LAURENCE IRVING 100 YEARS ON

by Richard Easterbrook

Laurence Irving & Mabel Hackney

Laurence Irving & Mabel Hackney

Laurence Irving and Mabel Hackney died in the sinking of the Empress of Ireland in the St Lawrence River on 29 May 1914. The story of their tour of Canada and last hours on the ship is recounted by Denis Salter in the June 2003 edition of First Knight.

Many hundreds of families were affected down the generations by this disaster, in which 840 passengers and 172 crew lost their lives. Amongst the dead were my grandparents, Harold Neville and Elsie Vron Neville, who were members of Irving’s touring company and left behind three young children.

When my sister and I heard that the loss of the ship was being commemorated by the Empress Museum on its hundredth anniversary, we decided to travel to Rimouski, on the shore of the St Lawrence, to say a farewell to these intrepid artists, who had just finished a 3,000 mile tour of Canadian theatres. (As far as we know this is the first time the scene of their deaths has been visited by friends or relations.) We joined a week of (often moving) events for the descendants, including the reading of the names of all those lost that night, and the ringing of the church bells along the riverside at 1.55am on 29 May 2014. Later we signed the memorial book to record our visit.

Meeting the families, organisers, and ordinary Canadians as we travelled, we were struck by how well-known the sinking of this passenger ship is in Canada. And many people were aware that Laurence Irving was involved. His memory is kept alive in several publications, including the website www.empress2014.ca which has a picture of the couple (see above) and which remarks that they were, ‘without a doubt, the best known passengers aboard’.

Denis Salter explores the possible resting places of the Irvings and my grandparents. Most likely they lie in or near the ship itself, which is now treated as a grave. Passing over the wreck in a small boat is a sobering experience. Even in May the weather is cold, and the shoreline seems far off. As to the causes of the accident, a film shown during the week (Journey to Oblivion) makes a fair assessment of the responsibilities of the captains involved, concluding that both were exercising caution on the best information they had.

A happier vignette comes from my grandmother’s last letter from the tour, as the four actors returned to Quebec by train, prior to embarking: ‘They often ask Harold and me to sit with them in the dining car… You would be astonished if you suddenly came in and saw us feeding with Mr and Mrs Laurence Irving and one cannot help being perfectly natural. He is so nice and simple.’ As fitting a tribute as any.

Empress of Ireland Museum,

Empress of Ireland Museum, Father Point, Rimouski. Designed to suggest a ship in distress.

DAY VISIT TO BRISTOL – A REMINDER

by Alex Bisset

The Autumn Outing is on Tuesday 23 September 2014. We will meet at Bristol (Temple Meads) Station in the main entrance at 11.30am. Please arrange your own transport in advance, especially train tickets, for cheapest fares.

During the day we shall visit sites including where Irving lived as a child with his parents for a brief period in 1843; his father and uncle’s burial place in the Dissenters’ Chapel and nearby Portland Square to see Edward William Godwin’s house which Kate and Ellen Terry first visited as teenage actresses . We continue onto Queen’s Square and the Bristol Old Vic. Finally, we go to the church of St Mary Redcliffe, said to be the finest Parish church in England, which has close association with Cabot, Handel, Southey, Coleridge and Chatterton.

We travel round Bristol on bus and foot. If you have a Senior Bus pass please bring it and travel in Bristol free. Day passes at reasonable price can be purchased on the day for non -holders. Lunch at about 12.30pm will be at the Bristollian Café, 2 Picton Street, Bristol B56 5QA, and you can look out of the window at the plaque on Irving’s Bristol residence.

Some members may wish to come to Bristol on the previous day. There are some very reasonable hotels such as Premium Inns near to the Old Vic. There is no charge by the Society except for an administrative deposit of £5 (cash or cheque made out to ‘The Irving Society’) which will be returned on the day. Please register now with Frances Hughes – tel: 020 8992 0772 or by email at lyntonfra@aol.com

DRESSING TO KILL: The Costumes of Ellen Terry at Smallhythe Place

by Philipa Coughlan

Ellen Terry‘More difficult to deal with is the Lady Macbeth of Miss Ellen Terry…however, divinely beautiful. The woman…in a quaint and indescribably beautiful costume… might have stood in the court of Camelot.’* wrote the Morning Post, of Ellen’s spectacular green beetle-wing dress, which featured in HI’s revival of Macbeth at the Lyceum Theatre in December 1888. Visitors today can now marvel at the intricacy, beauty and sheer opulence of the shimmering costume, designed by Alice Comyns-Carr and made by Mrs Nettleship, which takes pride of place at Ellen’s Kent home (see painting left by John S Sargent).

We were given an insight into the conservation work by staff of the highly delicate costumes which had recently been under threat by a carpet bug infestation. Laboriously treated at a Winchester textile store and put into deep freezers to kill the bugs, the precious garments are now safely catalogued and stored. We learnt that Ellen’s daughter, Edy, who maintained the collection after her mother’s death, never allowed the costumes to be washed, and that the first place to search for infestation is of course the dress armpits!

In the costume stores the following were revealed: Ellen’s Japanese kimono (from Liberty’s) bought by the painter James Whistler; the only dress to have been designed by Edward Burne-Jones which Ellen wore as Guinevere; and, strangely, a vivid pink costume (with tiny waist ) that appears to have belonged to Lillie Langtry.

There is much to interest visitors at a home which in many ways represents a highly personal archive of Victorian theatrical life. For more information and opening times visit www.nationaltrust.org .uk/smallhythe.

*Morning Post 31 December 1888 ; also printed in The Era, 26 January 1889 p17 and reprinted iu National Trust Historical Houses and Collections Annual 2011 by Emma Solcombe.)

FLORENCE, DEMON SUFFRAGIST

Kristan Tetens sends in this titbit concerning HI’s fearsome widow.
In her diary Kate Parry Frye, organiser of the New Constitutional Society for the Women’s Suffrage campaign in Kent recorded a meeting with sixty-eight year-old Florence Irving at her home in Folkestone on Thursday, 22 October 1912.

‘Back to tea and to write letters, then at 8 o’clock I tidied myself and went off to call on Lady Irving by appointment at 8.30. I was interested and so much enjoyed the interview, and she joined us as a member. I had been told of her powdered face, how, like the cat, she always walked alone, that all Folkestone hates her. I liked her immensely; she seems the only real person I have met, the only understanding person. I am told her temper is abnormal, that maybe, she was sweet to me, and, after all, these sweet-tempered creatures can be temper trying enough for anything. That she and Henry Irving could not get on together I can quite understand. ‘No surrender’ is writ large in her composition – and after all why should the woman always give way. I imagine she had very strong views as to what was fitting for a wife and probably he did not live up to these. I did not stay long but we got a lot in the time and I think she liked me. How wonderfully young she is. Suffrage to her finger tips, and Suffrage before it was passably comfortable to be Suffrage.’

Reprinted in Campaigning for the Vote: Kate Parry Frye’s Suffrage Diary ed. Elizabeth Crawford (Francis Boutle Publishers, 2013)

FROM THE EVENING TELEGRAPH 7 JULY 1895:

‘There is a capital story, says a gossip in the Queen, told about Sir Henry Irving, whose knighthood his fellow actors assembled to honour last week, during his latest visit to the States . Sir Henry, as is well known, will sit up to any hour of the morning with his cronies on a big night. One morning in the States, after such a night , when he was sitting at breakfast, a large rat bounded right past his legs. Sir Henry naturally started, but the waiter, who knew what a social evening he had gone through, came up to him reassuringly, and whispered, “It’s all right, Mr Hirving; it was a rat.”’

COME ON, ’ENERY!

Amongst the runners at last March’s Cheltenham Festiva l was a much-fancied nag called Irving. It had won its previous four outings and started at 4/1. But alas, unlike his bipedal namesake, the equine Irving ‘failed to perform’ and finished nowhere.

CONTACT DETAILS

Hon Sec Megan Hunter may be emailed on theirvingsociety@gmail.com.
As retiring Editor – the next edition of TI will be my last – my email address is now michael@kilgarriff.org.uk.
Other contact details remain the same:
10 Kings Avenue,
London W5 2SH
tel 020 856 6 83 01.
www.theirvingsociety.org .uk

MEMBERSHIP AS AT AUGUST 2014

Mr Brian Ainslie …………………………………………………………………………… Sanderstead
Mr J Robert Aldous …………………………………………………………………………….. London
Mr Peter Baldwin ………………………………………………………………………………… London
Mr J A & M rs C F Ball …………………………………………………. Saham Toney, Norfolk
Ms Angela Barlow ………………………………………………………………….. Wells, Somerset
Mr Frank Barrie Hon Member ……………………………………………………………… London
Mr Peter Berkeley ………………………………………………………………. East Langdon, Kent
Mr Alexander Bisset Vice Chair …………………………………………………………… London
Mrs Jennie Bisset ………………………………………………………………………………… London
Mr Richard L Black ………………………………………………………………………. Texas, USA
Mrs Caroline Blomfield ………………………………………………………… Richmond, Surrey
Dr Arthur Bloom ………………………………………………………………… Pennsylvania, USA
Mr John & Mrs Rosemary Boyes-Watson ……………………………………………. Coventry
Mrs Ann Briers …………………………………………………………………………………… London
University of Bristol Theatre Collection ………………………………………………….. Bristol
Miss Doreen I Brown …………………………………………………………………………… London
Dr James Brown …………………………………………………………………………………. London
Mr Raymond Buckland ……………………………………………………………………. Ohio, USA
Miss Janice Burr …………………………………………………………………………….. Faversham
Mr Paul Campion ………………………………………………………………………………… London
Messrs Brian Chaston & Bruce Cleave ………………………………………………….. London
Miss Sheila Chilcott …………………………………………………………. Stratford-upon-Avon
Professor Katharine Cockin ……………………………………………………………………….. Hull
Ms Christina Britton Conroy ……………………………………………………. New York, USA
Miss Wendy Corelli-Evans ……………………………………………………….. Hoylake, Wirral
Mrs Philipa Coughlan ……………………………………………………………………. East Sussex
Ms Ellen Terry Craig Patron ………………………………………………………………… London
Dr Monty Denneau …………………………………………………………………. New York, USA
Mr David Drummond ………………………………………………………………………….. London
Mr Alan Felton ……………………………………………………………………… Brighton & Hove
Professor Richard Foulkes ……………………………………………………………. Northampton
Mr Stephen Gallagher …………………………………………………………… Mellor, Blackburn
Professor Michael Gaunt Committee ………………………………………………….. Guildford
Mr Christopher Godwin ………………………………………………………………………. London
Miss Tina Gray …………………………………………………………………………………… London
Miss Mary Greenslade ………………………………………………………….. Richmond, Surrey
Miss Frances Guthrie …………………………………………………………………………… London
Dr G V Hales …………………………………………………………………………………. Cambridge
Mr Glen Hayes Hon Member ……………………………………………………………….. London
Mr E Gerald Hill …………………………………………………………………………………. London
Sir Michael Holroyd CBE FRHistS FRSL ……………………………………………… London
Honnold Mudd Library ……………………………………………………………. California, USA
Messrs Keith Hutton & Richard Morley ……………………. Terrington St. John, Cambs
Mrs Frances Hughes Chair ………………………………………………………………….. London
Miss Megan Hunter Hon Secretary ………………………………………………………. London
Mr John H B Irving Patron ……………………………………………… Castle Cary, Somerset
Miss Imogen Irving Hon Member ……………………………………………………. Winchester
Mr Malcolm Jones …………………………………………………………………….. Bromley, Kent
Mr Mark R Jones ………………………………………………………………………………… London
Miss Dawn Kellogg ………………………………………………………………. New Jersey, USA
Mr Michael Kilgarriff Hon Member ……………………………………………………… London
Miss Barbara Lanning ………………………………………………………….. Pinner, Middlesex
Mr Brian Lead …………………………………………………………………………………. Blackburn
Ms Maria Letters ……………………………………………………………. Queensland, Australia
Mackimmie Library ………………………………………………………………… Calgary, Canada
Ms Rosemary Macvie ………………………………………………………………………….. London
Mr Brian Manvell ……………………………………………………………. Stratford-upon-Avon
Mr Roger Mason Hon Member …………………………….. Keinton Mandeville, Somerset
Mr Michael C Meredith ………………………………………………………………………. Windsor
Ms Dolores McCord Monaco ……………………………………………………….. Florida, USA
New York Public Library …………………………………………………. New York City, USA
Mr Mike Ostler Committee ………………………………………………………….. Grays, Essex
Dr Varsha Panjwani Hon Treasurer ……………………………………………………… London
Mrs Hilary Phillips Committee ……………………………………………………………… London
Mrs Iseult Pilkington …………………………………………………………………………… London
Ms Victoria Powell ……………………………………………………………………………… London
Mrs Ann Rachlin MBE & Mr Iain Kerr …………………………. Iscklesham, East Sussex
Dr Michael Read ………………………………………………………………………………….. Cardiff
Professor Jeffrey Richards …………………………………………………………………. Lancaster
Profess or Denis Salter …………………………………………………………… Montreal, Canada
Shakespeare Centre Library. ……………………………………………… Stratford-upon-Avon
Mrs Linda Sharvell-Martin Hon Member …………………………… Wincanton, Somerset
Miss Ruth Silvestre ……………………………………………………………………………… London
Sir Donald Sinden CBE FRSA Patron ………………………………………. Tenterden, Kent
Mr Richard Smedley ………………………………………………….. Newark, Nottinghamshire
Miss Helen R Smith Committee (Queries Sec) ……………………………………… Londson
Mr Nicholas Smith …………………………………………………………………….. Sutton, Surrey
Ms Sylvia Starshine Hon Member ………………………………………………………… London
Mr Alan Stockwell MBE …………………………………………………………….. Ashford, Kent
Mrs Virginia Surtees ……………………………………………………………………………. London
Miss Elizabeth Sutter …………………………………………………………………………. Glasgow
Mrs Ellen Sykes ………………………………………………………………………………….. London
TACT (The Actors’ Children’s Trust) …………………………………………………… London
Mr A A & Mrs M J Taylor …………………………………………………………………… London
Ms Kristan Tetens ……………………………………………………………………………… Leicester
Ms Sarah-Jane Harker Vivian ………………………………………………… Perelle, Guernsey
Mr Donald Walker …………………………………………………….. Great B entley, Colchester
Mrs Ann Wansborough-White ……………………………………………………………… London
Mr Alan Wilson ……………………………………………………….. Lland rindod Wells, Powys
Ms Suz Winspear …………………………………………………………………………….. Worcester

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