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
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.