Sir Henry Irving, born John Henry Brodribb on 6th February 1838, was an outstanding actor-manager of the Victorian theatre, renowned for the many seasons he produced at the Lyceum Theatre, London. His pre-eminence was reflected in his being knighted in 1895, the first actor to be so honoured.
Entering the office of a law firm after leaving school, he embarked upon a stage career in 1856, but it would be some 15 years before he achieved real success. He toured the provinces with many companies facing struggles both professionally and financially and it was in these years that he came to work and live in Liverpool.
In the Spring of 1866, stranded by the collapse of a theatrical venture, Irving was fortunate to secure a six month’s engagement at the small ‘Prince of Wales Theatre’ in Clayton Square. Accompanied by his dog, a large retriever called ‘Bloom’ he went in search of lodgings at 83 Mount Pleasant. This was the home of the Thomas family, the diminutive Hannah Thomas taking in paying guests to fill the gaps in the family income left by her husband Walter’s somewhat feckless approach to employment. Whilst his engagement at the Prince of Wales kept his head above water his stay in Liverpool saw him before the courts, being sued for a debt of about £20. He escaped sanction by the court when Walter Thomas loaned him the sum, which was duly repaid by Irving. Shortly after he returned to London and, eventually, fame and fortune.
His Liverpool sojourn was also incidental in launching another theatrical career. The son of the household in which he lodged, the 18-year old Brandon Thomas, was so taken with his visits to see their lodger perform that he set his own sights on a career on the stage. Brandon Thomas would go on to have a long and fairly successful acting career, being mostly remembered however for being the writer of the ever-popular farce Charley’s Aunt.
Henry Irving died on 13th October 1905. During a performance at Bradford he suffered a stroke and was taken to the lobby of the Midland Hotel where he died. The chair upon which he was sitting when he died is now in the Garrick Club. Irving’s ashes were placed in Westminster Abbey, making him the first person to be interred in the Abbey after cremation.
The Thomas household where Henry Irving lodged during his season at the Prince of Wales theatre in 1866.
The Prince of Wales theatre was demolished in 1912 and replaced by a cinema.
A notice for a performance by Irving in the Liverpool Mail.
There is a comprehensive entry for Irving in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and the Wikipedia entry is quite detailed. I obtained details of his Liverpool stay from the biography of Brandon Thomas, Charley's Aunt's Father [Jevan Brandon-Thomas 1955]. there are many biographies of Irving, including one by Bram Stoker (author of Dracula) who worked for Irving as a theatre manager. There are sound recordings of Irving one of which you can hear on YouTube (an extract from Shakespeare's Henry VIII)
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