Riot at the King’s Theatre on 1st May 1813

On Saturday 1st May 1813 at the King’s theatre a serious disturbance broke out, proceeding apparently a call from the audience for the reappearance of Madame Catalani, who had withdrawn her services from the theatre as they had not paid her monies owed for previous performances.

Mme Angelique Catalani de Valabregue, J.F. Moeller (1797-1871). 1829
Mme Angelique Catalani de Valabregue, J.F. Moeller, 1829. Courtesy of National Museum of Denmark

At the start of the performance (Pucitta’s La caccia di Enrico IV), there were some hisses and boos, which increased as the performance continued, with calls of ‘Off, Off’ Taylor! Manager’. No-one took any notice and the curtain dropped amidst the noise, which rendered the latter part of the performance inaudible.

After a brief interval, the curtain rose again for the next part of the performance and the boos and hisses grew louder. The performance continued with the actors playing the role of dead French soldiers strewn across the stage, noises began behind the scenes too and the performance stopped. The audience had at this point stormed the stage, the scenery of trees and mountains now began to shake; the ‘dead’ French soldiers got up and joined their companions, the dancers fled the scene like a flock of sheep.

A riot at the King's theatre, Haymarket, London, on 1 May 1813.
A riot at the King’s Theatre, Haymarket, London, on 1 May 1813. Coloured etching by W.H. Brooke after Satirist, 1813. Wellcome Collection

The actors in black formed a complete contrast to the soldiers. Here, in true Buonaparte style, the drop fell, to prevent the public discovery of the chaos ensuing on stage, but they could not hide it all, as the feet of the flying Frenchmen now visible due to the shortness of the drop. The drop was now torn to pieces and the audience discovered the victors who were cheered.

A gentleman now, for the time came forward, surrounded by the storming party, and after much difficulty was heard. He was addressed by an orator or two in the pit and was told that an apology for his misconduct would be expected in all the newspapers. He bowed submissively enough and gave a brief apology to the audience, although this was barely audible. The actors tried to tidy and clear the stage so that the performance could continue, but were stopped in their tracks by a party of guards who entered from the left of the stage with charged bayonets. Another fight broke out until the guards were ordered off the stage by their commanding officer. Some of the performers dressed as soldiers had their weapon thrown into the orchestra among the lamps and desks.  The orchestra panicked and fled the impending danger, gathering up every violin, bassoon and trombone and their music books as fast as possible.

Peace now seemed likely to be restored. Those who have fought bravely moved to the side boxes, shaking hands with those in the lower circle and bowing to those above, as if they had been actors performing a play. But this tranquillity was soon to come to an end as some in the gallery disapproved of the conduct of the conquerors and from among them, a short, young man walked backwards and forwards on the stage, in contempt of remonstrances, with triumphant insolence, shouting some unintelligible words in a vulgar manner. This offender was intoxicated and was dragged to the front of the proscenium and an apology insisted on upon his bended knee, or if he was not prepared to do this he would be thrown off the stage into the orchestra. They managed to get him down onto his knees, but he showed no remorse and was unwilling to apologise. His coat was pulled off, along with his waistcoat and his cravat was grabbed so tightly that he was almost throttled, he was twisted and squeezed about until he apologized properly.

The King's Theatre, Haymarket
The King’s Theatre, Haymarket by Bartholomew Howlett. Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art

All thoughts of resuming the performance were well and truly over, another spokesman made his appearance, none other than Mr Robert ‘Romeo’ Coates. Somewhat surprisingly, he quickly managed to get silence from the audience, which was somewhat surprising as he was usually received with laughter and ridicule (he really was the worst actor of the day).

Lothario, as performed by Mr Coates at the Haymarket Theatre Decemr 9th 1811
Lothario, as performed by Mr Coates at the Haymarket Theatre . © The Trustees of the British Museum

He began:

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is a great misfortune, we must allow, to be deprived of the talents of Madame Catalani, but it is of no use for us to go a rioting.

Here the party on the stage thought fit to be content with their own exertions, and with very little ceremony they drove Mr Coates off the stage. Many now left the stage and retired to the boxes. The clock was just striking twelve and the curtain finally fell.

Mr Coates again attempted to address the audience from the pit, but without any luck at all. The company departed.

Afterwards, the Lord Chamberlain issued an order, that no-one should ever be admitted behind the scenes, under penalty of withdrawing the licence from the theatre.

Sources Used

Windsor and Eton Express 2 May 1813

London Courier and Evening Gazette 3 May 1813

Featured Image

The Gay Lothario, 16th March 1813. Courtesy of the Met Museum

 

The actor and theatre manager David Garrick as Shakespeare's Richard III by William Hogarth, c.1745.

The Jubilee: David Garrick’s ode to Shakespeare, 1769

As we recounted in our earlier blog about David Garrick’s Shakespeare Jubilee held over three days in September 1769, the all too typical British weather meant that the pageant which was to have been the grand finale of the event had to be cancelled. Instead, Garrick turned his pageant into a play, The Jubilee, which premiered a month later at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane on the 14th October, running for over ninety performances.

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

The comedic actress Frances Abington was among the stars of the day who appeared; she played the Comic Muse, Thalia, a role in which she was depicted by Joshua Reynolds.

Mrs Abington (c1737 - 1815) as The Comic Muse by Joshua Reynolds.
Mrs Abington (c1737 – 1815) as The Comic Muse by Joshua Reynolds; Waddesdon.

The play was based on Garrick’s planned pageant and was also something of a tongue-in-cheek retrospective on the celebrations which had taken place in Stratford when the town had been so crowded with visitors that many had to sleep in their coaches and the persistent rain had led to flooding.

“The Stratford Jubilee was, in October, transferred to Drury-Lane. In order to give it a dramatic form, Garrick invented a comic fable, in which the inferior people of Stratford and the visitors were exhibited with great pleasantry. As it was never published, an exact account is not to be expected. We remember a scene in an inn-yard, with a postchaise standing at the remote end: when a crowd, after much diverting talk, withdrew from the place, a voice was heard from the inside of the chaise. Moody was within; he let down the blind, and, in the character of an Irishman, complained, that not being able to get a lodging, be was obliged to sleep in his chaise. He then came forward amidst bursts of applause; King soon joined him, and they two were the life of the piece. The dialogue throughout was carried on in a vein of humour. The songs that had been heard at Stratford were, occasionally, intermixed; and the whole concluded with a grand procession, in which Shakspeare’s plays were exhibited in succession, with a banner displayed before each of them, and a scene painted on the canvas to mark the play intended. A train of performers, dressed in character, followed the colours, all in dumb shew acting their respective parts. Mrs. Abington, at last, in a triumphal car, represented the Comic Muse. Dr. Arne’s music, the magnificence of the scenery and decorations, and the abilities of the actors, conspired to establish the entertainment in the public opinion in so powerful a manner, that we are assured, by a gentleman who has a collection of the playbills, that it was repeated no less than one hundred times in the course of the season. During the run of the piece, Garrick, on several intermediate nights, ascended a pulpit raised on the stage, and there spoke his Ode to the Memory of Shakspeare in a style of graceful eloquence.

Mr. Garrick delivering his Ode at Drury Lane Theatre on dedicating a building & erecting a statue to Shakespeare
Mr. Garrick delivering his Ode at Drury Lane Theatre on dedicating a building & erecting a statue to Shakespeare. Lewis Walpole Library

Garrick had lost a huge amount of his own money on the jubilee celebrations in Stratford upon Avon, but he recouped his losses and more besides during his play’s run at the Theatre Royal. Despite his losses, he would appear to have been less extravagant than his brother during the celebrations.

During the celebration of Garrick’s Jubilee, his brother George, purchased an inkstand, which the poet is said to have used, and a pair of fringed gloves, which it was assumed he had worn. David Garrick, notwithstanding all his enthusiasm for Shakspeare, was too careful of his purse to part with its contents for reliques, the genuineness of which was so questionable.

The actor and theatre manager David Garrick in His Regalia as Steward of Stratford Jubilee, 1769 by Benjamin Vandergucht
David Garrick in His Regalia as Steward of Stratford Jubilee, 1769 by Benjamin Vandergucht; Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum.

All in all, the play proved to be more of a success than the jubilee held in Stratford, at least for David Garrick.

This dramatic piece was revived by Mr. Kemble, on the 23d of April, 1816, exactly two hundred years after the death of Shakespeare, but it was not very favourably received.

Sources

The jubilee [manuscript], 1769by Garrick, David, 1717-1779; Britton, John, 1771-1857, former owner; Waldron, F. G. (Francis Godolphin), 1744-1818, former owner; Barton, Thomas Pennant, 1803-1869, former owner

Quotations from Shakespeariana: plays, Volume 1, 1825

Featured image

The actor and theatre manager David Garrick as Shakespeare’s Richard III by William Hogarth, c.1745. Walker Art Gallery.

A Audience at Drury Lane Theatre, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Tom Weston of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

Alas! Poor Tom has tumbled off the perch,

And left his gay Thalia in the lurch;

Once high he stood upon the comic pinnacle,

But when he slipp’d fell – Scrub – Sneak – Last – and Binnacle

(Epitaph to Tom Weston)

Thomas Weston was an actor/comedian who graced the stage of the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane but so much of his life seems to be told in tall tales that he has, to a certain extent, remained a man of mystery. Two facts are certain, however. That he was a great comedic actor is unquestionable, as is the fact that he was a larger than life character.

Mr Weston and Mr Garrick in the characters of Scrub and Archer in The Stratagem, 1771. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Mr Weston and Mr Garrick in the characters of Scrub and Archer in The Stratagem, 1771. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Tom was born in 1737, the son of a man who was a cook to the court of George II. Shortly after Tom’s death, his Memoir was published, by an anonymous author. In this Memoir, his father is named as Thomas Weston. However, the only man with the surname Weston who was the cook to the king, and who appears on the lists of office holders at court, is a Charles Weston. There appear to be two possible baptisms in existence; the first took place on 31st August 1737, at St Paul’s, Covent Garden with the parents named as Thomas and Elizabeth and the second on 16th October 1737, at St James, Westminster, son of Charles and Elizabeth.

If he was the son of Thomas and Elizabeth, the parish records of St Paul, Covent Garden show burials for both parents, Elizabeth on 22nd January 1755, wife of Thomas, and then Thomas’s burial on the 24th September 1757 (though Tom’s Memoirs suggest his father was alive after this date). We theorize that Tom Weston’s father was actually Charles Weston.

Covent Garden Market by Balthasar Nebot, 1737
Covent Garden Market by Balthasar Nebot, 1737; Tate

Charles Weston started off as a kitchen boy in the king’s kitchen in 1724, rising to the position of master cook to King George II in the same establishment thirty years later. A tale about Mr Weston the master cook is told in The Table Book or Daily Recreation and Information: concerning remarkable men, manners, times, seasons, solemnities, merry-makings, antiquities and novelties, forming a complete history of the year, 1827.

The Royal Table

Origin of Making the King’s Dishes with the Cook’s Names

King George II was accustomed every other year to visit his German dominions with the greater part of the officers of his household and especially those belonging to the kitchen. Once on his passage at sea, his first cook was so ill with the sea-sickness, that he could not hold up his head to dress his majesty’s dinner; this being told to the king, he was exceedingly sorry for it, as he was famous for making a Rhenish soup, which his majesty was very fond of; he therefore ordered inquiry to be made among the assistant-cooks, if any of them could make the above soup. One named Weston (father of Tom Weston, the player) undertook it, and so pleased the king, that he declared it was full as good as that made by the first cook. Soon after the king’s return to England, the first cook died; when the king was informed of it, he said, that his steward of the household always appointed his cooks, but that he would now name one for himself, and therefore asking if one Weston was still in the kitchen, and being answered that he was, “That man,” said he, “shall be my first cook, for her makes the most excellent Rhenish soup.”  This favour begot envy among all the servants, so that, when any dish was found fault with, they used to say it was Weston’s dressing: the king took notice of this, and said to the servants, it was very extraordinary, that every dish he disliked should happen to be Weston’s; “in future,” said he, “let every dish be marked with the name of the cook that makes it.”  By this means the king detected their arts, and from that time Weston’s dishes pleased him most. The custom has continued ever since, and is still practised at the king’s table.

In 1754 Mr Weston obtained the position of turnbroach for his son in the palace kitchen, which entailed turning the spit on which meat or poultry was roasting, a lowly position but one which was actually executed by a deputy. The position paid £30 a year and, of this, the deputy was paid some £7 or £8. Tom Weston seems to have lucratively retained this position until his death. It is also reported that he was made under-clerk to the clerk of the kitchen and sailed, with his father and the royal household to Holland on the way to Hanover. George II made his last visit to Hanover in April 1755, returning in the September of that year, so if Tom did indeed travel with his household this must have been the date of his trip.

King George II (1683-1760) by John Shackleton, c.1750; Government Art Collection
King George II (1683-1760) by John Shackleton, c.1750; Government Art Collection

Back home Tom spent most of his time frequenting the local public houses and theatres. Soon he was dismissed from his position of under-clerk for misbehaviour and sent to sea as a midshipman instead (as his father was determined to keep him from the stage). Samuel Foote, the actor, playwright and theatre manager, recalled that Weston was placed aboard the Warspite under the command of Sir John Bentley and, as Bentley took command of this ship in 1759, so this must be the date of young Tom’s short-lived naval career.

Weston’s genius triumphed over his father’s determinations; as soon after he was stationed on board this ship he contrived to run away; and being afraid to meet his father after this conduct, he entered into one of the strolling companies of the north, where he experienced all those strange vicissitudes of life which are so peculiarly incident to that situation.

Tom enlisted a friend in the war office to help him escape from the Warspite. This friend was persuaded to write to him whilst the ship was docked in Long Reach on the Suffolk coast before it sailed for Portsmouth, sealing the letter with an official seal, telling Tom that there was an army commission waiting for him in London. Sir John Bentley allowed Tom to go to London, bidding him to return if he did not obtain the commission. There was no commission but Tom did not return. Instead, he travelled with several acting troops before setting off for London where the Covent Garden and Drury Lane actors Ned Shuter and Richard Yates had taken booths at the Bartholomew Fair, which began every year on the 24th August and ran for two weeks. Tom engaged to play with them.

t Bartholomew's Fair, Smithfield, London; British School; 18th century; Museum of London
St Bartholomew’s Fair, Smithfield, London; Museum of London

From a booth in the George Inn yard, Shuter put on, in 1759, The French Flogg’d: or the English Sailors in America, a piece based on The Tempest. Yates had his own booth that year in the Greyhound Inn Yard where he put on a similar piece, The Ship-Wreck’d Lovers; or, French Perfidy Punished, ‘Interspersed with the comical and diverting Humours and Adventures of Lieutenant Fireball, a true English Tar; Noddy Nestlecock, a distress’d Beau; Snivel Thimble, a Taylor; Split-farthing, an old Userer; and Glisterpipe, a Finical Surgeon. Both were eminently suitable for a former young midshipman to take to the stage in. A friend got Tom an engagement with Samuel Foote and he made his first appearance on the London stage on the 28th September 1759, to the despair of his father, playing Sir Francis Gripe in Susannah Centilevre’s The Busy Body at the Haymarket. His next appearance in London was on the 28th June 1760, playing in Samuel Foote’s The Minor, and it is possible he returned to the strolling troop playing the provinces in the interim.

Samuel Foote and Thomas Weston in 'The Devil Upon Two Sticks' by Foote, Haymarket Theatre, 1768.
Samuel Foote and Thomas Weston in ‘The Devil Upon Two Sticks’ by Foote, Haymarket Theatre, 1768 (grisaille copy c.1769 after Johann Zoffany by John Finlayson); The Holburne Museum

Reputedly, he now met and married a young lady who was a milliner in the Haymarket. This unnamed lady was encouraged by Tom to take to the stage too, appearing as Lucy in The Minor. Mr and Mrs Weston travelled the provinces, returning to London to play Jerry Sneak at the Haymarket. A sojourn at Dublin (without great success) followed and then Tom was hired at Drury Lane where he was paid £3 a week.

His wife, if indeed she was so far no proof of a marriage has yet been found, had departed: she and Tom had argued whilst on tour in Wiltshire with Johnson’s Company and she took up with another actor, a Mr Price with whom she had several children, and she died around 1774 in Sunderland whilst on tour.

Tom, back in London, lived in St James’s Street above a glass shop with a lady named Miss Lee during a short-lived liaison which reputedly saw her debut on stage at the Haymarket as Cherry in The Beaux’ Stratagem. She was mentioned in the 1773 edition of Harris’s List of Covent Garden Ladies.

Miss Lee. Glass Shop, St. James’s-street

“Doats upon the silliest things.”

This lady had a connexion with a comedian of Drury-lane, which has lately been broke off, for what cause we cannot say, and madam now depends upon the generous public for support; but she is not unacquainted with the business, she is only returned to her old calling. She is a pretty black girl, about the middle size, with remarkable find dark eyes and hair. Her skin is very good, a little pock-marked, and not a bad companion.

She has performed two or three little characters at Foote’s and came off decently; and ’tis said she intends to take up with the stage, and live honest:- Very honestly intended; but we are afraid it is not a school to cause such a happy reformation.

Always short of cash, Tom was perpetually chased by creditors and, to evade them, often missed rehearsals and even performances, behaviour which led to his discharge from the theatre but Samuel Foote stepped in to help, starting a subscription among the nobility to pay Tom’s debts and taking Tom with him to Edinburgh at £5 a week.

The actor, playwright and theatre manager, Samuel Foote by Jean François Colson, 1769; National Portrait Gallery, London
Samuel Foote by Jean François Colson, 1769; National Portrait Gallery, London

At this time, Tom’s boon companion was Dick Hughes, brother to Mrs Elizabeth Steele (who was the confidante of the actress Sophia Baddeley). Dick was, apparently, famed for being able to hop upon one leg for an hour without changing and able to scale a brick wall with ease, a trick which got him in and out of the King’s Bench prison where he was often held for debt. When Tom was drunk he was inclined to be saucy and to get himself into trouble; Dick Hughes was the one to pacify the situation before it came to blows.

On one night Tom and Dick had been out at The Black Lion tavern and were returning home in the early hours of the morning, rolling drunk, when they met two women, described in Tom’s Memoirs as ‘a couple of Dulcineas, whose garb did not promise any great things.’  Tom feeling amorous, they followed the women to their lodgings in Mutton Lane, Holborn, ‘a most desirable situation, being surrounded with dunghills, pig styes, slaughterhouses, and many other equally as agreeable neighbours.’  Tom, when he awoke in the morning, was rather pleased with his conquest for, although she was coarse in manner, she was young, pretty and in the full bloom of health. This girl was named Martha and continued as his lover for the rest of Tom’s life, taking his surname although we doubt there was a marriage.

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

Foote reconciled Tom and the managers of the Drury Lane Theatre and had his wage increased to £5 a week, with a further twenty shillings for the lady who called herself Mrs Weston. Tom was now a habitual drunkard, often appearing on-stage intoxicated but never forgetting his lines. He continued to evade his creditors which led to various adventures in getting to the theatre for his performance.  For one whole season, he entered by the upper dressing room window which he was able to access, unnoticed, via the Tennis Court in St. James. Dick Hughes went ahead of him each time as an advance guard to make sure the coast was clear.

Tom’s drinking took its toll. The Public Advertiser on the 22nd December 1775, reported that The School for Wives, which had been deferred at the Drury Lane Theatre on account of Mr Weston’s illness, would be performed soon after Christmas.

Reports of his death at his lodgings in Newington appeared in the newspapers soon after, but the Morning Chronicle stated on the 3rd January 1776, that:

Mr. Weston, we hear, is not dead; but so dangerously ill, that he is given over by his physicians.

His death is generally acknowledged to have occurred on the 18th January 1776, although the newspapers were giving reports of his passing from the 30th December 1775. Even in the matter of his death, he continues to leave vague reports behind him!

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

It was said that, in the days leading up to his death, Tom had drawn up a facetious mock last will and testament. This was vehemently denied by Martha Weston, and a document purporting to be his genuine will was given, one witnessed by his old friend Richard (Dick) Hughes. Richard Hughes also sent a letter to the papers in support of Martha Weston, affirming the truth of this. If this second will was genuine we can, however, find no record of it being proved and it was, after the religious preamble, particularly short and sweet.

First I give and bequeath my all to Martha Weston; and lastly my Scrub’s wig to Ned Shuter.

Thomas Weston

Witness, D. Holdstock, Richard Hughes and Henry Kaylock

For those who are interested, the mock will (which still has people arguing over its authenticity) is given below.

Mr. WESTON’s WILL

One afternoon, a few weeks before Mr. WESTON died, seeing a pen and ink upon the table, he said to a friend who was sitting with him, “If you’ll write for me, I’ll make my will,” which his friend accordingly did, and Tom dictated in the following manner:

I Thomas Weston, comedian, hating all form and ceremony, shall use none to my will, but proceed immediately to the explaining my intentions.

Imprimis. As from Mr. Foote I derived all my consequence in life, and as it is the best thing I am in possession of, I would, in gratitude at my decease, leave it to the said Mr. Foote, but I know he neither stands in need of it as a author, actor, or as a man; the public have fully proved it in the two first, and his good-nature and humanity have secured it to him in the last.

Item. I owe some obligations to Mr. Garrick, I therefore bequeath him all the money I die possessed of, as there is nothing on earth he is so very fond of.

Item. Though I own no obligations to Mr. Harris, yet his having shewn a sincere regard for the performers of his theatre, (by assisting them in their necessities, and yet taking no advantage thereof, by driving a Jew bargain at their signing fresh articles) demands from me, as an actor, some acknowledgement, I therefore leave him the entire possession of that satisfaction which must naturally result on reflecting, that during his management, he has never done any thing base or mean to sully his character as an honest man, or a gentleman.

Item. I having played under the management of Mr. Jefferson, at Richmond, and received from him every politeness, I therefore leave him all my stock of prudence, it being the only good quality I think he stands in need of.

Item. I give to Mr. Reddish a grain of honesty: ’tis indeed a small legacy, but being a rarity to him, I think he will not refuse to accept it.

Item. I leave to Mr. Yates all my spirit.

Item. I leave to Mrs. Yates all my humility.

Item. Upon reflection, I think it wrong to give separate legacies to a man and his wife, therefore I revoke the above bequests, and leave to be enjoyed by them jointly, peace, harmony, and good nature.

Item. Notwithstanding my illness, I think I shall outlive Ned Shuter; if I should not, I had thoughts of leaving him my example how to live, but that I am afraid would be of little use to him, I therefore leave him my example how to die.

Item. I leave Mr. Brereton a small portion of modesty. Too much of one thing is good for nothing.

Item. As Mr. Jacobs has been a long while eagerly waiting for dead mens shoes, I leave him two or three pair, (the worst I have) they being good enough in all conscience for him.

Item. Though the want of vanity be a proof of understanding, yet I would recommend to my old friend Baddeley to make use of a little of the first, though it cost him more than he would willingly pay for it. – It will encrease not only his consequence with the public, but his salary with the managers; but however, should his stomach turn against it, as nauseous, he may use for a succedaneum a small quantity of opinion, and it will answer the purpose as well.

Item. Mr. Quick has long laboured to obtain the applause of the public – the method he has taken is a vague one; the surest method to obtain his end is to copy Nature. – Experientia docet.

Item. Miss Young has had some disputes with the Managers, about dressing her tail, complaining of the want of fringe, as fringe seems to be an absolute requisite in the ornamenting ladies tails, and I always loved to see them as they ought to be; I leave her therefore the fringe about the flaps of my waistcoat, in which I usually played Jerry Sneak.

Item. As I would not forget my friends, particularly old ones, I leave Charles Bannister my portrait, to be taken when I am dead, and to be worn about his neck as a memento to him, that regularity is among the most certain methods to procure health and long life.

Item. Dibble Davis claims something at my hands from the length of our acquaintance, I therefore leave him my constitution; but I am afraid when I die, it will scarcely better than his own.

Item. I leave to the ladies in general, on the stage, (if not the reality, yet) the appearance of modesty; ’twill serve them on more occasions than they are aware of.

Item. To the gentlemen of the stage, some show of prudence.

Item. To the authors of the present times, a smattering of humour.

Item. To the public, a grateful heart.

Here his voice failing him, he told his friend he would finish it as the next day, and bade him put it into his pocket, which he did; but Tom left it, as he did all his promises of amendment, only just begun.

* * * * * * *

Apart from his Memoirs, a short account of Tom’s life was included in the book The Lives of The Players written by John Galt in 1831.

Featured image:

An Audience at Drury Lane Theatre, undated, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

A curious case of child stealing in nineteenth-century London

At the beginning of March 1821 a gentleman naming himself as Mr Probus, a minister of the Episcopal Church, took lodgings at the house of an undertaker, no. 12 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden. Mr Probus was around 35 years of age, slender with a sallow complexion marked by small-pox scars, dark haired and with, as was realised too late, an ‘insinuating’ manner of address. He applied for a smart and genteel looking boy to wait on and be a companion to a young gentleman at a fine boarding-school (nearly equal to a college, he claimed) in the city of Lincoln. The boy would be brought up in a most respectable manner and given a first-class education, in return for doing little more than fetching fruit and pastries for the young gentlemen from a nearby village. He was inundated with applications.

JMW Turner's birthplace in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden. © The Trustees of the British Museum
JMW Turner’s birthplace in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden.
© The Trustees of the British Museum

Mrs Mary Ann Hurrell was the wife of a somewhat impoverished boot and shoemaker who lived at no. 27 Upper Ogle Street, Foley-lace, and at 36 Goodge Street, Marylebone. (Perhaps one address was her home and one her husband’s business premises?) She had two children from a previous marriage, a son named Benjamin Hawthorn aged 13 years and his sister, Georgiana, aged 11. Benjamin, a fine looking lad, had a good singing voice and Georgiana, every bit as charming as her brother, was articled to Mr Warburton, a professor of dancing in Burton Crescent. Mrs Hurrell saw Mr Probus’ advertisement and thought it would be an ideal opportunity for Benjamin. Accordingly, mother and son waited upon the minister on the 3rd March.

(c) National Trust, Wimpole Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
At the shoemakers shop, British School, c.1825. (c) National Trust, Wimpole Hall; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Mr Probus was especially taken with Benjamin and put his mother’s apprehensions at rest, saying that his own son was a pupil at the Lincoln academy. A Dr Nutall was to give young Benjamin a character reference but Mr Probus called on the Hurrell’s a few days later to say that he had met with a gentleman who knew Dr Nutall, who had given him every satisfaction concerning Benjamin, and there was no longer any need to call on him. The next day Mrs Hurrell took her son to Mr Probus’ lodgings where the young lad was fitted out with a new suit of clothes provided by Probus, who asked if Benjamin might stay with him that night (he had taken a bed for him at the next house). If any alarm bells were ringing for Mrs Hurrell, she ignored them.

The next day Benjamin told his mother that Mr Probus’ son was not at the Lincoln academy but had in fact died six months earlier, of water on the brain. Mr Probus now proposed to adopt Benjamin as a replacement for his own son and to bring him up as a gentleman, and also confessed that it was he who owned the boarding-school. He then asked if Mrs Hurrell would bring Georgiana to his house as he wished to ‘make her a present of a handsome dress’. The gullible woman duly did as she was bid, despite the ever-changing story, and left her two children alone with Probus. On her return, little Georgiana was so richly attired that her mother hardly recognised her.

Innocence: Head of a Young Girl by William Etty, c.1820; Paintings Collection; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/innocence-head-of-a-young-girl-32746
Innocence: Head of a Young Girl by William Etty, c.1820; Victoria and Albert Museum

Probus now wanted to take both children with him to Lincoln, promising to care for them as if they were his own and to place Georgiana with a friend of his in Lincoln who kept a school. To this the Hurrell’s consented, believing that they were giving the two children a chance to be brought up in a genteel fashion, and the little party left London for Lincoln the next day with promises to write at every opportunity. The first letter Mrs Hurrell received was dated the 17th March but written from York, not Lincoln.

Old Ouse Bridge, York by G. Wilson, c.1820; Fairfax House; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/old-ouse-bridge-york-9734
Old Ouse Bridge, York by G. Wilson, c.1820; Fairfax House

Mr Probus had swiftly abandoned any attempt at maintaining his deception. Signing himself as F[rederick] Williams, he told the wretched mother that her daughter, now renamed Caroline, was dancing on the York stage and that he ‘could sooner part with my life than with [the children]’. Georgiana added a few lines to the letter from her new ‘dear papa’ and said that they were happy. She signed herself Caroline.

Mr Hurrell replied to the letter and asked for the two children to be returned to their home but the only answer was another letter dated the 10th April, briefly saying they were too busy to write more than once a month, were all well but leaving York and asking the Hurrell’s to address any future letters to the Rev. F. Williams at Mr Smith’s, shoemaker, Stonegate, York. On the 3rd May the Hurrell’s received another letter, in the handwriting of Mr Probus aka Williams but signed by ‘Benjamin and Georgiana Frederick Jameson’ (the trio’s new surname) and written from Hull where they were performing and making a great deal of money. Their ‘father’ performed slight-of-hand tricks, Georgiana danced and Benjamin sang, to the admiration of all. They enclosed a paragraph from a Hull newspaper.

There is now performing at the Music Hall, Albion-street, in this town, a Miss Jameson, only nine years of age, a most beautiful and interesting child, In dancing she is, for her age, unrivalled, and her singing is admirable; Mr. Jameson’s slight-of-hand performance gives the greatest satisfaction; and Master Jameson, as a singer, though only 13 years old, is a second Braham. Mr. J. and his interesting young family will perform in Leeds this present Saturday evening, and on Monday and Tuesday next, when they will quit Leeds for Wakefield.

Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette, 11th May 1821.
Hull Advertiser and Exchange Gazette, 11th May 1821.

The Hurrell’s received no further communication and, worried that their children might be carried out of the country, scraped together enough money to allow Mr Hurrell to travel north in search of his stepchildren. He set off on the 1st July, heading first to York where he found that the ‘Reverend Williams’ had made a large sum of money from their exploits upon the stage before absconding the city, leaving behind a quantity of unpaid debts with the local tradesmen. Mr Hurrell tracked them to Leeds, Wakefield, Hull, Lincoln, Boston and Stamford where the ‘Reverend Williams’ had become Munro Ridgway, then to Coventry, Leicester, Doncaster and Birmingham. The imposter frequently changed his name and his supposed character, defrauding shopkeepers as he went. The trail went cold and a heartbroken Mr Hurrell returned to London and his wife. They applied to the Magistrates, who asked that the case might receive some publicity in the hope that the children could be traced, but could offer little else in the way of assistance. Mrs Hurrell, it was recorded, left the office in tears.

Stamford Mercury, 15th June 1821.
Stamford Mercury, 15th June 1821.

But the publicity had the desired effect!  On the 12th August the little troop were recognised in Billesdon, Leicestershire and the imposter was soon safely in custody in Leicester gaol. Mr Hurrell hurried there to a tearful but joyful reunion with his two step-children. Money was found for Georgiana to return to London by coach but Benjamin and his step-father had to walk the distance. But eventually they were all home and reunited. Mr Probus, alias Williams had been convicted under the Vagrant Act and, unless anyone he had defrauded acted to prosecute him, he stood to get clean away with his crime as the Hurrell’s were too poor to afford to prosecute him, much as they wished to do so. With no further mention of the fraudster in the newspapers, it would appear that is exactly what happened.

N.B. Joseph Hurrell married the widowed (and pregnant) Mary Ann Hawthorne on 18th February 1817 at St James’s in Westminster. At least three children were born to the couple, William Flower Hurrell on the 5th June 1817 and Oscar and Maria who both seemed to have died as infants. Benjamin may be the Benjamin Workman Hawthorn who was born c.1809. He grew up to be a piano forte tuner and maker and also a professor of music, relocating to Doncaster where he died in 1869.

Sources:

Stamford Mercury, 17th August 1821

Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware’s Whitehaven Advertiser, 27th August 1821

 

Header image: ‘The Wellington Coach’ (The Newcastle-York-London Mail) by John Cordrey, c.1818. Ferens Art Gallery.

The celebrated Mrs Lessingham: lover, mother, sister, daughter

In our last article on Samuel Derrick, we mentioned that he lived for a time with ‘the celebrated Mrs L’, otherwise known as the actress Jane Lessingham.  As we have managed to find out some new information on her children and relatives we thought the following might be of interest to our readers.

Mrs Lessingham in The Inconstant, Cornell University Library.
Mrs Lessingham in The Inconstant, Cornell University Library.

Jane Lessingham was born Jane Hemet around 1734, the daughter of Francis Hemet, an ‘operator of teeth’ (dentist) and his wife, the splendidly named Polehampton Feuillet whom he had married in 1725 –  both of whose families had been Huguenot refugees.

Jane was their youngest child, three older brothers having already been born of which only two, John René and Jacob Hemet surviving infancy.

Jane’s paternal grandfather Peter Hemet, had been ‘operator of the teeth’ to King George II and her brother Jacob was to fill the same post to King George III’s wife Queen Charlotte, to the Prince of Wales and to the King’s favourite daughter, Princess Amelia. Jane’s maternal grandfather, René Feuillet, was a history painter. Learn more about the Hemet family of dentists.

Francis Hemet died in 1736 and his widow, Polehampton married again in 1739 to a confectioner and grocer, John Francklin of St. Martin in the Fields, a friend of the Hemet family.

Five Francklin children, half brothers and sisters to Jane, quickly followed, another Polehampton, Edward, James, Frances Isabella and George.

Jane Hemet, when she came of age on her twenty-first birthday, could expect a small inheritance, having been named in both her father and paternal grandfathers wills.

On the 28th December 1755, at St. Paul’s Covent Garden (commonly known as the Actor’s Church), she married John Stott a widowed naval captain, Jane herself applying for the licence to enable them to marry.

The couple had lived together for little more than two years when, in February 1758, John Stott left to sail for America aboard HMS Gramont of which he was the commander. After travelling to Portsmouth to wave goodbye to her husband Mrs Jane Stott proceeded to take lodgings in London, living first in Mattock Street, Hanover Square before moving to Dean Street in the parish of St. Anne’s, Soho.

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

At around the time that John Stott had left, Jane’s half-sister Polehampton came to live with her to keep her company whilst he was away.

Before Stott had sailed the family had lived in Twickenham and Polehampton had been at a boarding school in Hounslow since the beginning of 1757. She had visited the Stott’s in Twickenham weekly, leaving the boarding school to move to London and Mattock Street with Jane in March 1758 and she remained with Jane until January 1763.

It was at the Dean Street house that Captain John Stott discovered his wife on his return to England in July 1761, visibly pregnant and with a two-year-old daughter, neither of them were his!

The daughter, Amelia, was born in Dean Street on the 7th June 1759, delivered by Dr Hunter and baptized on the 13th June 1759 at St. Anne’s, Soho, as the daughter of John and Jane Stott.

This daughter was cited in the divorce proceedings brought by John Stott against his errant wife in 1765, various witnesses testifying to both the birth of the daughter and to the impossibility of John Stott being the father.

Curiously, the child Jane had been carrying at Stott’s return was not mentioned. This child proved to be a son, named George and born on the 11th of November 1761. He was baptised fifteen days later in the same church his sister had been, again recorded as the son of John and Jane Stott.

Amongst the witnesses brought to the divorce trial was Jane’s half-sister Polehampton, who stated herself to be the wife of James Martin but lodging with Joseph Burnin of Litchfield Street in St. Anne’s Soho. Her testimony was dated the 6th April 1765 and there is the possibility that she had copied the behaviour of her elder sister for in the baptismal registers of St. Anne Soho are the following two entries:

16th October 1763 – baptism of Joseph son of Joseph and Polehampton Martin

14th April 1765 – baptism of Jane Margaret daughter of Joseph and Polehampton Bernin, (the child was born the day before).

In the divorce trial, Polehampton’s husband was James and not Joseph Martin, but she would appear, in the April of 1765, to be the wife of one man whilst having a child by another with whom she is lodging. It’s also worth noting that she left Jane’s house in the January of 1763, around the same time she must have fallen pregnant with Martin’s son.

In the early days of Jane’s marriage, she first appeared on the stage in 1756, as Desdemona in Othello and Samuel Derrick has been cited as the man who first brought her to the stage although Tate Wilkinson, in his Memoirs, says that she was a pupil of John Rich in this year.

She was certainly the mistress of Samuel Derrick at some point in the 1750s and/or 1760s, even being known as Mrs Derrick for a time, one account saying this was before her marriage and another during it and with no further proof it is entirely possible that this cohabitation coincided with her husband’s absence and that Derrick was the father of one or more of the two children baptised as being Stott’s.

No possible father was named in the divorce proceedings, the proof of Jane’s infidelity being all too present in the person of her daughter, the father’s name being irrelevant to the trial.

Mrs Lessingham in the character of Flora, Cornell University Library.
Mrs Lessingham in the character of Flora, Cornell University Library.

After Jane’s initial appearance on stage in 1756 she did not appear again until February 1762. From March of that year, she used the surname Lessingham as her stage name.

Jane was reputed to take other lovers, including a naval officer senior to her husband, Admiral Boscawen, who died in 1761. If this rumour is correct he must also be a candidate for the father of one or both of her children.

The Captain referred to in the reference below is not Jane’s husband but Captain William Hanger, son of Baron Coleraine and one of the many lovers of the actress Sophia Baddeley.  It was written in 1772 at the time of his affair with Sophia but recounted the many amours of his past, which included, according to the author, Jane herself.

At the time Mrs. L____m, the actress, was supported in a most splendid manner by Admiral B___n, whilst he was gaining laurels for himself, and glory for his country abroad, the Captain most politely attended her at home, to prevent her grief becoming too violent in the absence of her naval admirer.

MEMOIRS OF CAPTAIN H___ and MRS. B____Y

Middlesex Journal or Chronicle of Liberty, 30th May 1772

Towards the end of the 1760s she became the mistress of Thomas Harris, one of the managers of the Covent Garden Theatre formerly owned by another of the people we have written about, John Rich, and was the cause of a quarrel between the theatre managers, Harris believing that she was not given the parts which she deserved.

Jane bore three sons to Harris, all baptised at the Percy Chapel in St. Pancras. The eldest, Edmund John Thomas Harris, was born on the 31st March 1768 and baptized a month later, his parents were recorded in the baptism register as Thomas and Jane Harris alias Jane Lessingham.

Just a month before his birth she was on stage at Covent Garden as Nerissa in The Merchant of Venice at a benefit performance for Charles Macklin, appearing alongside Macklin himself, his daughter Maria and Ned Shuter.

Johan Zoffany’s Charles Macklin as Shylock, detail of paintwork for Tate conservation project (www.tate.org.uk)

Jane was given a benefit at the same theatre at the end of March, her address been given as Charlotte Street at the top of Rathbone Place, Oxford Road, the actors including Miss Macklin and George Anne Bellamy.

Jane and Harris’s second son, Charles, followed shortly after, being born on the 1st June 1769 and baptized on the 18th of the same month and lastly the third son, Edwin, born on the 2nd February 1771 and baptized 10th April 1771.

The baptism register records the parents of the last two children simply as Thomas and Jane Harris.  Thomas Harris and Jane parted in 1771.   Mr H___ in the article below is obviously Thomas Harris.

To the Editor of the GENERAL EVENING POST.

Since the misfortunes and indiscretions of the fair sex seem to engross more particularly the attention of the world, than any other topic, I must beg leave, for the entertainment of your readers, to acquaint them with the enlargement of Mrs L____m – who, to the unspeakable distress of Mr. H___, has eloped to some corner of the earth, with a new paramour, utterly unknow[n] to the afflicted Menelaus. This Helen of an actress very young married to Capt. S___, of the navy – she left him for Delaval; Delaval for Boscawen; Boscawen for Pembroke; Pembroke for Colbourne; Colbourne for Mason; and Mason for H___; and alas! H___ for whom neither he nor I know. By all these she has had sweet children – Is it not a pity, that so fruitful a mother has not a consideration from Government, who has made so much food for gunpowder! Mr H___, poor gentleman, is all in the fuds upon this melancholy elopement. Could he stimulate the theatric Grecians, as the injuries of Menelaus of yore did, we might be entertained with the siege of some old castle surrounded with a moat, and defended by rooks, where this delectable run-away is supposed to be immured.

TELL-TALE

General Evening Post, 27 August 1771

Towards the end of June 1772, a Mrs Lessingham was recorded passing through Canterbury on her way to France in company with a Mr Ashley Esquire.

In the mid-1770s, whilst under the protection of Sir William Addington, Bow Street magistrate, Jane Lessingham applied for the right to build herself a lodge on Hampstead Heath. Although first granted through her influential friends, objections were raised leading to a ‘riot on Hampstead Heath’; Jane herself possibly composed a pamphlet titled ‘The Hampstead Contest’ which was inscribed to her.

She got her way, buying a cottage at Littleworth in 1776 to get around the objections and building Heath Lodge complete with pleasure grounds, enclosed from the surrounding heathland. A description of the house in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 9: Hampstead, Paddington gives it as a ‘three-storyed cube with a central semicircular bay and flanking two-storyed wings designed by James Wyatt on the model of a villa in Italy.’

Addington was then discarded for a Covent Garden actor known as a ‘teapot actor‘, possibly from his habit of standing with one hand on his hip.  As Mrs Lessingham, Jane continued to perform at the Covent Garden theatre up to 1782, largely in comedic roles which she performed best in.

The understrapper Justice of Bow-street Lock has received his dismission in form from the suite of his long admired actress, Mrs. L____m of Covent-garden Theatre, which has so much affected his worship for this fortnight past, that even his attendant thief takers pity him, and say, it will bring the old buck’s grey hairs with sorrow to the grave!

Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, 22nd April 1777

It is not known what became of Jane’s daughter, Amelia Stott; she seems to vanish without a trace from the records.

Her son George Stott was possibly buried in the churchyard at St. Anne’s in Soho on the 12th August 1772, being recorded in the register as a child from Pancras although his absence from the divorce trial may well indicate he had died previous to that.

Her three sons by Harris were all named in Jane’s will which she wrote on the 12th December 1782; she left whatever she died possessed of to Thomas Harris in trust for the sole use of these three boys, stipulating that one further son, Frederick, was to take his share if he was not better provided for.

We have not yet discovered Frederick’s birth or baptism but, as it seems that Jane hoped he would be provided for, his father was possibly a man of means. He was born c.1772 and used the name of William Frederick Williams in later life and may have penned four novels, Sketches of Modern Life; Or, Man as He Ought Not to be (1799), Fitzmaurice: A Novel in two volumes (1800), Tales of an Exile (1803) and The Witcheries of Craig Isaf (1805).

Jane signed herself as Jane Hemet on her will; she died on the 13th March 1783 at her house on Hampstead Heath and was buried on the 17th in Hampstead churchyard, the burial register and her tombstone recording her under her maiden surname.

Although her house was sold just months after her death, her will was not proved by Harris until more than a year later.  The house sold for substantially more than it had cost to erect and was bought by Lord Byron, uncle of the poet.

By Mr. BARFORD

On the premises, on Friday the 30th instant, punctua’ly at one o’clock, unless previously Let or Sold by Private Contract.

A Small, but elegant Villa, situate on the most elevated part of the north side of Hampstead Heath, with about two acres of land laid out with distinguished taste in pleasure grounds, shrubberies, and kitchen gardens, &c. This beautiful erection, entirely detached from any neighbourhood; has been the admiration of all who have seen it. To the North-east and West, a series of prospects richly adorned by the hand of Nature, and agreeably variegated by the innovations of Art, open to the view, and form a landscape replete, with every decoration that can delight the eye, or gratify the judgment. The premises are copyhold, and although at present adapted to the reception of a small family, may be considerably enlarged, and an additional quantity of land, if necessary, obtained. The contiguity of the situation to the metropolis, and the uncommon salubrity of the air, renders the whole a most amiable retreat to a person whose avocations may require an attendance in town.

To be viewed, and particulars known, by applying to Mr. Barford, Covent Garden.

Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, 19th May 1783

The elegant villa of the late Mrs Lessingham was on Friday put up by public auction, when it was bought in at the very low price of 560l. The whole expence attending this villa, including the taking up of the ground in Copyholders Court – law contests thence ensuing – enclosing – planting and building, are computed at near 3000l.

General Evening Post, 7th June 1783

Lord Byron, who bought poor Mrs Lessingham’s little Villa, near Hampstead, keeps it exactly in the order in which she left it. – His Lordship, both in this place and at Newste[a]d Abbey, shews an imagination negligent of art, and addicted to the wilder beauties of nature.

Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, 20th September 1784

After the divorce was finally granted in the late 1760s Captain John Stott married for a third time in Soho on the 18th October 1770 to a woman named Elizabeth Graham. When he wrote his will in 1771 he was Captain of his Majesty’s Ship of War the Juno and he left his entire estate to his ‘dear wife‘ whom he made sole executor of his will. He died on the 22nd August 1778, in command of a 32 gun frigate, the Minerva, in the West Indies.

Unaware that the American War of Independence had broken out and that France had declared war on Britain, he approached the Concorde, a French ship; the Concorde fired a broadside at Minerva causing an explosion of the powder held below deck. Amongst the dead and wounded was Captain John Stott, fatally injured by two wounds to his head.

Battle between the french frigate Concorde and the English frigate Minerva 22 Aug 1778 (Wikimedia)
A battle between the French frigate Concorde and the English frigate Minerva 22 Aug 1778 (Wikimedia)

These words were written of Jane in her lifetime; we are unable to say if they are applied to her fairly or unfairly:

What shall we say of LESSINGHAM, the fair,

She has of managers been long the care;

Oh, that regard would make her all their own,

And snatch a tasteless milksop from the town;

One who for parts eternally would fight,

Without the sense, or talents, to be right.

The Theatres. A Poetical Dissection by Sir Nicholas Nipclose, Baronet, 1771

[pseudonym of Francis Gentleman, Irish actor, poet and writer]

However, we shall leave her with a testament to her from one of her sons and she was obviously a much beloved and lamented mother. When she was buried at Hampstead in 1783 her memorial recorded her name as Mrs Hemet. Jane’s youngest child replaced this almost twenty years after her death with the following inscription on her tomb in the churchyard although the age given makes her about five years younger than she would actually have been.

MRS JANE LESSINGHAM,

late of the Theatre Royal

Covent Garden

Obt 13 March 1783

æt 44

Her grateful and affectionate son WILLIAM FREDERICK,

caused this tomb to be repaired, anno 1802,

as a last token of respect to her memory.

William Frederick was to die young just three years later. His last request was to be buried in the same grave as his mother, adding his name to her memorial.

WILLIAM FREDERICK WILLIAMS

died October 24th, MDCCCV,

aged 33 years.

Charles Macklin

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. 

Charles Macklin by John Opie c.1792, National Portrait Gallery
Charles Macklin by John Opie c.1792, National Portrait Gallery

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,

Comedian,

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!

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

 

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.

Johan Zoffany's Charles Macklin as Shylock, detail of paintwork for Tate conservation project (www.tate.org.uk)
Johan Zoffany’s Charles Macklin as Shylock, detail of paintwork for Tate conservation project (www.tate.org.uk)

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.

Charles Macklin as Shylock in Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice', Covent Garden, 1767/1768 by Johann Zoffany (c) The Holburne Museum
Charles Macklin as Shylock in Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’, Covent Garden, 1767/1768 by Johann Zoffany
(c) The Holburne Museum
A prospect of the city of Dublin from the Magazine Hill in his Majesty's Phoenix Park. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

Henrietta and Caroline Ambrose

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.

Henrietta Ambrose by Francis Wheatley; Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum
Henrietta Ambrose by Francis Wheatley; Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum

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.

Gibraltar by Willem van der Hagen, 1721; Government Art Collection
Gibraltar by Willem van der Hagen; Government Art Collection

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.

Rachel Therisa of Jijona, near Alicante, Spain by Francis Wheatley; Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum
Rachel Therisa of Jijona, near Alicante, Spain by Francis Wheatley
Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum

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.

Margaret 'Peg' Woffington (1714?–1760) by Philippe Mercier; National Trust, Waddesdon Manor
Margaret ‘Peg’ Woffington (1714?–1760) by Philippe Mercier
National Trust, Waddesdon Manor

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.

Church at Marylebone by James Miller.
Church at Marylebone by James Miller. Yale Center for British Art, Gift of Paul Mellon in memory of Dudley Snelgrove

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’.

A prospect of the city of Dublin from the Magazine Hill in his Majesty's Phoenix Park. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.
A prospect of the city of Dublin from the Magazine Hill in his Majesty’s Phoenix Park. Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection.

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.

Ann Catley as Euphrosyne in Milton's 'Comus', 1777. © National Portrait Gallery, London.
Ann Catley as Euphrosyne in Milton’s ‘Comus’, 1777. © National Portrait Gallery, London.

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.

Johan Zoffany's Charles Macklin as Shylock, detail of paintwork for Tate conservation project (www.tate.org.uk)
Johan Zoffany’s Charles Macklin as Shylock, detail of paintwork for Tate conservation project (www.tate.org.uk)

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.

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

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.

Caroline Ambrose by Francis Wheatley; Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum
Caroline Ambrose by Francis Wheatley
Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum

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.

Charles Macklin as Shylock in Shakespeare's 'The Merchant of Venice', Covent Garden, 1767/1768 by Johann Zoffany; The Holburne Museum
Charles Macklin as Shylock in Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’, Covent Garden by Johann Zoffany; The Holburne Museum

 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.

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

 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.

John Ambrose by Francis Wheatley; Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum
John Ambrose by Francis Wheatley
Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum

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.

Guildhall, Court of the King's Bench, from The Microcosm of London, 1809
Guildhall, Court of the King’s Bench, from The Microcosm of London, 1809

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.

Mezzotint of Sir William Garrow, 1810, held in the Harvard Law Library
Mezzotint of Sir William Garrow, 1810, held at the Harvard Law Library

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.

View of the inner court of the Fleet Prison, with the prisoners playing rackets and skittles on the left, 1807.
View of the inner court of the Fleet Prison, with the prisoners playing rackets and skittles on the left, 1807. © The Trustees of the British Museum

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 . . .

Covent Garden Market (1726), Pieter Angillis from the Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Hannah Norsa, 18th century actress: the intricacies of relationships within her circle

To many people the life of Hannah Norsa, the first Jewish actress to take to the London stage, is unknown, but she was another of the stars performing at Drury Lane, so we simply had to tell her story, especially as it interweaves with the lives of other well known theatre folk of the period.  We are also delighted to have found some new information to add to what was already known about her.

Hannah Norsa by R. Clamp, after Bernard Lens (III), stipple engraving, published 1794; National Portrait Gallery
Hannah Norsa by R. Clamp, after Bernard Lens (III), stipple engraving, published 1794; National Portrait Gallery

Hannah Norsa appeared on the stage for the first time on 16th December 1732 in the part of Polly Peachum in the Beggar’s Opera, following in the footsteps of Lavinia Fenton who had bagged herself a Duke as a lover following her tenure in the role.

Miss Norsa was the daughter of Isaac (or Issachar) Norsa, an Italian Jew from Mantua in northern Italy who, in 1717, was living in Brydges Street in Covent Garden where he co-owned the Green Cannister tavern with his brother Abraham. Prior to that, from 1713, Isaac had owned the Cocoa Tree Chocolate House on the south side of Pall Mall. In 1722, the two brothers took over the Punch Bowl Tavern in Drury Lane which they were still owners of in 1736 at Abraham’s death and so Hannah grew up around the Covent Garden theatres. Isaac also seems to have operated as a warehouseman in Covent Garden, possibly in the capacity of a tea merchant, in the 1730s and he died in 1748, being buried in a ‘handsome manner’ at the Jews Burial Ground at Mile End.

Hannah’s mother was most probably Esther de Aharon de Chaus who married Ishac de Jehosuah Norca (Isaac) at the Bevis St. Mark’s Synagogue in January 1714; she died in 1738 and was buried in the same cemetery that Isaac was to be laid to rest in a decade later.

Covent Garden Market (1726), Pieter Angillis from the Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Covent Garden Market (1726), Pieter Angillis from the Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Hannah, who couldn’t have been more than eighteen years of age when she took to the stage if her parents had married in 1714,  captivated just as much in the role of Polly Peachum as Lavinia Fenton had done, and in other roles for just over three years before she was taken off the stage by Robert Walpole, Earl of Orford from 1745 and son of Britain’s first Prime Minister, with whom she lived as his mistress until his death in 1751. He intended to marry her once his current wife would conveniently die and leave the way clear; unfortunately, this lady outlived her husband, putting paid to that scheme but Hannah lived at Houghton Hall in Norfolk with him, in every way but one his wife.  Hannah also occupied a small house at Stanhoe near King’s Lynn owned by Walpole.

Hannah gave Robert one son, born illegitimately and who must have died young as no mention is found of him subsequently.  This son, named Robert for his father, was born on the 12th August 1740 and baptised a month later on the 11th September at St. Margaret’s in Westminster, the register recording Hannah’s surname incorrectly.

Robt s: to the Rt Honble Robt Ld Walpole by Hannah Horsah

In Memoirs of a Royal Chaplain, 1729-1763; the Correspondence of Edmund Pyle, D.D. is the following letter from Barbara Kerrich, wife of the Rev. Samuel Kerrich, to her spinster sister, dated 18th October 1749:

 To tell you ye truth I made Mrs Norsa a vissit first my Lord ask’d me several times very kindly, I believe it was taken well, for she soon return’d it, I wouldn’t tell you of my Vissit because I didn’t know what you wou’d think of it, for I don’t know but it might be cutting a bold stroke, She is a very agreeable Woman, & Nobody ever behav’d better in her Station, She have every body’s good word, and bear great Sway at Houghton, She is every thing but Lady, She came here in a Landau & Six horses & one Mr Paxton a young Clergyman with her.

 Barbara Kerrich’s sister Elizabeth Postlethwayt replied nine days later, saying:

 I think you cou’d not well avoid making a visit to Mrs Norsa without disobliging my Lord and ’tis a thousand pityes a Lady that can behave so well should fail in so great a point.

Horace Walpole wrote of being at Vauxhall Gardens in 1750 and inviting from the next box there ‘my brother Orford . . . with his Norsa’.  An encounter with Hannah’s father was also recounted by Horace Walpole; he had been present at the trial of the rebel Jacobite lords in 1746 as his brother, Robert Walpole, Earl of Orford, auditor of the Exchequer, had a gallery which ran along the side of the court at Westminster. Walpole was amused by the sentence by the prisoners peers of ‘Guilty, upon my honour’ and wrote that he ‘was amused too, with old Norsa, the father of my brother’s concubine, and old Jew that kept a tavern . . . I said ‘I really felt for the prisoners!’ Old Issachar replied, ‘Feel for them! Pray if they had succeeded, what would become of all us?’

 Horace also wrote on the 26th June 1747 about the fashion for men of fortune to keep an actress as a mistress.

 This Lord [Lord Luxborough] keeps Mrs Horton the player; we keep Miss Norsa, the player; Rich, the harlequin, is an intimate of all, and to cement the harlequinity, somebody’s brother (excuse me if I am not perfect in such genealogy) is to marry the Jewess’s [Miss Norsa’s] sister.

Vauxhall Gardens by Canaletto (via Wikiart)
Vauxhall Gardens by Canaletto (via Wikiart)

Robert Walpole’s will, written less than two months before his death, is very short and to the point. He appoints Lord Walpole his son his sole executor and hopes he will take the advice of his uncles Edward and Horatio Walpole in the execution of it, he leaves £200 per year to a Robert Robertson for the term of his life, to his servants a years wage and asks that Lord Walpole will ‘take care that Mrs Norsa have her judgment well served to her.’ Walpole died in debt and some reports say he had squandered a £3000 legacy which Hannah had received from her father and which she had loaned to him.

Portrait of Robert Walpole, 2nd Earl of Orford (1701-1751) by John Theodore Heins (via Wikimedia)
Portrait of Robert Walpole, 2nd Earl of Orford (1701-1751) by John Theodore Heins (via Wikimedia)

Hannah, after Walpole’s death and pursued by his creditors, took refuge for a while in the house of John Rich. Rich (1692-1761), who invented the art of pantomime, was a former libertine, actor and manager of the Covent Garden Theatre. He had been reformed by his third wife, Priscilla Wilford, who had herself previously been on the London stage, performing under the name of Mrs Stevens, before that having worked as a barmaid and waitress at Brett’s Coffee-house in St. James’s Square; all three of Rich’s wives had been actresses.

Priscilla had lived with John Rich as his housekeeper and mistress for some years before he married her in 1744 whilst continuing to act for his company. She converted to Methodism, shunned alcohol and any form of licentiousness and transformed her hard living husband. In 1747 the following was written about John Rich:

 Mr R__h, to be sure, has been a great Libertine in his Time, and much given to the Flesh; but now, Glory be to G_d for it, the manifestation of the Proverb is happily come to pass in him, viz.

Never too late to mend: And tho’ he has been to blame heretofore, yet Solomon and David were much addicted to Women. And if Mr R__h hath err’d and stray’d in that point, yet he is now like the lost Sheep that is found: He hath now turn’d the Brothel into a Temple, and he kneeleth to pray where he hath kneel’d heretofore to ____.

Photolithograph of the actor-manager John Rich as Harlequin, carrying his slapstick, from an etching of 1753. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Photolithograph of the actor-manager John Rich as Harlequin, carrying his slapstick, from an etching of 1753. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

John Rich, when he died, left his wife Priscilla as joint manager, while she remained a widow, of his Covent Garden theatre along with his son in law John Beard. If Priscilla was to remarry she was to be replaced by her brother, Edward Wilford.

The whole set was well known to the actress George Anne Bellamy, a contemporary of theirs. She says that Hannah Norsa (who she names as Miss Nassau) was the intimate friend of Priscilla during her time on the stage and that it was Priscilla who advised her friend to place herself under the protection of Walpole. 

Priscilla’s brother, Edward Wilford had a dual career, that of a clerk in the Exchequer office (under Robert Walpole, Earl of Orford) and also employed at the Covent Garden theatre both as a pit doorman and in the theatre treasury.  On the 23rd July 1746, he married Rachael Norsa, sister of Hannah, at Roehampton in Surrey. A newspaper article announcing the marriage stated that Rachael’s father was the Earl of Orford’s steward and that she was possessed of a considerable fortune coupled with great beauty (Horace Walpole’s letter of 1747 above indicates that his knowledge was a little out of date!)

Rachael might have been the ‘Little Miss Norsa’ who appeared with her brother ‘Master Norsa’ on the London stages in the mid 1730s, both of these two appearing at a Covent Garden benefit performance for Hannah on the 29th April 1735 and also being part of the company of ‘Lilliputians’, comprised mainly of the children of London actors. Priscilla again was responsible for this union between her brother and the sister of her friend according to George Anne Bellamy, knowing that, as Walpole was Auditor of the Exchequer, she was ensuring that her brother would gain a fortune from the places within his gift.

The marriage produced two sons, Richard Rich Wilford born c.1754 and George John Wilford and by 1756 the family was living in New Palace Yard in Westminster.   The back windows of their house looked out onto the back windows of a house on the neighbouring Bridge Street occupied by a Mr John Berkley, the two being very close together. This gentleman, who was a clerk in the Exchequer alongside Mr Wilford, had been introduced to Mrs Wilford by her husband and they began to visit one another when Edward Wilford was from home, often signalling to each other that the moment was an opportune one by means of a candle placed in their respective back garret windows. Mr Berkley had, on occasion, had to escape from the Wilford’s back garret window when the master of the house came home unexpectedly, from which he was able to climb to his own garret window.

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

On another occasion, he had to run down to the kitchen and hide in the coal hole. All this was testified to by Ann Hipkin, one of the Wilford’s house servants, at a hearing for a divorce bill which Edward Wilford brought against his wife. Ann Hipkin also told of hearing both the noise of the easy chair in the back parlour and some ‘expressions of her mistress’ emanating from the room whilst she was in there with Berkley which led to her belief that ‘her Mistress was then in the Act of Adultery with Mr. Berkley.’ Mary Nash, another of the servants, gave similar evidence.

Edward Wilford had, at last, become aware of his wife’s infidelities and turned her out of the house on the 10th March 1758. She never returned there. At a ‘criminal conversation’ trial, Edward Wilford was awarded damages of £500 and John Berkley petitioned that this was an excessive amount as his salary only amounted to £50 a year, but the decision stood. Wilford petitioned the House of Lords for a divorce to be granted, which would enable him to marry again, and this was heard in 1759 although it does not seem to have been finalised.

John Berkley was living in Westminster in 1768 and still of His Majesty’s Exchequer, when he made his will, being weak in health, leaving all to his dear wife Ann Berkley, making no mention of Rachael. He died shortly after.

By the 1770s Edward Wilford was living in a house in Ranelagh, Chelsea with his widowed sister, Priscilla Rich. In September 1776 the two were out taking the air in their phaeton near their Chelsea home when an empty brick card drawn by four horses and with two men driving them at a furious rate collided with them, taking a wheel off the phaeton and overturning it, throwing out the two occupants. Priscilla Rich dislocated her arm and the cart passed over Edward Wilford’s body leaving him badly bruised and with blood pouring from his nose, mouth and ears. He was expected to die but managed to pull through. One of the men driving the brick cart was sentenced to a year in Newgate in an attempt to deter others from committing a similar offence.

Hannah Norsa, from the Lewis Walpole Library
Hannah Norsa, from the Lewis Walpole Library

Priscilla died in 1783, leaving £100 of bank stock to the Theatrical Fund established at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden; her brother Edward, her executor, when carrying out her wishes gave an equal donation from his own pocket. In her will, written in 1778, she also left ten guineas to her old friend Hannah Norsa (stated as of Brompton Road at that date) for her to buy a mourning ring to remember her by; Rachael was not mentioned but Priscilla was obviously still well disposed to Hannah.

In 1766 Hannah Norsa, describing herself as a spinster, was living in Rotterdam in Holland, by 1769 she was back in England, living on Bridge Street in St. Margaret’s Westminster (where John Berkley had lived) and she died in August 1784 at Brompton Row in Kensington. She left a considerable fortune in her will (proven 29th October 1784), giving rise to speculation that she had kept the £3000 she had received from her father safe from Walpole’s debts and from his creditors. Edward Wilford was called to her lodgings on the morning after her death and it was he who took possession of Hannah’s paperwork and testamentary documents, taking them back to his house at Chelsea. In Hannah’s will, her sister is still described as the wife of Edward Wilford. Edward himself died in July 1789 at his Chelsea home. At the time of his death, he was Chief Clerk to the Auditor of the Receipt of his Majesty’s Exchequer and Clerk of the Debentures.

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

Biographer – Elizabeth Steele (1740-1787)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabeth was no stranger then to hardship and poverty.  At around this time, she married Hugh John Steele, also a slater like her father, marriage offering an escape from the trials of her parents.  The couple lived in the St Margaret’s area of Westminster where Elizabeth had grown up, three children being born to them there, a daughter also named Elizabeth in 1762 who died within the first year of her life, another daughter named Elizabeth baptized 12th January 1763 who did survive followed quickly by a son named Hugh 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.

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

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

In September 1766 Hugh John and Elizabeth Steele baptized another child, a son named George Fred Steele, at St James in Westminster.  This son, who was born 30th August 1766, was probably named 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.

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

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

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

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

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

In the early 1770s, Elizabeth took a lease on a house in Henley, Oxfordshire, intending to settle her husband Hugh John Steele and her children there.  She mentions visiting them there throughout the Memoirs, in company with Sophia Baddeley.

She also says that she has a sister who lives in the King’s Road in Chelsea, possibly the same lady who had a husband in charge of the stores at Portsmouth (presumably at the Naval dockyard there) and who travelled to Ireland to visit Colonel 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.

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

Elizabeth had a brother named Richard Hughes, named after his father, but known as Dick Hughes, who also followed the profession of slater but who was also involved with the theatre folk.

He was a companion of the comedian Tom Weston and shared a house with him in Kilburn, ostensibly as his servant but really to act as a bully-boy to ward off Weston’s creditors.  Tom Weston was a contemporary of Sophia’s husband, Robert Baddeley, the two men both starting off as a cook before taking to the stage.  When Weston died in 1776 a purported mock will was put about, leaving satirical bequests to various people.  To counter this Weston’s widow, Martha, sent 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.

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

Although Elizabeth tolerated Sophia’s lovers, she took 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.

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

Whether or not Elizabeth Steele had assistance in writing the Memoirs, she did indeed inherit the personal belongings of Mrs Ann Harding in May 1786, which would have given her access to John Harding’s letters as she was named as her sole executrix in Ann’s last will and testament and it is from this document that the name of her husband was first revealed to us.

Ann Harding’s will 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.

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.