We had thought about writing about his acting career, but we’re sure there are enough websites that provide all of that, so we decided to take a look at the man behind the theatre – if that’s at all possible. There has always been much speculation about his parents and so, as is our want, went on a hunting trip to see if we could unearth anything new.
His life appears to be a mixture of fact and fiction, some of which he possibly made up himself and the rest which has been ‘tweaked’ then repeated over the centuries with so much of it untrue, so let’s try to set at least some of the record straight if we can.
There is no disputing he was regarded as one of the best Shakespearean actors of his days. He was short in stature – true. His body being well-proportioned but a mere 5 feet 6 and three-quarter inches in height.
Born 4th November 1787, apparently, although there’s nothing to confirm that apart from books written some thirty years after his death, but let’s assume that is correct. His mother – now, the book about his life has this to say:
George Saville Carey was cursed in a worthless inhuman daughter. Ann Carey had, at the age of fifteen, ran away from home to join a company of strolling players; and when itinerant business was at a standstill, she figured in the streets of London as a hawker. It was in the latter capacity that her not unprepossessing face attracted the attention of Aaron Kean, an architect, who took her under his protection, but subsequently abandoned her. Shortly afterwards she became the mother of Edmund Kean.
We have managed to find her baptism, in 1763 at St Bride, Fleet Street which nicely confirms her as George Saville Carey’s daughter.
Mary Ann was one of several children that George Saville Carey (son of the poet Henry Carey*) and his wife Mary Ann née Phipp had, including two with the interesting names of Martha Udosia and Tempest Hazard.
Moving on to Edmund, there is no sign of a baptism for him, but it would appear that he was a child protégé and appeared on the stage when a mere 4 years old, with his mother, Mrs Carey, who we know was an actress and regularly appeared in the bill programmes for the London theatres. In his formative years, Edmund was simply known as Master Carey.
Who could his father have been? Well, we have seen references to it being an Edmund Kean, an architect’s clerk; an Aaron Kean, architect; Aaron Kean, a tailor; and Moses Kean, a ventriloquist who apparently took a keen interest in young Edmund’s career. Yet again, no categorical answer to that question.
We came across this newspaper article below advertising the first stage performance for a Mr Edmund Kean, who couldn’t be ‘our’ Edmund as he would only just have been born. Given the theatrical connections, this could either be his father or Edmund simply adopted the name in later life. There were three brothers, Aaron, Edmund and Moses who were all tailors by trade who lived at No. 9 St Martin’s Lane.
There were also rumours that Edmund’s mother was a Charlotte Tidswell (1766-1841), an actress, but that seems exceptionally unlikely, it’s possible that she may have been a relative, but more likely a family friend who was involved in Edmund’s theatrical education.
On 17th July 1808, Edmund married Mary Chambers at Stroud, Gloucestershire and a couple of years later they produced a son, Charles John, who, after attending Eton, went on to become an actor, although, not in the same league as his famous father.
After Edmund had a very public affair with Charlotte Cox, the wife of a London Alderman. He was then sued by Mr Cox for crim. con and damages of £800 were awarded against him.
Needless to say, this had an impact on his career and his loyal wife, Mary remained loyal no longer and in 1825, she left him and moved in to Keydell House, Catherington Hampshire, which her son bought from a Captain RD Pritchard, who lived there from about 1826 until 1842 and who, coincidentally we have written about before. Mary Kean died in 1849 and was buried in the parish church.
Edmund moved to Richmond where he spent his remaining years. By all accounts he outlived his fortune and died penniless, whether that’s true or not, like the rest of his life, we may never know.
His death came 15th May 1833 and given his theatrical status, a request was sent to the Dean of Westminster Abbey to have him buried there – this was declined, and he was buried instead at Richmond parish church following a post-mortem carried out a couple of days after his death. The newspapers sparing their readers none of the gory details of the postmortem, which is how we know his exact height.
It would appear though that in May 1833 there was a flu epidemic and presumably they were expecting that to be the cause of death, but having read the details of the autopsy, that seems unclear as to what the cause was. Interestingly his mother was living with him at that time as she too was unwell. Apparently, she took one last view of her son in his coffin and retired to her room where in just a few days, she too died. A request, by Charles, was made for her to be buried with her son, but there wasn’t space.
It seems that we will never know the full truth about Mary Anne Carey’s relationship with the tragedian, Edmund Kean, but at least we’ve been able to add a little more factual information to the myth.
Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser 20 May 1833
Worcester Journal 30 May 1833
John Hoppner, R.A. byMcKay, William Darling, 1844-1924; Roberts, W. (William), 1862-1940
Hawkins F.W. The Life of Edmund Kean in two Volumes 1886
Highfill, Kalman, Burnim, Langhans. A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers …
* George Saville Carey was born 3rd December 1738 at Clerkenwell, the son of the poet Henry Carey and his wife Sarah Harrison. Despite reports to the contrary, he was not born posthumously. Henry Carey was reputedly the illegitimate son of George Savile, Marquis of Halifax, but so far we have not been able to confirm this one.
Richard ‘Beau’ Nash, dandy, Bath’s Master of Ceremonies and unofficial ‘king’ of the city was born in 1674. He set the rules by which Bath society regulated their days, and established it as a resort of fashion. You had to pass Beau Nash’s scrutiny just to be granted admission to the balls and card parties and even the highest in the land had to do as he said.
When Kitty, Duchess of Queensberry, one of the era’s fashion icons, appeared at the Assembly Rooms with a delicate white apron over her skirt (which was against the rules), Beau Nash snatched it away and threw it onto the back benches, where the ladies attendants sat, acidly remarking that ‘none but Abigails appeared in white aprons!’ The duchess good-humouredly played the game and laughing, begged pardon of the Master of Ceremonies.
Even after his death in 1761, Beau Nash’s rules continued to be the basis for the Rules of Bath. The list below is from 1771, as published by Nash’s successor, William Wade and printed in The new Bath guide; or, useful pocket companion (1771).
Bath, October 1, 1771. This day the following new rules were published by the Master of the Ceremonies, and hung up in the Assembly-Rooms.
It being absolutely necessary, that a propriety of dress should be observed at so polite an assembly as that of Bath, it is humbly requested of the company to comply with the following regulations:
That ladies who dance minuets be dressed in a suit of clothes, or a full-trimmed sack, with lappets and dressed hoops, such as are usually worn at St James’s.
It is requested of those ladies who do not dance minuets, not to take up the front seats at the balls.
That no lady dance country-dances in a hoop of any kind and those who chuse to pull their hoops off, will be assisted by proper servants in an apartment for that purpose.
That no lady of precedence has a right to take place in country-dances after they have begun.
The places at the top of the room are reserved for ladies of precedence of the tank of a Peeress of Great Britain and Ireland, it being found very inconvenient to have seats called for and placed before the company, after the ball has begun.
That gentlemen who dance minuets, do wear a full-trimmed suit of clothes, or French frock, hair or wig dressed with a bag.
Officers in the navy or army in their uniforms are desired to wear their hair or wig en queue.
Ladies are not to appear with hats, nor gentlemen with boots, in an evening, after the balls are begun for the season; nor the gentlemen with spurs in the Pump Room in a morning.
The subscription balls will begin as soon as possible after six o’clock, and finish precisely at eleven, even in the middle of a dance.
That no hazard or unlawful games will be allowed in these rooms on any account whatever, and no cards on Sundays.
That in case any subscriber to the balls should leave Bath before the season is over, such subscriber may, by leaving an order under their hand, transfer his or her tickets for the remaining part of the season.
The major part of the company having expressed their desire that the tea, on public ball-nights, may be paid for by every person that comes into the rooms; the managing committee at the New Rooms, and Mr Gyde at his room, are come to a resolution, that each gentleman or lady on a ball-night are to pay six-pence on their admission at the outer door, which will entitle them to tea.
For anyone not familiar with Harriette Dubochet who used the assumed surname of Wilson whilst alive, (although when buried her baptismal name was given) we would definitely recommend both volumes of her memoirs published in 1825, as they make fascinating reading and are online via Internet Archive.
Harriette lived life to the full and was virtually penniless at the end. Her death certificate gives cause of death as ‘old age’, although in all likelihood a cause of alcohol related disease might have been more accurate. As well as finding religion toward the end of her life, she also found the bottle. She was apparently extremely fond of brandy, to the point of dependency and was reported to have been having a tipple or several just 24 hours prior to her death.
We came across this extract from Frances Wilson’s book, The Courtesan’s Revenge and wanted to check out what became of Harriette’s siblings and possibly find Harriette’s burial.
Harriette’s place of burial has always been something of a mystery, but we can now reveal that she was buried at Brompton Cemetery and the location of her grave is still visible.
The newspapers were not at all kind to her in life as can be observed in this article about her in 1826.
The present appearance of this unfortunate woman makes it difficult to conceive that she could ever have been attractive, either as to person or manner: her features are now ugly and coarse, her person bad and her manners vulgar, with a harsh discordant voice.
A correspondent informs us that the notorious ‘Harriette Wilson’ resides at Chelsea and has become a convert to Popery, and is a very active promoter of the objects of the virtuous priesthood! What next? Is she a candidate for the office of a Lady Abbess, or Principal of a Nunnery?
And even more derogatory about her death:
We have now done with this woman, and we hope no stone will be erected to commemorate her memory and disgrace the place of her burial.
Back to her memoirs, she thought nothing of naming and shaming the gentlemen in whose company she and three of her sisters, Amy, Frances, better known as Fanny and Sophia spent much of their youth.
When Harriette wrote to the Duke of Wellington advising him she was about to publish her memoirs and that to keep his name out she wanted money from him, his famous response was reputed to have been ‘publish and be damned‘, so with that she went ahead and published (the famous phrase is probably not strictly accurate).
We’re not planning to revisit the memoirs in this article as there’s already more information about Harriette and her memoirs online than you can shake a stick at. We will, however, say that in a letter we came across, Harriette was described as being ‘the worst and wickedest bitch in the world’.
Harriette was one of 15 children (11 girls and 4 boys, not all of whom survived childhood), born to Amelia Gadsden, not Cook as previously named elsewhere, Amelia was raised by John Cook and his wife, which is probably where the error has come from and John James Dubochet, a Swiss coal merchant.
We have noticed that John seems to have had several occupations including that of a stocking cleaner, a mathematician and watch maker, but we have found no evidence to support this, on the children’s baptism and in his will, proven in 1826, he continued to give coal merchant as his occupation.
Little is known of several of Harriette’s siblings in particular that of the boys. The family seems to have been of mixed repute.
Rose (1799 – ?)
After her baptism there appears to be no proof that she survived into adulthood.
Known in Harriette’s memoirs as Diana, remained single and taught the piano from her home 34 Chapel Street, in the St Marylebone area of London.
Mary (1784 – ?)
Mary was referred to as Paragon, in Harriette’s memoirs. She married an Irish gentleman, Richard Borough(s), in 1812 in Dublin, and the couple went on to have four children, Mary, John, Henry and Augusta Sophia. At least one child was baptised in France so it looks likely that they remained there at least until Richard died at Calais in 1847.
Charlotte (1801 – 1873)
Charlotte, born 1801, married a surgeon and apothecary, William Jones Percival in 1825. The couple moved about with William’s business, from Poplar to Soham, Suffolk and finally to Birmingham to raise their family, where William ultimately took on the post of surgeon at the Kings Norton and Union Workhouse. After his death Charlotte moved to Aberystwyth to live with one of her three daughters, Mary Sophia and her husband the renowned Dr Charles Rice Williams and it was there that she died in 1873.
Julia Elizabeth (1814-1883)
Like her sister Jane, Julia also remained single and spent her later life living with her, by then, widowed sister and former courtesan, Sophia, Lady Berwick (1794-1875), at 7 Clarendon Crescent, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. After the death of her sister, Julia moved to The Mansion, Richmond (now home to Richmond Golf Club).
Frances (Fanny) (1782-1815)
Also a courtesan who, according to Harriette, produced three children with her lover, then upon his death, moved on to have a relationship with a Colonel Parker, who in all likelihood was John Boteler Parker, the son of Sir Hyde Parker. She took his name as if they were married although they were not. Frances was buried in 1815, at Kensington as Frances Parker, her assumed surname.
Amelia, aka Amy (1781-1838)
Amelia, like her sisters, was a courtesan who had a relationship with George Campbell, 6th Duke of Argyll, with whom, according to Harriette she had a son around 1810, although there’s appear no proof of this and no baptism that we have found so far.
She did however marry the musician Nicholas Robert Charles Bochsa, in 1818 despite him still being married to the Marquis Ducrest’s daughter who was, apparently still alive. Bochsa was both famous and infamous throughout the Georgian and Victorian eras!
He was believed to have been born around 1789 in France, where he studied music at the Paris Conservatoire. Regarded as a child protégé he could play both the flute and piano competently, by the age of just seven. In 1813, he apparently became harpist to the Imperial Court, however, by 1817 he allegedly became involved in counterfeiting, fraud and forgery and fled to London to avoid being prosecuted. In his absence he was sentenced to twelve years hard labour and a fine of 4,000 Francs, so clearly, he was unlikely ever to return to his place of birth.
By 1821, the couple were the height of respectability, with Bochsa, in 1822, becoming one of the founders of the prestigious Royal Academy of Music, London together with John Fane, 11th Earl of Westmorland.
He was however, required to sever his ties with the Academy when news of his previous misdemeanours were discovered and two years later he was bankrupt, but became the musical director of the King’s Theatre, London. Newspapers began reporting that he not only committed the crimes of forgery and fraud, but also that he was a bigamist. We can find no proof of the final accusation, but there was probably some truth in his dubious reputation, as he found himself with a five-pound fine, this time for assault.
On 27th December 1837 Amelia died at her home, 2 Orchard Street, St Marylebone from an inflammation of the intestines and was subsequently buried at Kensal Green Cemetery.
Bochsa eloped with Mrs Anna Bishop, the wife of Sir Henry Rowley Bishop. Frances Wilson, in her book, queried whether Bochsa had eloped with Anna Bishop prior to Amy’s death; the jury’s out on that one, but clearly he wasn’t with her on the day she died as her death was not witnessed by him, but by a John Knight, a collector, who lived there with his wife, Sarah, eight children and their servants.
Bochsa and Bishop left England and reappeared eventually on the other side of the world, having spent the subsequent years touring Europe, America, Mexico and then Australia, where Anna appeared on stage as his protégé. They continued to perform on the stage until his death in 1856, in Sydney.
Harriette’s male siblings were Charles Frederick (1791 -?), Henry Cook , John Emmanuel and George Edward. Very little is known about the first three boys and in all likelihood Charles died during childhood, although there is no evidence of a burial for him.
John Emmanuel (1790-1821)
Apart from his birth and death, the only snippet of information about John comes from the marriage entry for his sister, Sophia, where he was present as a witness.
Henry Cook (1804-1855-9)
After his baptism, there is little known of Henry, apart from one mention of a brother to Lady Berwick in Naples, Italy in 1848. We eventually discovered his death dated simply as being sometime between 1855 and 1859, in Naples (British Armed Forces and Overseas deaths and burials records).
George married Christiana Hadden in 1816 and the couple had 4 children. At the baptism of their youngest child, George was a piano maker, then, by the time his youngest daughter married he had died, but had been ‘of the Treasury‘.
We also wrote a guest post a while ago about Harriette. In case you missed it why not hop over to Mike Rendell’s blog to find out more.
The London Gazette 1839
Berkshire Chronicle, 14 March 1829
John Bull 10 May 1840
Bell’s New Weekly Messenger 06 April 1845
Croome Collection at Worcestershire Archives.
The National Archives; Kew, England; Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 1708
Ann Street was born April 8th, 1733, the daughter of James Street, an eminent apothecary of Bath. Her brother William later became the mayor of Bath. On March 17th, 1754 at Bedminster, Somerset Ann married the actor, William Dancer who, by all accounts appears to have been the most unpleasant of men.
The couple performed on stage in London around 1758, where Ann became the doyenne of the tragedies. This marriage was short-lived as in 1759 Dancer died, leaving Ann a mere 26-year-old widow, but as she was already having a close relationship with a fellow actor, the renowned Spranger Barry she sought solace in his arms.
Barry, born 1719, was an Irish actor, who had originally been trained by his father as a silversmith but was said to be a descendant of Lord Santry. Certainly, he lived like a lord. He married a woman who bought with her a £15,000 dowry, so life was good. The problem was that he spent money like water and became bankrupt very quickly. So, with an interest in the theatre, he took to the stage, to earn more money. Barry first performed at Smock Alley, Ireland and was affectionately known as the ‘silver-tongued actor’ and rapidly became regarded as a brilliant actor.
The couple met whilst working in Dublin and began an affair prior to the death of Ann’s first husband, then after his death, they decided to move to the bright lights of London where Barry had worked previously. The couple continued their stage work performing on the stage at Drury Lane, then Covent Garden.
On January 10th, 1777 Barry died at their home in Cecil Street and was buried in the cloisters at Westminster Abbey, but his rival throughout his career, Garrick was buried inside! He did, however, leave Ann a well provided for widow. She was named in his will as the sole beneficiary of his not insignificant estate. He left her a house in Streatham, Surrey, leasehold plus the Theatre Royal, Crow St, Dublin along with a property adjoining it. Having written his will he did however lease the Dublin theatre to a Thomas Ryder, so quite how much Ann benefitted from this legacy we do not know for sure, but in a letter written by John Ord (barrister), in ‘Letters Addressed to Mrs Bellamy occasioned by her Apology’ it would seem that Ann’s solicitor advised John Ord, that Mr Barry had died insolvent, and that the theatre in Dublin would not pay the creditors there.
John Ord then tried to personally sue Ann and husband number three, who she married within two years of becoming widowed, was a Thomas Crawford, a successful young lawyer, again from Ireland, for the money owed, but somehow Ann’s husband
‘kept out of the process of the Court of Chancery; and though Mrs Crawford performs at Covent Garden, her person is safe, having made her husband the scapegoat’.
Quite how and when Ann met husband number three we can’t work out and there is no sign of a marriage for the couple, but a variety of documents confirm that they were a couple, so it seems feasible that they were married in Ireland.
Ann’s final performance on the stage was in mid- April 1798 at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden and some two years later she died, on November 29th, 1801, at her apartments in Queen Street, Westminster. Ann was buried alongside her second and apparently favourite husband, Spranger Barry in Westminster Abbey having outlived her third husband.
A Century of Great Actors 1750-1850
The Life of John Philip Kemble
Letters addressed to Mrs Bellamy, occasioned by her Apology
On Saturday 1st May 1813 at the King’s theatre a serious disturbance broke out, proceeding apparently a call from the audience for the reappearance of Madame Catalani, who had withdrawn her services from the theatre as they had not paid her monies owed for previous performances.
At the start of the performance (Pucitta’s La caccia di Enrico IV), there were some hisses and boos, which increased as the performance continued, with calls of ‘Off, Off’ Taylor! Manager’. No-one took any notice and the curtain dropped amidst the noise, which rendered the latter part of the performance inaudible.
After a brief interval, the curtain rose again for the next part of the performance and the boos and hisses grew louder. The performance continued with the actors playing the role of dead French soldiers strewn across the stage, noises began behind the scenes too and the performance stopped. The audience had at this point stormed the stage, the scenery of trees and mountains now began to shake; the ‘dead’ French soldiers got up and joined their companions, the dancers fled the scene like a flock of sheep.
The actors in black formed a complete contrast to the soldiers. Here, in true Buonaparte style, the drop fell, to prevent the public discovery of the chaos ensuing on stage, but they could not hide it all, as the feet of the flying Frenchmen now visible due to the shortness of the drop. The drop was now torn to pieces and the audience discovered the victors who were cheered.
A gentleman now, for the time came forward, surrounded by the storming party, and after much difficulty was heard. He was addressed by an orator or two in the pit and was told that an apology for his misconduct would be expected in all the newspapers. He bowed submissively enough and gave a brief apology to the audience, although this was barely audible. The actors tried to tidy and clear the stage so that the performance could continue, but were stopped in their tracks by a party of guards who entered from the left of the stage with charged bayonets. Another fight broke out until the guards were ordered off the stage by their commanding officer. Some of the performers dressed as soldiers had their weapon thrown into the orchestra among the lamps and desks. The orchestra panicked and fled the impending danger, gathering up every violin, bassoon and trombone and their music books as fast as possible.
Peace now seemed likely to be restored. Those who have fought bravely moved to the side boxes, shaking hands with those in the lower circle and bowing to those above, as if they had been actors performing a play. But this tranquillity was soon to come to an end as some in the gallery disapproved of the conduct of the conquerors and from among them, a short, young man walked backwards and forwards on the stage, in contempt of remonstrances, with triumphant insolence, shouting some unintelligible words in a vulgar manner. This offender was intoxicated and was dragged to the front of the proscenium and an apology insisted on upon his bended knee, or if he was not prepared to do this he would be thrown off the stage into the orchestra. They managed to get him down onto his knees, but he showed no remorse and was unwilling to apologise. His coat was pulled off, along with his waistcoat and his cravat was grabbed so tightly that he was almost throttled, he was twisted and squeezed about until he apologized properly.
All thoughts of resuming the performance were well and truly over, another spokesman made his appearance, none other than Mr Robert ‘Romeo’ Coates. Somewhat surprisingly, he quickly managed to get silence from the audience, which was somewhat surprising as he was usually received with laughter and ridicule (he really was the worst actor of the day).
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a great misfortune, we must allow, to be deprived of the talents of Madame Catalani, but it is of no use for us to go a rioting.
Here the party on the stage thought fit to be content with their own exertions, and with very little ceremony they drove Mr Coates off the stage. Many now left the stage and retired to the boxes. The clock was just striking twelve and the curtain finally fell.
Mr Coates again attempted to address the audience from the pit, but without any luck at all. The company departed.
Afterwards, the Lord Chamberlain issued an order, that no-one should ever be admitted behind the scenes, under penalty of withdrawing the licence from the theatre.
Windsor and Eton Express 2 May 1813
London Courier and Evening Gazette 3 May 1813
The Gay Lothario, 16th March 1813. Courtesy of the Met Museum
Ann was born around 1745, one of two daughters born to Robert Catley and his wife Jane. Her younger sibling was Mary, also known as Polly. Family life was not easy, her father was a coachman, then publican of a tavern in Norwood, London. Her mother was a washerwoman and expected Ann to follow in her footsteps. As a young girl, she was expected to help her mother with the laundry, washing it and returning it when clean.
When she was fifteen she was regarded as a talented singer and was apprenticed for £200, to a William Bates, a music teacher. This was the start of her career in the theatre and one to which she would become very accomplished and one which would serve her well. Her first appearance was aged seventeen, at Vauxhall in the summer of 1762 and later that year she appeared for the first time on the stage at Covent Garden and remained with the company until 1784.
However, unknown to her father things were not quite as they seemed with Bates, the two did not get on well, and he regarded Ann as difficult and threatened to return her to her father and to sue him, instead in 1763, he sent her to Sir Francis Delaval, allegedly to continue her education, but the reality was somewhat different.
This whole sorry saga made headline news when a court case ensued, heard before the leading judge of the day, Lord Mansfield who was shocked by what had been going on. Behind the scenes a lawyer had drawn up a contract which stipulated that Bates should receive profits from Ann’s signing, Delaval should pay Bates £200 for Ann. Ann had effectively been sold as a mistress. The judge was appalled by this and declared that the sale of Ann was grossly against common decency. He ordered that Ann be released from Delaval and that she should not be returned to her father.
During her time with Delaval she reputedly had two children and another, Edward, who, she claimed was the son of King George III’s son Edward, Duke of York, this seems unlikely as he died 1767, and there appears to be no evidence of Ann having children until the end of 1768, but rumours abounded about her having relationships with a variety of gentlemen. Ann was now left to her own devices with three children to provide for, she continued working in theatres around Britain, earning significant sums of money, so the likelihood of her need to make money in other ways seems unlikely.
Ann, took her sister Mary in to look after her children, but, by all accounts, she treated her sibling dreadfully. Mary was abused both verbally, Ann had a very sharp tongue and even sharper nails. She frequently caused Mary to have a black eye or a bloody nose.
Ann, did, however, have some sort of moral compass as this anecdote confirms.
A married and somewhat debauched gentleman paid a great deal of attention to Ann. Ann repelled his advances, but he kept trying and on this occasion sent her a hamper of champagne of the most expensive champagne money could buy. Ann had had enough of this, she received the hamper with thanks. But that evening she sent it back to his home address, with a card directed to his wife informing her of the fact. At supper that night at dinner, the wife proposed a glass of champagne. Her husband was furious at his wife’s extravagance and she said that it had been given to her as a present and showed him the card, sent by Ann.
The outcome of that is left to your imagination.
Ann was very much the ‘darling of the theatre’ at that time and a fashion icon, with ladies wishing to emulate her, having their hair ‘Catleyfied’. Whilst working in Dublin, there were in 1763, rumours that Ann was pregnant, but if so, no proof of birth seems to exist, but ‘fake news’ is nothing new. Around 1767, Ann met Francis Lascelles and to the world, they appeared as husband and wife, however, to date, no proof of this marriage exists.
Francis, whether the father to all of Ann’s children or not, Francis accepted responsibility for them when he gave his name as the father at their baptisms. The children were
Rowland (possibly known as Francis)
Charlotte (always named as their second daughter) and George Robert, for whom no baptisms have been found to date. Both children were named in her will.
In 1780, some difference had arisen between Ann and the theatre managers concerning the terms upon which she was to be engaged, for the season. One of the managers called upon her, at her lodgings on Drury Lane to settle it. The maid was going to show the gentleman upstairs and to call the mistress ‘No, no’ cried the actress, who was in the kitchen, and heard the Manager’s voice,
‘there is no occasion to show the gentleman to a room, I am busy below making apple dumplings for my brats. You know whether you have a mind to give me the money I ask, or not. I am not one of your fine ladies, who get a cold or a toothache and can’t sing. If you have a mind to give me the money, say so; my mouth shall not open for a farthing less. So good morning to you – and don’t keep the girl there in the passage; for I want her to put the dumplings in the post while I nurse the child’.
We can only assume that Ann got her own way on that occasion as she appeared to do with most things, she was nothing, if not feisty. The couple seemed to live in harmony with their brood and during her later years, Ann had become very charitable and frequently helped the poor with gifts and money.
Helpfully, Ann left a will, which, without saying as much, confirms her status as being unmarried, it was written as Miss Ann Cately (sic). At that time, had she been married her estate would have automatically transferred to her husband, whereas Ann was able to make her own will and left virtually everything including a house that she purchased for her daughters, to her surviving children who she named as Francis (presumably Roland), Rowley, Frances, Charlotte, Jane, George Robert, Elizabeth and Edward Robert.
When Francis Lascelles died some ten years later on 2nd September 1799, he too acknowledged the children so it would appear that they were all well provided for. Francis, Rowley, Frances, Charlotte, Jane, George Robert, Elizabeth and Edward Robert.
The couple owned a handsome house near Brentford where Ann was to spend her remaining days until her death in the middle of October 1789 from consumption which she had suffered from for some considerable time. Ann was buried on 14th October 1779 at St Mary’s, Little Ealing as Mrs Ann Lascelles*.
Thanks to one of our lovely readers we have been alerted to the above portrait which appears to be a relatively unknown painting of Ann (Nancy) Catley. It was loaned by John Rhodes of Potternewton House, Leeds, (a major art collector in the north of England), to the National Exhibition of 1867.
The label on the reverse of the painting records it as having been painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, We finally managed to track down a record of it exhibited at the above exhibition. So hopefully this really is a portrait of Ann.
Portrait of Ann Catley courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
Mary Stephens Davies was baptised on 14th December 1761 in the village of Little Haywood near Colwich, Staffordshire, the daughter of Thomas Davies and his wife, Anna. At the tender age of just six, Mary had visited the theatre for the first time and the following day, much to the annoyance of everyone in the household, she kept singing one of the songs she had heard the night before. Her potential future in the theatre was secured.
Thomas Davies was a skilled gilder and woodcarver who operated with a partner, a Mr Griffith; Davies was employed to make a box from the wood of the mulberry tree which had reputedly been planted by William Shakespeare himself in his garden at nearby Stratford-upon-Avon. This casket was presented to the Shakespearian actor – and theatre manager – David Garrick, an act which initiated Garrick’s three-day Shakespeare Jubilee extravaganza in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1769 (the mulberry wood casket is now in the care of the British Museum).
A short time later, Mr Griffith, who had his eye on Mrs Davies, contrived to have Thomas Davies sent to prison and then judged to be insane and committed to the asylum in Birmingham, where he died. Mrs Davies spurned Griffiths’ advances and, to support Mary and her siblings, one brother and sister ran a tavern frequented by the acting fraternity and then embarked on a modest stage career, playing provincial towns. According to Mary’s memoirs, her mother arranged for the children go to London with their servant, Sally. So, off they went to Warwick Street, London but Mary led an unhappy existence as she was ill-treated by Sally.
At the age of fourteen, Mary followed her mother on to the stage and was playing the role of Juliet in a theatre in Gloucester when she met her Romeo, Ezra Wells. After a whirlwind romance, the couple married by licence in 1778 at St Chads, Shrewsbury, apparently against her mother’s better judgment although Anna Davies did give her consent to the union.
Her mother clearly knew best in this instance and she should have listened to her, for Ezra soon deserted his young bride and wrote the following letter to her mother.
Madame, – As your daughter is too young and childish, I beg you will for the present take her again under your protection; and be assured I shall return to her soon, as I am now going on a short journey.
As you may have anticipated, Ezra never returned for his bride but instead ran away with one of the bridesmaids.
Mary continued with her acting career, touring around the country until finally, in 1781, making it onto the London stage where she gained fame playing a wide variety of roles, both male and female. She acted under her married name (perhaps in the hope that Ezra would return) and was sometimes billed as Becky instead of Mary Wells. The nickname Cowslip, her role in The Agreeable Surprise, persisted for many years.
Toward the end of the 1780s, Mary met a fashionable young gentleman named Captain Edward Topham, (the tip-top adjutant), an Eton educated bewhiskered officer in the lifeguards who would become a playwright and journalist: he started The World and Fashionable Advisor newspaper in 1787, primarily to print puff pieces about his Cowslip (or Pud, as he also affectionately called her; she termed him Whiskerandos). Mary was captivated by the beauty of his mind but, as she could not legally be married to him, the relationship eventually fizzled out but not before Mary had given Topham four daughters, Juliet, Harriet, Maria Cowslip and the last who was born two months prematurely ‘in consequence of a fright’ and did not survive. In his book, Retrospections of the Stage, John Bernard later wrote that:
Of all Becky’s peculiarities, perhaps the greatest was her imagining that every man she saw or spoke to, fell in love with her… Becky’s malady reached its climax in her supposing that our late beloved and most virtuous monarch was among the number of her victims.
At Weymouth in 1789, Mary spectacularly embarrassed herself on the esplanade in her efforts to attract the attention of George III and his queen and then chartered a yacht on which she sat astride a gun mounted on the deck and sang God Save the King as she chased the royal party to Plymouth. Public opinion was divided as to whether Mary had inherited her father’s insanity or if her eccentric behaviour was because she was too fond of a drink.
As the century drew to its conclusion so did her wealth, despite still performing on the stage and we arrive a point when Mary ran out of money and men to support her, partly due to the fact she had bailed her brother-in-law Emmanuel Samuel out of his own money woes. Mary now found herself in the confines of the Fleet debtors’ prison, and said of her sorry circumstance that,
I came to London to see one of Mr Reynolds plays, How to Grow Rich, struck by the name, I determined to learn a lesson; but, notwithstanding the attention I paid, I benefitted nothing by it.
Whilst in the Fleet her life made a dramatic change, for she met a wealthy Jewish gentleman, Joseph Haim Sumbel, ‘rich, young and handsome; but haughty, irascible, and jealous, to the greatest degree’. Formerly the secretary to the Moroccan ambassador, Sumbel was in prison for contempt of court. They fell in love but once again there was the obstacle of her first husband who she claimed not to have seen for over 20 years.
Desperately seeking the security of a marriage (Sumbel was reputed to be a millionaire), she was brushed off any worries about committing bigamy and converted to Judaism so that she could marry Sumbel in a traditional Jewish ceremony in October 1797. As part of her conversion to Judaism, Mary, aka Becky Wells, took a new name, Leah Sumbel. The newspapers wrote of the marriage that they followed the full Jewish wedding ceremony in the presence of ten witnesses.
Any happiness was short lived. A year after the wedding, Mary applied to the magistrate for her husband’s arrest on the grounds of his attempted murder of her, saying that he was ‘tainted by the green-eyed monster’. Joseph retaliated and put a notice in the newspaper advising people not to give his ‘wife’ credit as she was using his name unlawfully to which Mary responded with another advert stating that she was seeking a divorce and maintenance. So began a lengthy game of both Sumbel and Mary hurling insults at each other in the press. Mary claimed that Sumbel had tried to strangle her and, on another occasion, the owner of the house they were living in took them both to court for destruction of his property after Joseph threw a chamber pot (hopefully empty!) at Mary, breaking it in the process. Sumbel made a futile attempt to shut Mary up in a madhouse, and when that failed he sought to annul his ill-fated marriage. Despairing of legal redress in the matter, Sumbel chose to end the matter simply, with a hand-written slip of paper:
When a man hath taken a wife and married her and it comes to pass that she hath no favour in his eyes because he hath found some uncleanness in her, then let him write her a bill of divorcement and give it in her hand and send her out of his house.
Eventually, Sumbel slipped out of the country on a passport acquired by his friend, the Duke of Portland, and Mary, who renounced Judaism, saw no more of him although she continued to use his surname.
As a way of making some money, Mary published her memoirs: there’s nothing like selling your soul but even this was not sufficient to pay off her creditors. She spent her remaining days in lodgings with her elderly mother, living on little more than the £55 a year she received from the charitable Covent Garden Theatrical Fund: The Wells’ landlady, a Mrs Bellini, became a great friend. Mary’s three daughters by Topham grew up in Doncaster and were reckoned ‘the best horsewomen in Yorkshire’.
They all made good marriages, and this was perhaps some comfort to Mary, who died on 23 January 1829 aged 67, and was buried at St Pancras church. She is remembered as a great actress whose eccentricity and misfortunes prevented her from reaching her full potential.
Dallas, Eneas Sweetland. Once a Week, Volume 11
Highfill, Philip H. Burnim, Kalman A. Langhans, Edward A. A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers
St Chads Shrewsbury, Marriage Register
Morning Star, Tuesday, June 2, 1789;
Oracle and Daily Advertiser, Monday, December 31, 1798
Oracle and Daily Advertiser, Wednesday, December 5, 1798
Craftsman or Say’s Weekly Journal, Sunday, October 22, 1797
True Briton (1793), Wednesday, December 5, 1798
Morning Post and Gazetteer, Monday, December 17, 1798
London Packet or New Lloyd’s Evening Post, December 24, 1798 – December 26, 1798
Morning Post and Gazetteer, Wednesday, December 26, 1798
In a previous blog post ‘Miss Jenny Davis as a bride’ we briefly mentioned Richard Wroughton, so thought we would take a closer look at him to see if we could find out anything more about his life.
Little is known of Richard’s early life. He was born in Bath, Somerset the son of Charles Rotton, or Rotten as recorded in the baptism register of St James’s church, Bath, 22nd October 1749. A small entry for a man who was to become one of the leading players of the London theatre circuit. Quite why he changed his name we can only speculate, perhaps Wroughton appeared more suitable for the theatre than Rotten!
It is reputed that whilst Richard was ill he fell in love with his nurse, Joanna Townley, and later married her. We know he was under 21 as the parish registers of 1769 tell us that his father needed to give his consent. There was no such entry for his bride to be, however, implying that she was older than him.
Richard and Joanna left the confines of Bath so that Richard could pursue his passion for the theatre, and so they set off for the glamorous life in London. Reading about him, Richard was clearly never short of work taking on a wide variety of predominantly Shakespearian roles at both Covent Garden and Drury Lane from the late 1760s until his retirement from the stage in 1798. He also performed in Liverpool and was the manager of Sadler’s Wells.
However, his ‘exit stage left’ was a little premature as he returned to acting a year or so later and remained an actor until 1815 when he finally retired, exhausted.
We tracked down his will, in which he left everything to his ‘beloved wife Elizabeth’ – who? He had remarried, so we began to search for the death of his nurse, later to be his wife, Joanna and found a curious burial entry in the parish register of Speenhamland, Berkshire for the 14th November 1810, the burial of a Joanna Wroughton, her residence given as Bath, Somerset. Her age at the time of her death was given as 71, making her birth 1739. Was this Richard’s wife? It would certainly appear to have been, so she was a good ten years his senior.
This entry makes sense when you check the newspapers for February 1811. A mere three months later Richard married for a second time, his new bride being Miss Elizabeth Thomas, daughter of Reverend Dr Thomas. He didn’t exactly waste any time finding a replacement which when you read Michael Kelly’s description of him, doesn’t exactly make him a great ‘catch’ –
‘a sterling person, sound and sensible. His person was bad, he was knock-kneed, his face was round and inexpressive, and his voice was not good. He had, however, an easy and embarrassed carriage and deportment, was never offensive’.
Richard was clearly a popular man as he was named as a beneficiary in several wills we have come across, most notable being that of the renowned actor Robert Baddeley.
Richard was buried 22nd February 1822 at St George, Bloomsbury, Camden.
Richard Wroughton, by Robert Laurie, published by William Richardson, after Robert Dighton mezzotint, published 10 July 1779. Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery
One Wolfgang Mozart, a German Boy, of about eight Years old, is arrived here, who can play upon various sorts of Instruments of Music, in Concert, or Solo, and can compose Music surprisingly; so that he may be reckoned a Wonder at his Age.
The Mozart family made a grand journey around Europe during the 1760s and early 1770s which became a concert tour in which Wolfgang and his elder sister Maria Anna (Nannerl) performed under the supervision of their father.
After visiting various German towns, Brussels and then Paris, the Mozarts arrived in London in April 1764. It was something of an impromptu addition to the schedule: the family had not planned on performing in the British capital but after calls to do so after their performances in Paris, they hastily crossed the Channel.
An advertisement for these concerts announced that “the girl, in her twelfth year, and the boy, in his seventh will not only play on the harpsichord or the fortepiano, the former playing the most difficult pieces by the greatest masters, but the boy will also play a concerto on the violin, accompany symphonies on the keyboard and play with the keyboard completely covered by a cloth as well as though he could see the keyboard; he will also name, most accurately, from a distance, any note that may be sounded for him, singly or in chords on the keyboard, or on any conceivable instrument, including bells, glasses or clocks. Finally, he will improvise out of his head, not only on the fortepiano but also on the organ (for as long as anyone wants to listen, and in all the keys, even the most difficult, that he may be asked).”
Leopold wrote that he was ‘in a city that no-one from our Salzburg court has yet dared visit and to which perhaps no-one ever will go in the future’. He had high hopes of making a fortune while in the city but it did not go as planned. The London season was all but over and the nobility were retreating from the capital to their country estates, but Wolfgang appeared before the king and queen and made his debut in the concert rooms at Spring Gardens. Wolfgang and Nannerl then played at Ranelagh and Vauxhall: Leopold was awestruck at the sheer size of London and the multitude of people living in the city. One thing that did not impress Wolfgang’s father was, however, the English weather: Leopold fell ill with a ‘kind of native complaint, which is called a cold’. By the beginning of August, the Mozart family were lodging at a house in Ebury Row, Chelsea so that Leopold could recover in the country.
The London season began again in November and so, in anticipation of that, the family relocated during September back to London and took rooms in the house of Thomas Williamson and his wife, Jane, in Frith Street, Soho.
Frith Street, at the time, was known as Thrift Street and bounded at one end by Monmouth House, beyond which lay Soho Square, or King Square as it was then known. The Williamsons house, no. 15, was a brick built dwelling, three or four storeys high and dating from the 1720s. (Following the demolition of Monmouth House in 1773, the houses on Frith Street were renumbered: no. 15 is no longer standing, but its site is now occupied by no. 20 which is the back of the Prince Edward Theatre and opposite Ronnie Scotts Jazz Club.)
Thomas Williamson followed the joint and somewhat incongruous professions of staymaker and wax and spermaceti candle chandler, trading as Williamson & Tonson in the latter capacity by 1777.
Spermaceti candles – made from a waxy substance found in the head cavities of sperm whales – were preferred by those who could afford them as they were odourless: Thomas had royal patronage as two of George III’s younger brothers purchased their candles from him, Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Prince Henry, Duke of Cumberland and Strathearn. A Daniel Williamson in Hull, East Yorkshire appears to have manufactured the candles and sold them from his premises. Possibly he was Thomas’ brother, the two siblings running a joint operation.
The London season normally began when parliament reconvened but that winter, due to tensions between King George III and his government, the opening was delayed until 10th January, a further setback for the finances of the Mozarts, additionally so when their concerts during the rest of their stay were not as well attended as they had hoped they would be. They performed at private houses and their final public concert was on 13th May 1765: thereafter they continued performances for which the public was charged admission at their rooms in Frith Street until June.
The family left London at the end of July and sailed for France on 1st August 1765. Thomas Williamson continued his joint professions from Frith Street until his death in the summer of 1778. By his will, he left his businesses and stock in trade to his wife and to his son, John.
The subject of our latest biography, Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs owned two houses on Frith Street in the early 1800s, inherited from her father. They stood about where Ronnie Scott’s is, so opposite the house in which Mozart had lodged. A relation had lived on Frith Street in the 1780s, so it is entirely possible that our Mrs Biggs had heard tales of the child prodigy’s stay in Soho from someone who had personally known the Williamson family.
Oxford Journal, 23rd February 1765
Newcastle Chronicle, 14th May 1768
Mozart, Stanley Sadie, Oxford University Press, 2006
Cuper’s Gardens were described as a ‘scene of low dissipation… noted for its fireworks, and the great resort of the profligate of both sexes’. Opened in the late 17th century, they were pleasure gardens (and later a tea garden) in Lambeth on the Thames shoreline and named after Abraham Boydell Cuper, the original proprietor of the land which he leased from Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel (Cuper was the earl’s gardener). In the early days, the site was also known as Cupid’s Gardens.
Last Monday in the Evening, a Gentleman dropt down dead at Cupid’s Gardens, just as he was going to drink a Glass of Wine, having the Glass in his Hand.
Stamford Mercury, 21st May 1724
The ‘Georgian Heroine’ of our latest book, Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs, was born in the early 1760s and grew up in a house on Narrow Wall in Lambeth, close by Cuper’s Gardens, but this was after its days as a pleasure ground. Instead, Charlotte knew the land as a scene of industry, the once ornate grounds dominated by a vinegar and ‘mimicked wine’ factory owned by Mark Beaufoy who was a great friend to the Williams family. No doubt Charlotte heard the tales of the great entertainments which had taken place at Cuper’s Gardens, though.
Here are pleasant Walks and Places of great Report, particularly Cuper’s Garden, Spring-Garden, and Lambeth Wells, where they drink the purging Waters. Here, in the fine Season of the Year, a Multitude of young people from London divert themselves; and there is every Evening Musick, Dancing, &c.
The guests to the gardens even included royalty, for Frederick, Prince of Wales was known to occasionally frequent them. (Frederick, the heir to the throne, predeceased his father, King George II whom he was famously at loggerheads with.)
From 1738 until 1740 Cuper’s Gardens were owned by a man named Ephraim Evans who improved them by installing a bandstand from which he offered concerts in the evening; after his death his widow, Nem became the proprietor. Nem Evans was described as ‘a woman of discretion’ and ‘a well-looking comely person’ and she played the hostess behind the bar during the musical entertainments. Under her direction, the gardens continued their heyday, for a time at least.
We hear that at Cuper’s Gardens last Night, among several favourite Pieces of Musick, Mr Handell’s Fire Musick, with the Fireworks, as originally perform’d in the Opera of Atalanta, was received with great Applause by a numerous Audience.
London Daily Post, 10th July 1741
There is every Evening a very great Resort of Company at Cuper’s Gardens. The extraordinary Fireworks, which are almost every Night different, are allow’d to excel all that ever were before exhibited in this Kingdom.
Daily Advertiser, 3rd June 1743
On Monday next will be opened CUPER-GARDENS, kept by the Widow Evans; where there are great Alterations and Decorations in an elegant manner, and hopes the Continuance of the Favours of her Friends and Acquaintance, who may depend upon good Entertainment of all sorts, with a good Band of Musick, and Fireworks, with great Improvements; and the Bowling Green is in good Order.
General Advertiser, 4th May 1744
On the 1st May 1749, the gardens opened for the summer season with a recreation of the temple and fireworks which had been seen at Green Park to celebrate the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle.
The extravagant fireworks came at something of a cost, however, and accidents did occur.
On Monday Morning, as four Men were preparing the Fire-works to be exhibited in the Evening at Cuper’s Gardens, the Powder by some Accident took fire, and two or three of the Men were much hurt by the Explosion.
Remembrancer, 2nd June 1750
The Licensing Act came into effect in 1752 and Nem Evans was refused a licence for Cuper’s Gardens on the grounds – which she disputed – that the gardens were no longer ‘respectable’. In the summer of 1753, she reopened them as a tea garden and held occasional private evening entertainments for subscribers.
“I dined the other day with a lady of quality, who told me she was going that evening to see the ‘finest fireworks!’ at Marybone. I said fireworks was a very odd refreshment for this sultry weather; that, indeed, Cuper’s-gardens had been once famous for this summer entertainment; but then his fireworks were so well understood, and conducted with so superior an understanding, that they never made their appearance to the company till they had been well cooled, by being drawn through a long canal of water, with the same kind of refinement that the Eastern people smoke their tobacco through the same medium.”—Warburton to Hurd, July 9th, 1753.
By the time of Nem Evans’ death in July 1760, the gardens had closed for good. She was buried alongside her husband in the churchyard of St Mary’s, Newington and changes were soon afoot in her former pleasure ground.
It is said a new Street is going to be made from one End of Cuper’s Gardens to the other, and that each House will have a pretty Garden behind it.
St James’s Chronicle, 17th June 1761
They have for some time been cutting down the Trees in Cuper’s Gardens, in order to build a handsome Street upon that Spot.
Public Advertiser, 11th March 1762
In the 1740s, Mark Beaufoy had established a vinegar and ‘mimicked wines’ distillery near his three-storey house at Cuper’s Bridge Lambeth and, following the closure of the adjoining pleasure ground, he took on the lease, expanding his business.
There is a magnificence of business, in this ocean of sweets and sours, that cannot fail exciting the greatest admiration: whether we consider the number of vessels or their size. The boasted tun at Heydelberg does not surpass them. On first entering the yard, two rise before you, covered at the top with a thatched dome; between them is a circular turret, including a winding staircase, which brings you to their summits, which are above 24ft in diameter. One of these conservatories is full of sweet wine and contains 58,109 gallons; or 1,815 barrels of Winchester measure. Its superb associate is full of vinegar, to the amount of 56,799 gallons, or 1,774 barrels, of the same standard as the former.
Besides these, is an avenue of lesser vessels… After quitting this Brobdignagian scene, we pass to the acres covered with common barrels: we cannot diminish our ideas so suddenly, but at first we imagined we could quaff them off as easily as Gulliver did the little hogsheads of the kingdom of Lilliput.
In 1813, part of Cuper’s Gardens was bought for the construction of what is now Waterloo Bridge Road and the Beaufoys relocated to land off Walnut Tree Walk.
We’ll leave you with a little premonition of the future, which was displayed in Cuper’s Gardens.
Mr Moore’s undertaking to make carriages go without horses, having engrossed a large share of public attention, a Correspondent assures us, that something of the same nature was done several years ago by Mr Arthur, the comedian, who constructed a chariot, which went of itself several times up and down the Mall in St James’s Park; and that a person at Trowbridge also contrived a waggon to go without horses, which was shewn to many hundreds of people in Cuper’s-gardens, and for some little time afforded great satisfaction; but one of the springs breaking, the whole machine became disordered, and the mob at length broke it all to pieces.
Kentish Gazette, 12th April 1769
A Georgian Heroine: The Intriguing Life of Rachel Charlotte Williams Biggs is available now in the UK and coming soon worldwide and is available from Pen & Sword, Amazon and all good bookshops.
Will of Nem Evans, widow of Lambeth, PROB 11/857/434, National Archives
A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers, and Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800: Eagan to Garrett, Philip H. Highfill, Kalman A. Burnim, Edward A. Langhans, SIU Press, 1978
Le guide des etrangers: on le compagnon necessaire & instructif à l’etranger & au naturel du pays en faisant le tour des villes des Londres et de Westminstre. Joseph Pote, 1740
Handbook of London: past and present, Volume 1, Peter Cunningham, J. Murray, 1849
Beaufoys of Lambeth by David Thomas and Hugh Marks, Greater London Industrial Archaeology Society
London: Being an Accurate History and Description of the British Metropolis and Its Neighbourhood, to Thirty Miles Extent, from an Actual Perambulation, Volume 4, David Hughson, 1807
Cuper’s Gardens, John Cresswell, Vauxhall History online archive
London; or, An abridgement of the celebrated Pennant’s description of the British capital and its environs, John Wallis, 1790
As we recounted in our earlier blog about David Garrick’s Shakespeare Jubilee held over three days in September 1769, the all too typical British weather meant that the pageant which was to have been the grand finale of the event had to be cancelled. Instead, Garrick turned his pageant into a play, The Jubilee, which premiered a month later at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane on the 14th October, running for over ninety performances.
The comedic actress Frances Abington was among the stars of the day who appeared; she played the Comic Muse, Thalia, a role in which she was depicted by Joshua Reynolds.
The play was based on Garrick’s planned pageant and was also something of a tongue-in-cheek retrospective on the celebrations which had taken place in Stratford when the town had been so crowded with visitors that many had to sleep in their coaches and the persistent rain had led to flooding.
“The Stratford Jubilee was, in October, transferred to Drury-Lane. In order to give it a dramatic form, Garrick invented a comic fable, in which the inferior people of Stratford and the visitors were exhibited with great pleasantry. As it was never published, an exact account is not to be expected. We remember a scene in an inn-yard, with a postchaise standing at the remote end: when a crowd, after much diverting talk, withdrew from the place, a voice was heard from the inside of the chaise. Moody was within; he let down the blind, and, in the character of an Irishman, complained, that not being able to get a lodging, be was obliged to sleep in his chaise. He then came forward amidst bursts of applause; King soon joined him, and they two were the life of the piece. The dialogue throughout was carried on in a vein of humour. The songs that had been heard at Stratford were, occasionally, intermixed; and the whole concluded with a grand procession, in which Shakspeare’s plays were exhibited in succession, with a banner displayed before each of them, and a scene painted on the canvas to mark the play intended. A train of performers, dressed in character, followed the colours, all in dumb shew acting their respective parts. Mrs. Abington, at last, in a triumphal car, represented the Comic Muse. Dr. Arne’s music, the magnificence of the scenery and decorations, and the abilities of the actors, conspired to establish the entertainment in the public opinion in so powerful a manner, that we are assured, by a gentleman who has a collection of the playbills, that it was repeated no less than one hundred times in the course of the season. During the run of the piece, Garrick, on several intermediate nights, ascended a pulpit raised on the stage, and there spoke his Ode to the Memory of Shakspeare in a style of graceful eloquence.
Garrick had lost a huge amount of his own money on the jubilee celebrations in Stratford upon Avon, but he recouped his losses and more besides during his play’s run at the Theatre Royal. Despite his losses, he would appear to have been less extravagant than his brother during the celebrations.
During the celebration of Garrick’s Jubilee, his brother George, purchased an inkstand, which the poet is said to have used, and a pair of fringed gloves, which it was assumed he had worn. David Garrick, notwithstanding all his enthusiasm for Shakspeare, was too careful of his purse to part with its contents for reliques, the genuineness of which was so questionable.
All in all, the play proved to be more of a success than the jubilee held in Stratford, at least for David Garrick.
This dramatic piece was revived by Mr. Kemble, on the 23d of April, 1816, exactly two hundred years after the death of Shakespeare, but it was not very favourably received.
The jubilee [manuscript], 1769byGarrick, David, 1717-1779; Britton, John, 1771-1857, former owner; Waldron, F. G. (Francis Godolphin), 1744-1818, former owner; Barton, Thomas Pennant, 1803-1869, former owner
Quotations from Shakespeariana: plays, Volume 1, 1825
The actor and theatre manager David Garrick as Shakespeare’s Richard III by William Hogarth, c.1745. Walker Art Gallery.
But when he slipp’d fell – Scrub – Sneak – Last – and Binnacle
(Epitaph to Tom Weston)
Thomas Weston was an actor/comedian who graced the stage of the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane but so much of his life seems to be told in tall tales that he has, to a certain extent, remained a man of mystery. Two facts are certain, however. That he was a great comedic actor is unquestionable, as is the fact that he was a larger than life character.
Tom was born in 1737, the son of a man who was a cook to the court of George II. Shortly after Tom’s death, his Memoir was published, by an anonymous author. In this Memoir, his father is named as Thomas Weston. However, the only man with the surname Weston who was the cook to the king, and who appears on the lists of office holders at court, is a Charles Weston. There appear to be two possible baptisms in existence; the first took place on 31st August 1737, at St Paul’s, Covent Garden with the parents named as Thomas and Elizabeth and the second on 16th October 1737, at St James, Westminster, son of Charles and Elizabeth.
If he was the son of Thomas and Elizabeth, the parish records of St Paul, Covent Garden show burials for both parents, Elizabeth on 22nd January 1755, wife of Thomas, and then Thomas’s burial on the 24th September 1757 (though Tom’s Memoirs suggest his father was alive after this date). We theorize that Tom Weston’s father was actually Charles Weston.
Charles Weston started off as a kitchen boy in the king’s kitchen in 1724, rising to the position of master cook to King George II in the same establishment thirty years later. A tale about Mr Weston the master cook is told in The Table Book or Daily Recreation and Information: concerning remarkable men, manners, times, seasons, solemnities, merry-makings, antiquities and novelties, forming a complete history of the year, 1827.
The Royal Table
Origin of Making the King’s Dishes with the Cook’s Names
King George II was accustomed every other year to visit his German dominions with the greater part of the officers of his household and especially those belonging to the kitchen. Once on his passage at sea, his first cook was so ill with the sea-sickness, that he could not hold up his head to dress his majesty’s dinner; this being told to the king, he was exceedingly sorry for it, as he was famous for making a Rhenish soup, which his majesty was very fond of; he therefore ordered inquiry to be made among the assistant-cooks, if any of them could make the above soup. One named Weston (father of Tom Weston, the player) undertook it, and so pleased the king, that he declared it was full as good as that made by the first cook. Soon after the king’s return to England, the first cook died; when the king was informed of it, he said, that his steward of the household always appointed his cooks, but that he would now name one for himself, and therefore asking if one Weston was still in the kitchen, and being answered that he was, “That man,” said he, “shall be my first cook, for her makes the most excellent Rhenish soup.” This favour begot envy among all the servants, so that, when any dish was found fault with, they used to say it was Weston’s dressing: the king took notice of this, and said to the servants, it was very extraordinary, that every dish he disliked should happen to be Weston’s; “in future,” said he, “let every dish be marked with the name of the cook that makes it.” By this means the king detected their arts, and from that time Weston’s dishes pleased him most. The custom has continued ever since, and is still practised at the king’s table.
In 1754 Mr Weston obtained the position of turnbroach for his son in the palace kitchen, which entailed turning the spit on which meat or poultry was roasting, a lowly position but one which was actually executed by a deputy. The position paid £30 a year and, of this, the deputy was paid some £7 or £8. Tom Weston seems to have lucratively retained this position until his death. It is also reported that he was made under-clerk to the clerk of the kitchen and sailed, with his father and the royal household to Holland on the way to Hanover. George II made his last visit to Hanover in April 1755, returning in the September of that year, so if Tom did indeed travel with his household this must have been the date of his trip.
Back home Tom spent most of his time frequenting the local public houses and theatres. Soon he was dismissed from his position of under-clerk for misbehaviour and sent to sea as a midshipman instead (as his father was determined to keep him from the stage). Samuel Foote, the actor, playwright and theatre manager, recalled that Weston was placed aboard the Warspite under the command of Sir John Bentley and, as Bentley took command of this ship in 1759, so this must be the date of young Tom’s short-lived naval career.
Weston’s genius triumphed over his father’s determinations; as soon after he was stationed on board this ship he contrived to run away; and being afraid to meet his father after this conduct, he entered into one of the strolling companies of the north, where he experienced all those strange vicissitudes of life which are so peculiarly incident to that situation.
Tom enlisted a friend in the war office to help him escape from the Warspite. This friend was persuaded to write to him whilst the ship was docked in Long Reach on the Suffolk coast before it sailed for Portsmouth, sealing the letter with an official seal, telling Tom that there was an army commission waiting for him in London. Sir John Bentley allowed Tom to go to London, bidding him to return if he did not obtain the commission. There was no commission but Tom did not return. Instead, he travelled with several acting troops before setting off for London where the Covent Garden and Drury Lane actors Ned Shuter and Richard Yates had taken booths at the Bartholomew Fair, which began every year on the 24th August and ran for two weeks. Tom engaged to play with them.
From a booth in the George Inn yard, Shuter put on, in 1759, The French Flogg’d: or the English Sailors in America, a piece based on The Tempest. Yates had his own booth that year in the Greyhound Inn Yard where he put on a similar piece, The Ship-Wreck’d Lovers; or, French Perfidy Punished, ‘Interspersed with the comical and diverting Humours and Adventures of Lieutenant Fireball, a true English Tar; Noddy Nestlecock, a distress’d Beau; Snivel Thimble, a Taylor; Split-farthing, an old Userer; and Glisterpipe, a Finical Surgeon. Both were eminently suitable for a former young midshipman to take to the stage in. A friend got Tom an engagement with Samuel Foote and he made his first appearance on the London stage on the 28th September 1759, to the despair of his father, playing Sir Francis Gripe in Susannah Centilevre’s The Busy Body at the Haymarket. His next appearance in London was on the 28th June 1760, playing in Samuel Foote’s The Minor, and it is possible he returned to the strolling troop playing the provinces in the interim.
Reputedly, he now met and married a young lady who was a milliner in the Haymarket. This unnamed lady was encouraged by Tom to take to the stage too, appearing as Lucy in The Minor. Mr and Mrs Weston travelled the provinces, returning to London to play Jerry Sneak at the Haymarket. A sojourn at Dublin (without great success) followed and then Tom was hired at Drury Lane where he was paid £3 a week.
His wife, if indeed she was so far no proof of a marriage has yet been found, had departed: she and Tom had argued whilst on tour in Wiltshire with Johnson’s Company and she took up with another actor, a Mr Price with whom she had several children, and she died around 1774 in Sunderland whilst on tour.
Tom, back in London, lived in St James’s Street above a glass shop with a lady named Miss Lee during a short-lived liaison which reputedly saw her debut on stage at the Haymarket as Cherry in The Beaux’ Stratagem. She was mentioned in the 1773 edition of Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies.
Miss Lee. Glass Shop, St. James’s-street
“Doats upon the silliest things.”
This lady had a connexion with a comedian of Drury-lane, which has lately been broke off, for what cause we cannot say, and madam now depends upon the generous public for support; but she is not unacquainted with the business, she is only returned to her old calling. She is a pretty black girl, about the middle size, with remarkable find dark eyes and hair. Her skin is very good, a little pock-marked, and not a bad companion.
She has performed two or three little characters at Foote’s and came off decently; and ’tis said she intends to take up with the stage, and live honest:- Very honestly intended; but we are afraid it is not a school to cause such a happy reformation.
Always short of cash, Tom was perpetually chased by creditors and, to evade them, often missed rehearsals and even performances, behaviour which led to his discharge from the theatre but Samuel Foote stepped in to help, starting a subscription among the nobility to pay Tom’s debts and taking Tom with him to Edinburgh at £5 a week.
At this time, Tom’s boon companion was Dick Hughes, brother to Mrs Elizabeth Steele (who was the confidante of the actress Sophia Baddeley). Dick was, apparently, famed for being able to hop upon one leg for an hour without changing and able to scale a brick wall with ease, a trick which got him in and out of the King’s Bench prison where he was often held for debt. When Tom was drunk he was inclined to be saucy and to get himself into trouble; Dick Hughes was the one to pacify the situation before it came to blows.
On one night Tom and Dick had been out at The Black Lion tavern and were returning home in the early hours of the morning, rolling drunk, when they met two women, described in Tom’s Memoirs as ‘a couple of Dulcineas, whose garb did not promise any great things.’ Tom feeling amorous, they followed the women to their lodgings in Mutton Lane, Holborn, ‘a most desirable situation, being surrounded with dunghills, pig styes, slaughterhouses, and many other equally as agreeable neighbours.’ Tom, when he awoke in the morning, was rather pleased with his conquest for, although she was coarse in manner, she was young, pretty and in the full bloom of health. This girl was named Martha and continued as his lover for the rest of Tom’s life, taking his surname although we doubt there was a marriage.
Foote reconciled Tom and the managers of the Drury Lane Theatre and had his wage increased to £5 a week, with a further twenty shillings for the lady who called herself Mrs Weston. Tom was now a habitual drunkard, often appearing on-stage intoxicated but never forgetting his lines. He continued to evade his creditors which led to various adventures in getting to the theatre for his performance. For one whole season, he entered by the upper dressing room window which he was able to access, unnoticed, via the Tennis Court in St. James. Dick Hughes went ahead of him each time as an advance guard to make sure the coast was clear.
Tom’s drinking took its toll. The Public Advertiser on the 22nd December 1775, reported that The School for Wives, which had been deferred at the Drury Lane Theatre on account of Mr Weston’s illness, would be performed soon after Christmas.
Reports of his death at his lodgings in Newington appeared in the newspapers soon after, but the Morning Chronicle stated on the 3rd January 1776, that:
Mr. Weston, we hear, is not dead; but so dangerously ill, that he is given over by his physicians.
His death is generally acknowledged to have occurred on the 18th January 1776, although the newspapers were giving reports of his passing from the 30th December 1775. Even in the matter of his death, he continues to leave vague reports behind him!
It was said that, in the days leading up to his death, Tom had drawn up a facetious mock last will and testament. This was vehemently denied by Martha Weston, and a document purporting to be his genuine will was given, one witnessed by his old friend Richard (Dick) Hughes. Richard Hughes also sent a letter to the papers in support of Martha Weston, affirming the truth of this. If this second will was genuine we can, however, find no record of it being proved and it was, after the religious preamble, particularly short and sweet.
First I give and bequeath my all to Martha Weston; and lastly my Scrub’s wig to Ned Shuter.
Witness, D. Holdstock, Richard Hughes and Henry Kaylock
For those who are interested, the mock will (which still has people arguing over its authenticity) is given below.
Mr. WESTON’s WILL
One afternoon, a few weeks before Mr. WESTON died, seeing a pen and ink upon the table, he said to a friend who was sitting with him, “If you’ll write for me, I’ll make my will,” which his friend accordingly did, and Tom dictated in the following manner:
I Thomas Weston, comedian, hating all form and ceremony, shall use none to my will, but proceed immediately to the explaining my intentions.
Imprimis. As from Mr. Foote I derived all my consequence in life, and as it is the best thing I am in possession of, I would, in gratitude at my decease, leave it to the said Mr. Foote, but I know he neither stands in need of it as a author, actor, or as a man; the public have fully proved it in the two first, and his good-nature and humanity have secured it to him in the last.
Item. I owe some obligations to Mr. Garrick, I therefore bequeath him all the money I die possessed of, as there is nothing on earth he is so very fond of.
Item. Though I own no obligations to Mr. Harris, yet his having shewn a sincere regard for the performers of his theatre, (by assisting them in their necessities, and yet taking no advantage thereof, by driving a Jew bargain at their signing fresh articles) demands from me, as an actor, some acknowledgement, I therefore leave him the entire possession of that satisfaction which must naturally result on reflecting, that during his management, he has never done any thing base or mean to sully his character as an honest man, or a gentleman.
Item. I having played under the management of Mr. Jefferson, at Richmond, and received from him every politeness, I therefore leave him all my stock of prudence, it being the only good quality I think he stands in need of.
Item. I give to Mr. Reddish a grain of honesty: ’tis indeed a small legacy, but being a rarity to him, I think he will not refuse to accept it.
Item. I leave to Mr. Yates all my spirit.
Item. I leave to Mrs. Yates all my humility.
Item. Upon reflection, I think it wrong to give separate legacies to a man and his wife, therefore I revoke the above bequests, and leave to be enjoyed by them jointly, peace, harmony, and good nature.
Item. Notwithstanding my illness, I think I shall outlive Ned Shuter; if I should not, I had thoughts of leaving him my example how to live, but that I am afraid would be of little use to him, I therefore leave him my example how to die.
Item. I leave Mr. Brereton a small portion of modesty. Too much of one thing is good for nothing.
Item. As Mr. Jacobs has been a long while eagerly waiting for dead mens shoes, I leave him two or three pair, (the worst I have) they being good enough in all conscience for him.
Item. Though the want of vanity be a proof of understanding, yet I would recommend to my old friend Baddeley to make use of a little of the first, though it cost him more than he would willingly pay for it. – It will encrease not only his consequence with the public, but his salary with the managers; but however, should his stomach turn against it, as nauseous, he may use for a succedaneum a small quantity of opinion, and it will answer the purpose as well.
Item. Mr. Quick has long laboured to obtain the applause of the public – the method he has taken is a vague one; the surest method to obtain his end is to copy Nature. – Experientia docet.
Item. Miss Young has had some disputes with the Managers, about dressing her tail, complaining of the want of fringe, as fringe seems to be an absolute requisite in the ornamenting ladies tails, and I always loved to see them as they ought to be; I leave her therefore the fringe about the flaps of my waistcoat, in which I usually played Jerry Sneak.
Item. As I would not forget my friends, particularly old ones, I leave Charles Bannister my portrait, to be taken when I am dead, and to be worn about his neck as a memento to him, that regularity is among the most certain methods to procure health and long life.
Item. Dibble Davis claims something at my hands from the length of our acquaintance, I therefore leave him my constitution; but I am afraid when I die, it will scarcely better than his own.
Item. I leave to the ladies in general, on the stage, (if not the reality, yet) the appearance of modesty; ’twill serve them on more occasions than they are aware of.
Item. To the gentlemen of the stage, some show of prudence.
Item. To the authors of the present times, a smattering of humour.
Item. To the public, a grateful heart.
Here his voice failing him, he told his friend he would finish it as the next day, and bade him put it into his pocket, which he did; but Tom left it, as he did all his promises of amendment, only just begun.
* * * * * * *
Apart from his Memoirs, a short account of Tom’s life was included in the book The Lives of The Players written by John Galt in 1831.
An Audience at Drury Lane Theatre, undated, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Between the 6th and 8th of September 1769, the town of Stratford-upon-Avon held the first jubilee celebration commemorating the life of the great playwright, William Shakespeare. The event was organised by David Garrick, who was both an actor and the manager of the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, Covent Garden. Garrick had portrayed many of Shakespeare’s best-known characters on the stages of London and of Dublin and so was invited to dedicate a statue of the bard at the new town hall: Garrick had other ideas however and turned the event into a three-day spectacular.
The 1769 Shakespeare Jubilee, also known as Garrick’s Jubilee, was ostensibly to celebrate Shakespeare’s birth but was held five years too late (Shakespeare was baptised in April 1564). Regardless of the discrepancy in dates, it was hugely popular and helped to fix Shakespeare as England’s national poet.
Stratford-upon-Avon was flooded – a somewhat unfortunate metaphor, as will be seen – with visitors for the duration of the Jubilee. The town’s only inn was fully booked and townspeople made a small fortune in renting out rooms (albeit while grumbling about the inconvenience to their daily lives) but even so, many visitors were forced to sleep in their carriages overnight. A masquerade warehouse had opened in the town, in anticipation of the extravaganza and, a new sight to the townsfolk, sedan chairs had been brought from London and Bath.
The celebrations opened on Wednesday 6th September to cannon fire and a breakfast at the town hall. A portrait of Shakespeare by Garrick’s friend Benjamin Wilson hung at one end of the dining room and one of Garrick by Thomas Gainsborough at the other (both portraits were sadly lost in a fire in 1946). At 11 o’clock Dr Thomas Arne’s Oratorio of Judith was performed in the church, featuring, amongst others, the celebrated Mrs Sophia Baddeley.
After that, attention turned to a specially built wooden structure on the banks of the River Avon, the Jubilee Pavilion or rotunda, where a dinner was held with almost a thousand ladies and gentlemen crammed in at the tables, many more than anticipated. The food was accompanied by the sound of workmen hammering in nails: the rotunda had not been completed in time and work was still ongoing to make it sound. Garrick, ever the showman, carried on regardless and proclaimed the toast while holding a goblet made of mulberry wood ‘cut out of the mulberry tree planted by Shakespeare’. Following the dinner was a ball which was opened by John Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset and the Duke of Ancaster’s sister, Lady Mary Greathead.
The Jubilee, despite Garrick’s best-laid plans, now began to descend into a comedic farce and the typically British weather was to blame. It didn’t just rain, it poured and the pageant and attendant processions through the streets of Stratford-upon-Avon, with participants dressed as characters from Shakespeare’s plays, had to be abandoned. Instead, after a public breakfast, Garrick delivered an ode in honour of the bard, wearing a medallion of Shakespeare on his breast and brandishing a wand both made, like his goblet, from mulberry wood. In the window frames, were large transparent portraits representing the most popular Shakespearian characters.
The evening entertainment was a masquerade ball, held in the rotunda, and a planned firework display. Unfortunately, the masquerade guests had to be carried in, or risk their footwear as they waded ankle-deep through the river water which was rapidly rising, and the roof was discovered to leak in places. Despite this, a good time was had by all, with the guests attired in a myriad of fantastical costumes. James Boswell, newly returned from Corsica, and having just published a memoir of his travels, appeared finely dressed as a Corsican. He subsequently had his picture engraved and published in the London Magazine with a puff-piece of an article written by himself.
One of the most remarkable masks upon this occasion was James Boswell Esq.
The fireworks ended up being little more than damp squibs in the deluge. At the close of the festivities, various masked guests including drunken witches, harlequins, sultans and one Corsican had to wade knee-deep across the meadow on which the rotunda was sited to reach their carriages and beds.
It rained until midday on Friday 8th September. The River Avon had overflowed to such an extent that the rotunda was flooded. All that could be salvaged of the last day’s planned entertainment was an extremely waterlogged horse race on Shottery Meadow but by this time it was too late and many guests had abandoned the Jubilee altogether and were heading as fast as they could on jam-packed roads away from the town. As Boswell noted:
After the joy of the jubilee came the uneasy reflection that I was in a little village in wet weather and knew not how to get away.
Bizarrely, there had been no performance of a Shakespeare play planned for the event, not even one scene, a fact which garnered much criticism. Referring to the event afterwards as ‘my folly’, Garrick was forced to admit that, although this was an intended omission with the idea that people would discover the bard ‘all around them’ instead of through his plays, this was a glaring error and – coupled with the complete washout of the event – it marked a low point in his career. He also lost a large sum of his own money in staging the event. However, as we shall see in a later blog, all was not yet lost. The redoubtable Garrick had one more trick up his sleeve with which he hoped to salvage both his reputation and the Jubilee celebrations.
Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 14th September 1769
Boswell’s Jubilee: against the backdrop of the 1769 Shakespeare Jubilee, James Boswell’s willpower is tested. Andrew McConnell Stott, 2016 (Lapham’s Quarterly)
‘The borough of Stratford-upon-Avon: Shakespearean festivals and theatres’, in A History of the County of Warwick: Volume 3, Barlichway Hundred, ed. Philip Styles (London, 1945), pp. 244-247. British History Online
The actor and theatre manager David Garrick as Shakespeare’s Richard III by William Hogarth, c.1745. Walker Art Gallery.
Needless to say in the 18th century women were regarded as being of lower status than their male counterparts, this was especially noticeable in music. How many well-known female composers of the 18th century have you heard of – not many, if any for a guess! Many women were however expected to study music and to be accomplished at playing an instrument or singing, merely as a form of entertainment for their family and friends. This went hand in hand with being the perfect hostess.
In this post we thought we would take a look at how art captured women playing a musical instrument, whether these women were actually able to play theses instruments we have no idea, maybe they were simply used as props in the paintings. One of the most popular instruments for a woman to become accomplished at playing was the harpsichord and so we begin with Anastasia Robinson, mistress of the 3rd Earl of Peterborough followed by A Girl at a Harpsichord 1782 attributed to Mather Brown.
The harp was also immensely popular as we can see here in the painting by Joshua Reynolds, who captured the Countess of Eglinton playing it, then we have A Young Lady Playing the Harp by James Northcote.
The guitar was also a popular instrument for women to play as we can see in these next paintings.
And finally, an all female quartet.
But the post would not be complete without Gillray’s take on an old woman playing the harpsichord now would it!
At the beginning of March 1821 a gentleman naming himself as Mr Probus, a minister of the Episcopal Church, took lodgings at the house of an undertaker, no. 12 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden. Mr Probus was around 35 years of age, slender with a sallow complexion marked by small-pox scars, dark haired and with, as was realised too late, an ‘insinuating’ manner of address. He applied for a smart and genteel looking boy to wait on and be a companion to a young gentleman at a fine boarding-school (nearly equal to a college, he claimed) in the city of Lincoln. The boy would be brought up in a most respectable manner and given a first-class education, in return for doing little more than fetching fruit and pastries for the young gentlemen from a nearby village. He was inundated with applications.
Mrs Mary Ann Hurrell was the wife of a somewhat impoverished boot and shoemaker who lived at no. 27 Upper Ogle Street, Foley-lace, and at 36 Goodge Street, Marylebone. (Perhaps one address was her home and one her husband’s business premises?) She had two children from a previous marriage, a son named Benjamin Hawthorn aged 13 years and his sister, Georgiana, aged 11. Benjamin, a fine looking lad, had a good singing voice and Georgiana, every bit as charming as her brother, was articled to Mr Warburton, a professor of dancing in Burton Crescent. Mrs Hurrell saw Mr Probus’ advertisement and thought it would be an ideal opportunity for Benjamin. Accordingly, mother and son waited upon the minister on the 3rd March.
Mr Probus was especially taken with Benjamin and put his mother’s apprehensions at rest, saying that his own son was a pupil at the Lincoln academy. A Dr Nutall was to give young Benjamin a character reference but Mr Probus called on the Hurrell’s a few days later to say that he had met with a gentleman who knew Dr Nutall, who had given him every satisfaction concerning Benjamin, and there was no longer any need to call on him. The next day Mrs Hurrell took her son to Mr Probus’ lodgings where the young lad was fitted out with a new suit of clothes provided by Probus, who asked if Benjamin might stay with him that night (he had taken a bed for him at the next house). If any alarm bells were ringing for Mrs Hurrell, she ignored them.
The next day Benjamin told his mother that Mr Probus’ son was not at the Lincoln academy but had in fact died six months earlier, of water on the brain. Mr Probus now proposed to adopt Benjamin as a replacement for his own son and to bring him up as a gentleman, and also confessed that it was he who owned the boarding-school. He then asked if Mrs Hurrell would bring Georgiana to his house as he wished to ‘make her a present of a handsome dress’. The gullible woman duly did as she was bid, despite the ever-changing story, and left her two children alone with Probus. On her return, little Georgiana was so richly attired that her mother hardly recognised her.
Probus now wanted to take both children with him to Lincoln, promising to care for them as if they were his own and to place Georgiana with a friend of his in Lincoln who kept a school. To this the Hurrell’s consented, believing that they were giving the two children a chance to be brought up in a genteel fashion, and the little party left London for Lincoln the next day with promises to write at every opportunity. The first letter Mrs Hurrell received was dated the 17th March but written from York, not Lincoln.
Mr Probus had swiftly abandoned any attempt at maintaining his deception. Signing himself as F[rederick] Williams, he told the wretched mother that her daughter, now renamed Caroline, was dancing on the York stage and that he ‘could sooner part with my life than with [the children]’. Georgiana added a few lines to the letter from her new ‘dear papa’ and said that they were happy. She signed herself Caroline.
Mr Hurrell replied to the letter and asked for the two children to be returned to their home but the only answer was another letter dated the 10th April, briefly saying they were too busy to write more than once a month, were all well but leaving York and asking the Hurrell’s to address any future letters to the Rev. F. Williams at Mr Smith’s, shoemaker, Stonegate, York. On the 3rd May the Hurrell’s received another letter, in the handwriting of Mr Probus aka Williams but signed by ‘Benjamin and Georgiana Frederick Jameson’ (the trio’s new surname) and written from Hull where they were performing and making a great deal of money. Their ‘father’ performed slight-of-hand tricks, Georgiana danced and Benjamin sang, to the admiration of all. They enclosed a paragraph from a Hull newspaper.
There is now performing at the Music Hall, Albion-street, in this town, a Miss Jameson, only nine years of age, a most beautiful and interesting child, In dancing she is, for her age, unrivalled, and her singing is admirable; Mr. Jameson’s slight-of-hand performance gives the greatest satisfaction; and Master Jameson, as a singer, though only 13 years old, is a second Braham. Mr. J. and his interesting young family will perform in Leeds this present Saturday evening, and on Monday and Tuesday next, when they will quit Leeds for Wakefield.
The Hurrell’s received no further communication and, worried that their children might be carried out of the country, scraped together enough money to allow Mr Hurrell to travel north in search of his stepchildren. He set off on the 1st July, heading first to York where he found that the ‘Reverend Williams’ had made a large sum of money from their exploits upon the stage before absconding the city, leaving behind a quantity of unpaid debts with the local tradesmen. Mr Hurrell tracked them to Leeds, Wakefield, Hull, Lincoln, Boston and Stamford where the ‘Reverend Williams’ had become Munro Ridgway, then to Coventry, Leicester, Doncaster and Birmingham. The imposter frequently changed his name and his supposed character, defrauding shopkeepers as he went. The trail went cold and a heartbroken Mr Hurrell returned to London and his wife. They applied to the Magistrates, who asked that the case might receive some publicity in the hope that the children could be traced, but could offer little else in the way of assistance. Mrs Hurrell, it was recorded, left the office in tears.
But the publicity had the desired effect! On the 12th August the little troop were recognised in Billesdon, Leicestershire and the imposter was soon safely in custody in Leicester gaol. Mr Hurrell hurried there to a tearful but joyful reunion with his two step-children. Money was found for Georgiana to return to London by coach but Benjamin and his step-father had to walk the distance. But eventually they were all home and reunited. Mr Probus, alias Williams had been convicted under the Vagrant Act and, unless anyone he had defrauded acted to prosecute him, he stood to get clean away with his crime as the Hurrell’s were too poor to afford to prosecute him, much as they wished to do so. With no further mention of the fraudster in the newspapers, it would appear that is exactly what happened.
N.B. Joseph Hurrell married the widowed (and pregnant) Mary Ann Hawthorne on 18th February 1817 at St James’s in Westminster. At least three children were born to the couple, William Flower Hurrell on the 5th June 1817 and Oscar and Maria who both seemed to have died as infants. Benjamin may be the Benjamin Workman Hawthorn who was born c.1809. He grew up to be a piano forte tuner and maker and also a professor of music, relocating to Doncaster where he died in 1869.
Stamford Mercury, 17th August 1821
Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser, 27th August 1821
Header image: ‘The Wellington Coach’ (The Newcastle-York-London Mail) by John Cordrey, c.1818. Ferens Art Gallery.
Roll Up! Roll Up! Today we invite our readers to visit Pidcock’s Royal Menagerie at Exeter ‘Change and also touring the country, so all can join in. All manner of incredible and rare animals, some never seen before. And all for just one shilling.
Come on in, and prepare to be amazed…
TO THE CURIOUS
Whatever deserves the Epithet of RARE, must certainly be worthy the Attention of the Curious.
JUST Arriv’d from the ISLAND of JAVA, in the East-Indies, and ALIVE, one of the greatest Rarities ever brought to Europe in the Age or Memory of Man,
The GRAND CASSOWAR.
It is described by the late Dr. Goldsmith as follows, viz. The Head inspires some Degree of Terror like a Warrior; it has the Eye of a Lion, the Defence of a Porcupine, and the Swiftness of a Courser; but has neither Tongue, Wing nor Tail. Its Legs are stout like the Elephant, Heel as the Human Species, and three Toes before; it is upwards of six Feet high, and weighs above 200lb. Its Head and Neck is adorned with a Variety of beautiful Colours, the Top a Sky Blue, the Back Part Orange, the Front Purple, adorned on each side with Crimson, curiously beaded, and its Feathers resemble the Mane of a Horse – and what is more extraordinary, each Quill produces two Feathers.
The Dutch assert that it can devour Glass, Iron, Stones, and even burning Coals, without Fear or Injury.
This Bird laid a large Egg at Warwick, on the 14th of January last, which is of a green Colour, spotted with white.
Ladies and Gentlemen One shilling each.
PIDCOCK, the Proprietor of this BIRD, will be at Sheffield Fair the 28th Instant; and will visit all the other principal Towns in Yorkshire.
(Leeds Intelligencer, 16th November, 1779)
GRAND MENAGERIE of WILD BEASTS and BIRDS, all alive, is just arrived, and now exhibiting at the White Lion, Corn-Market, DERBY. This invaluable Collection consists of two Mountain Lion Tygers, Male and Female – two Satyrs, or Ætheopian Savages, ditto – a He Bengal Tyger – a Porcupine – an Ape – a Coata Munda – a Jackall – four Macaws – two Cockatoos, one of which will converse with any Person in Company; with a Number of other Curiosities not inserted.
N.B. The large Beasts are well secured, so that the most timorous may approach them with the greatest Safety.
Admittance 1s. each – a Price by no means adequate to the Variety of Curiosities exhibited.
(Derby Mercury, 31st December, 1789)
Just arrived from the Lyceum, and Exeter Exchange, Strand, London, and to be seen during the fair, in the market-place, two of the grandest assemblages of living rarities in all Europe: consisting of two stupendous and royal OSTRICHES, male and female. These birds exceed in magnitude and texture of plumage all the feathered TRIBE in the CREATION. They already measure upwards of NINE FEET high, although very young! – Also a BENGAL TYGER, a young LIONESS, a real spotted HYÆNA, a ravenous WOLF, two ring-tailed PORCUPINES; an AFRICAN RAM, with four circular horns; and twenty other animals and birds, too numerous to insert. – Admittance, 1s. – Servants, half-price. – Likewise in the other exhibition is the ROYAL HEIFER with TWO HEADS, a beautiful COLT, of the race kind, foaled with only THREE LEGS, got by Sir Charles Bunbury’s Diomed, out of Barcelli, which was the dam of Marcia, now the property of Lord Derby; also a RAM with SIX LEGS. – In addition to the animal curiosities one of the most extraordinary productions of the human species will be shewn, namely the double-jointed IRISH DWARF, who will engage to carry two of the largest men now existing, both at the same time. – Admittance, as above. – Birds and beasts bought, sold, or exchanged, by G. Pidcock. – The above collection will proceed to Warrington, Liverpool, Manchester, &c.
(Chester Chronicle, 14th October, 1791)
Things did not always go to plan though. In 1792, Friday the 13th really lived up to its reputation as a day for disaster, as least as far as Gilbert Pidcock’s travelling menagerie was concerned while travelling through Lincolnshire . . .
On Friday the 13th inst. as Mr Pidcock was proceeding from Gainsborough to Brigg, with his exhibition of birds and beasts, a terrible clap of thunder, attended with lightning, took place, which frightened the horses, and they set off on full gallop, threw the ostrich carriage over, broke it to pieces, broke the back of the female ostrich which died the next day, and the male ostrich was bruised in so terrible a manner, that it died at Newark, on Wednesday the 25th. The Irish dwarf had his collar bone broke, and was otherwise much hurt, but is now in a fair way of recovery.
We had no plans to write about Elizabeth, wife of Richard Brinsley Sheridan as much has already been written about her and we have always aimed to add something new to already published information. However, having watched historian, Hallie Rubenhold on BBC 2’s Newsnight programme relatively recently, talking about women who were famous in their own right at the time but who have been overshadowed by their more successful spouses we decided to look again at Elizabeth’s life.
The first thing that jumped out was that no-one was quite sure when she was born, apart from September 1754, so, although we have not found her birth we can now confirm her baptism as it appears in the parish records, 25th September 1754 at St Michael’s church, Bath, Somerset. Elizabeth was one of 12 children born to Thomas and Mary Linley, Thomas, being a renowned composer. Elizabeth began her singing career in 17661 when she was put forward as a public singer in the rooms at Bath aged only 12. She went on to make her debut at London’s Covent Garden in 1767 alongside her brother Thomas.
Three years later when Elizabeth was a mere 16 years of age she was betrothed by her father to an elderly but extremely wealthy gentleman, Walter Long. Not long after this Elizabeth made it clear that she would never be happy in this marriage – why would she be, she was around 16, he 60 and apart from the age gap she had already fallen for Richard Brinsley Sheridan. With this, the marriage was cancelled and Walter paid Elizabeth’s father a settlement figure of £3,000 (approx. £270,000 in today’s money) and Elizabeth was allowed to keep the jewels and gifts that he had already given her.
The Public Advertiser Friday 6th July 1770 described Elizabeth in the following glowing terms:
A young lady from Bath whose general excellence in every accomplishment which can adorn and render amiable the female character and whose particular talents as a singer justify the most extravagant description. The inimitable sweetness of her voice dispelled the gloom of disciplinarian austerity, nor could the sober, morose Fellows of Colleges refrain from joining many an enamoured academic in bearing testimony by repeated bursts of applause to her great merit and graceful deportment.
However, the episode with Walter Long returned to haunt her when the whole episode which she would undoubtedly have wished to remain private became very public courtesy of Samuel Foote, who chose to write a play about it – ‘The Maid of Bath’ which opened in 1771 at the Haymarket theatre. The play only lasted for a few performances and ridiculed Elizabeth. Following that, Elizabeth and Sheridan eloped to France with the assistance of his close friend, Mr Ewart (senior), a brandy merchant, who not only helped them to obtain safe passage but also provided them with letters of recommendation. According to Sheridan’s memoirs, the couple married at the end of March 1772 in a small village near Calais by a priest well known for his services of this kind. Eloping in such a fashion caused an outcry and Sheridan was branded a scoundrel and liar.
However, when the couple returned to England and no proof could be found of their marriage they were eventually officially married on the 13th April 1773 in the presence of her father as she was still as a minor.
After their marriage Sheridan’s fame began to spread and at the same time Sheridan decided that he would no longer permit his new bride to perform on the stage as it apparently reflected badly upon his professional reputation, a fact that appears to be confirmed in his memoirs, dated 1773:
The celebrity of Mrs Sheridan as a singer was, it is true, a ready source of wealth; and offers of the most advantageous kind were pressed upon them by managers of concerts in both town and country. But with a pride and delicacy, which receive the tribute of Dr Johnson’s praise, he rejected at once all thoughts of allowing her to reappear in public; and instead of profiting by the display of his wife’s talents, adopted the manlier resolution of seeking a reputation of his own. An engagement had been made for her some months before by her father, to perform at the music meeting that was to take place at Worcester this summer. But Sheridan, who considered that his claims upon her had superseded all others, would not suffer her to keep this engagement.
Lloyd’s Evening Post of the 16th July 1773 provides an interesting article!
at the late Installation at Oxford, immediately after the honorary Degrees had been conferred in the Latin Proscenium, to which the words Caufa Honoris always are made use of, Lord north, filled with admiration at Mrs Sheridan’s excellent vocal performance, said to Charles Fox, who sat by him “I think we should give her husband a Degree Caufa Uxoris”, “I think so too, my Lord,” (replied the young commoner), and I should be very glad to be admitted on this ground ad Eundem!
In the mid-January of 1774, The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser reported that Elizabeth was ‘dangerously indisposed’ and that there was virtually no chance of her singing anywhere during the season. This opinion was followed up by Adam’s Weekly Courant a few weeks later which indicated that her health was still showing no sign of improvement
Mrs Sheridan is dangerously ill. The Queen has offered her 200l a year for life for private concerts.
Whether Elizabeth took up this offer we have no idea, but in today’s money that would have been worth about £12,000, but given newspaper references later, it seems highly likely that she complied. The next reference to Elizabeth’s health does not appear until December 1774, so whatever her illness at the time it clearly lasted some considerable time, but she appeared to be fully recovered. There were few mentions of Elizabeth in the press over the next few months.
Sheridan’s play The Rivals was first performed at Covent Garden on the 17th of January 1775 and despite no longer being in the public eye The Middlesex Journal of the 26th January 1775 provides us with a glimpse as to how Elizabeth had been spending her time and more importantly her involvement in what is arguably one of her husbands most famous works:
We hear that the admired Epilogue to the Rivals is the composition of Mrs. Sheridan. There is a delicacy in the thoughts and in the expressions of this poem, that claim the warmest approbation, and leave us in doubt which we shall most applaud, Mrs. Sheridan’s excellence in music, or in poetry.
Sheridan was now enjoying the trapping of city life was in stark contrast to that of Elizabeth who preferred to remain in the country and apparently, as a result, their marriage became somewhat tempestuous. However, despite their differences on the 16th November 1775 Elizabeth gave birth to a son, Thomas/Tom at the couple’s home in Portman Square according to the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser. The couple’s address was, at the time, regarded as one of the most fashionable addresses in London and they appear to have enjoyed socializing with the rich and famous, but of course entertaining such people by giving twice weekly concerts came at a price and not one that the couple could really afford. They were reputed to be permanently in debt.
January 19th, 1776 the Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser reported that David Garrick had sold his share in Drury Lane theatre to a Dr Forde, Mr Ewart and two very familiar names – Mr Linley (father in law of Sheridan) and Richard Sheridan – the purchase price being 35,000l. Although not mentioned in this report we do know that the ‘villain’ in one of our other planned books was also involved in the purchase of the theatre and was a close friend of Sheridan’s which is another reason that Elizabeth’s story is of interest to us as our heroine would more than likely have been well acquainted with her. We can only presume that both Elizabeth’s father and Sheridan used some of the money provided by Walter Long to help fund this project.
The next mention of Elizabeth in the press was in June 1776 when she gave a private performance for the Queen where she sang several songs for their Majesties. These private concerts continued, with reference in the press being made regularly. Sheridan may have wanted his wife to quietly retire but the press were not going to let her slip into obscurity quite so readily, with her name being mentioned frequently with her setting the ‘gold standard’ for other singers to aspire to – no-one quite bettered her though for some considerable time.
Wednesday 7th May 1777 tragedy struck the couple as Elizabeth was delivered of a still born child. Clearly, this loss took its toll on Elizabeth as physicians were called to see her just a couple of days later. The Public Advertiser 12th May carried the same report about the still birth and directly below it reported the birth of a female, likely to live forever– daughter of Sheridan’s Muse!
A little over a year later on the 5th August 1778, Elizabeth’s brother tragically drowned in a boating accident and the press described Elizabeth as being inconsolable. There appear very to be few references in the press after this date pertaining to Elizabeth, perhaps she had become the dutiful wife; the press only reported the couple appearing in public at concerts and the like.
Although women were unable to vote it did not appear to preclude them from taking an active interest in the politics of the day as The Public Advertiser of 4th April 1782 confirmed Elizabeth’s presence at the hustings:
The Duchess of Devonshire, Mrs Bouverie, Lady Milner, Mrs Sheridan and some other ladies were on the hustings. The ladies joined in the shouts and applauses of the people and The Duchess of Devonshire and Mrs Bouverie who wore blue and buff riding habits and Lady Milner who was likewise in a riding habit took off their hats and joined the huzzahs of the people.
We move then on a few years to the 17th February 1784 when once again Elizabeth had been taken gravely ill at the seat of the Honourable Mr Bouverie in Northamptonshire. Sheridan immediately left London to be by his wife’s side, her life being described as in ‘immediate danger’.
After this event the press remained exceptionally quiet again for the next few years apart from a few mentions about her social diary, until 13th October 1791 when, yet again there appear grave doubts about her surviving her present illness, but as if by magic she made a full recovery some two weeks later, but then disappeared to Southampton a few weeks later to assist with her recovery, Sheridan going to collect her on the 8th of March 1792 once she was fully recovered. We know from Lord Fitzgerald’s letters to the Duchess of Leinster that he was having a relationship with Elizabeth and was fully aware of Elizabeth’s trip to Southampton; the couple had a child, Mary, born 30th March 1792.
By the 17th April 1792, Elizabeth was expected to die within 6 months according to her physicians and the media. Reports stated that as soon as she was well enough to undertake the journey she should be moved from London to Bath. A few weeks later this account was rectified and an apology printed stating that now her health was much improved, although less than one month later, initial worries were proved correct and Elizabeth was in fact dying.
Elizabeth, who was never physically strong, succumbed to tuberculosis which proved fatal and she died on the 28th of June 1792, aged just 38. The press reported her death as happening at 5 o’clock in the evening at Bristol Hot Wells with her husband present. She was buried in the same vault as her sister Mary, at Wells Cathedral on the 7th July 1792 and was followed to the grave by her legitimate daughter Mary shortly after.
The Chester Chronicle, 30th August 1799 described Elizabeth as ‘A lady of unrivalled beauty and the rarest talents’. So despite not having performed publicly for almost 30 years her reputation as a talented and beautiful singer remained.
The politician John Wilkes described Elizabeth as ‘the most modest, delicate flower he had ever seen’ when referring to Sheridan’s loss.
The Gentleman’s Magazine 138, dated 1825 includes a letter purported to have been written by Elizabeth to her close friend Miss Saunders which makes for fascinating reading.
So, Elizabeth clearly was unrivalled in her talent and beauty, but it does appear that she remained in the shadow of her husband, whether this was largely due to his ego or whether her health was the main reason, it seems hard to determine. The impression created is that he was overwhelmingly anxious about his wife’s state of health throughout their marriage and clearly, rightly so as she was incredibly fragile. Certainly, whatever the reason, Elizabeth supported her husband in not only his writing but also in his political career and she was much involved in the politics of the day, being present at the hustings with the Duchess of Devonshire.
1 Thomas Linley, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, and Thomas Mathews, their connections with Bath (1903)
Whilst researching our earlier article about the Nottinghamshire Giantess we stumbled across the following newspaper report from the London Standard dated the 1st February 1831. Although technically just outside our remit of ‘all things Georgian’, because William IV’s reign is sometimes incorporated into the Georgian era we thought we would include it here.
SCOTCH GIANTESS AND HER HUSBAND
On Sunday morning last, about five o’clock, information was given to a police constable on duty near the Asylum, that heavy groans were heard to proceed from the travelling residence (a large carriage) of the celebrated Scotch giantess, situated in the Mall, an open space of ground between the Westminster-road and the New Bethlem, and that it was feared that murder had been committed. The constable procured further assistance, and repaired immediately to the spot. They found the door of the carriage open, and all in darkness and groans, as if of two persons, were heard to proceed from within. A light having been soon obtained, a man and a woman, of gigantic size, were found lying on the floor, in a state of insensibility.
The man, upon being asked what was the cause of their indisposition, pointed to the table, upon which was an empty cup, with a white sediment adhering to its sides, and on the floor was a piece of paper labelled poison, the contents of which they had both swallowed. The policeman lost no time in conveying them to Guy’s Hospital, where they were immediately attended to by Mr. Collet, the surgeon. The woman was in a very deplorable state, and seemed to be past all recovery, but her husband, although in a state of stupor, was not so powerfully affected by the poison. Reed’s patent pump was applied by Mr. Hills, the cupper to the hospital, by which a quantity of arsenic was taken from the woman’s stomach, as was also from that of her husband’s, and they were put to bed in a very feeble state, and still remain so; but it is expected they will ultimately recover.
It appears that a short time since the giantess, who stands six feet six inches high, was exhibited in St. James’s-street, as “Ann Freeman, the celebrated Scotch giantess,” and whilst there her husband became jealous of her, in consequence of a man, about her own gigantic stature, called the “Spanish giant,” having shown her more attention than was deemed necessary. The husband, who is not more than half the size of his wife, as soon as it was possible, removed his better half from the exhibition, and wheeled her off in his four-wheeled residence to the space of ground near Bethlem Hospital.
A few evening after, whilst Freeman and his wife were sitting in the caravan, which is very commodiously constructed, Mr. Freeman, to his astonishment, perceived his rival, the “Spanish Giant,” looking through his carriage window, which, from his immense height, he could do without much trouble. He ran out, but the intruder had disappeared; but from that moment Freeman and his spouse had lived upon the most unhappy terms, and she would frequently seize her husband by the back of the neck, and hold him at arms length till he was nearly choked.
On Saturday night Freeman went out and did not return till early on Sunday morning, when he found his wife had taken poison (arsenic), and perceiving a portion of it left in the tea-cup, he swallowed it off, and was immediately after seized with violent retchings, and soon became insensible, as discovered by the police constable.
The first theatre on the site opened as the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden on the 7th of December 1732 with the first play performed being that of William Congreve’s, The Way of the World. Over the next sixty years or so there were various alterations to it.
In the early hours of the 20th of September 1808 a fire broke out and the theatre was razed to the ground, taking with it Handel’s own organ and many of his manuscripts. The fire raged so fiercely it almost took with it other buildings including Drury Lane Theatre, but that one was to survive for a further year before it suffered the same fate.
Fires were a relatively common occurrence in theatres at that time due to the lighting and the draperies, the vast majority happening purely by accident. In order to prevent such fires, The London Fire Code stated that eight blankets soaked with water were to be kept on each side of the stage which could be used immediately should anything catch fire; this is apparently where the term ‘a wet blanket’ originated.
According to the newspapers of the day, in particular, the Morning Chronicle of the 21st September 1808, the fire began at 4am and within three hours the whole theatre was demolished. The books, accounts, deeds and cash were saved due to the exertions of Mr Hughes, the treasurer. A small amount of scenery survived, but all the wardrobe was destroyed. Unfortunately, the day prior to the fire the mains water supply had been cut off due to some complaints about an irregular supply so work was in progress to rectify this fault, therefore the fire engines struggled to provide sufficient water to dampen the fire. The fire was also in danger of spreading due to a westerly wind blowing towards properties on the nearby Bow Street, however, that apparently was short-lived. The wind changed direction and did, however, cause the loss of several buildings in the vicinity. According to an eyewitness who was setting up on Covent Garden market, there was an ‘unwholesome smell of the London smoak‘ which was thought to be coming from a local brewhouse; this was not the case and the fire was discovered by a poor girl who had made her bed in the porch of the theatre.
The newspaper provided gruesome details of the dead including 11 mutilated bodies in the grounds of St Paul’s church, Covent Garden. Many others were conveyed to nearby hospitals. Initial reports stated that as many as 20 lives were lost with far more seriously injured casualties. The press reported ‘on the whole, there has not been any domestic catastrophe more fatal for many years, even the disaster at the Old Bailey and at Sadler’s Wells, not excepted.’ Properties completely destroyed on Bow Street included numbers 9 -15, with 16 & 17 being very badly damaged. Even the Beef Steak Club did not escape unscathed, it lost its stock of wine which could not be replaced! The Coroner for Westminster, Anthony Gell Esq. observed that ‘in his opinion this melancholy event was accidental and that there was not the slightest blame on the theatre’s management’. Although very faint the image above depicts the ruins of the theatre.
A clearer image can be found on the Victoria and Albert Museum website.
With the inquest concluded plans began immediately for a new theatre to be built in its place with various suggestions made by the media as to how this should be done with comparisons being made to other theatres, both positive and negative! The architect appointed was Robert Smirke, an exponent of the Greek revival style of architecture which he used to great effect, the new theatre was the first building in London to use the Greek Doric order.
On the 2nd of January 1809 rebuilding commenced according to The Morning Post with the Prince of Wales present accompanied by much pomp and ceremony and including many Freemasons. The first Portland stone was said to weigh one ton. Smirke presented his Royal Highness with a plan of the new building. The cement ready for the stone was laid by the workmen, then the immense stone lowered into place, this was ceremonially positioned by his majesty giving it three strokes with a mallet. Following the ceremony all dignitaries including the Prince of Wales retired to the Free Masons Tavern for a meal, the Prince still wearing his Freemasons regalia – a white apron, lined with purple and edged with gold.
On completion, which took around nine months, the media took great interest in the finished structure. Apparently, the pit was very spacious, but the two galleries were comparatively small, only capable of holding 150 – 200 people. The upper gallery was divided into 5 compartments and under the gallery was a row of 26 private boxes, constituting a third tier. These boxes also had a private room behind each and not connected with any other part of the building allowed total exclusivity.
The following day a correction was published regarding some parts of the description of the theatre, this article provides a much more detailed description
The Morning Post of Thursday 14th September 1809 confirmed that the newly built Theatre Royal, Covent Garden would open on Monday the 18th with the tragedy Macbeth starring Mrs Sarah Siddons.
However, in order to recoup some of the enormous building costs, the price of tickets was increased which resulted in 3 months of rioting and ended with John Kemble the manager of the theatre being forced to apologise; they became known as the Old Price Riots.
In 1792, the Carlton House Magazine ran an article, with an accompanying illustration, of two female petticoat duellists. The participants were identified, in the magazine, as Lady Almeria Braddock and Mrs Elphinstone.
The ladies were taking tea when Mrs Elphinstone, after an exchange of ‘bloated compliments’ between them, said to Lady Almeria, “You have been a very beautiful woman.”
Lady Almeria: “Have been? What do you mean by ‘have been’?”
Mrs Elphinstone: “You have a very good autumn face, even now . . . The lilies and roses are somewhat faded. Forty years ago I am told a young fellow could hardly gaze on you with impunity.”
Lady Almeria: “Forty years ago! Is the woman mad? I had not existed thirty years ago!”
Mrs Elphinstone: “Then Arthur Collins, the author of the British Peerage has published a false, scandalous and seditious libel against your ladyship. He says you were born the first of April 1732.”
Lady Almeria: “Collins is a most infamous liar; his book is loaded with errors; not a syllable of his whole six volumes is to be relied on.”
Mrs Elphinstone: “Pardon me. He asserts that you were born in April 1732 and consequently are in your sixty first year.”
Lady Almeria: “I am but turned of thirty.”
Mrs Elphinstone: “That’s false, my lady!”
Lady Almeria: “This is not to be borne; you have given me the lie direct . . . I must be under the necessity of calling you out . . . “
Mrs Elphinstone: “Name your weapons. Swords or pistols?”
Lady Almeria: “Both!”
The ladies met at Hyde Park and set to with pistols. Mrs Elphinstone proved the better shot, putting a bullet hole through Lady Almeria’s hat. Their seconds pleaded with them to end it there but Mrs Elphinstone refused to apologise and so hostilities resumed, this time with swords. Lady Almeria managed to inflict a wound on her opponent’s sword arm and, with honour deemed to have been satisfied, both ladies quitted the field.
It’s no doubt an intriguing tale and has been repeated time and time again over the intervening two centuries. Unfortunately, it is also most probably completely untrue. There never was a Lady (or a Lord) Braddock, and no contemporary account can be found of such a duel being fought, and it would certainly have excited plenty of attention if it had.
There was a contemporary Lady Almeria, but she was Lady Almeria Carpenter (20th March 1752-1809), daughter of the 1st Earl of Tyrconnell and the mistress of Prince William Henry, the Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh (1743-1805, son of King George II). She was mother to the duke’s natural born daughter, Louisa Maria La Coast.
The True Briton (28th June 1798) said of her that, ‘Lady Almeria Carpenter was at the Haymarket Theatre on Monday last; and though she has been celebrated as a Beauty for near thirty years, she may still vie in personal attractions with the fairest Toasts of the present day.’
If Lady Almeria Carpenter is not the person alluded to, we do wonder if the fictitious Lady Almeria Braddock is somehow referring back to the Georgian actress George Anne Bellamy (1727-1788)? She played Almeria in Congreve’s The Mourning Bride and was a close acquaintance of one General Edward Braddock (1695-1755). She claimed to have known him from her infancy, and in her memoir ‘An Apology for the Life of Mrs. George Anne Bellamy,’ in which she mentions him often, she said of him:
This great man having been often reproached with brutality, I am induced to recite the following little accident, which evidently shews the contrary.
As we were walking in the Park one day, we heard a poor fellow was to be chastised; when I requested the General to beg off the offender. Upon his application to the general officer, whose name was Drury, he asked Braddock, How long since he had divested himself of brutality, and of the insolence of his manners? To which the other replied, “You never knew me insolent to my inferiors. It is only to such rude men as yourself, that I behave with the spirit which I think they deserve.
In 1718 Braddock had fought a duel, using both swords and pistols, with Colonel Waller in Hyde Park. George Anne Bellamy also knew a Mrs Elphinstone; again in her ‘Apology’ she writes:
The most attached patronesses I had, besides those of the Montgomery family, which were numerous, were the Duchess of Douglas, and the Miss Ruthvens, the eldest of whom soon married Mr. Elphinstone. The latter were partial to me to a degree of enthusiasm. Lady Ruthven likewise honoured me with her support.
We can, however, give one, much earlier account of a ‘petticoat duel’ which did take place, however not with swords and pistols but with pattens (protective wooden overshoes).
Some Days ago a Female Duel was fought at Greenwich, in which one of the Combatants kill’d her Antagonist with her Patten. The Coroner’s Inquest having sate upon the Body of the Deceased, brought in their Verdict Manslaughter.
In an earlier article, we looked at John Coan, the Norfolk Dwarf. As a companion piece to that article, we now turn our attention to Frances Flower, the Nottinghamshire Giantess.
Frances was baptized at Newark-on-Trent in Nottinghamshire on the 25th October 1800, the daughter of John and Catherine Flower. Her father John was a gardener and perhaps he tended to his family as well as he did to his plants for his daughter Frances grew unusually tall. By the time she was in her late teens she was around seven feet in height and being exhibited by Mr Samuel Gear, incongruously a fishmonger from Nottingham, who had spotted an opportunity for making a little extra money. Billed as the ‘Nottinghamshire Giantess,‘ Frances appeared at fairs around the country.
On the 15th October 1820 at Hull in Yorkshire, Frances married a man named Sampson Bark, late the landlord of the Case-is-Altered and the Lion and Lamb public houses in Nottingham, possibly he also seeing chance to exploit Frances’ height to his own advantage for she continued to travel the country to exhibit herself to a curious public.
Shortly after her marriage, she was exhibited at Hull as ‘the greatest Natural Curiosity ever Exhibited in EUROPE,’ her age erroneously given as ‘not yet seventeen’ years when she was actually twenty.
The Morning Post newspaper ran a few lines on her on the 21st September 1821, mentioning the ‘universal admiration’ she excited and referring to her as Mrs Bark, the Nottinghamshire Giantess.
To her the meed of admiration,
What mortal can deny!
For ‘mongst all classes of the nation,
She must stand very high.
Sampson Bark died in Edinburgh in December 1825. The Stamford Mercury reported his death in their 2nd December edition.
At Edinburgh, on Sunday se-nnight, Mr. Sampson Bark, well known as having formerly kept the Lion and Lamb in Nottingham; but after his marriage with Miss Flower, “the Nottinghamshire Giantess,” he travelled from fair to fair with a caravan.
In 1827 Frances, having reverted back to her maiden name, appeared at Humberstone Gate in Leicester with the Albion Company as the Yorkshire Giantess, alongside such attractions as a Ladies Fortune-telling Pig (which we would dearly love to know more about!), a New Zealand Cannibal and a woman who was only 30 inches tall.
Unless Nottinghamshire had gained another Giantess, Frances was still exhibiting herself in 1837 at a Michaelmas Fair in Kent where she was the chief source of attraction and described as an Amazon. Her trumpeter proclaimed her the ‘finest, tallest, stoutest, and the most proportionable woman of the age,’ and she shared a snug booth at the fair with two other women whose appearance, unfortunately, marked them as in some way different.
We lose track of Frances after this but hope she did eventually manage a life away from the fairs where she was paraded as an object of curiosity.
In our last article on Samuel Derrick, we mentioned that he lived for a time with ‘the celebrated Mrs L’, otherwise known as the actress Jane Lessingham. As we have managed to find out some new information on her children and relatives we thought the following might be of interest to our readers.
Jane Lessingham was born Jane Hemet around 1734, the daughter of Francis Hemet, an ‘operator of teeth’ (dentist) and his wife, the splendidly named Polehampton Feuillet whom he had married in 1725 – both of whose families had been Huguenot refugees.
Jane was their youngest child, three older brothers having already been born of which only two, John René and Jacob Hemet surviving infancy.
Jane’s paternal grandfather Peter Hemet, had been ‘operator of the teeth’ to King George II and her brother Jacob was to fill the same post to King George III’s wife Queen Charlotte, to the Prince of Wales and to the King’s favourite daughter, Princess Amelia. Jane’s maternal grandfather, René Feuillet, was a history painter. Learn more about the Hemet family of dentists.
Francis Hemet died in 1736 and his widow, Polehampton married again in 1739 to a confectioner and grocer, John Francklin of St. Martin in the Fields, a friend of the Hemet family.
Five Francklin children, half brothers and sisters to Jane, quickly followed, another Polehampton, Edward, James, Frances Isabella and George.
Jane Hemet, when she came of age on her twenty-first birthday, could expect a small inheritance, having been named in both her father and paternal grandfathers wills.
On the 28th December 1755, at St. Paul’s Covent Garden (commonly known as the Actor’s Church), she married John Stott a widowed naval captain, Jane herself applying for the licence to enable them to marry.
The couple had lived together for little more than two years when, in February 1758, John Stott left to sail for America aboard HMS Gramont of which he was the commander. After travelling to Portsmouth to wave goodbye to her husband Mrs Jane Stott proceeded to take lodgings in London, living first in Mattock Street, Hanover Square before moving to Dean Street in the parish of St. Anne’s, Soho.
At around the time that John Stott had left, Jane’s half-sister Polehampton came to live with her to keep her company whilst he was away.
Before Stott had sailed the family had lived in Twickenham and Polehampton had been at a boarding school in Hounslow since the beginning of 1757. She had visited the Stott’s in Twickenham weekly, leaving the boarding school to move to London and Mattock Street with Jane in March 1758 and she remained with Jane until January 1763.
It was at the Dean Street house that Captain John Stott discovered his wife on his return to England in July 1761, visibly pregnant and with a two-year-old daughter, neither of them were his!
The daughter, Amelia, was born in Dean Street on the 7th June 1759, delivered by Dr Hunter and baptized on the 13th June 1759 at St. Anne’s, Soho, as the daughter of John and Jane Stott.
This daughter was cited in the divorce proceedings brought by John Stott against his errant wife in 1765, various witnesses testifying to both the birth of the daughter and to the impossibility of John Stott being the father.
Curiously, the child Jane had been carrying at Stott’s return was not mentioned. This child proved to be a son, named George and born on the 11th of November 1761. He was baptised fifteen days later in the same church his sister had been, again recorded as the son of John and Jane Stott.
Amongst the witnesses brought to the divorce trial was Jane’s half-sister Polehampton, who stated herself to be the wife of James Martin but lodging with Joseph Burnin of Litchfield Street in St. Anne’s Soho. Her testimony was dated the 6th April 1765 and there is the possibility that she had copied the behaviour of her elder sister for in the baptismal registers of St. Anne Soho are the following two entries:
16th October 1763 – baptism of Joseph son of Joseph and Polehampton Martin
14th April 1765 – baptism of Jane Margaret daughter of Joseph and Polehampton Bernin, (the child was born the day before).
In the divorce trial, Polehampton’s husband was James and not Joseph Martin, but she would appear, in the April of 1765, to be the wife of one man whilst having a child by another with whom she is lodging. It’s also worth noting that she left Jane’s house in the January of 1763, around the same time she must have fallen pregnant with Martin’s son.
In the early days of Jane’s marriage, she first appeared on the stage in 1756, as Desdemona in Othello and Samuel Derrick has been cited as the man who first brought her to the stage although Tate Wilkinson, in his Memoirs, says that she was a pupil of John Rich in this year.
She was certainly the mistress of Samuel Derrick at some point in the 1750s and/or 1760s, even being known as Mrs Derrick for a time, one account saying this was before her marriage and another during it and with no further proof it is entirely possible that this cohabitation coincided with her husband’s absence and that Derrick was the father of one or more of the two children baptised as being Stott’s.
No possible father was named in the divorce proceedings, the proof of Jane’s infidelity being all too present in the person of her daughter, the father’s name being irrelevant to the trial.
After Jane’s initial appearance on stage in 1756 she did not appear again until February 1762. From March of that year, she used the surname Lessingham as her stage name.
Jane was reputed to take other lovers, including a naval officer senior to her husband, Admiral Boscawen, who died in 1761. If this rumour is correct he must also be a candidate for the father of one or both of her children.
The Captain referred to in the reference below is not Jane’s husband but Captain William Hanger, son of Baron Coleraine and one of the many lovers of the actress Sophia Baddeley. It was written in 1772 at the time of his affair with Sophia but recounted the many amours of his past, which included, according to the author, Jane herself.
At the time Mrs. L____m, the actress, was supported in a most splendid manner by Admiral B___n, whilst he was gaining laurels for himself, and glory for his country abroad, the Captain most politely attended her at home, to prevent her grief becoming too violent in the absence of her naval admirer.
MEMOIRS OF CAPTAIN H___ and MRS. B____Y
Middlesex Journal or Chronicle of Liberty, 30th May 1772
Towards the end of the 1760s she became the mistress of Thomas Harris, one of the managers of the Covent Garden Theatre formerly owned by another of the people we have written about, John Rich, and was the cause of a quarrel between the theatre managers, Harris believing that she was not given the parts which she deserved.
Jane bore three sons to Harris, all baptised at the Percy Chapel in St. Pancras. The eldest, Edmund John Thomas Harris, was born on the 31st March 1768 and baptized a month later, his parents were recorded in the baptism register as Thomas and Jane Harris alias Jane Lessingham.
Just a month before his birth she was on stage at Covent Garden as Nerissa in The Merchant of Venice at a benefit performance for Charles Macklin, appearing alongside Macklin himself, his daughter Maria and Ned Shuter.
Jane was given a benefit at the same theatre at the end of March, her address been given as Charlotte Street at the top of Rathbone Place, Oxford Road, the actors including Miss Macklin and George Anne Bellamy.
Jane and Harris’s second son, Charles, followed shortly after, being born on the 1st June 1769 and baptized on the 18th of the same month and lastly the third son, Edwin, born on the 2nd February 1771 and baptized 10th April 1771.
The baptism register records the parents of the last two children simply as Thomas and Jane Harris. Thomas Harris and Jane parted in 1771. Mr H___ in the article below is obviously Thomas Harris.
To the Editor of the GENERAL EVENING POST.
Since the misfortunes and indiscretions of the fair sex seem to engross more particularly the attention of the world, than any other topic, I must beg leave, for the entertainment of your readers, to acquaint them with the enlargement of Mrs L____m – who, to the unspeakable distress of Mr. H___, has eloped to some corner of the earth, with a new paramour, utterly unknow[n] to the afflicted Menelaus. This Helen of an actress very young married to Capt. S___, of the navy – she left him for Delaval; Delaval for Boscawen; Boscawen for Pembroke; Pembroke for Colbourne; Colbourne for Mason; and Mason for H___; and alas! H___ for whom neither he nor I know. By all these she has had sweet children – Is it not a pity, that so fruitful a mother has not a consideration from Government, who has made so much food for gunpowder! Mr H___, poor gentleman, is all in the fuds upon this melancholy elopement. Could he stimulate the theatric Grecians, as the injuries of Menelaus of yore did, we might be entertained with the siege of some old castle surrounded with a moat, and defended by rooks, where this delectable run-away is supposed to be immured.
General Evening Post, 27 August 1771
Towards the end of June 1772, a Mrs Lessingham was recorded passing through Canterbury on her way to France in company with a Mr Ashley Esquire.
In the mid-1770s, whilst under the protection of Sir William Addington, Bow Street magistrate, Jane Lessingham applied for the right to build herself a lodge on Hampstead Heath. Although first granted through her influential friends, objections were raised leading to a ‘riot on Hampstead Heath’; Jane herself possibly composed a pamphlet titled ‘The Hampstead Contest’ which was inscribed to her.
She got her way, buying a cottage at Littleworth in 1776 to get around the objections and building Heath Lodge complete with pleasure grounds, enclosed from the surrounding heathland. A description of the house in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 9: Hampstead, Paddington gives it as a ‘three-storyed cube with a central semicircular bay and flanking two-storyed wings designed by James Wyatt on the model of a villa in Italy.’
Addington was then discarded for a Covent Garden actor known as a ‘teapot actor‘, possibly from his habit of standing with one hand on his hip. As Mrs Lessingham, Jane continued to perform at the Covent Garden theatre up to 1782, largely in comedic roles which she performed best in.
The understrapper Justice of Bow-street Lock has received his dismission in form from the suite of his long admired actress, Mrs. L____m of Covent-garden Theatre, which has so much affected his worship for this fortnight past, that even his attendant thief takers pity him, and say, it will bring the old buck’s grey hairs with sorrow to the grave!
Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, 22nd April 1777
It is not known what became of Jane’s daughter, Amelia Stott; she seems to vanish without a trace from the records.
Her son George Stott was possibly buried in the churchyard at St. Anne’s in Soho on the 12th August 1772, being recorded in the register as a child from Pancras although his absence from the divorce trial may well indicate he had died previous to that.
Her three sons by Harris were all named in Jane’s will which she wrote on the 12th December 1782; she left whatever she died possessed of to Thomas Harris in trust for the sole use of these three boys, stipulating that one further son, Frederick, was to take his share if he was not better provided for.
We have not yet discovered Frederick’s birth or baptism but, as it seems that Jane hoped he would be provided for, his father was possibly a man of means. He was born c.1772 and used the name of William Frederick Williams in later life and may have penned four novels, Sketches of Modern Life; Or, Man as He Ought Not to be (1799), Fitzmaurice: A Novel in two volumes (1800), Tales of an Exile (1803) and The Witcheries of Craig Isaf (1805).
Jane signed herself as Jane Hemet on her will; she died on the 13th March 1783 at her house on Hampstead Heath and was buried on the 17th in Hampstead churchyard, the burial register and her tombstone recording her under her maiden surname.
Although her house was sold just months after her death, her will was not proved by Harris until more than a year later. The house sold for substantially more than it had cost to erect and was bought by Lord Byron, uncle of the poet.
By Mr. BARFORD
On the premises, on Friday the 30th instant, punctua’ly at one o’clock, unless previously Let or Sold by Private Contract.
A Small, but elegant Villa, situate on the most elevated part of the north side of Hampstead Heath, with about two acres of land laid out with distinguished taste in pleasure grounds, shrubberies, and kitchen gardens, &c. This beautiful erection, entirely detached from any neighbourhood; has been the admiration of all who have seen it. To the North-east and West, a series of prospects richly adorned by the hand of Nature, and agreeably variegated by the innovations of Art, open to the view, and form a landscape replete, with every decoration that can delight the eye, or gratify the judgment. The premises are copyhold, and although at present adapted to the reception of a small family, may be considerably enlarged, and an additional quantity of land, if necessary, obtained. The contiguity of the situation to the metropolis, and the uncommon salubrity of the air, renders the whole a most amiable retreat to a person whose avocations may require an attendance in town.
To be viewed, and particulars known, by applying to Mr. Barford, Covent Garden.
Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, 19th May 1783
The elegant villa of the late Mrs Lessingham was on Friday put up by public auction, when it was bought in at the very low price of 560l. The whole expence attending this villa, including the taking up of the ground in Copyholders Court – law contests thence ensuing – enclosing – planting and building, are computed at near 3000l.
General Evening Post, 7th June 1783
Lord Byron, who bought poor Mrs Lessingham’s little Villa, near Hampstead, keeps it exactly in the order in which she left it. – His Lordship, both in this place and at Newste[a]d Abbey, shews an imagination negligent of art, and addicted to the wilder beauties of nature.
Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, 20th September 1784
After the divorce was finally granted in the late 1760s Captain John Stott married for a third time in Soho on the 18th October 1770 to a woman named Elizabeth Graham. When he wrote his will in 1771 he was Captain of his Majesty’s Ship of War the Juno and he left his entire estate to his ‘dear wife‘ whom he made sole executor of his will. He died on the 22nd August 1778, in command of a 32 gun frigate, the Minerva, in the West Indies.
Unaware that the American War of Independence had broken out and that France had declared war on Britain, he approached the Concorde, a French ship; the Concorde fired a broadside at Minerva causing an explosion of the powder held below deck. Amongst the dead and wounded was Captain John Stott, fatally injured by two wounds to his head.
These words were written of Jane in her lifetime; we are unable to say if they are applied to her fairly or unfairly:
What shall we say of LESSINGHAM, the fair,
She has of managers been long the care;
Oh, that regard would make her all their own,
And snatch a tasteless milksop from the town;
One who for parts eternally would fight,
Without the sense, or talents, to be right.
The Theatres. A Poetical Dissection by Sir Nicholas Nipclose, Baronet, 1771
[pseudonym of Francis Gentleman, Irish actor, poet and writer]
However, we shall leave her with a testament to her from one of her sons and she was obviously a much beloved and lamented mother. When she was buried at Hampstead in 1783 her memorial recorded her name as Mrs Hemet. Jane’s youngest child replaced this almost twenty years after her death with the following inscription on her tomb in the churchyard although the age given makes her about five years younger than she would actually have been.
MRS JANE LESSINGHAM,
late of the Theatre Royal
Obt 13 March 1783
Her grateful and affectionate son WILLIAM FREDERICK,
caused this tomb to be repaired, anno 1802,
as a last token of respect to her memory.
William Frederick was to die young just three years later. His last request was to be buried in the same grave as his mother, adding his name to her memorial.
Irish poet, sometime comic actor and most notably the author of Harris’s Ladies of Covent Garden; over the past few weeks we have been reading Harris’s guides to the seedier side of London 1760s – 1790s not really questioning who wrote them until we noticed an article written a few years ago in the Camden New Journal, in which the author of The Covent Garden Ladies, Hallie Rubenhold, said that she had unearthed the author, but that she was still hoping to find his burial.
So, of course, we were curious now to find out more about Samuel and hopefully provide her with the missing piece of her jigsaw – we simply love a challenge!
As usual, we began by searching the internet and, as anticipated, much has already been written about the poet’s life, with conflicting information about the date of his death. We rapidly found ourselves confused by this man.
Apparently, he died penniless with requests being made to help fund his funeral, then conflicting information saying that he was actually very wealthy when he died.
The newspapers contained much information, but the more we read the more confused we became about his death.
The St James’s Chronicle dated the 3rd – 5th March 1768 reported:
Mr Derrick who has laboured under a lingering disorder from which he was supposed to have been nearly recovered was on Tuesday evening seized of a relapse; and now lies very ill at his house in Orange Grove.
By December 1768 he had made a recovery, but in February 1769 it was reported that once again he was very ill whilst at Bath and was being attended by physicians.
A month later the same report was made in The Whitehall Evening Post. By the 11th March, 1769 St James’s Chronicle informed its readers that he had died. Lloyd’s Evening Post of the 13th March also referred to him as the late Mr Derrick, saying that in his position of Master of ceremonies he earned upwards of 1000l per annum. We thought that was an end to our search, there it was in black and white – his death! No, they got it wrong!
Four days later, lo and behold he was still alive, although the newspapers said he wouldn’t be for much longer. The Whitehall Evening Post a few days later received a letter from Bath dated the 16th March:
Notwithstanding the newspapers have killed Mr Derrick, Master of Ceremonies sometime ago, yet he is still living but in so wretched a state of health, that he is not at all to be envied…
An advert appeared on the 19th March 1769 in Pope’s Bath Chronicle about letting his house, perhaps a tad inappropriate given that Samuel was not yet deceased!
To be Lett, and enter’d on immediately, a house in Bradley’s Building, very convenient, and in excellent repair, now inhabited by Samuel Derrick Esq, master of the Ceremonies of this city. The goods, which are new and in elegant taste, will be sold by private contract on the premises, or otherwise when the house is disposed of. Enquire of Mr. Smith, within two doors of the said tenement on the Horse Parade.
Finally, after much searching we found the confirmation we were looking for – he was dead! … his death being reported in the St James’s Chronicle dated Saturday 1st April 1769, confirming his death as the previous Tuesday i.e. 28th March 1769. Apparently, at the time of his death he was worth a considerable sum of money which he left to a number of relatives in Ireland.
Oh no, a few days later this rumour of wealth was quashed by The London Chronicle, who said he died totally penniless with members of the nobility making donations to help finance him in his dying days. According to Charlotte Hayes, the courtesan and brothel keeper, Samuel bequeathed the profits of the final edition of Harris’s List to her, if that were true then he must have left a will, but no trace of it remains today!
We can finally confirm that Samuel’s burial took place at St Peter and St Paul’s church, Bath on the 2nd April 1769.
Shortly after his actual death The London Chronicle(29th April 1769 – 2nd May 1769) wrote anecdotes of his life in which they confirmed him to be the author of Harris’s Lists, the first edition being written by Derrick whilst confined at Ferguson’s spunging house ( a place where debtors were held), which he sold to a publisher thereby obtaining his liberty.
Ever attached to the beautiful part of the creation, he devoted his labours to them even in confinement; and whilst he was at Ferguson’s spunging-house, he produced the first edition of Harris’s List, which he sold to a certain Bookseller; and thereby obtained his liberty.
It might be supposed, from this universal partiality of the Ladies to him, that his person was so comely and elegant as to be resistible. This was far from the case. He was of diminutive size, with reddish hair and a vacant countenance; and he required no small quantity of perfume to predominate over some odours that were not of the most fragrant kind.
It said that he lived with the celebrated actress Mrs. Jane Lessingham. It seems likely that Harris simply lent his name to the book and possibly helped in providing some of the information, but Derrick actually wrote it (and wisely left his own name off!).
There was also a not very complimentary physical description given for him:
… of diminutive size, with reddish hair and vacant countenance and required no small quantity of perfume to predominate over some odours that were not of the most fragrant kind … he had a propensity for external gaiety which often induced him to appear in a laced coat, with a very dirty shirt.
Doesn’t that make him sound like a great catch??!
Foote apparently commented:
He was a very impudent fellow to have five embroidered coats and only one shirt.
From Derrick’s Jests there was a comment made by an Irish friend of his on seeing him in his coffin.
Ah poor Sammy, till this time hast been continually amidst a scene of bustle and noise; but, thank God, art now still for once in thy lifetime!
Hopefully, we have finally managed to lay Samuel Derrick to rest in peace. Find out more about the life and children of his mistress Jane Lessingham.
To find out more about the women in Harris’s List we would highly recommend reading Hallie Rubenhold’s fascinating books The Covent Garden Ladies and The Harlot’s Handbook.
‘If you ever wondered what Jane Austen’s Mr Darcy and his ‘fellows’ got up to on their numerous trips to London read this edition of the book they would have certainly carried around…Harris’ “List of Covent Garden Ladies” was a bestseller of the eighteenth century, shifting 250,000 copies in an age before mass consumerism. An annual ‘guide book’, it detailed the names and ‘specialities’ of the capital’s prostitutes. During its heyday (1757-95) Harris’ “List” was the essential accessory for any serious gentleman of pleasure. Yet beyond its titillating passages lay a glimpse into the lives of those who lived and died by the List’s profits during the Georgian era. Hallie Rubenhold has collected the funniest, ruddiest and most surreal entries penned by Jack Harris, “Pimp-General-of-All-England” into this hilarious book’.
Charles Macklin, actor and playwright, was well known to many of the people we have been writing about. The following is the account of his funeral, taken from an addendum to volume 2 of his own memoirs published in 1798, which is of particular interest to us as the Reverend John Ambrose, subject of our last article, was present. Macklin had died at his house on Tavistock Row on 11 July, 1797.
The funeral took place on the 16th July 1797.
His remains were conveyed on the Saturday following, at half past one in the afternoon, to Covent Garden Church, the cavalcade consisted of a hearse and four, and three coaches and four.
The following Gentlemen attended as mourners.
Mr Hull, of Covent-Garden theatre, Mr. Macdonald, Mr. Griffith, Dr. Akinson, Mr. Barlow, Dr. Kennedy, Mr. Kirkman, Mr. Brandon, Mr. Hughes, Mr. Davies, Mr. Ledger, Drury Lane theatre, Mr. Munden, Covent-Garden theatre.
The corpse was taken into the vestry, and prayers were read over it in a very impressive manner, by the Rev. Mr. Ambrose, who had been a pupil of Mr. Macklin, and from the respect he bore his tutor, had come from Cambridge, to perform the last act of kindness, in reading over him the funeral service. – After this ceremony, the body was interred in the vault close to the north gate of the Churchyard, at the entrance of Covent-garden.
On the coffin plate was inscribed,
MR. CHARLES MACKLIN,
Died the 11th of July, 1797,
Aged 97 Years.
The funeral was respectfully conducted by Mr. Slope of Covent Garden Theatre.
His true age has long been disputed; the parish register entry of his burial said he was 107!
Great crowds of people had assembled to view the procession and burial. Macklin reputedly left £50 for Parson Ambrose to attend his funeral, possibly not with the intended result as in Charles Macklin: An Actor’s Life by William W. Appleton is the following note:
It had always been the actor’s wish to avoid useless pomp and, accordingly, only three coaches followed the hearse. But at St Paul’s [Covent Garden] a great number of spectators had gathered, and a delegation of friends from the Antelope. Prayers were recited by an ex-pupil, the Reverend Mr. Ambrose, ‘in an impressive and pathetic manner’ which would no doubt have displeased him.
‘The Antelope’ was Macklin’s favourite tavern, situated in White Horse Yard, Drury Lane, a place where he spent a great deal of time. Of the mourners listed above, we can give the following information.
Edward Barlow and Richard Hughes were both treasurers of the Covent Garden theatre. Thomas Hull was an actor, manager and playwright, Mr Kirkman was Macklin’s biographer, Mr Brandon was the box office keeper and Dr Akinson is given elsewhere as Dr Atkinson. Joseph Munden was an actor at the theatre and Dr Morgan Hugh Kennedy was a close friend of David Garrick, Samuel Foote and others. His wife, the former Mrs Margaret Farrell, had formerly been a popular singer at both Covent Garden and the Haymarket. Dr Kennedy was active in petitioning for clemency (without success) for the Reverend William Dodd, the Macaroni Parson, whom we have written of before.
In our last article we recorded part of the life of ‘Parson Ambrose’, the Reverend John Ambrosse, the natural son of Lord Blaquiere, an Irish peer, and Caroline Ambrosse, sister of Henrietta Ambrosse who achieved fame in the latter half of the 18th century as an actress, known professionally by the names of Miss Ambrose, Mrs Kelfe and Mrs Egerton.
We left him, in December 1813, in the Fleet prison, held for debt. By the winter of 1816, he had regained his freedom and was in Paris attending the Sunday Soirees of the Duchess of Orleans. Rees Howell Gronow, the biographer of Lord Byron, recalled a meeting with him at this time.
There were many English present also. Among the most remarkable was a gentleman known by the appellation of “Parson Ambrose,” a natural son of Lord de Blaquiere’s. He was good-looking and dressed like a gentleman of the old regime. He wore black silk breeches, with buckles both to his knees and shoes, and the frills to his shirt were of the finest Malines lace. Sir Charles Stewart, upon entering the saloon, beckoned to the parson, who said, “Well, Sir Charles, I am in a bad state.” “What is the matter with you?” “I have a complaint in the chest, your Excellency.” “What Doctor have you consulted?” “Lafitte,” replied the parson. “I have never heard of him except as a banker. Well, what has he done for you?” “Nothing.” Sir Charles, now discovering the meaning of the ‘chest complaint,’ said, in his good-natured way, “Come to the Embassy to-morrow morning, and I will see what can be done to cure your complaint.” The parson accordingly went and found the ambassador at breakfast with the Duke of Wellington. After talking over olden times, when the Duke was merely Captain Wellesley, and lived on intimate terms with the parson in Dublin, his Grace kindly presented Ambrose with a hundred guineas, to take him back to England for change of air; which, he trusted, would contribute to the restoration of his health.
Ambrosse’s first marriage in 1787 had been to Mary Mahon, a lady born of a musical family who appeared herself on the London stage as a soprano. By 1798 five children had been born to the couple, only three of whom were still surviving and Ambrosse had deserted his wife. Two of these children died as infants but the surviving three, all sons, Samuel Bertie Ambrosse, Beresford Ambrosse and John Ambrosse, were enlisted to the East India Company’s army.
Beresford Ambrosse died in 1824 in India, a Captain in the 8th Regiment of the Bombay Native Infantry. His feckless father was in Nantes in France a year later, beset by debts and on the run from his creditors when he had another child, a daughter named Juliana. This baby’s mother was Juliana Catherine Colyear, herself the illegitimate daughter of the Earl of Portmore. There was quite an age difference between the couple, Ambrosse being aged 57 years in 1825 and Juliana around 20 or 21 years old. The couple weren’t married, and it is possible concerns about his first marriage prevented this as May was still alive and we have yet to discover a divorce for the couple. A further daughter was born, named Emma, on the 18th July 1833, the family still residing in Nantes. Finally, on the 15th July 1834, his first wife having died in 1830, John Ambrosse took his mistress to the house of the French Ambassador in Paris and made her his wife, although he did claim to be a bachelor on the marriage register!
Juliana Catherine Colyear’s background and ancestry deserves to be examined and we make no apologies for going off at a tangent here and recording the story of her ancestors. Her mother was Harriet Bishopp, daughter of Colonel Henry (Harry) and Mrs Mary Bishopp of Sussex with illustrious family connections. Colonel Harry was the youngest son of Sir Cecil Bishopp and Harry’s sister Frances was the wife of Sir George Warren. In the September of 1791, at the age of 22, Harriet had married one Henry Jackson, reportedly an ’eminent solicitor’ and the two had settled down to married life. In 1793 Henry Jackson suffered a paralytic stroke and Harriet added the role of nurse to that of devoted wife up until July 1799 when she met Viscount Milsington at a ball thrown by Lady Charles Somerset. Milsington, or Thomas Charles Colyear, was the eldest son of the 3rd Earl of Portmore, his mother being a daughter of the Earl of Rothes and he had been married to Lady Mary Elizabeth Bertie, only child of Brownlow Bertie, the 5th Duke of Ancaster and heir to a fortune. One child had been born of that union, a son named Brownlow Charles Colyear in 1796 and Lady Mary Elizabeth had died the following year.
The acquaintance between Harriet Jackson and Lord Milsington was renewed the following summer at Ascot Races and Harriet passed Milsington off to her husband and his relations as the suitor of one of her unmarried sisters, a ruse that was totally believed by all concerned. Henry Jackson positively encouraged Milsington to spend time with his extended family, even inviting him to stay at his own house, keen to have a sister in law married to an heir to an Earldom, never thinking he was being cuckolded. Months passed and by the summer of 1801 Jackson was beginning to suspect that something was amiss, the expected marriage proposal to Miss Bishopp not having materialized and he ordered his wife to break off the friendship and not to allow him to visit again. He left it to his wife to decide how to break this news to Milsington. Faced with the prospect of having to break off contact with her lover, Harriet was distraught and there was an added complication. She had a child, one that although recognized as the legitimate child of her husband, had been born since she had begun her relationship with Lord Milsington (she had fallen pregnant before this but it had resulted in a miscarriage). Milsington expressed his wish to look after her and her child and on the 4th August 1801 she ran away from her husband’s house and eloped with her lover. It is not known whether she took the child with her.
Henry Jackson instituted a criminal conversation or ‘crim. con.’ trial against Lord Milsington and this was heard on the 9th January 1802. The Miss Bishopp whom Milsington had supposedly been paying his attentions to did not appear, through reasons of delicacy, and various witnesses were examined. They all expressed surprise at the elopement, having no idea of the attachment and no evidence was produced against Milsington apart from a letter to his ‘beloved’ and ‘adored’ Harriet which was found in a drawer of her desk.
I hope most earnestly very soon to see that my beloved Harriet was not the worse for the expedition of yesterday. I wished very much to have called this morning, to have inquired after her, but thought if I did, I should not have the pleasure of passing the evening with the only woman in the world that I have the smallest attachment to, an attachment so strong and fixed, that nothing in the world can alter. I never can be happy till we live together, with that dear little angel that so resembles the figure of its dearest mother; it makes me quite miserable, the thoughts of leaving town; I cannot bear to be separated from you, my love; I hope it will not be the case; I am sure we could be happy together, and my only study the happiness of you, my adored Harriet, and the welfare of your children. Pray, my love, let me see you to-morrow if it is in your power. I wish very, very much, that we may meet to fix when we shall meet not to part again. Perhaps you will not have an opportunity of reading this before I am obliged to leave you, therefore I will be in Hart-street, at the usual place, at twelve o’clock to-morrow; pray come as soon after as you can; and believe me most sincerely, affectionately, and faithfully, yours ever, M.
Henry Jackson won the case, being awarded £2,000 damages for the loss of his wife’s affections and society, with Milsington having to pay the costs of the case too.
The Portsmouth Telegraph or Mottley’s Naval and Military Journal reported on the 18th January 1802, shortly after the close of the trial that:
Parmesan and prunelloes seem to be exploded in crim.con. fashions. It appeared on a late trial, that Lord Milsington made his way to the heart of Mrs. Jackson by the means of Sandwiches at Ascot Races. The favourite food of the frail fair has changed much since the original apple.
Seven children were born to Lord Milsington and Harriet Jackson, all out of wedlock. Sod’s Law decrees that the only two for whom we can find no record of their birth or baptism includes Juliana Catherine, the one we are most interested in, but we can record her siblings here.
Mary Ann Colyear, born 6th June 1802 (died a spinster)
Thomas David Colyear, born 15th May 1805 (died 8th August 1875 at Dekani near Simlar, Lt Col of the 7th Bengal Light Infantry)
Charles Frederick Colyear, born 12th June 1806 (married Matilda Frances Winsor at St. Marylebone in 1828)
Martin Thomas Colyear, born 26th May 1807 (sent out a cadet in the East India Co. army c.1822 and died at Dum Dum, Bengal, on the 13th February 1827)
Elinor Mary Colyear, born 8th July 1808 (married Jerome Francis Edouard Roger in 1829, possibly died 1878)
Harriet Frances Colyear (married André Libert Romain Viollet, a professor of languages, died January 1888)
It is worth noting that Juliana Catherine stated that she was 27 years old in 1833 at the birth registration of her daughter Emma in Nantes, putting her birth around 1806. It is more likely that she was actually born 1803-1804 and was knocking a couple of years off her age.
There is also an interesting baptism on the 8th September 1814 at St. Martin in the Fields, Westminster, for a Catherine Marianne Colyear, daughter of Thomas Charles Colyear and Elizabeth Penny, possibly another child by a different mother.
At the time of Milsington’s marriage with his first wife, the heiress of the 5th Duke of Ancaster, a sum of £38,000 had been settled on the couple jointly. Milsington, often to be found at the races in esteemed company, including the Prince of Wales and Sir John Lade, quickly found himself in embarrassed circumstances and had borrowed £10,000 from an army agent, Mr Bruce, signing over to him his interest in various annuities and rent charges.
The Duke of Ancaster duly died in 1809 and left his property (but not his estate or titles) to his only grandson, Brownlow Charles Colyear, the terms of the will stating that Brownlow should receive some of the money when he came of age and the remainder when he reached 25 years. Upon coming into some of his inheritance on his twenty-first birthday, Brownlow agreed to pay some off his father’s debts and obtained a decree against Mr Bruce ordering a reassignment of the interest. Obviously fond of his half-brothers and sisters even though he had grown up at the Bertie estate of Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire, he agreed that £20,000 out of the £38,000 should be put aside for portions for these sisters.
Brownlow never reached his twenty-fifth birthday. He undertook the ‘Grand Tour’ in 1802 and at Gensano whilst on the road to Rome from Naples, armed banditti rushed out from the cover of a nearby wood and ambushed his carriage, murdering his servants and wounding Brownlow by slashing his arm with a sabre whilst they stole a ring from his finger. Leaving the dead behind they took Brownlow into the mountains, intending to hold him to ransom, but he died of his wounds and of shock three days later aged only 22 years. The other occupants of the carriage arrived, destitute of everything they owned, at Rome some days later, claiming that a post of troops on the road, there to ensure the safety of travellers, had refused to help them. Brownlow’s body was taken to Naples and thence on to England where he was buried, at Weybridge, on the 28th July 1819.
Brownlow Charles Colyear had left his father his entire property but he had died before the executory agreements on the settlement for his half-sisters had been carried into effect and this proved disastrous for those half-sisters. The money from the settlement had been invested in funds which were sold and Milsington, by now the Earl of Portmore had allowed his solicitor, Mr Sermon, to receive the proceeds and to pay Mr Bruce what he was owed. Of the £20,000 which had been promised, £19,000 remained in Mr Sermon’s hands and the seven natural Colyear children, of which Juliana was one, claimed their inheritance but the Countess of Mulgrave, the widow of the surviving trustee of the settlement, blocked this.
Juliana’s unmarried sister, Mary Ann Colyear, began a law suit in 1820 on behalf of her and her three sisters to recover this money. Their father, the Earl of Portmore, died in January 1835, after having made a second marriage in 1828 to Frances, daughter of William Murrells, and the legal case was still rumbling on. The Earl seemed to have changed his mind about the provision for his daughters; perhaps it had been a condition of his second marriage for his wife to have a settlement upon her but he now wanted to money to be used for her benefit. His sons were provided for, two having joined the East India Company’s army and Charles Frederick joining the regular army.
To return to our subject, the Reverend John Ambrosse referred to this suit in his own hearing for debt in 1836 when he said he had expectations of an inheritance through his wife of a quarter share of the £20,000. This expectation was never to be realized, the children’s illegitimacy barring them from effecting their claim.
Parson Ambrosse returned to his living at Blisworth, Northamptonshire in 1836, his wife and two daughters in tow. On Christmas Eve in 1837, he buried his eldest daughter, Juliana aged 12 years, the burial register recording her abode as Stony Stratford, some ten miles away from Blisworth.
A son was born in January 1838, named John David Long Ambrosse, but less than a month later Parson Ambrosse was again in court for debt, reeling off his past addresses, ‘formerly of Dean St Soho, then of Paris France, afterwards of Pall Mall Middx, since of Nantes in France, then of Blisworth Northants and lately staying at the Cathedral Coffee House, St. Paul’s Churchyard.‘ By the end of March 1838, he was able to add another address to the list, that of the Fleet Prison in London where he was once again a prisoner.
After baptizing his son at Greenwich in Kent on 29th March 1839, recorded as being of Skinners Buildings, Parson Ambrosse died just weeks later and was buried in his churchyard at Blisworth alongside his young daughter Juliana, on 6th June, his age 71 years. His wife appeared at Richmond in Surrey three years later when her son John David Long Ambrosse was recorded as having been received into the church there. Although John left a will anything he owned was taken to repay his creditors.
In a codicil to her will written in 1841, the Dowager Countess of Portmore, second wife of the 4th Earl, left £3,000 to Thomas David Colyear of the 7 Bengal Light Cavalry; he was the only one of her husband’s brood of illegitimate children to be mentioned in that document. Juliana Ambrosse didn’t receive a penny.
Samuel Bertie Ambrosse Esquire died at Carlton Hill, St. John’s Wood in 1854 aged 65, most often recorded simply as Bertie Ambrosse. He clearly followed in the family footsteps with more than a passing interest in the arts, writing various poems including the much acclaimed Opoleyta, a poem in four cantos.
His half-sister Emma Ambrosse was educated at first at Vineyard Lodge in Richmond (1841 census) and then at Raby House School on Finchley Road in Hampstead where she was listed as a 17-year-old pupil in 1851, a governess to the children of Lady Rous at Henham in Suffolk in 1871 and by 1891 was lodging in Eaton Terrace, Hanover Square, a retired governess.
John’s second wife Juliana was still alive in 1881 where she appeared on the census return for that year, as an inmate of Bethnal Green workhouse “Licensed House For Reception of Insane” and was recorded as being a lunatic. She died a few years later in 1887, aged 80.
It sometimes happens when researching that you innocently follow a possible lead and end up opening a can of worms. This article started out as one such can!
It started at the end of our research into the 18th-century actress Hannah Norsa who we wrote about earlier. One of the informants into her life was recorded as her god-daughter, a woman who was herself an actress, known by the various names of Miss Ambrose, Mrs Egerton and Mrs Kelfe. Thinking it might shed more light on Hannah we looked into this woman’s life, and here present all the collated information we can find on her, together with some new details.
The two Ambrose sisters were well known on the London and Dublin stages from the 1760s and for the next twenty years. The Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers and Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800 does not record their first names (many documents from that time do not do so and it is difficult therefore to trace them), the eldest, the one who became Mrs Egerton and Kelfe being simply Miss Ambrose and her younger sister Miss E. Ambrose. It also records a rather fanciful beginning for them; their father, a Portuguese Jewish gentleman, was attached to the British army in Gibraltar and was hung there as a spy in the early 1740s. The two Ambrose sisters, it states, were born in Gibraltar, the elder around the year 1739. The family seemed to favour the spelling Ambrosse for their surname away from the stage.
After the death of their father, Mrs Rachael Ambrosse returned to London with her two young daughters, settling in the Westminster area where she married a Mr Joseph Jona, a language master and prompter at the Opera.
Henrietta herself though, in a letter written during 1769 to the actor Charles Macklin, gives her birth as 1743 in St. Martin’s Street, Leicester Fields, Westminster. The truth is probably a little less adventurous then, and her father could be either a Mr Ambrosse or Mr Jona as she and the rest of her family use both surnames. Indeed, research from the Holst museum indicates that Rachael was born Rachel Therisa del Jijona, possibly a native of Bristol and also possibly spending her early years in Spain and, to somewhat corroborate this, at her burial Rachel is listed as the daughter of Joseph Jona, not his wife, although we must stress that the document we have viewed is a transcript and not an original. This source has her returning to England in 1758. We know, however, that she was certainly in England towards the end of 1756 and Joseph Jona was resident in London in 1755.
Mr Jona lived, with his family, in Little Warwick Street, Charing Cross, near to Charlton House and it was there that he died at the end of October 1756, his residence then being given in the newspaper announcements of his death as Warwick Lane.
23 Oct 1756 – London Evening Post
Lately died, at his House in Warwick-Lane, Mr. Jona, Master of Languages, and Prompter to the Opera.
These reports also tell us that Mr Jona died after a lingering illness. He was buried in the Novo or New Spanish and Portuguese Jewish burial ground in Mile End.
In the December of that year a benefit concert was given, starring Peg Woffington and Ned Shuter, for the ‘Widow Jona and her five children.’ So another three children had either been born to Mr and Mrs Jona unless they were his children from a previous relationship. We can name only three of these children, Henrietta (who became Mrs Kelfe and Mrs Egerton), her sister Caroline (who may or may not be the same as the actress known as Miss E. Ambrose) and a brother named Samuel, variously surnamed Ambrosse, Jona and Jona Ambrosse. Take your pick as to who was his father! Samuel, who seemed to prefer the surname Jona himself, was an apothecary and gentleman, living quietly in the Mile End Road, siring two sons named Joseph and Isaac and shunning the stage although both his sisters remembered him in their wills.
Two years later, in 1758, another benefit concert was given for the widowed Mrs Jona and her children and from this, we know that she had moved from Little Warwick Street to Cullum Street near Fenchurch Street, and she was still listed in that area in 1759.
In 1760 the two sisters took to the stage, first at Smock Alley in Dublin where they travelled with their mother and then at Winchester. On the 22nd May 1761 Henrietta, back in London, married James Calfe, a limner or engraver, by licence at St. Marylebone; she married as Henrietta Jona and the two witnesses were Thomas Stokes and Rachel Jona.
When Henrietta and Caroline made their first appearance on the London stage three weeks later, sharing the boards with Robert Baddeley and Tom Weston whom we have talked about before, they both used Ambrose as their surname. By the October of 1761 Henrietta was once again playing at Smock Alley in Dublin, appearing as Miss Ambrose, but when the same play was performed again a month later she was billed as Mrs Kelf.
One rumoured tale about the marriage has James Calfe or Kelfe as both an engraver and a bailiff who, when pursuing a debt that Rachel Ambrosse had incurred, offered to pay it himself if he could marry the daughter. Certainly, Henrietta was attractive, a contemporary report being that she had a ‘pleasing face, added an elegant figure, with a pleasantry of conversation perfectly agreeable’.
Henrietta’s marriage to James Kelfe seems to have fallen apart quite quickly and both sisters were known to take lovers in Ireland, rumoured amongst whom are Sir Henry Echlin, an Irish Baronet who possessed a sizeable estate at Rush near to Dublin, the Marquis of Tavistock, George Finch Hatton, Major B_rch and Colonel Bertie. One source has Sir Henry Echlin persuading James Kelfe of ‘the strength of his passion so strongly, by the strength of his purse, that little more was necessary than common forms to make himself sole possessor of the object of his desires’. Always inconstant, the story goes that Echlin transferred his affections after a while to the younger sister, whom Mrs Ambrosse declared to be an adoptive daughter to counter slanders on him moving from one sister to another. One wonders how she then countered the rumour that, after tiring of the daughter, he made a conquest of the mother, reputedly declaring that ‘could anyone woman fix his inclinations, it must be Mrs A___’ .
In 1789, after the death of Ann Catley, a contemporary of these Ambrose sisters on the stage in London and Ireland, a book was published by ‘Miss E. Ambross’ titled the ‘Life and Memoirs of the Late Miss Ann Catley’. Whether or not she really did write this is, however, uncertain; the only biographical information included about the Ambrose family was the triumvirate between mother, daughters and Sir Henry Echlin, certainly not one of their finest hours and one best not trumpeted to the world. With no evidence, either way, we can only say that we have doubts about her stated authorship.
The pursuits of Sir Henry were not more reputable than those of his lady. M__k__n [Charles Macklin] the actor had brought over to Dublin two theatrical pupils, the Am_____’s who were sisters and Jewesses. With these ladies Sir Henry formed a family connection. He took them and their mother into his house, lay in the same bed with the daughters, and the tongue of scandal went so far as to assert that the old gentlewoman did not pass unnoticed. His house exhibited a scene of continued revelling, debauchery and extravagance – mortgage followed mortgage – foreclosures produced sales, till at last the unhappy baronet was obliged to fly his country, and was so reduced in circumstance that he officiated in a tavern at Paris in the degrading situation of a waiter. Recently however he has emerged from that degenerate situation and has received a trifling pension for the performance of secret services.
The sisters lived with Major B_rch and Colonel Bertie in Drogheda in the summer of 1765, Major B_rch being Henrietta’s lover and Colonel Bertie falling to her younger sister, the two gentlemen both with the army and quartered in the area. As their mother was not provided for, and as the gentlemen had taken a house between them for themselves and the two sisters, they decided to move her in as gouvernante. On one occasion the two sisters quarrelled over who should take precedence at the dinner table and Mrs Ambrosse settled the matter by seating herself at the head of the table. Of all these lovers George Finch Hatton and Colonel Bertie were at least fondly remembered by the family (Rachael Ambrosse/Jona left them both a small bequest in her will and Bertie’s surname was given as a middle name to one of Caroline’s grandchildren).
In Ireland, Caroline began an affair with an army officer, Lord John de Blaquiere, the son of a French merchant emigrant, and bore two illegitimate children to him, a daughter named Henrietta in 1766 and a son named John two years later.
Henrietta, meanwhile, was reputed to have taken up with a French lady, a Madame B___ who possessed ‘uncommon wit and sprightliness’ and removed herself to Paris around the year 1766. The Drury Lane Memoirs assert that Madame B__ had taken a ‘particular penchant’ to Henrietta and described them as two ‘female lovers’. Both sisters are absent from the stage at this time for some years and certainly, in May 1769 Henrietta was in Montpellier in France as she wrote to Charles Macklin from there on the 18th of the month. Signing herself ‘H. Kelfe’ she asked Macklin to ‘immediately institute a suit in Doctor’s Commons against James Calfe, engraver, for giving out that he is [her] husband.‘ It is in this letter that she states she was born in 1743 in St. Martin’s Street and also gives exact details of her 1761 marriage to Calfe. Her distinct use of the two different variations of her surname implies that, by her use of Kelfe, she was distancing herself from James Calfe.
A month later she wrote again to Macklin, this time from Bordeaux, telling him that ‘she will never forget what he has done to liberate her from her troubles.’ It seems likely that the trouble he liberated her from was that of her husband. She also informed Macklin that she longed to hear some London gossip. By the middle of October Henrietta was in Turin in Italy and again wrote to Macklin, reproaching him for not answering her previous two letters. She had seen Voltaire, had dined with ambassadors and been hunting with the King and the Duchess de Savoy.
It is not known who Henrietta was travelling with but by October 1770 she was back in London with yet another change of name and engaged with David Garrick to appear at Drury Lane. The Middlesex Journal reported that:
Last night Mrs Egerton, lately Mrs Kelf, formerly Miss Ambross, appeared for the first time at the Theatre Royal in Drury-lane, and was tolerably well received in that difficult character of Lady Townley.
In 1773 Lord de Blaquiere resigned his commission in the army to concentrate on his political career and it was possibly this decision that influenced his decision to reform his private life too, his mistress and illegitimate children now surplus to requirements. He commanded his friends Sir Richard Croft and Lord Denman to take his daughter Henrietta away from her mother, Caroline Ambrosse; Henrietta was sent to his sister Susanna in Neuchatel in Switzerland where she lived with her husband, a Swiss official, Samuel de Meuron. He now, unfairly, had doubts about Caroline’s respectability.
Caroline’s other child, her son John Ambrosse, was to later recall that he lived often with his aunt Henrietta from the age of 7 or 8 (he doesn’t seem to have been in her company prior to this), scarcely knowing the difference between her and his own mother. With Henrietta already back on the stage, as Mrs Egerton, the Marquess of Hertford petitioned Garrick on behalf of a friend of his who had an interest in Miss E. Ambrose to put her on the stage at Drury Lane but she was engaged at the Covent Garden theatre instead. Again, we wonder if Miss E. Ambrose is actually Caroline, despite the discrepancy with the initials of the forenames, for it would seem likely that, having been abandoned by Blaquiere, she would return to her profession.
From 1770 we find both Henrietta and her younger sister listed frequently in the playbills for the early 1770s (Henrietta’s address in April 1772 at a benefit performance was given as King Square Court, Dean Street, Soho), but only her sister appearing after November 1773.
In January 1779 Henrietta Egerton and her mother Rachael (recorded under the surname of Ambrosse) were living in Newman Street in St. Anne’s Westminster, both ladies recorded as widows. Henrietta, returning home to this house from a masquerade, lost a gold slide belonging to a handkerchief, set with diamonds. It was found by one of her servants, a man named Robert Dare, who decided that the old rule of ‘finders keepers’ applied and pawned the trinket. It was all discovered and Dare was charged and found guilty of theft, sentenced to hang for his crime although he managed to escape the hangman’s noose and instead performed hard labour on the River Thames for the use of the Navigation for the term of three years.
Rachael Ambrosse is also listed in the Westminster Rate Book for Lisle Street in Soho between 1777 and 1782, being in arrears at the latter date.
Henrietta now took George Finch Hatton (1747-1823), grandson of the 7th Earl of Winchilsea, as a lover and, although not married, took his surname and became Mrs Hatton. She was known by this sobriquet when she appeared in the ‘Characters of the present most celebrated courtezans’, published in 1780.
In the July 1780 edition of the Town and Country Magazine, in an article titled ‘Histories of the Tete-a-Tete annexed: or, Memoirs of Colonel W___ and the Faithful Mistress’ she was also referred to as Mrs Hatton and mentioned as a previous amour of Colonel W___’s.
. . . did not pass unnoticed by the colonel . . . Neither did Mrs. H_tt_n, sister to Mrs. A_br_se, the actress, fail to attract a temporary regard from him. She was then in her prime, and having remarkable fine hair, expressive eyes, and captivating teeth, he yielded to the influence of her charms, and was for some weeks her constant adorer.
So, yet another lover to add to the list, possibly either he or Finch Hatton had taken her from the stage in 1773.
The ‘Characters of the present most celebrated courtezans’ described Finch Hatton as a ‘generous and passionate lover’, continuing that ‘if we may judge of happiness by appearance, neither of them regrets the commencement, nor is inclined to break off the continuation of their correspondence.’ It ends by saying this of Henrietta:
She is now we suppose not younger than 43 or 44: – her person is somewhat larger than it was fifteen years ago; but in other respects she is less altered, and as the phrase runs, “wears better” than is to be imagined. Her eyes, teeth, and hair are remarkably fine; her conversation is both entertaining and well bred, and her language easy and fluent. She must be allowed upon the whole to be an object rather of desire as a mistress; and in a very superior style as an agreeable companion.
According to the birth date she gave to Macklin back in 1769, Henrietta would be 37 years of age in 1780, not as old as the publication had suggested.
Miss Ambrosse, Henrietta’s younger sister, also has her own entry in the above-referenced publication, but whilst Henrietta’s is generally flattering, hers is not. Her acting ability is praised above that of her older sister but her appearance comes in for a bit of a battering, and she is further noted as just being a bit dull.
Miss Am-r-se is of good height, perfectly free from every thing like deformity; and her frequent exhibitions in breeches, must have convinced most of my Readers that her figure is what is generally called well made . . . Her face, if it ever had any pretensions to beauty, has certainly none at present: her nose is preposterously large, and the extreme darkness of her complexion, joined to a very strongly marked set of features must ever militate against every thing even tending to the expression of either tenderness or femininity.
Henrietta, still providing financially for her nephew John Ambrosse, helped him to go to Oxford University, intending him to be destined for the church. John, when he enrolled at Oxford, claimed to be the son of John Ambrose of London, Gentleman, for the sake of respectability. At some point John also studied under the actor Charles Macklin, no doubt learning from him the skills needed for public speaking and oratory. John’s sister, the younger Henrietta, had meanwhile returned from Switzerland and was employed as a governess.
John Ambrosse took some time to obtain his BA at Oxford, not attaining it until January 1791 and his MA later that year. He had managed to find many distractions from his studies, not least amongst them a pretty girl, one of a family named Mahon who provided musical and vocal concerts in and around Oxford. On the 3rd April 1787, lying about his age, he married Mary Mahon at St James the Less, Thorndike, London, having obtained a marriage licence the day before. The marriage was witnessed by Jos. Furton and Richard Stainsby (possibly the Reverend Richard Stainsby). Mary appeared in February 1788 as Mrs Ambrose singing in the masque of Comus at Covent Garden and in 1789 was one of the featured performers of the songs of Handel and Dr Arne at the oratorios there. The marriage produced five children, three of whom survived infancy.
By 1792 John Ambrosse was a curate at Poulton in Gloucestershire where his son Samuel Bertie Ambrosse was baptized, his middle name obviously in honour of Colonel Bertie. Another son, John Ambrosse, later claimed to have been born at this place on the 18th July 1786, which is some months before his parent’s marriage. The third child to survive infancy was another son Beresford Ambrosse and a fourth, who must have died young, was possibly named Joseph.
Henrietta was still Mrs Hatton at the beginning of 1790 when the World newspaper mentioned her and her sister on the 13th January:
The large Muffs sported by Mrs. HATTON and Miss AMBROSE, are not a new fashion: They have had them some time. Signora STORACE is equally in the Ton.
But after this and for reasons as yet unknown, Henrietta renewed her relationship with James Kelfe. They married again on the 29th June 1795 at St. George the Martyr in Southwark where James was resident, he described in the marriage register as a bachelor and she as Henrietta Egerton of St. Marylebone a spinster! The marriage, again by licence, was witnessed by Jos. Wilson and Richard Hust. The Gentleman’s Magazine carried an announcement of the marriage:
Mr J. Kelfe, limner, to Mrs Henrietta Egerton (formerly Ambrose), of Newman St.
The Morning Post newspaper was a little late to the party for they reported on the 29th April 1800, five years after this remarriage that:
MRS. EGERTON, once the celebrated Actress, has lately re-married her husband! between thirty and forty years ago she was the wife of a Hatter near Drury-lane; she left him, went on the Stage, and passed a life of love and dissipation for twenty or thirty years, while her husband was soberly following his business with success. Tired of such pleasures, she lately made overtures of reconciliation, which he accepted, and they were again married! They now live in the north west skirts of the town; but delicacy forbids the mention of the place.
After the myriad of name changes, Ambrosse to Calfe, Calfe to Kelfe, Kelfe to Egerton, Egerton to Hatton, going from being a lady married to one man to a widow of another, then a mistress and finally back to a spinster, Henrietta now settled down to married life. In 1797 Rachael Ambrosse died, her will proven by her two daughters whom she named as joint executrixes and she was buried in the same location as her husband, Joseph Jona, and named as Rachel Jona.
Caroline Ambrosse, a spinster, was living at 12 Charles Street, Soho Square. With the two sisters slipping into a middle age of respectability and anonymity in the gossip columns it was now down to John Ambrosse, who had officiated at the funeral of his old tutor and family friend Charles Macklin in the July of 1797, to provide some scandal.
Henrietta had approached her old friend George Finch Hatton some years previously to ask that he provide her nephew with one of the livings he held. Henrietta’s mother had left Hatton a bequest of a mourning ring inscribed with her initials (R.A.) in her will, possibly in thanks for him helping her grandson and if John had spent time with his aunt Henrietta, then he may well have been living with Finch Hatton as almost a surrogate relative. In 1797 when the living of Blisworth in Northamptonshire became vacant, Hatton duly obliged his old friends and appointed the Revered John Ambrosse to the position.
In return for this favour to her nephew, Henrietta had returned to Hatton a bond for £1200 which he had previously given to her and in return for her relinquishing this bond, Ambrosse was asked to execute a similar bond which gave an annuity to Henrietta and James Kelfe to be paid from his parsonage. Ambrosse considered this extortion and in April 1802 the matter was heard by the Court of the Kings Bench, Henrietta and James Kelfe being tried for perjury.
The reports of this trial confirm Ambrosse as a natural son of Lord de Blaquiere and that he had been abandoned by his father. One report claims that Blaquiere supported Ambrosse’s three surviving children, another that it was Henrietta who had supported all five and still supported the surviving ones. It is mentioned that he had deserted his wife, the former Mary Mahon, and as her name is crossed through in Rachael Ambrosse’s will this desertion must have taken place before Rachael’s death in 1797.
Ambrosse remonstrated that he had never expected to have to repay all his aunt’s kindnesses to him, she responded that she had expended more than £1900 on her nephew and it was for this reason that she wanted the annuity. The court touched on the fact that Ambrosse had lied about his age when he married in 1787, hence throwing doubt on his honesty and also implied he had a fondness for gaming houses. Henrietta was defended by Garrow and was found not guilty. After this verdict, Ambrosse’s case against James Kelfe was similarly dismissed.
John Ambrosse, known to his friends as Parson Ambrose, was indeed fond of gaming and was a well-known figure at prize fights, keeping company with Lords Althorp and Byron. Living as a peers son but without any of the advantages of family and fortune, he soon found himself spiralling into debt.
Did John Ambrosse divorce or just merely desert his wife? No record of a divorce has yet been found, but on the 7th November 1798 Mary, as a spinster and using her maiden surname of Mahon, married the Reverend John Portis at Salisbury, all the newspapers, however, reporting her as Mrs Mary Ambrosse in their announcements of the marriage. She possibly had a further child, a daughter named Elizabeth by Portis, and it was John Portis who helped his ‘son in law‘ John Ambrosse to attain a cadetship in the East India Company. Portis also mentioned Samuel Bertie Ambrosse some years later in his will, describing him in that document as the only surviving son of his late wife.
James Kelfe or Calfe died in December 1804 at the house he shared with Henrietta in Great Newport Street and was buried two days before Christmas at St. Martin in the Fields. In 1806 Henrietta and the Bank of England were defendants in a case brought by her nephew Joseph Jona, son of her brother Samuel and his wife.
Ambrosse’s three sons from his marriage to Mary Mahon, Beresford, John and Samuel Bertie Ambrosse were sent to India to serve in the army, possibly someone feeling that they needed to be away from their father and given a chance to make their own fortunes. Henrietta Ambrosse, Caroline’s other child, had married David Whatley, a gentleman she knew through his first wife whom she had been governess to and settled at Cirencester where her widowed aunt Henrietta Kelfe had also relocated to. Through her marriage to David Whatley, this Henrietta was the ancestor of Gustav Holst.
With the rest of the family now settled, Parson Ambrose was still the one remaining loose cannon. He absented himself from his parish and by December 1813 was in the Fleet prison for debt. His mother, Caroline Ambrosse, died in March 1816 and any inheritance Ambrosse received from her was soon squandered. His adventures after this are worthy of their own entry and so we shall save the rest of his story for our next article.
Henrietta Kelfe died in August 1825 at Cirencester aged 86, almost forgotten.
And, you might ask, what of our initial query, that of Henrietta Ambrosse being the god-daughter of Hannah Norsa? As so often happens, despite all the myriad information we have found on this lady and her family, we have found nothing that leads us to any proof of this except the mention of Henrietta’s father being a Jewish gentleman. Hannah Norsa’s will names only one god-daughter and this is hard to read, being crossed through. This god-daughter, from what we can read, is a Catherine, the wife of Thomas Coleman with three sons, John, William and Thomas Coleman. Catherine’s maiden name is given and her mother Sarah’s surname and whilst they could be Jona they could equally be Jones. None of the Ambrosse family wills we have found mention anybody by the surname of Coleman nor a Catherine or Sarah Jona. Catherine was deceased at the time of Hannah making a codicil to her will. Henrietta’s mother and reputed stepfather are buried in the same Spanish and Portuguese Jewish burial ground as Hannah Norsa’s parents, however. So, we can only conclude by saying the jury is out on this one at present . . .
Edward Bamfield or Bamford (1732-1768), the ‘Staffordshire Giant’, pictured with John Coan (1728-1764), the ‘Norfolk Dwarf’. They both earned a living as sideshow performers; giants and dwarfs were special attractions around the Fleet Street area of London during the 18th century. Engraved by Hawksworth after a portrait by Benjamin Rackstrow and sold by James Roberts, 4th May 1771.
Whilst researching Bartholomew Fair we came across John Coan and thought he was fascinating and worth adding to our blog – we hope you agree. Bartholomew’s Fair was primarily a trading event for cloth and other goods as well as a pleasure fair and drew crowds from all classes of English society, but it also featured sideshows, prize-fighters, musicians, wire-walkers, acrobats, puppets, curiosities and wild animals.
On the 5th December 1727 the marriage took place between a John Coan and Sarah (nee Negus) at Tivetshall St. Margaret, then on 31 May 1730, at the same church the baptism of their son John took place, who later was to be known by the epithet of ‘John Coan, The Norfolk Dwarf’ or ‘The Jovial Pigmy’. Having looked at the parish registers there appears no evidence that John had any siblings.
Many reports about John’s life refer to him as being born in 1728, which may well be correct but for whatever reason his baptism didn’t take place until he was around two years old, which possibly implies that at birth he was a normal healthy baby, therefore, his parents saw no reason to have him baptised immediately. Having looked for his baptism at the place named in most reports i.e. Twitshall and found no mention of such a place existing, we revised our search to Tivetshall and that’s where we found him.
According to Edward J Woods book, ‘Giants and Dwarfs’ John, aged one, appeared to have developed at the same rate as other children of the same age, however, after this age, his growth slowed down and by 1744 he was just three feet tall and weighed 27.5 just pounds. Regarded as a freak or curiosity John was ‘exhibited’ at the Lower Half Moon, Market Place, Norwich in July of 1744 when he was a mere 16 years old.
‘The Cabinet of Curiosities: Or, Wonders of the World Displayed’ written in 1824, says that when surgeon William Arderon wrote to his colleague Mr Henry Baker F.R.S on the 12th May 1750, he gave a detailed account of John, aged 22 by this time. At this encounter, Arderon weighed John and noted that with all his clothes on he weighed no more than 34 pounds. He also measured John – 38 inches, this, however, included his wig, hat and shoes. He noted that his limbs were no larger than those of a child aged around 3 or 4; his body perfectly straight, the lineaments of face accorded with his age, he had a good complexion, his voice a little hollow, but not disagreeable; he could sing with tolerable proficiency and could read and write English well. He was also known for his amusing company by mimicking very exactly the crowing of a cock. Arderon’s letter gave the most detailed comparison that he carried out between John and a child aged 3 years 9 months. A full report was included in The London Magazine or Gentleman’s Monthly Intelligencer of 1751 in an Extract from Philosophical Transactions. As it was so comprehensive we thought it worthy of reproduction in its entirety:
The weight of the dwarf 34 pounds, the child 36 pounds.
The dwarf The child
Round the waist 21 20 & 5/10’s
Round the neck 9 9 & 7/10’s
Round the calf 8 9
Round the ankle 6 6
Round the wrist 4 4 & 3/10’s
Length of arm from shoulder
to wrist 15 13
From the elbow to the end
of the middle finger 10 & 4/10’s 10 & 7/10’s
From the wrist to the end
of the middle finger 4 4
From the knee to the
bottom of the heel 10 & 4/10’s 10 & 7/10’s
Length of the foot
with shoe on 6 6 & 4/10’s
Length of face 6 6 & 4/10’s
Breadth of the face 5 4 & 8/10’s
Length of the nose 1 & 2/10’s 1 & 2/10’s
Width of the mouth 1 & 8/10’s 1 & 8/10’s
Breadth of the hand 2 & 5/10’s 2 & 5/10’s
In the early part of the 18th century dwarfs were very popular with the upper classes and also the monarchy which could explain John’s move from rural Norfolk to London as, according to The London Magazine, Or, Gentleman’s Monthly Intelligencer, Volume 20 he was presented to the Prince of Wales on the 5th December 1751 and then exhibited to the Royal Society.
His notoriety rapidly spread and his name appeared with great regularity in the newspapers around this time. On Friday the 10th of January 1752 he was introduced to his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, Prince Edward and all the other Princes and Princesses, where he stayed upwards of two hours. It was reported that ‘by the pertinency of his answers, actions and behaviour, their Royal Highnesses were most agreeably entertained the whole time and made him a very handsome present’.
Much of John’s appeal was the combination of very small limbs, his jovial personality, wit and intelligence. The General Advertiser of Tuesday 7th January 1752 described him as being a ‘perfect man in miniature, to be seen at the Watchmakers, opposite Cannon Tavern, Charing Cross … that it is impossible for anyone to form a true judgement of him without ocular demonstration.’
According to the newspapers, he made regular appearance at London taverns and aged 23 appeared at The Swan during the Bartholomew Fair. Advertisements such as the one below were frequently seen with spectators paying a shilling to see this ‘curiosity’ of nature.
Public Advertiser, Wednesday, December 25, 1754
The Public is hereby informed that Mr. John Coan the famous Norfolk Dwarf, is to be seen, for One Shilling each person, at Mr Syme’s, the Black Peruke, facing the Mew, Charing Cross. This Man in Miniature is twenty seven years of age, barely thirty seven inches high, and thirty four pounds weight, is (contrary to the generality of small productions) straight as an arrow, of just symmetry of parts throughout the hole and perfect in his faculties, delightful in conversation, to the astonishment of all who have seen him.
In the late 1750s Christopher Pinchbeck established the ‘Dwarf Garden’ at Chelsea where John soon became a fixture entertaining visitors with other persons of his stature. However, by 1762 John began to show the infirmities normally associated with someone much older. His health was showing clear signs of failing; his skin was wrinkled and sallow. Despite this he was fond of wearing bright clothing; sometimes blue and gold, other times purple and silver. Due to his small stature the cost of having clothes made for him was easily within his reach.
For a brief time John lived and performed at The Dwarf’s Tavern in Chelsea Fields which ran along with the proprietor of the neighbouring Star & Garter became extremely popular due to John being regarded as such an oddity, not to mention to excellent food that was served such as ham, collared eels, potted beef washed down with bright wine and punch like nectar.
John died at The Dwarf’s Tavern on the 16th March 1764 according to The Daily Advertiser, dated 17th March 1764,yet despite his premature death his ‘manager’ decided he could make still some money from John unique physique and exhibited his body for as long as possible. John was finally laid to rest on the 14th April 1764 at St Luke’s, Chelsea.
Edward Bamfield or Bamford (1732-1768), the ‘Staffordshire Giant’.
The corpse of Mr Bamford, usually called the giant, was interred in a vault in St Dunstan’s, Fleet Street, London, Nov. 10. He died in the 36th year of his age, of a fever, and has left a widow, and three young children, one of which was baptised on the morning of the day he died. He was seven feet four inches high. It is said that 200l. would have been given for his body, could the surgeons have had it for dissection.
To many people the life of Hannah Norsa, the first Jewish actress to take to the London stage, is unknown, but she was another of the stars performing at Drury Lane, so we simply had to tell her story, especially as it interweaves with the lives of other well known theatre folk of the period. We are also delighted to have found some new information to add to what was already known about her.
Hannah Norsa appeared on the stage for the first time on 16th December 1732 in the part of Polly Peachum in the Beggar’s Opera, following in the footsteps of Lavinia Fenton who had bagged herself a Duke as a lover following her tenure in the role.
Miss Norsa was the daughter of Isaac (or Issachar) Norsa, an Italian Jew from Mantua in northern Italy who, in 1717, was living in Brydges Street in Covent Garden where he co-owned the Green Cannister tavern with his brother Abraham. Prior to that, from 1713, Isaac had owned the Cocoa Tree Chocolate House on the south side of Pall Mall. In 1722, the two brothers took over the Punch Bowl Tavern in Drury Lane which they were still owners of in 1736 at Abraham’s death and so Hannah grew up around the Covent Garden theatres. Isaac also seems to have operated as a warehouseman in Covent Garden, possibly in the capacity of a tea merchant, in the 1730s and he died in 1748, being buried in a ‘handsome manner’ at the Jews Burial Ground at Mile End.
Hannah’s mother was most probably Esther de Aharon de Chaus who married Ishac de Jehosuah Norca (Isaac) at the Bevis St. Mark’s Synagogue in January 1714; she died in 1738 and was buried in the same cemetery that Isaac was to be laid to rest in a decade later.
Hannah, who couldn’t have been more than eighteen years of age when she took to the stage if her parents had married in 1714, captivated just as much in the role of Polly Peachum as Lavinia Fenton had done, and in other roles for just over three years before she was taken off the stage by Robert Walpole, Earl of Orford from 1745 and son of Britain’s first Prime Minister, with whom she lived as his mistress until his death in 1751. He intended to marry her once his current wife would conveniently die and leave the way clear; unfortunately, this lady outlived her husband, putting paid to that scheme but Hannah lived at Houghton Hall in Norfolk with him, in every way but one his wife. Hannah also occupied a small house at Stanhoe near King’s Lynn owned by Walpole.
Hannah gave Robert one son, born illegitimately and who must have died young as no mention is found of him subsequently. This son, named Robert for his father, was born on the 12th August 1740 and baptised a month later on the 11th September at St. Margaret’s in Westminster, the register recording Hannah’s surname incorrectly.
Robt s: to the Rt Honble Robt Ld Walpole by Hannah Horsah
In Memoirs of a Royal Chaplain, 1729-1763; the Correspondence of Edmund Pyle, D.D. is the following letter from Barbara Kerrich, wife of the Rev. Samuel Kerrich, to her spinster sister, dated 18th October 1749:
To tell you ye truth I made Mrs Norsa a vissit first my Lord ask’d me several times very kindly, I believe it was taken well, for she soon return’d it, I wouldn’t tell you of my Vissit because I didn’t know what you wou’d think of it, for I don’t know but it might be cutting a bold stroke, She is a very agreeable Woman, & Nobody ever behav’d better in her Station, She have every body’s good word, and bear great Sway at Houghton, She is every thing but Lady, She came here in a Landau & Six horses & one Mr Paxton a young Clergyman with her.
Barbara Kerrich’s sister Elizabeth Postlethwayt replied nine days later, saying:
I think you cou’d not well avoid making a visit to Mrs Norsa without disobliging my Lord and ’tis a thousand pityes a Lady that can behave so well should fail in so great a point.
Horace Walpole wrote of being at Vauxhall Gardens in 1750 and inviting from the next box there ‘my brother Orford . . . with his Norsa’. An encounter with Hannah’s father was also recounted by Horace Walpole; he had been present at the trial of the rebel Jacobite lords in 1746 as his brother, Robert Walpole, Earl of Orford, auditor of the Exchequer, had a gallery which ran along the side of the court at Westminster. Walpole was amused by the sentence by the prisoners peers of ‘Guilty, upon my honour’ and wrote that he ‘was amused too, with old Norsa, the father of my brother’s concubine, and old Jew that kept a tavern . . . I said ‘I really felt for the prisoners!’ Old Issachar replied, ‘Feel for them! Pray if they had succeeded, what would become of all us?’
Horace also wrote on the 26th June 1747 about the fashion for men of fortune to keep an actress as a mistress.
This Lord [Lord Luxborough] keeps Mrs Horton the player; we keep Miss Norsa, the player; Rich, the harlequin, is an intimate of all, and to cement the harlequinity, somebody’s brother (excuse me if I am not perfect in such genealogy) is to marry the Jewess’s [Miss Norsa’s] sister.
Robert Walpole’s will, written less than two months before his death, is very short and to the point. He appoints Lord Walpole his son his sole executor and hopes he will take the advice of his uncles Edward and Horatio Walpole in the execution of it, he leaves £200 per year to a Robert Robertson for the term of his life, to his servants a years wage and asks that Lord Walpole will ‘take care that Mrs Norsa have her judgment well served to her.’ Walpole died in debt and some reports say he had squandered a £3000 legacy which Hannah had received from her father and which she had loaned to him.
Hannah, after Walpole’s death and pursued by his creditors, took refuge for a while in the house of John Rich. Rich (1692-1761), who invented the art of pantomime, was a former libertine, actor and manager of the Covent Garden Theatre. He had been reformed by his third wife, Priscilla Wilford, who had herself previously been on the London stage, performing under the name of Mrs Stevens, before that having worked as a barmaid and waitress at Brett’s Coffee-house in St. James’s Square; all three of Rich’s wives had been actresses.
Priscilla had lived with John Rich as his housekeeper and mistress for some years before he married her in 1744 whilst continuing to act for his company. She converted to Methodism, shunned alcohol and any form of licentiousness and transformed her hard living husband. In 1747 the following was written about John Rich:
Mr R__h, to be sure, has been a great Libertine in his Time, and much given to the Flesh; but now, Glory be to G_d for it, the manifestation of the Proverb is happily come to pass in him, viz.
Never too late to mend: And tho’ he has been to blame heretofore, yet Solomon and David were much addicted to Women. And if Mr R__h hath err’d and stray’d in that point, yet he is now like the lost Sheep that is found: He hath now turn’d the Brothel into a Temple, and he kneeleth to pray where he hath kneel’d heretofore to ____.
John Rich, when he died, left his wife Priscilla as joint manager, while she remained a widow, of his Covent Garden theatre along with his son in law John Beard. If Priscilla was to remarry she was to be replaced by her brother, Edward Wilford.
The whole set was well known to the actress George Anne Bellamy, a contemporary of theirs. She says that Hannah Norsa (who she names as Miss Nassau) was the intimate friend of Priscilla during her time on the stage and that it was Priscilla who advised her friend to place herself under the protection of Walpole.
Priscilla’s brother, Edward Wilford had a dual career, that of a clerk in the Exchequer office (under Robert Walpole, Earl of Orford) and also employed at the Covent Garden theatre both as a pit doorman and in the theatre treasury. On the 23rd July 1746, he married Rachael Norsa, sister of Hannah, at Roehampton in Surrey. A newspaper article announcing the marriage stated that Rachael’s father was the Earl of Orford’s steward and that she was possessed of a considerable fortune coupled with great beauty (Horace Walpole’s letter of 1747 above indicates that his knowledge was a little out of date!)
Rachael might have been the ‘Little Miss Norsa’ who appeared with her brother ‘Master Norsa’ on the London stages in the mid 1730s, both of these two appearing at a Covent Garden benefit performance for Hannah on the 29th April 1735 and also being part of the company of ‘Lilliputians’, comprised mainly of the children of London actors. Priscilla again was responsible for this union between her brother and the sister of her friend according to George Anne Bellamy, knowing that, as Walpole was Auditor of the Exchequer, she was ensuring that her brother would gain a fortune from the places within his gift.
The marriage produced two sons, Richard Rich Wilford born c.1754 and George John Wilford and by 1756 the family was living in New Palace Yard in Westminster. The back windows of their house looked out onto the back windows of a house on the neighbouring Bridge Street occupied by a Mr John Berkley, the two being very close together. This gentleman, who was a clerk in the Exchequer alongside Mr Wilford, had been introduced to Mrs Wilford by her husband and they began to visit one another when Edward Wilford was from home, often signalling to each other that the moment was an opportune one by means of a candle placed in their respective back garret windows. Mr Berkley had, on occasion, had to escape from the Wilford’s back garret window when the master of the house came home unexpectedly, from which he was able to climb to his own garret window.
On another occasion, he had to run down to the kitchen and hide in the coal hole. All this was testified to by Ann Hipkin, one of the Wilford’s house servants, at a hearing for a divorce bill which Edward Wilford brought against his wife. Ann Hipkin also told of hearing both the noise of the easy chair in the back parlour and some ‘expressions of her mistress’ emanating from the room whilst she was in there with Berkley which led to her belief that ‘her Mistress was then in the Act of Adultery with Mr. Berkley.’ Mary Nash, another of the servants, gave similar evidence.
Edward Wilford had, at last, become aware of his wife’s infidelities and turned her out of the house on the 10th March 1758. She never returned there. At a ‘criminal conversation’ trial, Edward Wilford was awarded damages of £500 and John Berkley petitioned that this was an excessive amount as his salary only amounted to £50 a year, but the decision stood. Wilford petitioned the House of Lords for a divorce to be granted, which would enable him to marry again, and this was heard in 1759 although it does not seem to have been finalised.
John Berkley was living in Westminster in 1768 and still of His Majesty’s Exchequer, when he made his will, being weak in health, leaving all to his dear wife Ann Berkley, making no mention of Rachael. He died shortly after.
By the 1770s Edward Wilford was living in a house in Ranelagh, Chelsea with his widowed sister, Priscilla Rich. In September 1776 the two were out taking the air in their phaeton near their Chelsea home when an empty brick card drawn by four horses and with two men driving them at a furious rate collided with them, taking a wheel off the phaeton and overturning it, throwing out the two occupants. Priscilla Rich dislocated her arm and the cart passed over Edward Wilford’s body leaving him badly bruised and with blood pouring from his nose, mouth and ears. He was expected to die but managed to pull through. One of the men driving the brick cart was sentenced to a year in Newgate in an attempt to deter others from committing a similar offence.
Priscilla died in 1783, leaving £100 of bank stock to the Theatrical Fund established at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden; her brother Edward, her executor, when carrying out her wishes gave an equal donation from his own pocket. In her will, written in 1778, she also left ten guineas to her old friend Hannah Norsa (stated as of Brompton Road at that date) for her to buy a mourning ring to remember her by; Rachael was not mentioned but Priscilla was obviously still well disposed to Hannah.
In 1766 Hannah Norsa, describing herself as a spinster, was living in Rotterdam in Holland, by 1769 she was back in England, living on Bridge Street in St. Margaret’s Westminster (where John Berkley had lived) and she died in August 1784 at Brompton Row in Kensington. She left a considerable fortune in her will (proven 29th October 1784), giving rise to speculation that she had kept the £3000 she had received from her father safe from Walpole’s debts and from his creditors. Edward Wilford was called to her lodgings on the morning after her death and it was he who took possession of Hannah’s paperwork and testamentary documents, taking them back to his house at Chelsea. In Hannah’s will, her sister is still described as the wife of Edward Wilford. Edward himself died in July 1789 at his Chelsea home. At the time of his death, he was Chief Clerk to the Auditor of the Receipt of his Majesty’s Exchequer and Clerk of the Debentures.
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.
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.
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.
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 hometown 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 after 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.
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 after 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 was 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 after Meden but it is open to conjecture as to whether he was father or godfather to the baby. All we can say with certainty is that Hugh John Steele was named as the father in the baptism register, 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.
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 into 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 mentioned in the Memoirs whom she had known from childhood; he did exist.
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 Luttrell 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.
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 it 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 that this will actually existed, however.
Although Elizabeth tolerated Sophia’s lovers, she took a special 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 ghostwriter 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.
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 was 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.
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 all 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 in our previous article on Sophia.
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.
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?
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. On 3rd May 1764, Jonathan 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:
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
My Lord Your Lordship’s most dutiful humble Servant
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
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.
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