Third time lucky for the actress, Ann Street Barry (1733-1801)

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.

'Lady Molineux' by James Watson, printed for Robert Sayer, after Tilly Kettle.
‘Lady Molineux’ by James Watson, printed for Robert Sayer, after Tilly Kettle. © National Portrait Gallery, London

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.

Spranger Barry. The Garrick Club Collections
Spranger Barry. The Garrick Club Collections

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.

Crow Street Theatre, Dublin
Crow Street Theatre, Dublin

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, by  H. Edridge, 1806
John Ord, by  H. Edridge, 1806

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.

A less than flattering comment about Ann appeared in the Kentish Gazette, 27th October 1797
A less than flattering comment about Ann appeared in the Kentish Gazette, 27th October 1797

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.

Sources used

A Century of Great Actors 1750-1850

The Life of John Philip Kemble

Letters addressed to Mrs Bellamy, occasioned by her Apology

Bury and Norwich Post December 9th, 1801

True Briton April 14th, 1798

Featured Image 

© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Richard Wroughton (1749-1822): Actor

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.

Richard Wroughton as Barnwell. courtesy of V&A Museum
Richard Wroughton as Barnwell. courtesy of V&A Museum

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 Wroughton as Essex in "The Earl of Essex". Courtesy of University of Illinois
Richard Wroughton as Essex in “The Earl of Essex”. Courtesy of University of Illinois

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.

Ipswich Journal 22 July 1786
Ipswich Journal 22 July 1786

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.

A theatrical candidate for manager of Drury Lane including Wroughton
A theatrical candidate for manager of Drury Lane including Wroughton

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.

Featured Image

Richard Wroughton, by Robert Laurie, published by William Richardson, after Robert Dighton mezzotint, published 10 July 1779. Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery

Miss Jenny Davis as a bride, 1780

Charles Davis (or Davies) was a painter and artists’ supplier who lived in Bath in the eighteenth-century. In 1778 he placed an advertisement in the Bath Chronicle which both promoted his own business and offered a house in Westgate Buildings for rental. The house was taken by another painter, Thomas Beach, who evidently got to know the Davis family very well for he painted Charles Davis as well as three other members of the family.

CHARLES DAVIS, Painter, the lower end of Westgate-street, near King’s mead-square, sells on the best terms, – All sorts of fine Colours, dry or prepared in oil or water… Crayons… N.B. A convenient House, with four rooms on a floor, situate in Westgate-Buildings, to lett.

East view of Bath Abbey c1805 (Victoria Art Gallery)
East view of Bath Abbey c1805 (Victoria Art Gallery)

Charles Davis had married Hannah Rotten in 1764 at St. James’s in Bath. Thomas Beach’s portrait of Hannah was executed shortly before her death in 1782.

Mrs Charles Davis (1726-1782) by Thomas Beach. Victoria Art Gallery
Mrs Charles Davis (1726-1782) by Thomas Beach; Victoria Art Gallery

The Davis’ only daughter was known as Jenny but was probably the Ann Davis born in Bath in 1766. She was painted by Thomas Beach twice.

Miss Jenny Davis by Thomas Beach. Victoria Art Gallery
Miss Jenny Davis by Thomas Beach; Victoria Art Gallery

In the second portrait of her, painted c.1780, Jenny is portrayed as a bride but it would be a further two years before she actually walked down the aisle of Bath Abbey to marry John Langton, a wholesale linen-draper from Cheapside. She married as Jenny Davis, on 16th April 1782, by licence and with the consent of her father; if hers is the baptism found in 1766 then she was only aged around 16-years at the time of her wedding and was a mere 14-years-of-age when she posed as a bride for Thomas Beach.

Miss Davis as a Bride by Thomas Beach. Victoria Art Gallery
Miss Davis as a Bride by Thomas Beach; Victoria Art Gallery

Eight years later, in 1790, the Davis’ eldest son, Charles Davis Jr, married Lydia Winter; by this union they are the grandparents of the noted Bath architect Major Charles Edward Davis. Lydia was also painted by Thomas Beach, after her marriage. (This painting is incorrectly noted in some sources as being the image of Charles Davis Senior’s second wife.)

MARRIAGES – Thursday, at St. Andrew’s church, Holborn, Mr. Charles Davis, jun. of Bath, to Miss Lydia Winter, of New Ormond-street.

Mrs Charles Davis, Grandmother of Major C.E. Davis by Thomas Beach. Victoria Art Gallery
Mrs Charles Davis, Grandmother of Major C. E. Davis by Thomas Beach; Victoria Art Gallery

Charles Davis Senior married for a second time on 18th October 1792, to Dorothy Townley. The marriage took place at St George’s in Bloomsbury. Dorothy was the sister-in-law of the Bath born actor, Richard Wroughton, who trod the boards of both the Covent Garden and Drury Lane theatres to some acclaim, and who was later a theatre manager. He was an ‘actor of the old school, in which he always maintained a most respectable rank; and as a private Gentleman he was throughout life deservedly respected and esteemed’. Dorothy was mentioned alongside Richard Wroughton in the will of the actress Elizabeth Bennet who died in 1791. Richard Wroughton’s first wife had been Joanna Wroughton.

MARRIAGES – Mr. Charles Davis, of Mount Beacon, near Bath, to Miss Townley, sister-in-law to Richard Wroughton, Esq; of Charlotte-street, Bloomsbury.

Charles Davis (1741-1805) by Thomas Beach. Victoria Art Gallery
Charles Davis (1741-1805) by Thomas Beach; Victoria Art Gallery

 

Sources used:

Dictionary of pastellists before 1800 (online edition), Neil Jeffares

British and Irish Paintings in Public Collections: An Index of British and Irish Oil Paintings by Artists Born Before 1870 in Public and Institutional Collections in the United Kingdom and Ireland by Christopher Wright and Catherine May Gordon. (Yale University Press, 2006)

The Collected Letters of Robert Southey, part two: 1798-1803, edited by Ian Packer and Lynda Pratt.

A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers and Other Stage Personnel in London, 1600-1800, volumes 1 and 2, Philip H. Highfill, Kalman A. Burnim and Edward A. Langhans. (SIU Press, 1973)

A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers and Other Stage Personnel in London, 1600-1800: W. West to Zwingham, Philip H. Highfill, Kalman A. Burnim and Edward A. Langhans. (SIU Press, 1993)

Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 18th April 1782

Kentish Gazette, 23rd April 1790 and 26th October 1792.

Bell’s Weekly Messenger, 10th February 1822

Mrs Bridget the Norwood Gipsey

We came across a book written in 1790 entitled The Universal Fortune Teller and concerning a gipsy, Mother Bridget of Norwood, one of the infamous Norwood gipsies who died in 1768. The Norwood gipsies lived in the area now known as Gipsy Hill. The book gives us a description of  Mother Bridget along with details of fortune-telling, some of which we can share with you.

mother-bridget-of-norwood

According to the book, Mother Bridget’s parents died when she was young and she was left to raise herself and managed to support herself by begging. She gained knowledge of the solar system by spending her nights, when it was clear, considering the stars as the greatest astrologers had done and this gave her a great knowledge of the weather, the alterations of the air and the effect it had. With her knowledge and understanding, she advised local farmers about growing crops and they would seek her out for her opinion as to when to they should sow their seeds for the best crop yield.

British (English) School; Two Girls Consulting a Gipsy Fortune-Teller; National Trust, Felbrigg Hall; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/two-girls-consulting-a-gipsy-fortune-teller-171228
British (English) School; Two Girls Consulting a Gipsy Fortune-Teller; National Trust, Felbrigg Hall

She was described as a solitary person, preferring to avoid noise and society in general which initially led to her being ridiculed, but eventually, she gained respect.

Her fame began to spread and her presence became universal, other people apart from farmers and her neighbours consulted her and the truth of her predictions made her veracity gain ground and she became the topic of conversation of the politest circles, many of whom came to consult her, and as she never asked for money so the unbounded generosity of those who applied to her oracle put her in possession of money more than sufficient to keep her.

love-marriage-and-destiny

As she grew older she became increasingly fond of animals, who were her chief companions and she was said to have hundreds of them.  Dogs and cats were her main companions during her retirement. She was exceedingly fond of pipe tobacco and was continually smoking. Ultimately though, as a result of sitting for such long periods of time her body became almost doubled, which, together with her enormous length of nose and chin, her pipe and the number of animals about her, made her cut a most hideous figure and appeared rather terrifying to those who were not apprised of it.

Morland, George; Gipsy Camp; The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/gipsy-camp-39194
Morland, George; Gipsy Camp; The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds

Though this famous old woman had never been taught to write, yet by long practice, she had developed a system of hieroglyphics in which she recorded her observations, knowledge and remarks. The author of the book took Mother Bridget’s hieroglyphics and converted them into English. The remainder of the book consists of:

Fortune telling by use of the planets, cards and dice etc

Interpretation of dreams

A brief prognostication concerning children born on any day of the week

And amongst many other things the art of palmistry. palmistry

Now, be honest, you did look at your own hand after viewing this image didn’t you? We did! To find out more about any of these topics we recommend taking a peek at the book itself which can be read for free, online.

 The Norwood gipsies became synonymous with that area, so much so that in 1777 a pantomime was written about them and was performed at Covent Garden Theatre for many years.

Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, Monday, November 24, 1777.

Covent-Garden Theatre

Ladies and Gentlemen who have places for the 7th night of the new comic opera will please observe it will on Wednesday next. Tomorrow the tragedy of Sir Thomas Overbuy, to which was be added a new pantomime (never performed) called the Norwood Gipsies, which new music, scenes, machinery decorations etc.

Covent Garden Theatre from Microcosm of London, courtesy of British Library

Covent Garden Theatre 1808 fire and rebuild

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.

Covent Garden Theatre. As altered prior to opening on 15th September 1794. Courtesy of British Museum
Covent Garden Theatre. As altered prior to opening on 15th September 1794. Courtesy of British Museum

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.

Covent Garden Theatre from Microcosm of London, courtesy of British Library
Covent Garden Theatre from Microcosm of London, courtesy of British Library

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’. Ruins of old Covent garden after the fire 1808 V and A  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.

Gillray’s caricature of the Kemble family going to the Duke of Northumberland for funds as Covent Garden burned. Courtesy of the British Library
Gillray’s caricature of the Kemble family going to the Duke of Northumberland for funds as Covent Garden burned. Courtesy of the British Library

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.

Robert Smirke. Courtesy of Royal Academy of Arts
Robert Smirke. Courtesy of the Royal Academy of Arts

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.

Robert Smirk's drawing of the new Covent Garden theatre, courtesy of the British Museum.
Robert Smirk’s drawing of the new Covent Garden theatre, courtesy of the British Museum.

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.

New theatre description

The following day a correction was published regarding some parts of the description of the theatre, this article provides a much more detailed description

New build - correction wrong info supplied

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.

Sarah Siddons and Philip Kemble in Macbeth
Sarah Siddons and Philip Kemble in Macbeth

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.

Theatre tickets for Covent Garden, 1809
Theatre tickets 1809. Courtesy of the British Museum
Caricature of the Old Price riots!
Caricature of the Old Price riots!

Sophia and Robert Baddeley

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

Sophia Baddeley (née Snow) and Robert Baddeley

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

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

Charles baptized  1st July 1733

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

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

Then a further Valentine baptized  17th May 1739.

Jonathan baptized  2nd December 1740

Anglesey baptized 6th December 1742

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sophia Baddeley
Sophia Baddeley

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

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

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

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

Mrs Baddeley in the character of Joan la Pucelle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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