The Irving Society Newsletter No 76

The Irvingite


At 11.00 am Monday 27 November, 2017, The Irving Society is planning an outing to the London Metropolitan Archives (40 Northampton Rd, Clerkenwell, London EC1R 0HB) to visit their exhibition Life on the London Stage.  Entry to the exhibition is free and, following the visit, those who wish would be welcome to join us for lunch at 1.30 pm at The Quality Chop House (88-94 Farringdon Road, London EC1R 3EA ).

Committee Member Paul Campion is kindly receiving RSVPs, which are required.  As both the Archives and the restaurant have limited capacity, we need to provide them with an indication of numbers in advance.  If you would like to join us, please do contact Paul at and he will provide you with a booking form.

Life on the London Stage is a new exhibition at London Metropolitan Archives which uncovers the lives of some of the actors and actresses recorded in our archives, capturing both professional and personal details that provide a glimpse of the challenges and joys of theatrical life since the days of Elizabeth I.

Drawing on a wide variety of photographs, prints and documents, we have brought together a collection of stories which illustrate different aspects of the lives of London’s performers, from those who achieved great success to those who endured poverty and hardship.

Documents recording the life of Edmund Shakespeare, William’s forgotten brother, appear together for the first time presenting the seemingly tragic story of the young actor who followed his older brother to London.

Ledgers and letters document the lives of some of London’s most celebrated stars, including Kenneth Williams, Dame Ellen Terry and Eliza (Madam) Vestris. The houses associated with Nell Gwyn, surely one of London’s greatest rags to riches stories, are presented alongside Sir Laurence Olivier’s bespoke orders from one of the capital’s most prestigious boot makers.

There are also those who were recorded by London’s authorities for less salubrious reasons, notably the actor Gabriel Spencer who fought a series of bloody duels in 1590s Shoreditch and Marie Lloyd, who alarmed the Victorian authorities with her music hall routines.

Of course, alongside the famous names that live on through generations are huge numbers of working performers who have graced the London stage since the first theatre was built in London in 1576 but are largely forgotten today. They are remembered here in our displays of programmes and playbills.


From Friday 29 September – Sunday 1 October, Lynchpin Productions present Rotten Perfect, a witty snapshot of the impassioned backstage lives of Ellen Terry and Henry Irving.  Once the young wife and muse of G F Watts, Ellen Terry is now the leading lady at the Lyceum Theatre.  Actor Manager Henry Irving is doing everything he can to keep his theatre up and running and to keep his star actress, but she is tired of coming second to his classical heroes.

Friday 29 September – Sunday 1 October
£15 (£12.50 concessions)
Watts Gallery


Jefny Ashcroft’s play is designed to draw attention to the Bram Stoker archive held at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford upon Avon, where it is accompanied by an exhibition of an interesting selection from the archive.

In the play, taking as a starting point the release from prison and disgrace of Oscar Wilde, she examines encounters between Henry Irving, Ellen Terry and Bram Stoker, Irving’s Business Manager, at the time of the first publication of  ‘Dracula’, also in May 1897. Stoker, convincingly played by David Reakes, is anxious for Irving to stage a play based on his original gothic novel. Such a play was read at the Lyceum for copyright purposes; an original poster advertising that event was included in the exhibition.

Commentators disagree on how far Count Dracula is based on Irving, and the well directed play is only able to hint at the subtle interplay of  Stoker’s relationship with Irving. Barrie Palmer makes a brave attempt at a role which involves him in briefly portraying Dracula as played by Irving and Jo Price has no opportunity to be other than a leading actress, without Ellen Terry’s elusive charm. Jefny Ashcroft has done considerable research to set the play in context and, judging by reactions of members of the audience, it has whetted several appetites for more information about this fascinating period of theatrical history.

Seeing the small selection of memorabilia on display makes one wish for an opportunity to see a much larger exhibition – surely one of our London museums could mount one, given the right encouragement.

It is most heartening to know that Irving, his friends and colleagues still attract attention and interest 120 years after these events took place.

– Paul Campion and Helen Smith


The Society is delighted to share with the membership the news of a number of new books which have been published by members.

Alan Stockwell’s new book MAN-MONKEYS: From Regency Pantomime to King Kong, was released on Vesper Hawk Publishing on 1 June.

Did you know that men have been dressing up as apes for the entertainment of the public since 1801?  Did you know that men have been dressing up as apes for the entertainment of the public since 1801?  The first play to feature an ape as a character was La Perouse, a work that became standard in the repertoire of the theatres of the day. In 1825, the French dancer Mazurier became the sensation of Paris and London playing the lead in the ballet Jocko ou le Singe du Brésil. These two stage works made such an impression that an entire sub-genre of drama arose and held sway for 100 years and beyond, leading to modern times with King Kong and The Planet of the Apes on screen.

Inside these covers you will find the stories of performers who specialised in playing dramatic ape roles – men like the ill-fated Parsloe who fell from stardom in London to die a lonely death in America, the irascible almost legless Hervio Nano, Teasdale who turned to God after stabbing his wife, and the simpleton potboy who was transformed into Monsieur Gouffe and made a fortune attracting the bon ton of London.  Within these pages you will find some of the oddest, most unfortunate, ill-requited, luckless, and doomed performers who ever chose to tread the boards – the artistes known as ‘man-monkeys’.

Further details can be found on the Vesper Hawk website, and a review of the book written by the Society’s Chair, Frances Hughes, will be included in the next edition of First Knight.

Christina Britton Conroy researched her historical novel series, His Majesty’s Theatre, over many years.  It is now being published by Endeavour Press, UK.  Launch dates for the books – which are available on Amazon – are:

Not from the Stars – Friday 18th August

Filled with the history of the British theatre and allusions to Shakespeare, Not From the Stars is the first in the His Majesty’s Theatre series about the lives of the actors and academics who lived in the repressive days of Edwardian England, but refused to be stifled. 






But From Thine Eyes – Friday 15th September


London, December, 1903. Seventeen-year-old Elisa Roundtree escapes her life in Yorkshire heading for His Majesty’s Theatre, hoping to become an actress.  Filled with details of theatre life at the turn of the century, But From Thine Eyes will have you cheering for Elly, long before she ever takes the stage.





Truth and Beauty – Friday 20th October


“Readers will be immediately drawn into the story and find it hard to leave…” – Manic Readers






Beauty’s Doom – Friday 17th November


“Captivating… a real page turner.” – Mary Jones, WRVC Radio








Many thanks to our former Editor, Michael Kilgarriff, who sent through (courtesy of his daughter) this fascinating picture of a window at Shakespeare’s birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon, a building he inherited from his father and let out as an inn.  The image has been rotated so that HI’s signature can be seen scratched out in the top right-hand corner.  Other famous signatories (though not discernible) include Ellen Terry, Thomas Carlyle and Walter Scott.

More information about this story can be found on the website of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.



The Henry Irving Foundation and the Henry Irving Correspondence Website

It is ten full years since the Henry Irving Correspondence website came online. It is currently visited by an average of at least 60 people a day; from 109 different countries already this month. Use seems to be growing.

Frances Hughes and I have worked recording the manuscript letters from 2003, and the database now contains summaries of over 9225 letters and documents, displayed in chronological order. There is still unrecorded material here and in America.

When John H.B. Irving died last December the trustees of his Henry Irving Foundation decided to take stock. His charitable Foundation, with a few generous donations, had funded the website with its hosting costs, and the volunteers have worked without pay or expenses, but the funds are now almost exhausted.

Unless we can find a new host or sponsor the whole site and its database will have to be archived by the British Library, where it will be frozen and not easy of access. Also needing a home is a large paper archive of the original records, including some full transcriptions not on the website.

If any member of the Irving Society has ideas about a future for the site, please let Frances Hughes or me know. We can provide further details.

– Helen Smith



Members will soon receive their membership renewal forms for the 2018 membership year.

Members are also asked to please save the date for the Society’s 22nd Annual General Meeting in celebration of Sir Henry Irving’s Birthday.  This year’s festivities will take place on the afternoon of Sunday 11 February, 2018.  Further details including a programme of the day’s event will follow shortly.



The following messages have been received to the Society’s email inbox. Members and non-members wishing to get in touch should contact


 Dear Irving Society,

Friday, October 13th, there will be a book presentation of Magician and Fool, the historical fiction based on the life of Pamela Colman Smith, an artist who based her tarot card of The Magician on Sir Henry Irving. The presentation will be at Watkins Books19-21 Cecil Ct, London WC2N 4EZ, UK, at 6pm and will last approximately one hour. The presentation is free, with a question and answer period following the brief reading.

Here is a synopsis of the book:

In Magician and Fool, Pamela Colman Smith begins her career as an artist at the end of the Victorian Age at the Lyceum Theatre, where she grows from innocent empath to seer and channeler; creating her now world-famous deck of tarot cards. Introduced to The Golden Dawn cult by Bram Stoker, the second in command at the Lyceum Theatre, she is commissioned to create a tarot deck for the members to use in their quest for magic. Golden Dawn’s most evil member, Aleister Crowley, becomes obsessed with unlocking the mysteries of the Tarot. His obsession peaks when he sees the power of her deck and realizes he can create a rival deck, leading him to manifest magical power to harm Pamela’s incarnates of her cards. Sir Henry Irving, the actor/manager of his day, figures as the pivotal role of The Magician, as he leads her along her path as a talent and an empath.

There is a website for the book and a Facebook page for the book and the book’s background materials.

At the presentation, there will also be t-shirts and mugs with Sir Henry Irving as the center of the artwork as The Magician.

I would like to invite the Irving Society to attend. Magician and Fool is the first book in a series of books based on the Rider Waite tarot cards. Sir Henry Irving is the main character through the arc of the series. I’ve attached artwork of the book cover and bonus merchandise that features Sir Henry.

I would love to meet any members of the Irving Society.


Susan Wands

Bookings can be made in order to guarantee a seat by visiting eventbrite.



  • Members are invited to submit content for inclusion in either of the Society’s publications. Submissions should be sent directly to  Submissions for inclusion in The Irvingite will be considered by the Honorary Secretary, and submissions for inclusion in First Knight will be considered by the Editorial Sub-Committee.
  • And finally, as a reminder, should any members no longer wish to retain single or multiple back issues of First Knight, the Editorial Committee would be pleased to receive such copies to meet the needs of those seeking to fill gaps in their collection – lost or mislaid – or for the benefit of new members seeking to add to their collection.
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