The Irving Society Newsletter No 65


Thursday, 3 October, 2013
Report by Alex Bisset

Caroline Blomfield, Alex Bisset, David Blomfield, Frances Hughes, Mary & Frank Barrie. Photo by Jennie Bisset
Caroline Blomfield, Alex Bisset, David Blomfield,
Frances Hughes, Mary & Frank Barrie. Photo by Jennie Bisset

Undeterred by dire weather forecasts which, however, proved to be wrong, eighteen stalwart Society members met at 11.30am at Richmond Station. Led by local historian David Blomfield the group embarked on a theatre-related excursion, stopping first on the edge of Richmond Green at the Matcham-designed Theatre Royal where we had an opportunity to visit the fine auditorium. A walk across the Green, enlivened by anecdotes and commentaries by our guide and by our Chair, Frances Hughes, brought the group to the site of the Theatre Royal of Edmund Kean’s day, close to what remains of the extensive royal palace of Tudor times. Here Frances read an extremely moving letter from her collection, written in 1833 by the poor old actor John Powell to John Pritt Harley, seeking assistance in getting from central London to his old colleague Kean’s funeral at Richmond.

Recrossing the Green, more or less as did Kean’s cortège, we reached the church of St Mary Magdalene and the adjacent restaurant La Buvette where a splendid lunch had been organised. Satisfactorily fed and watered we proceeded to the church where, alas, Kean’s final resting place in the vault can no longer be po sitively identified.

A supplementary visit for many in the group involved a short bus journey to Kew Green where we visited the lovely church of St Anne’s – about to celebrate its tercentenary – and saw the graves of the artists Thomas Gainsborough and Johan Zoffany, both of whom had strong theatrical connections.

To bring to a close the outing which had been not only theatrically informative but essentially of a social nature, the rump of the group ended as guests of our distinguished guide and his wife Caroline (see photo) where we were soon immersed in memorabilia of the Hare and Bancroft families.

Helen Smith writes: Quite often the Henry Irving Correspondence website can illuminate articles and notes in The Irvingite. For instance, relevant to our visit to Richmond, a check on the website reveals a connection between Irving and Kean. In 1894 one John Skewes-Cox wrote to HI (Letter 6525) saying that the Kean entablature, then on the outer wall of Richmond Parish Church, needed to be replaced at an estimated cost of £5.10s. Irving in a note for his reply agrees to pay, but Jennie Bisset has shown that the work was not carried out until1904 when the monument was cleaned and moved inside. Others who contributed to the cost were Sir Squire Bancroft, Lewis Waller, Isidore Spielmann and Mr & Mrs F M Paget.

Post Script: In the August Irvingite (No 64), Arthur Bloom and the Editor provided information about Elizabeth Davenport aka Lizzie Weston (Mrs Charles James Mathews); the HI Correspondence website includes six warm letters from her to Irving in which she signs herself Mrs Charley, and Irving describes her as a very dear friend.


Sylvia Starshine
Sylvia Starshine, Annual Dinner 2009

Our Honorary Treasurer has, alas, decided to resign. For over a decade Sylvia chased up our subs, fiercely guarded our pennies and kept us solvent, and one can understand that she feels it is now time to hand the accounts over to someone else. The Society is deeply obliged to her for so many years of excellent service.


For the time being our Chair, Frances Hughes, is looking after the finances, but a permanent Hon Treasurer is required. The duties are not that time-consuming so if you feel inclined to volunteer please cont act Frances on for further information.


Megan Hunter
Megan Hunter

Your Committee is delighted to announce that Megan Hunter has agreed to take on the post of Honorary Secretary of the Society. Currently Megan is the Press and Public Relations Manager of the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and thus has a wealth of administrative experience as well as a close association with the world of theatre. Recommended by Committee member Prof Michael Gaunt, her appointment will be ratified at next February’s AGM.


Arthur W Bloom
Pubs: McFarland & Co Inc., North Carolina (2013)
European distributors: Eurospan Ltd., 3 Henrietta St., London WC2E 8LU
Tel: 020 7845 0853 .
Email: Catherine Lawn
Price: £37.10 incl. 25% discount for Irving Society members.
Hb. 358 pp. 18 ills. Comprehensive index. ISBN 978-0 -7864-7 289-5
Review by Richard Foulkes

Dr Arthur W Bloom, who gave the Heritage Talk in February (a trans cription of which can be found in First Knight Vol. 17 No. 2), is the author of this new study of the American actor Edwin Booth.

As the title implies this substantial volume covers Booth’s personal circumstances including several troubled relationships wit h memb ers of his family (his assa ssin brother; mentally disturbed second wife) and his stage career, which must be rated as the most successful of an American actor thereto, every performance of which is recorded in the Performance History section.

Booth, Irving’s senior by five years, was born into an acting dynasty and undoubtedly felt he ranked the higher of the two when he encountered the fledgling Henry Irving (Laertes to his Hamlet, Cassio to his Othello, Bassanio to his Shylock) in Manchester in 1861. By the time Booth made his belated return in 1 880 -1 the roles were reversed as the American actor gratefully alternated Othello and Iago with his host who was generally agreed to have won the contest.

Bloom devotes only a few lines to this encounter, rather less than he does to Mary Booth’s deteriorating condition at th e time, and to find out more the reader must refer to the Performance History where contemporary accounts are reprinted at some length. Dr Bloom no doubt had his reasons for organising his book in this way, though this reviewer was not entirely persuaded of its merits.



Letter from Henry Irving
(1) Two Lyceum programmes: Olivia (1885) and Becket (1893). Also a letter n.d. from Irving thanking a Mr Marsh ‘for the flowers. They are lovely’ (see above). Asking prices: £20 for each programme and £40 for the letter.Offers to: Nick Hale Flat 4, 2 Trinity Road Scarborough, North Yorks YO11 2TA email:

Irving as Shylock

(2) 28cm x 20cm oil-on-board sketch of Irving as Shylock. Artist unknown. Guide price £1,500. Offers to: Greg Page-Turner 2, The Stable Yard, Woodhayes, Honiton Devon EX14 4TP tel: 07958 699 645 email:


In Seymour Hicks’ Twenty-Four Years of an Actor’s Life the author recalls a conversation with HI, who said:
‘Do you know you remind me of Charles Mathews; very like him, very.’
‘I’m so glad,’ I replied.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘you wear the same sort of collars.’


Sunday, 9 February, 2014 2.30pm

Wreath-laying at Irving’s statue 3.15pm AGM at the CAA in Bedford Street. Full details to be circulated after Christmas.

Editor: Michael Kilgarriff
tel 020 8566 8301
10 Kings Avenue, London W5 2SH

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.