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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 . . .
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.
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 (néeSnow) and Robert Baddeley
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 previously. The 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.
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.