The Irving Society Newsletter No 66


Sunday, 9 February, 2014
Concert Artistes’ Association, 20 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9HP

Despite the wettest and stormiest start to a year since records began, our annual pilgrimage to the Irving statue was blessed with as clement a February day as could be hoped for, and over thirty of the faithful watched RADA student Imogen Irving climb the ladder, place our wreath at the Guv’nor’s feet, and call for three cheers for her great-gr eat-great- grandfather.

The brief ceremony concluded, we walked across St Martin’s to the CAA where our Chair, Frances Hughes, pointed out that we not only had in our midst a direct descendant of Irving himself, b ut also a gr eat-grand daughter of Ellen Terry – our Patron Ellen Terry Cr aig – and a great-granddaught er of both Sir Squire Bancroft and Sir John Hare – Caroline Blomfield.

Frances then ran swiftly through the formalities of the AGM, including a decision by the Committee not to put the subscription rates up next October. The proposed visit to various Irving-related sites in Bristol was discussed, the two-day trip to take place in September. Kristan Tetens told us from the floor that she was back in the UK to continue her researches into Hall Caine’s play The Prophet, planned for production at the Lyceum by Irving but abandoned after pressure from the Lord Chamberlain. A rehearsed reading is another Society event under consideration.

The Committee was voted back in nem. con. as were our two new officers: Megan Hunter – Hon Secretary, and Varsha P anjwani – Hon Treasu rer (see overleaf). From t he floor your Editor regretted the lack of original copy being submitted for First Knight, and that he was increasingly obliged to fill the pages with reprints of published material. The Chair announced that Committee member Hilary Phillips was looking at revising the Rules and Constitution in order to extend the Society’s sphere of interests from the late 18th century to 1914.

After a short break Caroline Blomfield took part in a Q&A session with F rances and our Vice-Chair, Alex Bisset, on her new book about her great-grandparents The Bancrofts On and Off the Stage (see p4), affording us a charming and humorous half hour.

It was a warm and friendly meeting, as always, rounded off with the excitements of the annual raffle, the cutting of the Birthday cake, and a glass of wine. A very happy afternoon.


Dr Varsha Panjwani
Dr Varsha Panjwani

Our new Honorary Treasurer has an exceptionally distinguished academic career, with a first-class honours degree from Leeds Trinity University in Renaissance Literature and a PhD from the Un iversity of York in Renaissance Theatre. Currently she is an Adjunct Lecturer at the Fordham University (London Campus).

Her administrative experience includes running the Renaissance Reincarnations Project which involves fundraising, sponsor seeking, negotiating fees, collaborating with local arts b odies, pub licity, event organizing, handling finances and budgets.

Varsha has also attended workshops on Commedia dell’ Arte techniques, Cicely Berry’s sessions on voice, and Penelope Wilton’s sessions on performance choices.

We could scarcely have a more widely experienced or highly qualified candidate, and the Committee is delighted that she has agreed to come on board.


Irving by HistedThe Dean of S t Paul’s refused to bury HI’s remains in his cathedral; the Dean of Westminster Abbey also demurred, though this report in The Stage dated 26 October, 1905, shows the pressure he was subjected to, and to which he eventually yielded.

‘Amongst the distinguished signatures appended to the memorial presented to the Dean of Westminster, pra ying that Sir Henry Irving might be interred in Westminster Abbey, were those of the following:– Mr. George Meredith, Mr. Algernon Charles Swinburne, Sir Fredk. Treves, Baroness Burdett-Coutts, Professor Sir James Dewar, Mr. Arthur W. Pinero, Sir George Lewis, the Earl of Aberdeen, Lord Tennyson, the Bishop of Ripo n, Sir James Knowles, Sir Theodore Martin, Right Hon. Joseph Chamb erlain, M.P., Sir Squire Bancroft, Sir Charles Wyndham, Mr. John Hare, Sir Alex. Mackenzie, FieldMarshal Sir Fred erick Hain es, Sir R. Douglas Powell, Lord Burnham, Sir Hubert Parry, Viscount Goschen, the Duchess of St. Albans, Sir Howard Russell, the Provost Eileen Atkins Ellen Terry of Trinity, Dublin, the Principal of Glasgow University, and the Duke of Devonshire.

The Palace theatre exhibited on the bioscope on Friday the admirable portrait of Sir Henry Irving by Histed (see above) and under it Long fellow’s lines:–

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.’


Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London SE1 9DT.
13 January, 2014
Report by Paul Campion

The newly-opened Sam Wanamaker Playhouse on Bankside is the setting for Eileen Atkins’ presentation of her one woman performance – a tribute to both Ellen Terry and Shakespeare.

Eileen Atkins
Eileen Atkins

Dame Eileen uses material from Terry’s lectures, with which she famously toured Britain, the United States and Australasia , to create this fascinating ninety-minute show and in doing so gives us insights into a dozen or so of Shakespeare’s heroines – most of whom were played on stage by Terry herself They range from Beatrice – which with Irving as Benedick was one of their most successful stage pairings – to Mistress Page, from Portia to Ophelia and each comment of Terry’s (and thus, of Atkins) illuminates the personalities of these extraordinary women. Terry’s views on the interpretation of these roles were witty and insightful; she clearly loved them and, more importantly, loved playing them. Each character is realised in brief extracts from the plays, among which Cordelia’s scene with her father, King Lear, was particularly moving.

Ellen Terry
Ellen Terry

This performance is a tour de force and the setting is equally impressive. The Wanamaker Playhouse is a small and fully enclosed space but designed in the spirit of its older brother, the Globe Theatre. The solid oak construction makes for a splendid acoustic and the naked candlelight adds atmosphere to any genre of performance. Plays, opera and concerts are all planned for later in the year.

Make every effort to see this show; make every effort to visit the new theatre. If possible, see them together. (Till 23 February)

NOTE: Our Chair, Frances Hughes, who has also seen the show, warns that the wooden bench-type seats are very uncomfortable – take your own cushion.


Henry Irving's birth certificate
Henry Irving’s birth certificate


HI’s birth certificate clearly shows that he was registered solely as John Brodribb – Henry was a baptismal name only. His father, Samuel , is described as a Linen Draper, and his mother’s maiden name, Bohenna, seems to be misspelled as Bohanna.

Box one reads: ‘ A t Keinton Mandeville the sixth day of February about five o’clock in the evening.’

Many thanks to Alex Bisset for this item.


Caroline Blomfield at the AGM
Caroline Blomfield at the AGM

Caroline Blomfield
Introduction by Sir Michael Holroyd
Leyborne Publications 2013
PB 360 pp Over 10 0 illustrations
Bibliography and Full Index ISBN 978 0 952051575
Copies £10 + £2.60 p&p from the author.
7 Leyborne Park, Kew
Richmond, Surrey TW£9 3HB
Tel: 0208 940 8749

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

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