life, another daughter named Elizabeth baptized 12th January 1763 who did survive followed quickly by a son named Hugh for his father who was baptized 11th June 1764.  Elizabeth’s friend Sophia Snow married Robert Baddeley, an actor from the Drury Lane theatre, in St Margaret’s in January 1764, having supposedly eloped with him first and Elizabeth records that after Sophia’s marriage the two women lost touch with each other for several years.

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, anonymous painting dating to c.1775.
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, anonymous painting dating to c.1775.
Victoria & Albert Museum.

Little is known of the early life of Hugh John Steele, but he is named in the 1754 will and testament of Hugh Steele, Gentleman of St James’s Westminster, as his great-nephew.

In September 1766 Hugh John and Elizabeth Steele baptized another child, a son named George Fred Steele, at St James in Westminster.  This son, who was born 30th August 1766, was probably named for a friend of Elizabeth’s, one George Frederick Meden, a gentleman living in December of the same year at Strutton Ground (Elizabeth’s father had held the lease on several houses there just a few years earlier).  In December 1766 Elizabeth and George Frederick Meden witnessed the suspicious death of a man in Queen Street and had to stand as witnesses in the inquest into the case.  Elizabeth, described as the wife of Hugh John Steele of Air Street in the Parish of St James Westminster, slater, stated that she was walking along Queen Street, which is in the St Margaret’s area of Westminster, at about 7 o’clock in the evening, in company with Meden when she witnessed a man running without any shirt, coat or waistcoat on, being chased by two men.  She heard two strokes and the man fell to the ground and was taken to the Westminster Infirmary.  Elizabeth went to the Infirmary and left her name with the Matron there.  George Frederick Meden described himself as a gentleman and gave much the same account as Elizabeth.  The man who died was named Richard Aris and it was decided that his death was of natural causes.

The year after this, in 1767, Hugh John Steele, of St James’s Westminster was declared bankrupt, his profession being given as haberdasher and slater, which seem very incongruous occupations.  Perhaps the haberdashery business was run by Elizabeth whilst her husband carried on his occupation as slater?

Elizabeth’s son was obviously named for Meden but it is open to conjecture as to whether he was father or godfather to the babe.  All we can say with certainty is that Hugh John Steele was named as the father on the baptismal record, that he was struggling financially at the time and that Elizabeth was keeping company, without her husband being present, with another gentleman.  Whatever the truth of Elizabeth’s relationship with Meden, of whom we can find no further record, Elizabeth and her husband Hugh parted company shortly after this, although remaining on friendly terms.  Hugh John Steele moved from St James’s Westminster to Lambeth and then, still beset by debts, found himself by June 1769 resident in the King’s Bench Prison.  For Elizabeth history must have seemed to be repeating itself and to preserve herself from ruin she renewed her friendship with Sophia Baddeley, then at the height of her fame and separated from her own husband, the two women taking up residence together.

Sophia Baddeley, Robert Baddeley and Thomas King, as they appeared in ‘A Clandestine Marriage’ by Johann Zoffany. The Garrick Club Collections.

Elizabeth has been accused of living off Sophia and indeed there is some truth in this.  However we feel that the relationship was a mutual one of need for each other, both needing the support of the other in the absence of their husbands, Sophia able to bring the money in to the household and Elizabeth being the one able to control the finances and curb the excesses of her spendthrift friend.

Indeed, Elizabeth claims to have helped to bail Sophia and her family out of trouble with her own money, if her account of events is true.  When Sophia’s father, Valentine Snow, had to pawn his trumpet and the regalia associated with his post as Sergeant Trumpeter to the King, and then needed them back to perform at Windsor, it was Elizabeth who loaned the money for this to be accomplished.  Perhaps she used Mr Trip, the St Martin’s Lane pawnbroker she mentions in the Memoirs whom she had known from childhood; he did exist.

Portrait of a Trumpeter in Livery (called ‘Valentine Snow, 1685–1759, Sergeant Trumpeter’); Michael Dahl I (1656/1659–1743) (style of); National Trust, Fenton House

Men visited the house frequently, with varying degrees of approbation from Elizabeth.  Almost all called to see Sophia but Elizabeth was not without her admirers.  She was asked to permit a gentleman of fortune to call on her, whom she does not name, but declined to give her permission.  Of herself she said she was:

. . . young like Mrs Baddeley, and though I could not boast, perhaps, of her share of beauty, I was not in the early part of my life without my temptations.  But I thank God I had a mind above them all, and conducted myself with that propriety every woman ought; and I call on all those whose names I have mentioned in these volumes, to contradict the assertion if they can, or lay any thing to my charge that is not strictly virtuous.

In the early 1770s Elizabeth took a lease on a house in Henley, Oxfordshire, intending to settle her husband Hugh John Steele and her children there.  She mentions visiting them there throughout the Memoirs, in company with Sophia Baddeley.  She also says that she has a sister who lives in the King’s Road in Chelsea, possibly the same lady who had a husband in charge of the stores at Portsmouth (presumably at the Naval dockyard there) and who travelled to Ireland to visit Colonel Lutterell with Sophia.  Elizabeth Steele’s 10 year old daughter went too, although Elizabeth herself stayed in London, to fend off their creditors and to post letters to the clueless husband in Portsmouth from his wife so that he thought she was safe in Chelsea.  This sister kept good company as Elizabeth says that Lady Grosvenor had visited her the day before she did.  Elizabeth also tells us that her mother, in the 1770s, was a widowed Mrs Hughes, living in Westminster.

View from Portsdown Hill Overlooking Portsmouth Harbour; Dominic Serres; Hampshire County Council's Fine Art Collection
View from Portsdown Hill Overlooking Portsmouth Harbour; Dominic Serres; Hampshire County Council’s Fine Art Collection

Elizabeth had a brother named Richard Hughes, named after his father, but known as Dick Hughes, who also followed the profession of slater but who was also involved with the theatre folk.  He was a companion of the comedian Tom Weston and shared a house with him in Kilburn, ostensibly as his servant but really to act as a bully-boy to ward off Weston’s creditors.  Tom Weston was a contemporary of Sophia’s husband, Robert Baddeley, the two men both starting off as a cook before taking to the stage.  When Weston died in 1776 a purported mock will was put about, leaving satirical bequests to various people.  To counter this Weston’s widow, Martha, sent in to the papers a document she claimed was her late husband’s genuine will and testament and one of the witnesses to this was Richard Hughes.  Dick Hughes also appended a letter, giving his address as St James’s Place, attesting to this.  We have yet to find proof of this will actually existing however.

Mr Weston in the character of Dr Last in Samuel Foote's the Devil Upon Two Sticks. The Folger Library
Mr Weston in the character of Dr Last in Samuel Foote’s the Devil Upon Two Sticks. The Folger Library

Although Elizabeth tolerated Sophia’s lovers, she took especial dislike to Stephen Sayre; she moved out of the house she shared with Sophia whilst he was there.  In the Memoirs she reproduces a letter from Stephen Sayre expressing dissatisfaction with the Royal family, written to John Harding Esq., of Charterhouse, Honiton in Somerset, Sheriff of that county as Sayre had been Sheriff of London.  She says she became possessed of this letter after the death of Harding’s widow, Mrs Ann Harding, in May 1786.  In ‘Stephen Sayre: American Revolutionary Adventurer’ by John Richard Alden, he speculates that Elizabeth Steele was assisted in writing the Memoirs by Alexander Bicknell, and that Bicknell inserted a passage into a letter of Sayre’s to discredit him.  Betty Rizzo, in ‘Companions Without Vows: Relationships Among Eighteenth-Century British Women’  identifies this ghost writer as William Jackson, the Irish revolutionary, spy and journalist.  We can offer a little further information leaning towards Jackson being involved as we can place him with Sophia Baddeley’s brother Jonathan in the August of 1774 when the pair, together with a Mr Churchill and another unnamed gentleman, were victims of an attempted armed robbery upon the coach they were travelling in at Turnham Green near Fulham.  Jonathan Snow and William Jackson both appeared when the case was tried at the Old Bailey.

The Highwayman by William Powell Frith; Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums
The Highwayman by William Powell Frith; Aberdeen Art Gallery and Museums

Whether or not Elizabeth Steele had assistance in writing the Memoirs, she did indeed inherit the personal belongings of Mrs Ann Harding in May 1786, which would have given her access to John Harding’s letters as she was named as her sole executrix in Ann’s last will and testament and it is from this document that the name of her husband was first revealed to us.  Ann Harding’s will is short and sweet; it was written on the 12th May 1786 and proved in London by Elizabeth three days later.  Elizabeth Steele is named as Ann’s ‘good friend’ and she receives a third share of Mrs Harding’s estate as well as being responsible for the administration of it.  There is a further note transcribed on the margin of this will however, dated the 25th August 1788, and it is this note that provided us initially with the name of Elizabeth’s husband.  It says that Elizabeth, described as the wife of Hugh John Steele, was dead by this date, having died intestate and so administration was passed to one of Ann Harding’s daughters.

And so we pass to the end of Elizabeth’s story.  Sophia Baddeley’s youth and beauty was beginning to wane and she had been abandoned by her wealthy lovers.  Elizabeth instead went into business and partnership with ‘a woman who did not like Mrs Baddeley’, reducing their contact further.  Amy Culley, in ‘The Sentimental Satire of Sophia Baddeley’ points out that, whilst Elizabeth claimed she was never with Sophia after 1780, the manager of the theatre at York, Tate Wilkinson, recorded that in 1783 Sophia’s ‘friend and companion, a Mrs. Stell, was with her, who I fancy had always occasion for such sums as that unfortunate woman received.

Sophia Baddeley lived out the end of her life in Edinburgh, dying there in July 1786.  Possibly, as she had taken ownership of Ann Harding’s personal papers, Elizabeth also took possession of Sophia’s in order her to write the Memoirs, which were published in 1787, a year after Sophia’s death.

If the publication of the Memoirs was intended to bring Elizabeth a much-needed income it was too little, too late.  The World and Fashionable Advertiser newspaper carried a notice from Elizabeth in the 2nd August 1787 edition in which she stated that a Dr John Trusler, her publisher, had appropriated the sums of money for the first edition and she had filed a Bill in Chancery against him.  She advertised the fact that many thousands of volumes of the second edition, all signed by her, were released that day, her signature being by the advice of counsel and to deter the possibility of piracy; in return, he accused her of piracy!

In October 1787 she was sought in connection with a forgery on a bill of exchange.  Amy Culley draws attention to a satirical description of Elizabeth at the time of her being wanted for the forgery, depicting her ‘with a Mole on her left Cheek; her Mouth drawn aside, (apparently by a Paralytic Stroke) her Right Eye Blood-shot.’  In desperation and unwell she took rooms at the Dolphin Inn at Bishopsgate, in some accounts being in company with a man who called himself her husband, arriving in a shabby old chariot requesting lodgings and a nurse.  There she died, ‘in extreme agonies and distress’, papers in her pocket revealing her name.  The supposed husband quietly disappeared.  Elizabeth was buried as a pauper in the churchyard of St Botolph at Bishopsgate on 18th November 1787, recorded as Elizabeth Stell, poor, aged 45.

Elizabeth Steele burial
 As for Hugh John Steele, he fathered a daughter by a woman named Jane in the April of 1773 who was baptized in September 1774 at St Martin in the Fields, Westminster, with the splendid name of Margaret Maria Mary Sylvia Sophia Steele.  Shortly before this baptism, in June 1774, a cause was tried before Lord Mansfield at Westminster Hall which had a John Stuart as a plaintiff and Mrs Elizabeth Steele as a defendant.  The Middlesex Journal newspaper which reported this described the hearing as ‘very candid’ and that Elizabeth proved her marriage with Mr Hugh John Steele after which John Stuart was non-suited.  Quite what this was about remains to be discovered, but perhaps it was one of the interesting episodes of her own life that she hoped to write about.  Hugh John Steele was buried on 13th August 1789 at Lambeth.  We have so far been unable to find any trace of Elizabeth Steele’s children after this.

Links to ‘The Memoirs of Mrs Sophia Baddeley which are available to read online can be found within our previous article on Sophia.

Valentine & Jonathan Snow

As mentioned in an earlier blog Valentine Snow was the father of Sophia Baddeley.  We have found little about Valentine’s early life, but he was reputed to be the son of Moses Snow.  However, in our opinion Moses has been listed as his father just because he was involved with music too and has the same surname, there appears no other proof to substantiate this as yet and whilst he might be a relative, we feel fairly certain that he was not Valentine’s father.

Portrait of a Trumpeter in Livery (called 'Valentine Snow, 1685–1759, Sergeant Trumpeter'); Michael Dahl I (1656/1659–1743) (style of); National Trust, Fenton House
Portrait of a Trumpeter in Livery (called ‘Valentine Snow, 1685–1759, Sergeant Trumpeter’); Michael Dahl I (1656/1659–1743) (style of); National Trust, Fenton House

The London Daily Post and General Advertiser dated the 10th March 1743 carried an advertisement for a benefit concert to be held at New Theatre, Haymarket for Valentine Snow; it was to be ‘a concert of vocal and instrumental musick‘.  These concerts took place on a very regular basis,  with tickets available from Mr Snow’s house in Storey’s Gate.  By 1745 Valentine had moved to Duke Street, Westminster.  A curious entry appeared in the General Advertiser at the end of 1745 regarding a benefit concert which was to take place at the Swan Tavern.  It said that the trumpet was to be played by Valentine Snow and his brother.

This was the first reference we had come across to Valentine having a brother who also played the trumpet.  We assumed from that report that ultimately Valentine was regarded as being the more talented of the two.  It does however appear likely that he was named Jonathan and that Valentine named one of his sons after his brother.  If that theory is correct then Jonathan, who we had possibly wrongly assumed was not as talented as his brother, was in fact, in charge of Majesty’s Band of Musicians from 1749 having taken over from William Harris, so clearly more talented than we had initially given him credit for being.

At the beginning of 1747, His Grace, The Duke of Grafton, Lord Chamberlain, appointed Valentine to be one of his Majesty’s Band of Musicians.  In early 1753 he was appointed Sergeant Trumpeter to his Majesty. This role was regarded as highly lucrative but it was about administration rather than a playing role. All trumpet players had to apply for a license to perform in theatrical productions and were appointed by the Sergeant Trumpeter. Various notice appeared in the press instigated by Valentine regarding fees due and the penalty that could be expected for non payment.

We know that he also performed at Vauxhall Gardens from around 1745 to at least 1753; his daughter Sophia sang there some years later.  Vauxhall Gardens was, at that time, regarded as one of the main centres for public entertainment in London.  Although considered an excellent venue for concerts etc., it was also a place that young people could meet freely without the usual constraints of polite society. However, the gardens also acquired a not so welcome image as a place for prostitutes to ply their trade.  Sophia was baptized in Lambeth in the October of 1744, the only one of Valentine’s children to be baptized outside his home parish of Westminster.  Could his engagement at Vauxhall Gardens be the reason for this?

Vauxhall Gardens by Canaletto (via Wikiart)
Vauxhall Gardens c.1751 by Canaletto (via Wikiart)

As mentioned in Sophia’s blog article Valentine’s son Charles joined the Royal Navy but died around May 1759 (his father Valentine proved his son’s will on the 14 May of that year).  This death might have been the cause of Jonathan cancelling a benefit concert at the end of April 1759 for in a newspaper advertisement he says that it has been ‘stopt by an unforeseen Accident, not having the lease previous Notice of it.’

Jonathan Snow, meanwhile, was following his father’s profession.  Whilst proficient on the trumpet he was most talented as a harpsichordist.  On the 3rd April 1750, a concert was announced ‘for the Benefit of Master Jonathan Snow, a youth of nine years of age‘ at the New Theatre in the Haymarket.  It featured his father playing the trumpet, whilst Jonathan played the harpsichord.  Jonathan kept on performing after this.  In 1764 he married Elizabeth Harrison with his father Valentine present as a witness.


It would certainly appear that despite having a relatively high profile position, Valentine either earned little or spent a lot as Elizabeth Steele, when writing Sophia’s memoirs, mentioned that at one point Valentine had been forced to pawn his trumpet and regalia and then needed them to play at Windsor. He turned to Sophia but she had no money and so it was Elizabeth who loaned him the money to get the items out of pawn.

There are quite a few documents surviving in which Valentine Snow petitioned for arrears of his salary, the last being dated the 25th October 1770.

On the 22nd December 1770 Garrick, owner of Drury Lane theatre, wrote to the Earl of Hertford about Valentine’s son Jonathan Snow. The letter (reproduced in New Garrick Letters by F.P. Lock) reads as follows:

My Lord

The Bearer Mr Snow imagines that my troubling your Lordship with a Line might be of Service to him. I have so often been impertinent, that I shall only Say, that I am well assur’d of the truth of Mr Snow’s Petition, and that without your Lordship’s favour, I fear he will be left by his Father in a very wretched situation–I must beg Your Lordship’s Pardon for saying so much

& am

My Lord Your Lordship’s most dutiful humble Servant

D: Garrick

David Garrick and his wife. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015
David Garrick and his wife.
Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2015

Jonathan Snow’s petition read:

To the Right Hon[oura]ble The Earl of Hertford Lord Chamberlain of his Majesty’s Household The Humble Petition of Jonathan Snow Sheweth

That by the Death of his Father Valentine Snow, the Place of Sergeant Trumpet is now become Vacant[.] Your Lordships Petitioner with the Greatest Submission Craves Leave to inform your Lordship that the Place of Sergeant Trumpet, has gone from Father to Son for above a Century Past. your Lordships Petitioner has Through the Great Misfortunes of his Father, unavoidably become Bound in Several Large sums of Money, which will be the inevitable Ruin of him and his increasing Family, and to add to his Deep Distress, he now has an Aged Mother and a helpless Sister to Provide for.

under this Deplorable Situation Your Lordships Petitioner Most Humbly implores your Lordship to succeed his Father.

and as in Duty Bound, he and his Helpless Family shall Ever Pray
Jonathan Snow

Sophia also tried to help her brother obtain the position but this too proved unsuccessful and a Thomas Harris took Jonathan’s father’s place on the 24th January 1771. Just a few days later Valentine Snow died and was buried in the great vault at St Margaret’s, Westminster, on the 30th December 1770 with his funeral costing £40 and paid for by his daughter Sophia.


From Webb’s collection of Epitaphs, Vol II, page 4:
Thaw every breast, melt every eye with woe,
Here’s dissolution by the hand of death;
To dirt, to water’s turn’d the fairest Snow,
O! the king’s Trumpeter has lost his breath.

After his death Sophia gave her mother 3 guineas a week during her life as she was almost destitute. Sophia’s mother was at taken dangerously ill – Sophia ordered a physician and sat with her almost all the night but she was better the next day at which point Sophia and Elizabeth returned to Brighthelmstone.

Mrs Snow then deteriorated and begged to see Sophia and Elizabeth immediately. On returning they found her very ill but coherent and Dr John Eliot (the former husband of Grace Dalrymple) was sent for as Mrs Snow thought she was dying. Dr Eliot thought she wasn’t that bad but wouldn’t live six months; he was asked to attend her daily. Mrs Snow again improved so Sophia and Elizabeth planned a jaunt to Paris and on their return they found her well. However, around the end of May 1773 Sophia’s mother died (according to a report in the General Evening Post of the 1st June 1773) and was buried on the 13th June in Westminster.

A year later Jonathan Snow appeared in the London Poll books with his occupation recorded as an organist but he never achieved the acclaim his late father or sister Sophia did. After Valentine’s death his wife and daughter Mary were described as ‘helpless’ and in dire straits.  Jonathan was also soon to be declared bankrupt and he died in 1791.
Sophia Baddeley, Robert Baddeley and Thomas King, as they appeared in ‘A Clandestine Marriage’ by Johann Zoffany.
The John Marsh Journal, the life and times of a Gentleman Composer (1752 – 1828), recorded that just prior to his death Jonathan was beset by gout which had seriously affected his fingers and ability to play.  The London Oracle, 18th May 1791 reported Jonathan’s death describing him as having died on the 8th of May, he was described as being ‘charitable and humane’ and financial help was solicited for his daughter and sister, blind and lame, who were left in a situation truly deplorable. He was buried at St James, Westminster on the 11th May 1791.

It would seem that despite all the prestige the family achieved none of them achieved a happy life and died in poverty. Valentine’s fame lives on today with his portrait on display at Fenton House, a National Trust property, at Hampstead Grove, London.

As a foot note we thought it might be helpful to note the abbreviations used in the St Margaret’s Burial Registers Fees, to help others searching the records.
GD Great Duty (adult) ch child
CD Child Duty pl plague
GN Great Nils SB still born
CN Child Nils CSB child still born
DD Double Duty S Soldier
G½D Great ½ Duty (half fees) SC Soldier’s child
C½D Child ½ Duty BB base born
N Nils (no fees)
CCN Child Child Nils (for brothers and sisters buried together) GDSMY Great Duty St Margaret’s Yard
GDDSMY Great Double Duty St Margaret’s Yard
G½DCY Great ½ Duty Chapel Yard (Broadway)MY St Margaret’s Church Yard CY Broadway Chapel Yard
MC Middle Church (St Margaret) NC New Chapel (Broadway)
CV Chancel Vault (St Margaret) BWC Broadway Chapel
GV Great Vault (St Margaret) CC Chapel Church (Broadway)
MtCVt St Margaret’s Chancel Vault CCC Chapel Church Chancel
MtGVt St Margaret’s Great Vault GHouse Gatehouse

Sophia and Robert Baddeley

The Georgian era was no different to today in so much as it had it’s own equivalent of  ‘A list’ celebrities, those who made the newspapers for both the right and wrong reasons. We thought it might be interesting to write about a few of them.  Our first couple were definitely popular with the public of the day and were frequently in the press .

Sophia Baddeley (née Snow) and Robert Baddeley

Sophia Baddeley, Robert Baddeley and Thomas King, as they appeared in ‘A Clandestine Marriage’ by Johann Zoffany.

On the 23rd August 1730, Valentine Snow married Mary Hayter at St James’s Westminster; he was described as a gentleman and a bachelor and she a spinster. Valentine (c.1700 – 1770) was a highly respected musician for whom Handel wrote many of his trumpet parts and eventually, he became sergeant-trumpeter to George II. He was the most respected trumpet player in the country at that time. The 31st December of the following year saw the birth of a daughter, Mary. Then according to the parish records, the couple went on to produce a further 6 children, all baptized in the Westminster area of London:-

Charles baptized  1st July 1733

Valentine baptized 5th July 1736 (presumably dying as an infant)

Another son named Valentine  15th January 1737 (again presumably dying young)

Then a further Valentine baptized  17th May 1739.

Jonathan baptized  2nd December 1740

Anglesey baptized 6th December 1742

There is a burial at St. James, Piccadilly, for a Valentine Snow in 1737, presumably one of the infants above and another, again for a Valentine Snow, in 1734 at the same church.  Whether the 1734 burial relates to yet another son of Valentine senior, or whether it is another older Valentine, is not yet known.  It has been suggested that there was another son, Robert who became a banker, but this seems unlikely.  This Robert, who died in 1771, made no reference to any sibling in his will, only his children, one of whom was a daughter named Valentina which is possibly why the link with Sophia’s father has been made. It also begs the question why, if he was a son, he made no financial contribution towards his father’s funeral, yet Sophia did? All the evidence points to him not being a direct relative.  He is more likely the Robert who was baptized in 1754 in the Camden area with parents named as Robert and Valentina Snow, he being named after his father and naming a daughter for his mother.

Sophia’s brother Jonathan inherited his father’s musical talents becoming a talented harpsichordist whilst her oldest brother, Charles, joined the Royal Navy.  His will, written in 1748, tells us he was serving onboard HMS Culloden under Captain Francis Geary and in this will he left everything he owned to his father, Valentine Snow, who was also to be the executor of the will.  Charles had died by the 14th May 1759 when Valentine proved the will at London.

Portrait of a Trumpeter in Livery (called ‘Valentine Snow, 1685–1759, Sergeant Trumpeter’); Michael Dahl I (1656/1659–1743) (style of); National Trust, Fenton House

It was known that Sophia belonged to this family and was born c.1745 but her baptism has never been pinned down.  It has been confused with one in the St. Margaret’s Westminster area where her father lived, as Elizabeth Steele, her biographer, said Sophia was born in this parish, the entry being for a Sophia born in 1746 to a John and Jane Snow, John supposedly being aka Valentine.  However, this was in fact a different Sophia, one who married a William Kell in 1763 as a seventeen-year-old.  Her father John Snow was a bricklayer, not a musician and Sophia Kell is named in his will as his daughter.

Our Sophia’s baptism is actually to be found over the Thames in Lambeth and a year earlier than supposed for the baptism register of St. Mary’s there has the following entry.

12th October 1744, Sophira [sic] daughter of Vallentine and Mary Snow

Sophia Snow

(Click on this to see a clearer image)

The family didn’t stay in Lambeth but moved back to St. Margaret’s, Westminster, where Sophia grew up.  At the age of 19 Sophia eloped having run away from her disciplinarian father and married at St Margaret’s on 24th January 1764, one witness being Valentine Snow but whether this was Sophia’s father or brother it is impossible to confirm.  Her husband was an actor from the Drury Lane Theatre, Robert Baddeley, some 10 years her senior.  Baddeley was the original Moses in Sheridan’s School for Scandal, which had its first performance at Drury Lane in May 1777. Sophia made her first appearance at Drury Lane on 27th  April 1765, as Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, anonymous painting dating to c.1775.
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, anonymous painting dating to c.1775.
Victoria & Albert Museum.

The Vauxhall Gardens records of 1768 show that  Sophia was a regular singer there where she earned 12 guineas a week which is about the equivalent of £800 a week in today’s money, so not an unsubstantial sum.

The union between Sophia and Robert Baddeley was not a match made in heaven, however. Things came to a head at the height of her fame and Sophia realized that she could support herself with some financial assistance from various benefactors to whom she became a courtesan, primarily the 1st Viscount Melbourne.  After leaving Robert Baddeley, Sophia moved in with Charles Holland of  Drury Lane Theatre and lived with him until he died of small pox (in 1769).  She is not mentioned in his will though which was written whilst he was suffering from smallpox.

Robert Baddeley (1733-1794), as 'Moses' in 'The School for Scandal'; Johann Zoffany; Lady Lever Art Gallery
Robert Baddeley (1733-1794), as ‘Moses’ in ‘The School for Scandal’; Johann Zoffany; Lady Lever Art Gallery

Even before the couple’s separation, Sophia was known to be frequently visited by H.R.H. the Duke of York and that he had graciously presented her with a lock of hair which she carefully preserved throughout her career. Sophia was famous for her beauty and her extravagant lifestyle.  Despite their separation, the Baddeley’s did perform together on the London stage.

Another of her suitors was Stephen Sayre, an American who was the sheriff of London. He does not come across well in the Memoir written by Elizabeth Steele; she obviously didn’t like him.  In February 1775 he married an heiress, described as an old lady whom he married purely for her money, and Elizabeth claims that Sophia was ‘big with his child’ when he did so. It may be that Elizabeth was trying to portray her friend as a wronged woman for it appears that Sophia perhaps continued to maintain a relationship with Sayre for a time after her marriage.

Sophia Baddeley
Sophia Baddeley

Stephen and Sophia’s relationship produced a child, named Stephen for his father and his baptism can be found listed for the 25th January 1778  at Percy Chapel, St Pancras, Sophia appearing as ‘Sophia Sayre’ presumably to give the child some legitimacy. His birth date is recorded and this is 6th February 1776, which would mean that Sophia and Stephen were still intimate for some months after his wedding to his rich heiress.  There is also a newspaper report in the Morning Post on a masquerade ball held at Carlisle House towards the end of February 1775, less than two weeks after Sayre’s marriage.  Both he and his new wife are listed amongst the attendees, but Sophia is also there and listed directly above Mrs Sayre.  If she was ‘big with his child’ then surely the newspapers would have picked up on this fact?  Stephen Sayre was arrested towards the end of 1775 for alleged high treason, after which he left England for Europe, then America. We know that whilst Sophia was having relationships with her various suitors she left the stage, making enough from her lovers for it to no longer be necessary. When these ceased to exist she obviously found it necessary to resume her career.

After her father’s death, Sophia provided financial support for her mother, giving her three guineas a week.  Mrs Snow was frequently attended, as was Sophia herself, by Dr John Eliot, best remembered as the husband of Grace Dalrymple Elliott.  On the 1st June 1773, the General Evening Post reported that Mrs Snow had died at her house in Masham [aka Marsham] Street in Westminster.

In her later life when her fame and beauty had begun to wane, Sophia wrote to The Duchess of Devonshire, via Mrs Sheridan, in 1782 confirming that she had a 5-year-old son and that she was anxious about him becoming involved in the theatre which she clearly regarded as highly unsuitable.  This appears to be her son Stephen.  Abandoned by Sayre she went to Ireland in the summers of 1778 and 1779 to play the Dublin theatres.

She took another lover, Anthony Webster, a former law student who had taken to the stage.  Webster had previously lived in an open relationship with a married woman, another actress, Elizabeth Davies, later Mrs Jonathan Battishill, but she had died in 1777.  Sophia reputedly had a child by Webster in Ireland but the couple had to return to London within days of the birth and the child died shortly after arriving home.   Webster was to die suddenly in 1780 leaving Sophia alone and pregnant with his child.  After Webster’s death, she began a relationship with his servant, John.

Mrs Baddeley in the character of Joan la Pucelle.

Life seems to have been cruel to Sophia, possibly in part of her own making, and to ease her troubled mind she began taking laudanum (a form of opium, frequently used for the treatment of a variety of ailments). According to M. James in the work,  ‘13 Characters of the Present Most Celebrated Courtezans’ Sophia was described as having  ‘a dreadful and excessive indulgence in love, liquor, lust and laudanum‘. Arguably, that would have made quite a fitting epitaph for her.

Sophia’s somewhat tragic life finally ended on Saturday 1st July 1786 aged just 42; she apparently died of consumption.

According to a letter received by  The London Chronicle Sophia had died in Edinburgh a few days previouslyThe newspaper published the information in its 8th July edition –

By letter from Edinburgh, dated 3rd July, we learn that Mrs Baddeley, the comedian (formerly belonging to Drury Lane Theatre, whose beauty and talents, prudently managed, might have ensured her both fame and fortune), died there on Sunday last  and was buried on Thursday, Mrs Baddeley had been humanely supported by the charitable contributions of the company of comedians of Edinburgh for the last twelve months and was 42 years of age when she expired.

A further report in The General Evening Post stated that she received one guinea per week from the Drury Lane Fund and that she was also supported by a subscription from the Scotch metropolis. It was also reported  on the 14th July that she had died at her apartments in Shakespeare Square, Edinburgh and that she was interred in the Calton burial ground, Mr Jackson, Mr Wilson, Mr Woods and other gentlemen of the theatre attended her funeral and paid their last tribute of respects to the remains of this once celebrated actress.

The Edinburgh Magazine or Literary Miscellany reported Sophia’s death as being on the 3rd July, the notice was accompanied by a brief account of her life including mention of her labouring under a nervous disorder. It also stated that she was 37 years of age at the time of her death – presumably, she had told her lovers that she was younger than she actually was.

Mrs Baddeley in the character of Clarissa (from the Cornell University Library)
Mrs Baddeley in the character of Clarissa (from the Cornell University Library)

A year after her death Elizabeth Steele, a woman who was Sophia’s lifelong friend, published Mrs Baddeley’s memoirs in several volumes.

Robert Baddeley, Sophia’s estranged husband, continued as an actor, living on Little Russell Street, just around the corner from Drury Lane Theatre, a location synonymous for actors.  Unlike his wife he was described in the book ‘Wilkinson’s Wandering Patenteeas‘ as ‘never above mediocrity in his profession, by a skilful economy , not only lived with credit, but will live to perpetuity, by the leaving a well earned considerable sum for the support of his decaying  brethren (when as invalids they may be rendered incapable of service’. Robert’s early life was said to have been as that of a cook to the actor Samuel Foote, then later as a valet so maybe this is where he acquired his frugality with money.

In his will, Robert left several unusual bequests, his main bequest was that a recently purchased house on New Store Street was to be given to his constant companion Miss Catherine Strickland (who was generally known by the name Baddeley).  His house and grounds at Moulsey were to be left as an asylum for decayed actors and actresses who were to be allowed a small pension when the net produce of the property reached a certain sum. The name Baddeley’s Asylum was to be prominently displayed at the front of the building.

Robert also left a bequest that lives on today. The bequest was to provide a Twelfth Night Cake and Punch that should be enjoyed by those in residence at Drury Lane every year on January 6th.  The first Baddeley Cake was cut in  1795, making the ceremony perhaps the oldest theatrical tradition still observed.

Robert was buried at St Paul’s Covent Garden on the 26th November 1794.

Watch out for our next two articles, one about Sophia’s father Valentine Snow suggesting a reason for her being born in Lambeth and the second about her friend and biographer Elizabeth Steele.

The Will’s of the Sharples family

We have just found copies of wills for the whole family so thought it would be a good idea to summarize them on here for those of you who have taken such an interest in the family.

Of course, as you know, James was the first to die in America in 1811. We were quite surprised to find though that his will was actually located in England. James described himself as being of the city of New York.  He left the ‘lions share’ to his wife Ellen, later described in his will as his ‘faithful and much respected wife, fully confiding that she will act with that fidelity and discretion in respect of the future disposal of the rest of his property with which she has conducted herself through every condition of life’. He left around £5,000 plus $5,000 deposited in a New York bank. He made provision of £200 for his son George Sharples, by his first wife, but said that George had also financially benefited previously.  To his son Felix, by his second wife he left £500 having already assigned over to him about 1,800 acres of land in the state of Pennsylvania.  To both Rolinda and his other son James he bequeathed each of them £1,000. His will was dated 28th January 1811 and proven in London on 23rd July 1811 by his devoted wife Ellen.

The next will we found was that of Rolinda which was written 4th September 1837 and proven around six months later on 7th March 1838.

Rolinda never married so left all her worldly possessions to her mother Ellen and her brother James for them to ‘share and share alike‘. She did however leave her shares in the Great Western Rail Road to brother James. Her shares and other interest in the Clifton Suspension Bridge she left to her mother. Rolinda’s will was very brief unlike that of her mother.

Son James’s will was dated 12th June 1839. He described himself as an artist in the parish of Clifton Country of Gloucester, bachelor. He left his mother Ellen all the property he possessed in the three per cent consolidated annuities and also in the new three and a half per cent consolidated annuities. He also left her a quarter of a share in the Clifton Suspension Bridge. These were things he had clearly inherited from his sister. His will was also proven by his mother Ellen.

So by this time Ellen was alone, her husband and two children had both died. When Ellen died she had no close relatives to leave her estate to. On the 9th September 1847 Ellen wrote her will. She described herself as a widow of Saint Vincent’s Parade in the parish of Clifton in the City of Bristol.

She left her faithful servant Maria Johnson (if living) with £500, one share of £100 and two quarter shares of £25 each in the Great Western Railway Company and also all her wearing apparel, household furniture, musical instruments and music, books, plate, linen, china, household stores, wines and liquors.  Apart from some small bequests there was one curious bequest made to a Mrs Elizabeth Sharples of Great Barlow Street London one annuity of £25 during her life. Ellen offered no explanation as to who this Elizabeth was.

The rest of her estate she left in trust to John Scandret Harford and Philip William Skynner Miles Esquires such books, pictures and drawings which had been annotated by her with the names of any individuals for the persons respectively with whose names the name may be so marked.  The remainder, where possible was left for the benefit of The Bristol Academy for the provision of the fine arts.  Her will was proven on the 17th May 1849.