The Irving Society Newsletter No 48


University of Hull
Saturday, 6 June 2009
Report by Ellen Terry Craig

This one-day conference marked the completion of an online database of some 20,000 letters and other documents archived at Smallhythe Place and owned by the National Trust.

The technical design of this database was the work of the first speaker, Julian Halliwell. There followed a series of interesting papers by contributors from around the world on a variety of subjects centered on the Terry/Craig dynasty.

The two keynote speakers were Sir Michael Holroyd and Professor Nina Auerbach from the University of Pennsylvania who spoke of Ellen Terry’s ‘lost lives’. Sir Michael quoted from his recent book A Strange Eventful History, highlighting the relationship between Edward Gordon Craig and his mother. His research has led him to the conclusion that the real loves of ET’s life were the men she didn’t marry; the others were just passing friendships.

Other topics dealt with included:

  • Photographic records of ET’s performances.
  • The connection between the theatre and Edith’s involvement with the suffrage movement.
  • Craig’s publication The Mask and ET ’s memoirs The Story of My Life.
  • The influence of Lewis Carroll in introducing young women to the stage.
  • Bram Stoker and the Lyceum Theatre
  • Edith’s staging of Claudel in the European context of art theatre.
  • ET’s stage costumes.
  • The contribution of writer and thespian Velona Pilcher to the English studio theatre scene.

Speakers and delegates met the previous evening to enjoy a cordial cocktail party in the University arts gallery and dinner afterwards. See


Illustrated talk by Frances Hughes
Westminster Reference Library
Friday, 15 May, 2009 at 6.00pm

Max Beerbohm’s affectionate description of HI was the title of a talk given by our chair, and very entertaining it was too. Swiftly and fluently running through Johnny Brodribb’s parentage and childhood, Frances pinned down those key episodes which fuelled his fierce ambition and led to a theatrical career of unparallelled lustre. To those Irvingites present much of the story was familiar, but, like an inspiring sermon, it is always comforting to have one’s predilections confirmed.—Ed.


Colin Hague

Earlier this year BBCTV’s Antiques Roadshow came from Southwell in Nottinghamshire. One of the items up for evaluation was a portrait (reproduced left) of Cardinal Wolsey painted during 1910 by Francis Owen Salisbury (1874-1962).* Intriguingly, the scarlet silk robe worn by the model for the picture was that worn by HI for his 1892 portrayal of the Cardinal in Henry VIII (reproduced right). Lent to the artist by Edith Craig, its origins may be read on p542 of Laurence Irving’s Henry Irving: an Actor and his World.

WolseyThe canvas is actually a detail from a larger work, displayed at Westminster in the east corridor between the House of Commons and the House of Lords. This depicts the artist’s interpretation of the divorce of King Henry from Katherine of Aragon in 1529, Wolsey having been appointed one of the Papal legates. Those with internet access will find the larger canvas (together with a movie/audio clip) at:

There are other versions of the Wolsey detail. The one shown on Antiques Roadshow is the property of the Dean and Chapter of Southwell Minster, and was submitted was valued at £10,000. Another is held at St Albans Museum.

Nigel McMurray, biographer of Salisbury, says that although it seems unlikely that the artist ever met HI the archive file for this canvas contains photographs of the
original Lyceum production, with newspaper cuttings and details of actors’ positions on the stage.

The robe itself is in store at Ellen Terry’s home, Smallhythe Place, and is now in poor condition. The inventory description states that the cape is of red ribbed silk and weighted with lead. Some of the silk covered buttons are missing. The remains of the lining have now separated from the cape.

With thanks to: Nigel McMu rray (author of Frank O Salisbury: Painter Laureate), Paul Meredith (Manager of Smallhythe Place), + George, Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, Museum of St Albans. * cf Orson Welles as Wolsey in th e film A Man for All Seasons!—Ed.


Visited by Michael Kilgarriff

Now housed in its parental bosom at the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington, the Theatre Museum has a choice selection of treasures on display in a series of spacious high-ceilinged galleries shaped, in the words of Geoffrey Marsh, its enthusiastic director, like a square doughnut.

Much angst was caused by the closure of the Covent Garden premises two years ago, with the entire arts world inveighing noisily against this official disdain of one of our cultural glories, but truth be told the TM was never very inviting, with its subterranean rooms claustrophobic and uninvolving. After nearly twenty years of existence, attendances did not justify its budget, and the lease was not renewed. Whatever replaces the museum on the site must have some arts connotation, or so we are told. The last I heard was it was to be a restaurant run by the two charming chaps who have made such a success of the Wolseley in Piccadilly.

Items in Theatre & Performance, as the V&A exhibition is called, are arranged not in chronological order nor by genre, but by what might be called aspects of showbiz, i.e. Production, Rehearsal, Design, Music, Lighting & Sound, Promotion, and so on. This unconventional arrangement struck me as a happy one, since the visitor is kept in a state of heightened anticipation, not knowing what the eye will light upon next, whether it be an eighteenth century costume or a twentieth century dressing-room (Kylie Minogue’s, since you ask).

Thus in one case can be seen Billy Dainty’s panto dame costume, Mick Jagger’s jump suit (I first keyed this in, appropriately enough, as Mick Jagger’s hump suit) and Margot Fonteyn’s Odette tutu; in another an oil painting of Richard Burton as Henry V hangs above a book containing some of the hundreds of congratulatory letters and telegrams sent to HI on his knighthood. The only other Irving-related exhibit is a copy of the cartoon At the Play by Alfred Bryan which adorns the cover of our journal First Knight—HI as Hamlet on the opening night of his Lyceum management.

Although the emphasis is on Drama all the performing arts—Ballet, Opera, Circus, Pop Music, Variety, Puppetry—are represented; video screens show interviews with notable actors and directors as well as brief extracts from celebrated productions, and there are an old-style thunder race and a wind machine for energetic visitors to work themselves. This is a lively and attractive exhibition, though the explanatory cards could be in larger point and samples of theatrical argot painted on a wall urgently need to be expanded. Stage L and R are explained but not PS and OP. And what about DLP? Tormentors? Corpsing? Walter Plinge? But admission is free, and when your feet start hurting you can always rest up at the legendary Ace Caff.


This year’s dinner will be at the New Cavendish Club, 44 Great Cumberland Place, London W1 (near Marble Arch), on Friday, 23 October. £40 a head. Numbers 30 max. Details to follow.


Dear Mr Kilgarriff,

I am trying to trace the whereabouts of a portrait of Henry Irving painted by the artist Edwin A. Ward (d. 1927). My interest arises because of my role as the Honorary Archivist of the Reform Club. Ward says in his autobiography, The Recollections of a Savage, 1923, that his Irving portrait was in the Reform Club.

I can find no reference in the Club records to the portrait after 1902, when the General Committee welcomed Mr H. W. Lucy’s promise to bequeath to the Club his collection of political portraits.
It is clear from the Ward autobiography that this collection included the Irving portrait.

Although the Club does have a portrait of Irving, this is not the one done by Ward, and only one of the portraits in the Lucy bequest is still in the Club.

I wonder whether you or any of your members knows of this portrait.

Peter Urbach



Book Paper & Visuals Fair
Royal National Theatre
Olivier Stalls Foyer
Sat 10 October 2009. 10.30am-7.15pm


All communications to:

Michael Kilgarriff, Editor/Hon Sec
The Irving Society
10 Kings Avenue, London W5 2SH
tel: 020 8566 8301

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.