The Irving Society Newsletter No 72

The Irvingite


To all of our Members, we send belated Season’s Greetings and our wishes for a very Happy New Year!

By now, you will have received your membership renewal forms for the 2016 membership year, but if they have not arrived with you please don’t hesitate to contact us at

The Committee looks forward to another exciting year of activities and publications, starting with the 20th Annual General Meeting.  Please save the date for this annual gathering in celebration of Sir Henry Irving’s Birthday.  This year’s festivities will take place on the afternoon of Sunday 21 February, 2016 and, after the ceremonial wreath laying at the statue to Henry Irving, we will once again adjourn to the Club for Acts and Actors in Covent Garden.

The Committee also wishes to note that nominations for additional members of the Committee are gratefully received.  All current Committee Members and Officers have expressed an interest in serving for another term, and this will be put forward to the members on 21 February.

Agendas for the AGM, as well as formal membership cards for the 2016 membership year, will be distributed to Members in the coming weeks.


The Committee is delighted to announce that The Irving Society’s much anticipated new website is now live! Special thanks must be extended to our website designer, Vicki Holland, for her hard work and dedication in designing such an exemplary and visually arresting site.

The website address remains the same:  Members are encouraged to send any comments or feedback to the Honorary Secretary at

Please note that forthcoming issues of The Irvingite will be available on the website, together with regular news and updates.  Members are asked to register as subscribers to ensure that they continue to receive timely, electronic news from the Society.  Instructions on how to subscribe will be sent to Members by email prior to the next newsletter publication date in April 2016.

Those Members without access to the internet will, of course, continue to be sent hard copies of the newsletter through the post.


28th and 29th September 2015

A group of Irvingites stayed overnight and went to the Theatre Centre of Northampton to see Hairspray at the Derngate Theatre.  Next morning we met the others who came by train from Euston on Tuesday. We made our way to the Guildhall where our member Paul Campion had arranged to start the best timed and informed day one could wish for.

The Guildhall dominates the Square, its Victorian- Gothic frontage as fresh and delicate as finished by Edward William Godwin in 1864. Paul had engaged Kate Willis to guide us round.. First, outside where the history of Northampton and the figures who had participated in it ran across the front from the invasion of the Danes in the 12th century to the
Civil War (where Cromwell had boots made for his army but moved on without payment), and on to Queen Victoria’s visit in 1844. A niche had been reserved for a group of cordwainers, the shoe makers who used only the best leather and techniques in their craft, still practised in Northampton albeit on a smaller scale now.
Inside the building we saw the Great Hall and the Godwin Room decorated in the aesthetic movement style and so much of the original furnishings remaining that it is now a popular venue for weddings while still being used for its civic purposes.

Irving's shoe?Following lunch we went to the Museum which was celebrating its 150th anniversary. Paul introduced us to Rebecca who led us downstairs where we sat before a long table. On it she placed the shoe box. Rebecca gave a brief account of shoe making in Northampton and the Museum’s collection of 4,500 shoes, including those of Nijinsky and Little Tich. Then the opening of the box and the exhibition of the shoe we had all come to see! Frances identified it as possibly one of the pair HI had worn when playing Louis X1. Cameras were out, white gloves given to Alex who held it near his shoe size 9 and a 1/2 ? It was a treasure but was it Irving’s?

We had a quick look around the varied theatrical shoes and other objects but then if we were to squeeze in the Rennie Mackintosh house we had to leave.

78 Derngate had been designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1916. It was his final major commission. Although some of the original Mackintosh furniture had been lost there was still enough, with the unique wallpaper and artefacts, to envisage it as designed for Mr. Bassett-Lowke who appreciated it rather more than Mrs Bassett-Lowke! We put on the shoe protectors after seeing the garden and back elevation going to the kitchen, the sitting room and the bedroom.

Time, then, to say goodbye with warm thanks to Paul and return to the station.

“So you went all the way to Northampton to see a shoe from some actor?!” Yes, he was some actor and we saw not only the shoe but so much more besides



The enterprising Barnsley Art on Your Doorstep project has undertaken a programme of research, and published a study of all artists born in the Barnsley, South Yorkshire, area.

They applied to the Irving Society for help about the lost late portrait of Henry Irving painted by Ernest Moore. Committee members provided information and we have been sent a copy of their interesting volume ‘The Hidden Artists of Barnsley‘. (Another artist included, of theatrical interest, is the costume designer Sheila Graham, 1927-2009.)

Irving on tour was several times entertained by the Sheffield Press Club and in 1897 they commissioned a portrait from the local painter Moore, 1865-1940, who was already established as successful in this genre. The researchers have found that it was some time before sittings could be arranged, in part due to Irving’s 1898 illness, and that they took place while he was convalescing in Cliftonville, near Margate and at his home at 15A Grafton Street in London. The portrait was unveiled in the new building of the Press Club on 6th December 1900 in the presence of Irving and Bram Stoker. The authors record that Irving and Moore got on well during the sittings, the actor finding the painter “a charming personality” and they remained friends. Three days before he died, on 10th October 1905, Irving gave Moore a signed copy of ‘The Merchant of Venice’.

Only one letter related to this is on the Henry Irving Correspondence website (Letter 6635) but the Shakespeare Institute Library at Stratford upon Avon holds a dinner menu for the Press Club which reproduces a drawing by Moore.

The project members have been unable to locate the portrait itself and think it may have been destroyed during the bombing in Sheffield in the last war.

The attractive, sympathetic portrait was however engraved. A copy of the engraving was offered for sale from the Sharvell Martin collection and is reproduced in the Dominic Winter Auctions catalogue for 29 January 2015, Lot 720, which for the present can be seen on screen.



The Committee wishes to extend its hearty congratulations to Irving Society Member Dr Kristan Tetens who, in August 2015, completed her PhD at the University of Leicester.

Kristan’s thesis, entitled ”Hall Caine, dramatist, with a special study of Mahomet (1890)’, was a study of a play based on the life of Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, that was written by one of England’s best-known authors (Hall Caine) for one of England’s best-known actors (Henry Irving).

Her research interests include nineteenth-century British history and literature; the life and career of the English actor-manager Henry Irving (1838-1905) and his circle; the life and career of the English/Manx novelist Hall Caine (1853-1931) and his circle; representations of India and the ‘East’ on the Victorian stage; theatrical practice in British India; theatrical practice in the Ottoman Empire, especially court theatre in Constantinople c.1875-1900; dramatic censorship; theatre historiography; and digital humanities (especially multimedia applications for the study of Victorian history and culture).

More information about Kristan’s research can be found on the University of Leicester’s website.


The National Portrait Gallery is to publish as complete an iconography as possible for Henry Irving in the Later Victorian Portraits catalogue research series. Work is nearly complete but the following message has been sent by Carol Blackett-Ord who is the research worker. She is interested to hear of rare original works, perhaps in private collections.

Portraits of Ellen Terry and Henry Irving at the National Portrait Gallery

For the  Later Victorian Portraits catalogue, see

As part of this project, the catalogue of Ellen Terry’s NPG portraits, and her worldwide  iconography, have recently appeared on the Gallery’s Research website:

Irving’s portraiture is drafted and will appear in the same format in the new year. Nuggets of  information on rare or unfamiliar original portraits of Irving – no thanks to cuttings/prints, well covered – are still welcome, and privacy will be respected.

Please contact Carol Blackett-Ord


  • Dear Irving Society Members,
    Please accept my apologies for the delay in publication of the October edition of First Knight. This has been the result of surgery I underwent during the Autumn. This edition will be with you very soon.
    Piers Henderson
  • Members are invited to submit content for inclusion in either of the Society’s publications, and 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.

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 newer members seeking to add to their collection.


Finally, it is with great sadness that we must share news of the passing of two greatly admired Members of The Irving Society: Doreen Brown and Nicholas Smith.

Doreen Brown was a long standing member of The Irving Society as well as, for 17 years, the Chair of the Shakespeare Reading Society.  Her funeral was held in St John’s Wood, London on 1 December 2015.

Founding Irving Society Member and well-known actor, writer and musician Nicholas Smith passed away on 6 December 2015. Members will also recall his enjoyable poetry, which he was kind enough to share with the Society during a reading held some years back.  An article focused on his acclaimed career and writings will be featured in a forthcoming edition of First Knight.

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