The Crisp Brothers

The Crisp Brothers


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The Crisp brothers

Crisp family tree, 1st known generation Close
Crisp family tree, 1st known generation

The foundation of what is known about the Crisp family at this time, begins here. There seems to have been four brothers, John, Charles, George and William, and a sister (as yet unnamed). The early lives of the family seem to have been spent travelling, moving from town to town as the bookings demanded, undoubtedly the cause of the dearth of information about their birth and early life. This page contains some of the most relevant information we have discovered about the three theatrical brothers, but the focus will naturally be on George, the father of Mary Ann, our great, great grandmother.

The Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers3 suggests John Crisp is the eldest of the actor brothers, followed by Charles then George. Without any birth or christening evidence we place John's estimated birth date to be about 1782. His 1841 census entry (notoriously vague) has his date of birth as 1781 and his burial record at St Philip's Church in Birmingham in November 1841 gives his age as 61 years, equating to a birth date of 1780.

Charles died a young man in 1833 so did not appear on any census but he married in October 1806 which might suggest a birth date of 1785 or thereabouts, casting doubt on Robin Haig's claim that Charles was the youngest brother8. George, generally thought to be the youngest of the three actor brothers claims a birth date of anywhere between 1785 and 1789.

1801 - 1803

Mr and Mrs Crisp at the Lancaster Theatre

Mr and Mrs Crisp at the
Lancaster Theatre, March 1802.

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Mr and Mrs Crisp at the Lancaster Theatre

Information about the brothers and their whereabouts at the end of the 1700's and the early part of the 1800's is sparse. We know from S.W Ryley's book10 referred to on the previous page that John was part of his company at the Liverpool theatre in 1801 and moved north to the Lancaster theatre circuit the following year. Ryley's company at Liverpool and the company at Lancaster included Mrs Crisp which has left us searching for a marriage with very little information to start with, and of course, we are also looking for her death. The record of John's second marriage in 1804 confirmed his status as a widow.

From the 1801 season at Liverpool to the 1802 season at Lancaster and Preston, two theatres that were part of what must have been a tortuous circuit that included Chester, Whitehaven and Newcastle5. Pictured left is an advertisement from the Lancaster Gazette dated 20th March 1802. The play, A Cure for the Heart-Ache has both Mr and Mrs Crisp playing a role, the advertisement states for one week only (Assize week4). After assize week there were further concerts at Lancaster in April, July and August during which the company moved north to Preston. The New Theatre at Preston opened on August 25th with Mr. and Mrs. H. Siddons (fresh from the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden) headlining the bill. The evenings entertainment started with a poetical address by Mr Siddons followed by a comedy entitled The Wonder in which Mr Crisp played Lissardo and Mrs Crisp played Flora. Naturally the star of the show, Mr Siddons, took the lead role of Don Felix. Between the pieces Mr Crisp sang a comic song and took the leading role of Will Steady in the concluding musical piece called The Purse. Mrs Crisp played Sally.

Mr and Mrs Crisp at Lancaster

Mr and Mrs Crisp at the
Lancaster Theatre, April 1802.

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Mr and Mrs Crisp at Lancaster

A detailed account of the Preston Guild celebrations was printed by the Stafford Advertiser in September 1802. The Preston Guild is a historical event celebrating the granting of a charter constituting Preston as a corporation town. King Henry II renewed the charter after the Norman conquest and ordered the guild should be held every twenty one years and the Freemen of the town should renew their status of freedom. The event commenced on Monday August 30th with a procession headed by the Mayor and the celebrations continued through two weeks before drawing to a close on Saturday 12th September. The theatre was at the forefront of the festivities, opening most nights with plays, concerts and balls. Each day offered an attraction to liven up the regular marches and processions, Tuesday a steam engine was demonstrated, Wednesday cock-fighting, Thursday more cock-fighting and a performance of A Cure for the Heartache in which Mr Crisp was singled out for praise by the reporter- Mr Crisp "...whose abilities in this line of acting are inferior to none of his contemporaries. His acting, to use the words of Goldsmith, is "natural, easy, affecting;". On Saturday there was racing, a public dinner, a grand ball, yet more cock-fighting and the theatre opened with Folly as it Flies, a comedy piece from the pen of Frederick Reynolds. Mr. Munden as Peter Post Obit described as a "legacy hunter", a fellow keen to be seen in the best society, a role he had played at Covent Garden and elsewhere, and Mr. Crisp as Tom Tick a loveable, roguish character forever in debt but always with a scheme to extricate himself from trouble. They both took the plaudits with Mr. Crisp again praised for his acting prowess. During the play in a scene where Tom is trying to escape his creditors some scenery collapsed close by which he took in his stride....

Bailiff "What makes you cast down Mr. Tick?"
Tom Tick, "Well enough I may be cast down, when the house is tumbling about my ears."

The offhand, lighthearted dismissal of collapsing scenery and possible personal injury brought cheers from the audience and turned "disapprobation into bursts of laughter" - The Staffordshire Advertiser.

In true carnival fashion the Advertiser also reported the ridiculous: For a trifling wager the Ostler of the George Inn devoured 21 boiled eggs, a penny loaf and a pint of ale in less than eleven minutes" to the glorious: "The Church was crowded with beauty and fashion this morning, as that truly sublime composition Handel's Messiah was performed."

Mrs Jordan

Mrs Jordan was born Dorothy Bland, her father was Francis Bland, the son of Nathaniel Bland, an Irish judge. Her first appearance on stage was in The Virgin Unmasked in Dublin, 1779. She was reputedly seduced by Richard Daly, the manager of the theatre, to whom she owed money. Daly threatened her with the debtor's prison unless she repaid what she owed him so she left Ireland for England penniless and pregnant. Once in England she sought the help of Tate Wilkinson the manager of the York theatre circuit, who had acted with Dorothy's mother when he was in Dublin. At Wilkinson's suggestion she changed her name to Mrs. Jordan. In 1790 she became the mistress of the Duke of Clarence, with whom she had ten of her fourteen children.

A review printed in the Lancaster Gazette during October 1802 of Mrs. Jordan's benefit described the acting as "very dull". For the show, at the New Theatre in Preston, Mrs Jordan's choice for the evenings entertainment was The Wedding Day in which she naturally played Lady Contest, followed by the Devil to Pay in which she played Nell. Her husband in the first piece, Sir Adam Contest and Jobson in the second piece was to be Mr Rock, from the Liverpool theatre. Hand bills were sent out to the great and the good of Preston who attended in great numbers, Mrs Jordan being a firm favourite. "We only have one regret" the critic wrote, "was that our old favourite, Crisp, did not play the characters of Sir Adam and Jobson..." It seems Mr Rock was bought up from the Liverpool theatre by Mrs Jordan "to save her the fatigue of a rehearsal with Mr. Crisp". Warming to the theme the critic goes on "They were extremely dull; and, what is more inexcuseable [sic], very incorrect, a fault not pardonable in a gentleman, who had played the characters often with her". These words seem a little more critical than a local newspaper supporting a local favourite whose reputation they perceive to have been slighted, and there is more, "We have witnessed Mr. Crisp's performance of Sir Adam, and think it's highly finished piece of acting; he evinces great judgement in the character, and gives it high colouring, truly laughable - We can observe a very rapid improvement in this gentleman, and sincerely hope his endeavours will be crowned with success".

The article was written with feeling and, I think, without malice towards Mr. Rock. It reflects the single opinion of its author and perhaps a collection of Mr. Crisp's admirers in the county who might take a dim view of his apparent fall from grace, however temporary. The two sentences that stand out, two telling sentences that seem to contradict each other, were "Our old favourite, Crisp" and the last sentence "We can observe etc. etc."

"Our old favourite". Words that suggest Mr Crisp is a regular, well known face on the stage at Preston and Lancaster and has been around for several years, maybe as a member of a company or as a regular visiting actor during the season, not a phrase a critic would use, I think, about a young, up and coming actor like John Crisp. However, the second sentence is exactly what I would have expected to read about a relatively new face, someone who has caught the attention of the public on the strengths of his personality and performances to date, an actor whose reputation has been enhanced simply by being retained by Ryley at Liverpool the previous year. (Ryley described most of the company he inherited there as "mediocre"). "We can observe a very rapid improvement in this gentleman, and sincerely hope his endeavours will be crowned with success" A single line that looks to the future, not to the past.

A passing observation about the article in the gazette, presumably written by a professional with a critical eye on the evenings entertainment, it seems strange to single out an actor who didn't act for particular praise and write nothing about the company apart from describing the two main characters as "extremely dull", particularly when the occasion is a benefit and the beneficiary is a particular local favourite.

Crisp's association with the Lancaster circuit ended here, at the end of 1802 or the beginning of 1803 as his next appearance in the records is in a little market town in Staffordshire called Eccleshall, seven miles north west of Stafford. Population in 1801, less than 3500 people, living in 594 houses, just over 5 persons per house, a far cry from the teeming masses of Preston during the guild. It is very likely Eccleshall was part of a small circuit, possibly attached to Stafford theatre, in which Crisp was now engaged, the one and only reference we have found for 1803 was for his benefit at Eccleshall during July of that year, his choice of entertainment was to be another popular George Colman comedy, John Bull.

1804

St Edward's Church, Leek.

St Edward's Church, Leek.

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St Edward's Church, Leek.

A few lines lines in the May edition of the Monthly Mirror, written by a remote reporter whose pen name was Irraticus, informs us that Mr Crisp was playing Bewdley in Worcestershire during April 1804. Bewdley lies on the banks of the river Severn, within the boundaries of the Wyre Forest National Reserve, a few miles west of Kidderminster. The practise of publishing reviews from anonymous, remote contributors like Irraticus, was not unusual by any means. Although the activities of small provincial theatres was of little concern to the majority of the readership it gave another dimension to the newspaper and another vehicle for publicity for those stars of the stage on the way up and those on the way down. Of Mr Crisp and his company Irraticus, was very complimentary; Mr Crisp, "is in himself a host; his country boys, and a very extensive line of comic acting, are conceived and executed in a style too rich for the beggarly circuit in which he moves".

Another remote correspondent, Dido, writing for the same publication, was also complimentary about Mr Crisp's company. During the summer he tells us they were at Shifnal about twenty miles east of Shrewsbury and now five miles east of the new town of Telford. Dido also gave us an insight into the make-up of the company; "Mr. Watkinson," for example "performs the old men in a very good style...Mr. and Mrs. Remington are correct and spirited...and Miss Remington is a little favourite in the country girls..." also mentioned are the tragedian Mr. Spragg, Mrs. Watkinson and the Miss Blandfords. He adds at the end of his piece a line on the recent departure from the company of Mr. and Mrs. Young. After this article there were a few lines on the Wolverhampton theatre where the local amateurs had been trying to raise money for a local Sunday School. The house was "genteel but crowded" and "great satisfaction" was given as "several ladies from Mr Crisp's company took the female department". At the end of October, 1804, the theatre in Leek, Staffordshire, was offering a double bill of Mountaineers and the farce The Merry Mourners in what the advertisement described as a very short season. The advertisement was from the Staffordshire Advertiser in the name of Mr Crisp in what may well have been his first foray into theatre management. The theatre at Leek does not appear to be part of any circuit that we have found to date which would make it an ideal candidate for a first attempt at management; the response from the town was all he could have wished. In January of 1805 another remote correspondent, this time un-named, sent in the following review of the Leek theatres offerings at the end of 1804:

Theatre Leek. - "Mr. Crisp's company have had a very prolific season here. The actors have much more merit than a place so remote from the metropolis could expect. Though this theatre is on a small scale, the stage business is correct, and the crowded audiences which flock to the performances, are the best encomium on the merit of the actors." 1a

John married Alice Harriet Boroughs on the 18th November 1804, at St Edwards Church in Leek, Alice was the daughter of John Boroughs and Mary (maiden name unknown). The name Boroughs can sometimes appear as Burrows, Borrows or Burroughs in the records. A surprising element of the marriage record was the fact that John, still a very young man of around 22 years, was already a widow. The Chester Chronicle recorded the marriage in their November 30th edition thus: "Mr Crisp, formerly of Stafford Theatre," implying a former association rather than a current association with the Stafford theatre. This may be because Crisp had parted from the Stafford theatre to form a company of his own.

St Mary's on the Hill, Chester

St Mary's on the Hill, Chester

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St Mary's on the Hill, Chester

John and Alice went on to have twelve children that we are aware of. Alice was baptised as simply Alice Borrows but on most, if not all of the children's baptism records, her name appears as Alice Harriet. Their first born child came along in 1805, a daughter named Eliza Jane, and she claims in the 1851 and 1861 census records to have been born in Alcester, Warwickshire about 8 miles west of Stratford upon Avon. There is no reason to suppose this is anything but fact but we have found no record of her being baptised there. She was baptised eventually at the age of seven years in November 1812, at the new St Chad's Church in Shrewsbury. The original Church dedicated to St Chad dated back to the thirteenth century, it collapsed in 1788 and all that now remains is a disused churchyard and an exposed crypt. The new St Chad's has a very unusual circular nave, built by the Scottish architect George Steuart to a plan that was originally rejected by the town. The construction was supervised by John Simpson who apparently worked with Thomas Telford on the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.

Fast on the heels of Eliza-Jane came John [1806], Henry [1808], George Frederick William [1810], Charles[1811], Mary Ann [1813], Susan [1816], Harriet [1818], Charlotte Augusta [1821], Frances [1823], Sophia Rose [1823] and Clement Green [1829]. Mary Ann and Susan were both baptised twice, Mary Ann at St Chad's Church in Shrewsbury 23th March 1813 and again at St. Mary's, Chester 21st December 1819 and Susan also at St Chad's Church in Shrewsbury 23rd August 1816 and as with Mary Ann at St. Mary's, Chester 21st December 1819.

St Chad's Church, Shrewsbury

St Chad's Church, Shrewsbury.

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St Chad's Church, Shrewsbury.

It would be easy to assume, in an age of high infant mortality, that the first born Mary Ann and Susan did not survive and later children were given the same names, not an uncommon practice, but in this case we suspect it was simply a case of multiple christenings. Having said that, a curiosity of Susan's case is the different birth dates recorded. At Shrewsbury, her birth date was recorded as 7th August 1816, while the christening at Chester it was recorded as 31st July, 1816, a difference of 7 days. The last child we know of to be born to John and Alice was Clement Green, born in Worcester in 1829. A very interesting point that cannot pass without comment is Mary Ann's christening at St Chad's in Shrewsbury records her father's name as John Thomas Crisp.
Referring back to the issue of infant mortality, the Staffordshire Advertiser reported in the 26th September 1818 issue that George Crisp, son of John Crisp, manager of the Lichfield Theatre, had died after a short illness. George was just eight years old.

1805 - 1809

A few lines in the Staffordshire Advertiser early in 1805 proclaimed Charles Crisp to be something of a child acting sensation, not in the same league as Master Betty, The Young Roscius, perhaps, but very popular nonetheless. The newspapers repeated a well used phrase of the period, referring to any new, popular child actor as "Young Roscius the second", and there were many variations on the theme; The African Roscius, the Comic Roscius, the Bath Roscius and even the Female Roscius, a label attached to Miss Quantrill in her younger days. During the season at Gosport, Hampshire the newspaper reported on well attended houses, and "His representation of Douglas, as well as Osmond in the Castle Spectre, evinced the most perfect conception, the finest feeling, and most admirable execution of the characters." The last line of the article named this latest pretender to the title of Roscius the Second, as the brother of Mr Crisp the Comedian. At the end of the season at Gosport the Monthly Mirror continued the theme by entitling this article "Young Roscius the Second":

"This extraordinary youth...has closed his engagement with Thornton at Gosport...The extensive and versatile powers, the chaste feeling, the correct conception and delineation of character of this boy, who, like Master Betty, is only fourteen years old, are admirable and astonishing"13.

West Midlands 1818

West Midlands 1818

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West Midlands 1818

The Staffordshire Advertiser resumed the theme in July when rounding up the theatrical news, complementing Mr Crisp on very good houses at Redditch and the merit of the performers in his company including of course, Master Crisp "the most successful of the second rosciuses"

Also rounding up the year was Thomas Holcroft's The Theatrical Recorder, publishing reports sent to him by correspondents from theatres in the provinces. An undated report from 1805 reviews the company at Stourport:

Mr. Crisp's company have lately opened here, but with very indifferent success. Master Crisp, the most successful of the second Rosciuses, is a brother of the manager of this company, and has been introduced in his circuit. The relationship being known, the people suspected its being a run on their credulity, and, though he has played Master Betty's characters at most of the same theatres, with nearly an equal degree of success, he performed under his brother to silent four and five pound houses! So much for the discrimination of audiences. Stourport has not been accustomed to theatrical performances. Two boatmen, going into the pit one night, when there were few people in the house, after remaining a short time, returned and stood at the door; when, one of their brethren coming up, asked them if the play had begun. They replied, "No;" and advised him not to go in at present, as there were two gentlemen just come in (meaning on the stage) who seemed to have some private business with each other. The principal fiddler in this company is occasionally an actor, and, when his parts are very short, he stands up and delivers his part of the dialogue in the orchestra.

The last line of the review would no doubt have been read with a mixture of amusement, disbelief and horror by the patrons of London's elite theatres, God forbid they should ever have to suffer the ignominy of such undignified unprofessionalism from their theatrical companies! But to the patrons of the Stourport theatre, and probably many other small provincial theatres, this may well have been nothing out of the ordinary. From the same year, and possibly from the same correspondent, another undated review in Holcroft's The Theatrical Recorder from the Kidderminster theatre:

Messrs Ray and Gibbon

Messrs Ray and Gibbon

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Messrs Ray and Gibbon

"Though less respectable in its circuit than the former, [Stafford theatre] this company possesses much more ability. Mr. Crisp, the manager, is almost universal; but his chief excellence consists in countrymen, boldly delineated, yet natural, and heightened by just and characteristic humor. [sic] Mr. Watkinson and Mrs. Egerton have both considerable merit, and deserve better situations. It is a relief, however, to reflect that the energies of mind are never, perhaps, wholly exercised in vain. Some solitary individual,

"By chance directed, or by fancy led,"

may feel enjoyment, and induce others to enjoy. The provincial Theatres are less an amusement than a pleasant lounge, where the mind may in lassitude indulge, and, like a gentle sea, be moved but not ruffled by the flux and reflux of thought."

During these early days of Crisp's touring company the question of respectability is again raised, this time in print, and therefore inescapable for all time. The mantle of the early Strollers reputation was surely laying uncomfortably upon his shoulders. For Crisp to make his mark he would need to leave that mantle far behind. However, in the same review, the correspondent praised the company with both a forehand and backhanded compliment, not only to Crisp, but to his players too. To suggest Mr. Watkinson and Mrs. Egerton deserve better situations must have been a bitter pill to swallow for Mr Crisp.

In September of 1805 Crisp's company were playing the Warwick theatre which was under the management of Messrs Ray and Gibbon. This brief arrangement between Ray and Crisp was one of many interchanges that also included the Horn family. The three family's paths crossed many times in the early years of the 19th century. Edward Adam Ray14 was born in London and lived there for several years, originally earning a living as a cooper before becoming a merchant. Unable to resist his desire to take to the stage Ray left London and took his family off to the provinces. In May 1803, Ray and his long time friend George Collins Gibbon joined in a theatrical partnership leasing theatres from John Boles Watson in the west midlands. Ray's daughter, Matilda, would later marry Charles Edward Horn and their only son Charles would himself produce a son Charles William. Charles William's mother Mary Ann, will be the daughter of George Crisp and is yet to to be born.

Black Swan, Uttoxeter.

Black Swan, Uttoxeter.

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Black Swan, Uttoxeter.

From Warwick, John Crisp took his company to Tamworth, another of Messrs Ray and Gibbon's theatres, following on from Mr and Mrs Siddons. The Staffordshire Advertiser commented on Mr Crisp's booking in a hopeful but positive line: "If Mr Crisp's receipts are equal to his expenditure of taste and talent, we doubt not but he has an adequate compensation for his exertions".

From the dates of the engagement at Tamworth is seems likely that Crisp could have been home for the birth of his daughter Eliza Jane. She was born in Alcester on 24thSeptember 1805 and the engagement at Tamworth was from 10th September but for how long is not clear.

During 1806 Crisp's company visited several small market towns, some possibly for the first time, and probably the last time. The first of these was actually not a new venue but a return, to Shifnal, a town the company played in July 1804. From Shifnal they moved to Cheadle in Staffordshire, a distance of about forty miles on today's direct roads but considerably longer in 1806. The theatre opened for business on the fourth of June for a month with The Soldiers Daughter and Animal Magnetism. The first week the theatre was open every night but following that performances were Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. After Cheadle, we have no information until early September when the Staffordshire Advertiser reviewed a successful spell for the company at Wirksworth in Derbyshire. "We have seldom witnessed a better company in the country than Mr Crisp's, and are happy to hear he is reaping that success his merit and exertions so justly entitle him to." From Wirksworth the troupe headed west twenty miles or so to Uttoxeter where at the Black Swan's theatre they took to the stage as "Crisp's Company of Comedians".

Leek Theatre

Leek Theatre

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Leek Theatre

The town had two venues it could call upon to use as theatres if needed, the primary venue was the "Black Swan" in Market Street, the other was known as the "Red Lion room". Although quite a small town, Uttoxeter had a thriving market that drew visitors from many miles away and busy market days were an obvious attraction for a touring company like John Crisp's. The advertisement from the Staffordshire Advertiser makes it known that the venue had undergone extensive repair and decoration and his company "was of the first respectability and merit" a clear message to the town that his company was no ordinary band of strollers and worthy of their patronage. For this engagement the opening night's offering was "The Heir at Law", George Colman's best known comedy and a favourite since it's opening night at London's Haymarket theatre in 1797. Also on the bill was a musical farce called "The Purse". Joining the company was Mr Watkinson and Mr Raynor, with dancing by Miss Remington. After another break the company moved north to Leek, the town of Alice Crisp's birth, and her marriage to John Crisp two years previously. In the advertisement placed in the Staffordshire Advertiser at the end of September for the Leek engagement, the company were again billed as "Crisp's Company of Comedians". The theatre would open for race week, commencing on Monday 20th October. A footnote to the advertisement read "Ordinaries and Balls as usual". A later advertisement placed on 11th October gives more detail, informing the public the theatre was open for the season, again with Colman's "The Heir at Law", but this time followed by "The Village Lawyer". Unfortunately there was no indication as to the length of the season or when the company would be leaving.

Hoy, Crisp and Kemble, July 1807.

Introducing Mr Crisp
Hereford, July 1807

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Hoy, Crisp and Kemble, July 1807.

As 1806 drew to a close it seems the days of "Crisp's Company of Comedians" was also breathing its last. We have found no more references to the touring company for the remainder of the year but an indication as to the whereabouts of Mr Crisp comes with the birth of his son, John, on 12th December 1806 in Shrewsbury. Whilst this in itself does not prove his, or the company's, presence in Shrewsbury, in the absence of any contradictory information it seems reasonable to assume that is where he would be.

The theatre in Hereford was built by John Boles Watson in 1786, it stood on the west side of Broad Street in the old centre of the town. Hereford became the latest theatre Watson added to his circuit which seems to have amounted to something in the region of twenty six provincial theatres. The theatre at Hereford...

"...may be easily distinguished, by having its pediment adorned with busts. The house is generally open every third year, when the Manager has permission from the Mayor and Alderman to perform for sixty nights. The receipts, when the house is full, amount to about £40, though on some popular benefit nights they have exceeded £509"

The logistics of managing such an empire of theatres at a time when travelling was not as simple as it is now must have been difficult for Watson, a man not in the best of health. In 1806 he split his empire with his partner Robert Hoy, separating Leominster, Ludlow, Ilmington, Monmouth, Wolverhampton, Stourbridge, Abingdon, Worcester and Hereford6. In the agreement Hoy was to pay Watson £10 a year for the scenery, costumes and properties, £63 a year rent for Hereford theatre which Watson owned outright and £42 a year for Stourbridge theatre Watson built in 1793 and they jointly leased. The agreement also included a clause that Hoy was not to sign over his interest in any theatre without giving six months notice to Watson. The following year Hoy took on a partner in the up and coming young actor called John Crisp, still in his early twenties.

Master Betty at Hereford

Master Betty at Hereford

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Master Betty at Hereford

Perhaps one of the greatest triumphs this new partnership was to achieve was in securing Mr and Mrs Charles Kemble for five nights in late July of 1807. After a long engagement the former Miss De Camp married Kemble in July of the previous year even though the Kemble household were firmly against the union. Beneath the advertisement in the Hereford Journal promoting the engagement of Mr and Mrs Kemble, was a message introducing Mr Crisp as Hoy's new partner. There were also a few polite words accredited to J. Crisp. Of the Kembles, the notice in the Hereford Journal suggests this engagement was "the first effort of their partnership" we assume the partnership referred to is that between Mr Kemble and Miss De Camp and not the one between Hoy and Crisp! Their next success came almost immediately. Less than three weeks after the Kemble's last appearance Hoy and Crisp had booked the popular Master Betty, the Young Roscius, to appear at Hereford for eight nights. Betty was now sixteen years old and although still very popular, was finding the public's taste was changing as each year passed. No longer was he the draw in London he once was, but in the provinces, the audiences were still excited to see him. He had, the advertisement proclaimed, played in every town on the new Hoy/Crisp theatre circuit, except Hereford, so "...were fully determined expense should be no bar to his engagement here." Mr Betty's terms, we are told, "are wonderfully high". The practice of offering tickets at half price after a certain time of the evenings performance was suspended, as was the securing of seats, if you wanted a seat, you had to buy a ticket and the prices for Master Betty's performances had all been increased, two shillings more for the boxes, one shilling to the pit and sixpence to the gallery!

"Crisp was an enterprising man, keen to expand the circuit and two years later he bought Hoy out" 4

Master Betty circa 1805-6

Master Betty circa 1805-6

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Master Betty circa 1805-6

Not only was John Crisp keen to expand the circuit he was also determined to improve the quality of what was offered on the stage, not only the content but also the quality of the actors. The booking of the Kembles and Master Betty at Hereford was no doubt his work and in Crisp, Hoy must have seen a young man in his own image. It was Richard Hoy who bought Sarah Siddons to Hereford almost ten years previously, Siddons was widely regarded as the best tragic actress of her day, Mrs Edwin followed in 1798, unequalled in comedy and John Philip Kemble, Sarah Siddons brother, in 1801. Crisp was continuing the work Hoy had started many years before, he was reputed to have been a man full of energy and vitality, people found it very easy to become immersed in his enthusiasm. The Staffordshire Advertiser announced in November that a company was being put together at the Wolverhampton theatre by Mr. Crisp, and many new pieces were being rehearsed. Again in December the same publication confirmed work was progressing in bringing the theatre up to standard and the re-opening was to be on 26th December, "out of the old company, the Shuters, and the Chambers are the only ones retained.". Wolverhampton opened as Hereford closed. The last performance of the 1807 season at Hereford was on Wednesday, 23rd December with "Folly as it Flies" in which Crisp reprised the role of "Tom Tick" he had played during the Preston Guild celebrations in 1802. Followed by "High Life Below Stairs", a farce written anonymously and passed to David Garrick to produce. Authorship was eventually attributed to Rev. James Townley (1714-1778) many years later. The work has been translated into many languages and produced many parts of the world. It was thought at the time to be the work of Garrick but he never claimed as much even at the height of the play's popularity. (As a point of interest, Garrick was born in Widemarsh Street, Hereford). At the end of the show, wrote the Hereford Journal, Mr Crisp addressed the crowded theatre, telling them the partnership with Hoy was over and he took upon himself the management of their theatre. His message was received with loud cheering and applause, a testimony to how highly respected he was, both as an actor and a gentleman. True to his word after his first season, the local newspapers acknowledged the quality of talent that now walked the boards at Worcester, Hereford and other towns on the circuit was far superior than previous seasons. He was credited with bringing the cream of the London theatres to Worcester, O'Neill and Kean to name but two, and was himself described as great actor 2.

Introducing  Mr Talbot.

Introducing Mr Talbot.

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Introducing  Mr Talbot.

Wolverhampton theatre ended its season at the beginning of March 1808 and the "Monthly Mirror" published a seasonal review written by character whose pen name was "Crito". The season at Wolverhampton had been a great success, "Mr Crisp", he claimed "has redeemed the character of the circuit". The stars he named as Mrs Moore, the principal heroine, Mr Ash, a young man described by Crito as a "tragedian", Mr Drake, a fine singer of opera with a powerful voice and finally Miss Dobbs who, unfortunately, left the company something of a hurry. Of Mr Shuter and Mrs Chambers nothing need be said. The Worcester theatre opened on March 12th and an advertisement in the Worcester Journal introduced Mr Talbot of the Drury Lane theatre who would be appearing as Ranger in the piece The Suspicious Husband the following weekend. The advertisement was brief and included few details but below what details there were was a statement from Mr Crisp repeating the message given to the crowded theatre at Hereford. He thanked Worcester and its environs for the support shown during the season and was notifying them of his buy out of Richard Hoy's interest in the theatre circuit. Mr Hoy was retiring form the stage and he, Mr Crisp, has full power over the theatre in every respect. The advertisement was dated 10th March 1808.

Mr Richer, the tightrope man

Mr Richer, the tightrope man

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Mr Richer, the tightrope man

After Mr Talbot's brief tenure the Worcester Journal was full of Mr Richer's impending engagement in which he will display his "astonishing feats" on the tightrope. His engagement coincided with a new representation of the "New allegorical pantomimical spectacle of Cinderella" with new scenery, dresses and machinery etc. etc. and M.G.Lewis's "Adelgitha". Mr Richer's engagement was for three nights, the last night being 23rd April, which would be his benefit. Adelgitha and Cinderella would be performed, at great expense, for not exceeding three nights, "and probably will be but two" If any popular actor from London or elsewhere had been engaged to play the major parts in the two pieces, it was not disclosed. By mid April Miss Wheldon had joined the company, just in time for Crisp's benefit evening for which he chose "Folly as it Flies", he again played "Tom Tick". In the supporting piece Miss Wheldon took the title role in "Ella Rosenberg". Worcester theatre closed in May 1808 with benefit concerts for Mr Andrews on Friday 20th and Mrs and the Miss Shuters the following night. The theatre re-opened for race week, as was usual, with Miss Duncan and Mr Dwyer, both of Drury Lane topping the bill. Miss Duncan in "The Wonder" and "Devil to Pay" and Mr Dwyer as "Young Rapid" in "A Cure for the Heartache". Messrs Andrews, Dobbs and Shuter all played a part and Mr Crisp played "Rosenberg" in the afterpiece "Ella Rosenberg"

Mr Richer at Sadler's Wells theatre, Islington.

Mr Richer at Sadler's Wells
theatre, Islington.

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Mr Richer at Sadler's Wells theatre, Islington.

Most, if not all, provincial theatres customarily opened for race weeks, carnivals, guild celebrations and other events that would draw people in to the towns from the outlying areas. During 1808 the theatres at Hereford, Shrewsbury, Worcester and probably many other towns all opened their doors for their respective race weeks. Worcester seems to have started on the 2nd August, Hereford's on the 24th August and Shrewsbury's 20th September. In between these dates the Worcester Journal reported that Mr Crisp had opened the theatre at Birmingham on the 29th August for three weeks. Mr Crisp, it seems, was a very busy man. A later article in the Hereford Journal reported the reception from the Birmingham audience extremely favourable, "they never had a better company than the one he procured them" was the general view. Although they are not mentioned in the list of theatres making up the circuit, it appears Shrewsbury was certainly part of it. The theatre building at Shrewsbury was described briefly in the magazine called "The Drama; or, Theatrical pocket magazine" in 1823.

The Theatre Royal picture circa.1950

The Theatre Royal, Shrewsbury
circa.1950

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The Theatre Royal picture circa.1950

"Our theatre (which is an ancient stone building, and (as our local antiquarians inform us) belonged, or rather formed, a part of the palace of the princess of Powis Land4a, once the lords of the marches of Wales"

Further details of the former palace, now described as a mansion, can be found in a book written a few years earlier by the Reverend John Nightingale4b. In the book, published in 1818, he places the palace (or mansion) "...on the space contained between Cross Hill, St. John's Hill, Murivance or Swan Hill, and Shoplatch. The House, doubtless, formed one, if not two quadrangles, which may still be traced. The most considerable remnant, is a building of red stone, in length one hundred feet, and in breadth thirty-one, which is now the theatre" The building still stands in St. John's Hill opposite Bellstone and is in daily use. Some of the original red stone walls have been plastered and "washed" with a dark stone colouring to give a more modern appearance, and the remaining pointed arches bricked in.

During Shrewsbury's September race week of 1808 Crisp played the part of Zekiel Homespun in George Colman's popular comedy Heir at Law...

"...Mr. Crisp was particularly happy in his picture of "Zekiel Homespun" - it was a chaste and very interesting piece of acting. On the following evening, the favourite comedy of "Laugh when you Can" was acted; and Mr. Dwyer added to his reputation in "Gossamer": after which was given, for the first time, the melo-drame of "Ella Rosenberg", gotten up with much care, and represented in a very accurate style. In this piece, as they usually do in all, Mr. Pitt, and the younger Miss Shuter, displayed considerable merit in the dances.7"

Theatre Royal Worcester, undated.

Theatre Royal Worcester,
undated.

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Theatre Royal Worcester, undated.

Just as 1808 seems to have ended in September, 1809 seems to have begun in April as nothing has surfaced at present to give us an indication of where the family were between those two dates. The company must surely have been working somewhere but in April they were back in Worcester. An advertisement for the 6th April has Miss E. Shuter and Mr Crisp on stage in Edward, the Black Prince. A stream of dates from May through to July suggests a continued presence at Worcester until the beginning of August when the Hereford Journal announced Mr and Miss Holman were heading the bill as Lord and Lady Townley in the comedy The Provoked Husband on the opening night of 8th. The two miss Shuters were also billed. Mr Crisp was not mentioned in the entertainment but a prefix to the advertisement did carry his name; The lines, announcing a price increase, bemoaned a continual, year by year rise in common expenses to the theatre, whilst the theatre had held its prices to the public stable for the last 30 years. He was therefore aligning the ticket price of Hereford Theatre with that of Worcester, Birmingham, Cheltenham and others. The boxes would now be 3/6d (18 pence) and 2/- half price (10 pence).

As Crisp's name was not on the bill that might signify that as an actor he did not play a part in the evenings proceedings, but he may well have been there as the manager. Mr Crisp, it seems, had been in discussions with Mr Samuel W. Ryley, formerly manager of the Liverpool theatre, and a good friend. He offered Mr Ryley the use of Worcester Theatre with a view to performing a comedy play Ryley had written called New Brooms. Although we can find no reference to a performance of the play, it took place as planned and Ryley noted the occasion in his diary10:

"It happened to be the race week, and Mr. Crisp's company were performing, with the aid of Mr. Holman and his daughter. We were received with much kindness by many old acquaintances, and by their advice I was persuaded to remain until the following week, when the company would leave the city; at which time the manager kindly offered me the free use of his theatre. At the expiration of a fortnight, I made a successful attempt, I say successful, because my old friends deserted me not, although the rain came down in torrents. Had the weather been propitious, I doubt not my emoluments would have answered my most sanguine expectations; as it was, I left Worcester impressed with gratitude towards many individuals..."

Mr Kemble at Hereford

Mr Kemble at Hereford

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Mr Kemble at Hereford

News of Crisp's offer reached the ever attentive ears of the Worcester Journal who printed a few lines to that effect. Ryley was once a favourite of the Worcester faithful, as well as being one of their previous theatre managers and Crisp, it seems, in this act of benevolence for an old friend and colleague, was not one to miss out on good publicity. This nous for good publicity was demonstrated again in a separate article in the same edition of the Worcester Journal:

"We are happy to find that Mr Crisp has sent a letter to Lord Foley, expressing a wish to perform one night next season for the benefit of the Infirmary, and requesting his Lordship's patronage on the occasion; his Lordship read this letter at the general meeting, and the company present was highly pleased with Mr. Crisp's offer."

Offers of this nature are of course excellent publicity for Crisp and the theatre, but they come at a cost. Actors, theatre workers and all other associated expenses still have to be paid and at the end of the season a profit has to be shown. However, setting cynicism aside just for the moment, every offer of this nature (and this was not the first) demonstrates a social conscience that was perhaps seen as out of character for a hard nosed businessman like John Crisp, a man perceived by some as an inheritor of the lowly strollers mantle.

Mr. Stephen Kemble

Stephen Kemble was born in Kington, Herefordshire 1758. His parents were the seasoned actors Roger and Sarah Kemble née Ward. Sometimes referred to as "George", Kemble was apprentice to an apothecary before joining a company of strollers in the search for theatrical glory. He was engaged by the Capel Street theatre in Dublin to play "Shylock" in "Merchant of Venice" During his brief engagement at the little Capel Street theatre he was approached by the Theatre Royal Covent Garden. In what appears to have been a case of mistaken identity, he was engaged and made his debut in "Othello" in 1783. The same year he married Elizabeth Satchel in Bloomsbury, London. Kemble also played the Haymarket and Drury Lane theatres. He retired briefly from acting and took to theatre management in 1792, starting at Edinburgh, but was not a success.

Mr and Miss Holman's tenure ended on August 15th. After their last performance Mr Crisp took to the stage and announced the news that had just been received of Sir Arthur Wellesley's victory over the French forces at Talavera in Spain, the news was received with "rapturous huzzas". As the Holman's brief residency ended, race week begun and the theatre remained open until the end of August. The last performance we know of was on Saturday 26th of George Colman's play The Africans which had premiered at London's Haymarket theatre the previous year.

Shrewsbury's race week commenced on Tuesday 19th September and the theatre had opened its doors the previous day. The entertainment offered will, however, remain a mystery as information about the town for this period is far from plentiful. The Hereford Journal and the Staffordshire Advertiser both occasionally offer information from beyond their own boundaries and all the information regarding Shrewsbury for 1809 has been gleaned from those two sources. The information about Mr Crisp's very successful benefit evening on October 18th for example, was found in the Hereford Journal.

The season at Shrewsbury closed 24th November and a short but informative review appeared in the Staffordshire Advertiser the following day. Mr S[Steven]. Kemble had been engaged for a term and had played Shrewsbury with great success, he would remain with the company to open the theatre at Hereford where he was engaged for a week and return to the company again in January 1810 to open Wolverhampton. The company left for Hereford where the doors would open on November 27th joining them would be Miss Woodfall from the Derby theatre. The first of Kemble's offering at Hereford was Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice" in which he played Shylock. His second night, Wednesday 29th, was another Shakespeare staple, "Henry the Fourth" in which he played Sir John Falstaff a role he played with great success at Drury Lane in September 1805.

Nelson's Column, Castle Green, Hereford.

Nelson's Column, Castle Green,
Hereford 1853.

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Nelson's Column, Castle Green, Hereford.

After Kemble's departure it was business as usual. Mr Crisp took his benefit on 6th December drawing admiration from the Hereford Journal for choosing Hamlet for the evenings entertainment. An arduous part they wrote, marking the event, as Crisp had never played the part before. Later in the same month another opportunity to advance the theatre and his own good name came his way by means of a fund for the erection of a commemorative tower in Castle Green in honour of Lord Nelson. In his corner was, of course, the Journal which announced "Mr. Crisp, with his usual liberality, and quite unsolicited, offered the Receipts of his theatre, for Saturday night next, in aid of the fund towards completing the column in honour of Lord Nelson in our castle Green"

With December and 1809 now drawing to a close there were just two more shows to see out the year. The advertisement placed in the Hereford Journal for Mrs Chambers benefit on the evening of December 28th was substantial indeed, but only the top few inches provided any information for the evenings entertainment. The offering was "Folly as it Flies" with Crisp resurrecting one his favourite characters Tom Tick, followed by a farce called "Irish Courtship" or "The Lasses of Leixlip". Mrs Chambers took to the stage as Miss Ann Battledore and Mr Shuter took the lead as Dennis o'Daub. Mr Pitt and the Miss Shuters provided the dancing. The following night a performance was "Belle's Stratagem" followed by the farce "St David Day". No information was provided for either offering and the rest of the advertisement, (about 85%) was introducing Master and Miss Smith, The Musical Phenomena.

1810 - 1814

Memories of Robert Dyer

"Crisp, (manager at Wolverhampton), had the reputation of being a Bashaw amongst his actors, but I think unjustly. He told me the anxiety attending the management of seven or eight theatres occupied his thoughts so entirely, he perhaps often appeared reserved and distant, and his abstraction might be construed as pride. This I can believe. His whim for coach driving was one of his eccentricities, which annoyed his company more than his supposed grandeur. He kept a stage-coach for the accommodation of the ladies and gentleman, and honoured them by driving from town to town, but they paid for his condescension by sundry upsets. One one occasion, a Mrs Chambers, with a lap full of ripe gooseberries, sat opposite inside passenger to Mr G. Crisp, and after frequent warning jolts, and responsive cries of "Oh, Mr. John will turn us over again," Mr. John did turn them over, and Mr. George's bald head plump full in Mrs. Chamber's gooseberry store! On being released from his unpleasant situation, he placed his hand on his head, and feeling the mashy moisture, he cried out, in extreme terror, "John, John, I am a dead man; my brains are dashed out."

With the new year safely welcomed in, Mr Crisp again took to the stage, on 3rd January 1810, this time in the title role of The Stranger, for the benefit of Miss Watkinson, the first time he had played the part. The piece was followed by the Blind Boy, an old favourite. The following day, Master and Miss Smith, billed as The Musical Phenomena, took the stage. They had been engaged to play Hereford at the end of December, 1809, but had their dates extended to meet the demand for tickets. The advertisement that appeared in the Hereford Journal stated Miss Smith would be the sole leader of the band and Master Smith the principal second. The evenings entertainment would comprise of duets, both instrumental and vocal, and they would be accompanying themselves on the piano and violin. Later in the programme, they would be joined by their father Mr. J.Smith. At the time of this engagement Miss Smith was seven years old, her brother's age was not given. The evening of the 10th January was given over to the family as a benefit by the manager Mr. Crisp. Friday 12th and Saturday 13th were also benefit evenings, but these were pre-planned. The former for Mr. Whitney, the Box Keeper and Machinist, the latter for Mr. Pitt the principal dancer. In the course of the evening Miss E. Shuter joined Mr. Pitt on the stage for the Minuet de la Cour.

The Hereford season ended January 20th and the company packed up and made their way to Wolverhampton where they opened on the 22nd. Marking the closure of the theatre the Hereford Journal commented on the talents of Mr. Crisp as an actor and his merits as a manager, "The company," they wrote, was "well selected, had been justifiably subjected to general praise during their brief stay", but almost inevitably the final word was was once again about the benevolence of Mr.Crisp and being the Journal they would not let an incident like this pass without reference. "Mr. Crisp...contributed to benevolent purposes the entire receipts of last Friday, and has gained him the gratitude of the poor, and the warm applause of everyone."

Mr Crisp's bumper benefit

Mr Crisp's "bumper benefit"

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Mr Crisp's bumper benefit

The advertisement alongside is from the Staffordshire Advertiser for Saturday 3rd February 1810, price sixpence halfpenny. The broadsheet newspaper routinely consisted of four pages of type, without images, being the standard and typical for the time. The advertisement was the first item on the front page, perhaps signifying the importance the theatre held within the community. The Worcester Journal, the editor of which seemingly followed the triumphs and tribulations of Crisp's company with more than a professional interest, picked up on the short spell at Wolverhampton. In a short article the newspaper declared it a bountiful success and yielded a fruitful benefit for Crisp himself. The Hereford Journal, who's editor was cut from the same cloth, went a step further and published the takings for the benefit evening in which Crisp played one of his favourite characters Zekiel Homespun in George Colman's comedy Heir at Law. "Mr Crisp's benefit at Wolverhampton Theatre, last week, was a bumper (receipt £60)". Wolverhampton liked Mr Crisp, and overall the company was again very well received, continuing the trend that begun when Hoy took over the circuit, marking an end to the years of decline reported in the Monthly Mirror in 1807. Now, they reported, under the management of Mr Crisp, the theatre has undergone a complete revolution.

Mr Crisp at Sansom Fields

Mr Crisp at Sansom Fields

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Mr Crisp at Sansom Fields

From March through to August the company seem to have remained in Worcester although information relating to performances during June and July is conspicuous by its absence. During May, Crisp took another benefit, this time playing Belcour in Richard Chamberlain's best known work The West Indian. The play, a comedy, portrays colonialism in a positive light through its main character, Belcour, a plantation owner in the West Indies. A distasteful subject for a comedy perhaps as, although the trade in slaves was abolished in 1807, slaves in the Caribbean and other British Colonies were not given their freedom until an act of Parliament in 1833. Despite this, The West Indian proved very successful running for a further twenty seven performances after the opening night at Drury Lane. It also proved a popular choice as a benefit for Crisp as the Journal reported a full house for the occasion and "...his delineation of the opposite characters of Belcour and Dr. Lenitive was so eminently successful, and evinced so much genius and judgement, that it could not fail to attract great and well-deserved applause."

To date, we have found no record of any performances during June or July of 1810. This may be because the company were performing at one of the lesser theatres on the circuit away from the ever watchful press. Mr Crisp's name, however, was recorded twice in June, once in the Worcester Journal and once in the Staffordshire Advertiser, both naming him as the new manager of the Theatre Royal in Chester.

The Chester Theatre Royal was formerly the Chapel of St Nicholas, information regarding the building's former uses, its dimensions and other details have been attributed to the Rev.Canon Blomfield20. After passing out of use as a Chapel, a new floor was constructed nine feet above the original level therefore providing an upper floor for "Senate House assemblies" and, "It is on this ancient floor that the present theatre is constructed, the pit being on the level of it and underneath is the old wool hall" The drawing of the theatre below does indeed depict a man with what appears to be a sack of wool on his back. The dimensions of the hall's interior were given as 80ft by 40ft with the east end chancel adding a further 40ft by 28ft. After alterations the length increased to 125ft. The interior height of the hall was about 50ft. Blomfield continues with an extraordinary revelation - "...the present theatre is constructed entirely within the walls of the old church, and entirely independent of them".

The Theatre Royal, Northgate Street, Chester.

The Theatre Royal,
Northgate Street, Chester, 1810.

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The Theatre Royal, Northgate Street, Chester.

The October 5th 1810, edition of the Chester Chronicle carried a short advertisement announcing the Theatre Royal would open October 10th under the management of Mr Crisp who has added the Chester theatre to his circuit. The advertisement went to to inform the public about the improvements that have been made and the increase in admission charges from three shillings to three shillings and sixpence, bringing Chester in line with the other theatres of the circuit, but still not the as high a price as Liverpool or Manchester theatres, adding that the prices charged at Chester had not changed in the last thirty years but theatre costs had risen by a third. Without commenting on the increase of price an editorial in the same edition recorded the change of management of the theatre Royal and welcomed Mr Crisp, of the Worcester and Shrewsbury theatres.

"- Report speaks highly of the merits of the theatrical corps now under his command; and from the spirit which, we understand, has hitherto characterised that gentlemen at the above places, we do not entertain a doubt of a "wonderful alteration," so long wanted at our Theatre, taking place. A combination of elegance, neatness, and comfortable accommodation, is evident throughout the very great improvements which have been made in the house, and the universally acknowledged taste of that legitimate disciple of Thepis, Bevan, will, we are persuaded be unceasingly applied to add to intellectual gratification, something substantial."

The 1810 season ended with the play Africans followed by the farce Weathercock and the Chronicle was full of praise for the new company saying it has been the best since the management of Mr. Ward and wishing Mr. Crisp the success his exertions merit.

George Crisp

George's story continues here

Charles Sherwin Crisp

Turn the clocks back a little to August of 1814, and head south west from Hereford across the English-Welsh border to Swansea where, on August 8th Mr and Mrs Crisp were playing the Theatre Royal. This, we believe is Mr Charles Crisp, no longer the Second Roscius, now a married man with four children. A review, printed in the 13th August edition of the Cambrian newspaper was fairly detailed. Charles played King Henry which was second fiddle to Mr Bengough's King Richard who was making his first appearance of the season. Mr Bengough received rapturous applause for his "...thorough conception of the character" But of Mr Crisp, the reviewer noted "...received more applause than we ever remember to have known bestowed on the character" of Mrs Crisp's character there was no mention. The following Wednesday (17th), Isaac Pocock's21 The Miller and his Men was performed with Charles taking the lead role and the plaudits, of Mrs Crisp and Mrs Edwards, the Cambrian wrote "...they imparted every interest and feeling to their respective characters..." Much of the success of Pocock's play was attributed to the music of Henry Bishop, so popular did it prove at Swansea, it was repeated on Monday 5th September with a performance of the ever popular George Barnwell. From their success at Swansea during August and September to Merthyr Tydvill in November where two performances are recorded in the Cambrian. The theatre opened on November 1st with a performance of the Honeymoon, with the lead role as Duke Aranza being taken by a young Mr Williams from the Theatre Royal, Bath. Mrs Crisp played opposite him as Juliana. Mr Crisp played no part in the headline play but took the lead in the follow-on farce the Ghost. On the 14th November Merthyr enjoyed a performance of Pocock's The Miller and his Men. The company, according to the Cambrian "...was the best that ever appeared in this part of the principality..."

Charles Crisp at Chester, 1815.

Img 12: Charles Crisp at the
Theatre Royal, Chester, 1815.

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Charles Crisp at Chester, 1815.

Charles Sherwin Crisp seems to have appeared on the scene at Hereford in 1815, four years after brother George took to the stage with brother John at Worcester. This may be the reason Robin Haig described Charles as being the youngest of the three theatrical brothers8, he may well be right, we might never know. Another reason for Charles' late arrival on to the stage might have been his home and family life, as by 1815 he was married with four children. Charles did not live long enough to be recorded on any census, dying in 1832, so we have no reference for a date of birth. If Charles Sherwin was the second born son his date of birth would be around 1785 making him twenty one years of age at the time of his marriage. He married Sarah Elizabeth Cooper in Powderham, Devon 6th October 1806 and their first child, Eliza, was born in Falmouth the following month, other children followed, Cecilia in 1811, Charles and John around 1812 and William in 1822.
Of course, Charles may have been working elsewhere, we know he was no stranger to the stage as early appearances as a child actor earned him the title of the "New Young Roscius" but his first appearance at Hereford was in late August, 1815, as Norval in the tragedy Douglas. The Hereford Journal reported:

"Mr Charles Crisp, brother to our much respected Manager, performed the Part of Norval at our Theatre, being his first appearance, and personated that arduous character, with a boldness of conception, natural feeling, and discriminating judgement, highly creditable to himself, and gratifying to the audience, whose repeated plaudits marked in the most flattering manner their sense of his merits.-- This gentleman is certainly a valuable acquisition to the company."

Grimaldi at Hereford

"Having no engagement at Liverpool,- indeed, having no time to accept one,- Grimaldi remained there only two days, at the expiration of which time he went to Hereford, and having waited on Mr. Crisp the manager, went to look at the theatre, which, to his great astonishment and concern, he found to be nothing more than a common square room, with a stage four yards wide and about as many high, the head of the statue in Don Juan being obscured by the flys, and thus rendered wholly invisible to the audience. What made this circumstance the more annoying, was, that on the statue being seen to nod its head depended the effect of one of the very best scenes of Scaramouch. As Grimaldi did not hesitate to express his great mortification and annoyance, and his decided indisposition to act in such a place for four nights, which was the term originally proposed, a fresh arrangement was entered into, by which he engaged to play two nights at Hereford, and two at Worcester, where he knew there was a better theatre. He accordingly played two nights at Hereford, and two at Worcester. At the former town the receipts were on the first night £42, and on the second £45, his share of the total being £43:10 shillings. At Worcester, the receipts of the first night were £87, and of the second £93:16 shillings: here he also received a moiety of the two nights' receipts."15

Mr & Mrs C.Crisp, Elliston and Shuter

Mr & Mrs C.Crisp,
Elliston and Shuter. Open link in a new window

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Mr & Mrs C.Crisp, Elliston and Shuter

In November of the same year (1815) Charles was on stage with brother John but not in the same production and not on the same day. On the Friday 24th at the Theatre Royal, Chester, John was was on the bill as Sir Peter Teazle in the old favourite School for Scandal, worthy of note is Mr Elliston's appearance as Charles Surface heading the bill11. Elliston was under contract at Drury Lane but his 1814 season playing opposite Edmund Kean had been a disaster with Kean's performances taking the plaudits with Elliston unmentioned. At the end of the season Elliston resigned.

Monday 27th 1815, George Shuter's12 benefit night, Charles played Altenberg in William Dimond's version of Adrian and Orilla, Shuter played Martin and Mrs C. Crisp played Madame Clermont. This was the first time we had found any reference to Mrs C. Crisp on the stage anywhere. She was again on stage with her husband the following Tuesday playing Lady Randolph in Douglas, Charles again played Norval. George Shuter was part of the Boles Watson company taken over by Hoy and John Crisp in 1806. His popularity at the time ensured he would continue as part of Crisp's new company when Crisp bought Hoy's interest and took overall control of the circuit around 1808. Shuter's popularity and style as a comedian may have been an inspiration to George Crisp, but Crisp never attained the popularity and status Shuter enjoyed during his life time.

In 1817 George Crisp had left Hereford and was working the provincial theatres. He joined the Leeds theatre company with Mr and Mrs Watkinson and may have spent some time in Birmingham where Robert Elliston was the manager. Although this is mere conjecture, it is not without foundation as the following year George was part of the company that re-opened Elliston's newly renovated Olympic theatre in London. The theatre had won a legal battle over the staging an apparently unlicensed burletta called The Italian Wife in November 1817. Elliston renamed the Olympic Little Drury, due to its close proximity to the Theatre Royal, in Wych Street, off Drury Lane. In 1819 George had left Elliston and joined the Sadlers Wells theatre in Islington, it was here he met, and worked alongside Joseph Grimaldi. More about George Crisp here.

History repeated itself in a slightly different way in 1822 when John Crisp sold some of his interests in the theatre circuit he had built up. In 1819 he had purchased the lease of Cheltenham theatre from Jack Watson, agreeing to pay £420 per. anum rent. He refurbished it and at great expense, fitted both Worcester and Cheltenham theatres with gas lighting. In 1821 part of the Shrewsbury theatre collapsed leaving Crisp financially embarrassed. The remaining theatres of the reduced circuit were passed over to brother Charles and the contents of his house were put up for auction in Chester.23 John melted away until 1830 when he went back to his roots and formed a small touring company.

Liston in the character of Paul Pry

Img: 31, Liston in the
character of Paul Pry31

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Liston in the character of Paul Pry

Exactly which theatres were sold off and which remained is difficult to ascertain, certainly Hereford remained and it may have been the jewel in the crown. Brecon theatre was under Charles' control in 1824 and it is there, in early October, we find one of the early printed reference to Miss Crisp. Eliza Elfrida Crisp was born in Falmouth, Cornwall, November 1806. The review, written for the Cambrian newspaper, heaps praise on her past performances at Brecon, describing her as a favourite and comments that she is currently playing the part of Queen Elizabeth in the popular play Kenilworth at Warwick theatre with "unrivalled success". By simple mathematics it is evident Eliza was treading the boards well before her eighteenth birthday. How much before her eighteenth birthday we might deduce from another review of the Brecon theatre from the same newspaper dated 30th October 1824. Miss Cecilia Charlotte Crisp, born in Teignmouth, Devon, in December 1811, was appearing in the John Poole comedy "Simpson and Co" with her sister, Messrs Vining and Newton, Mrs Connor and Miss E. Quantrill, she would have been thirteen years old. Miss Cecilia Crisp, it reads, has "... a most pleasing and prepossessing appearance".

Charles Horatio married Mildred Mary Everill in 1831 and became a land surveyor, John Orlando died on the same day of the same year as his father on the other side of the country, 29th October 1832. William Henry Crisp followed his sisters and took to the stage as a fish to water and may have finished his days in America.

John and Charles at Swansea

Img: 32, John and Charles
at Swansea

Close John and Charles at Swansea

Charles made Hereford his home and the town's theatre flourished once again under his control. In 1829 the theatre, now lit with gas, welcomed Madame Vestris to its stage, a name synonymous with our own Charles Edward Horn. It was, of course, Madame Vestris who introduced us to Phoebe in Horn's opera Paul Pry first performed at the Haymarket Theatre in 1825. She sung the song Cherry Ripe which became an instant hit and remained a favourite for many years. The character of Paul Pry was played by John Liston, it quickly became a very popular part and one many actors made their own, Liston's depiction of Paul Pry, his mannerisms and choice of costume would define representations of the character for many years to come, the character's catchphrase "I hope I don't intrude" was soon tripping of everyone's tongue. Charles Crisp was famed for his interpretation of the role which he last played, it seems at Hereford in March, 1827. Charles retired from the stage in 1831, after which he took ownership of the Mitre Hotel in Broad Street, Hereford. There he gave a "housewarming dinner" for his friends and supporters on Easter Monday of 1831. The Easter celebrations of 1831 were early April, by June, Charles, Eliza and Cecilia were on stage at the Adelphi theatre in Edinburgh where they remained through July until the opening of the theatre in Swansea at the beginning of September. John had taken over the theatre and Charles was to be the acting manager. In October Charles was back in Scotland, but this time it was at the theatre royal in Perth. For someone who had retired from the stage Charles was still a very busy man, he was the manager of Hereford and the other theatres of the old circuit and he now had Swansea. Plus, he was still acting, retired he most certainly was not. His tenure at the Mitre, unsurprisingly, was very short lived. From January through to March of 1832 the family were performing in Aberdeen before heading down to London for a season at the Queens theatre in Tottenham street.

Crisp 'n' Dry

Img: 33, Crisp 'n' Dry

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Crisp 'n' Dry

Bell's Messenger

On Wednesday evening a Miss Cecilia Crisp appeared at this theatre as Variella in the farce of the Weathercock, a character that has hitherto been considered as the especial property of Miss Kelly. The latter lady, however, with all her talent is passé with the play-going public; younger spirits have arisen upon the scene, and the fascinations of brighter eyes, and fresher attractions, have almost effaced her from our remembrance. Miss Crisp, who has now attempted to wrest away one of her chief characters, is a young lady of considerable personal attractions, possessing a genteel figure, and eyes of superlative loveliness, but withal an unfortunate lisp, that will ever be a barrier to her progress. We believe that she is the daughter of a provincial manager, and her performance gives evidence of a perfect acquaintance with the stage, and her knowledge of stage effect. Study has enabled her to overcome, in some measure, the defects of nature by the resources of art, and thus the disappointment experienced while she is engaged in level dialogue, is forgotten in the gratification of expressive by-play, and what we must term the pantomime which she introduces. She has no singing voice, yet she gets through her songs creditably, and occasionally with effect; but that success is to be ascribed entirely to those pantomime gestures, which, when she cannot introduce, she fails. Her "Broom girl" was very amusing, but there was too much of the Columbine in the masquerade song.40

Information regarding this spell at the Queens theatre is curious in that most of the publicity revolved around Cecilia. Was this because her father was the Manager and was spending more time managing and less time on stage, or was Cecilia stealing the show? The April advertisements we have found feature only her, although her father appears in some of the May advertisements and one for a joint benefit concert on 5th June so he must have played some part, this concert was to be their last. The same advertisement mentions Miss (Eliza) Crisp for the first time, her first (and only) appearance at the Queens theatre was to sing a duet with her sister during the William Dimond comedy, Englishman in India.

Following directly on from the Queens theatre Cecilia was engaged by the New Strand subscription theatre now under the control of Mrs Waylett. Whilst Charles, having formed a business partnership earlier in the year with a Mr Spencer, left London to take the Gloucester and Cheltenham's theatres. Cecilia's continued presence in London continued to excite, the Theatrical Observer in common with almost all other daily and weekly publications received news from the provinces offered by freelance writers and reporters. Information that could often only be described gossip or rumour was frequently published at face value. In the 7th July edition they printed..

"Miss Crisp, daughter of the manager of the Cheltenham Theatre, who is now performing at the New Strand Theatre, will, on the termination of her engagement there, retire from public life, as she is about to give her fair hand in marriage to Sir W. Gordon, thus adding another to the long list of actresses who have agrandized themselves by marriage."

The Strand Theatre

Img: 34, The Strand Theatre

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The Strand Theatre

We know Cecilia was engaged by Mrs Waylett at the New Strand but have almost no information regarding the whereabouts of Eliza; We imagine she would not have left London with her father and remain with her sister but that is nothing more than conjecture, and, of course, she may also have been engaged by Mrs Waylett but was not grabbing the headlines. So, to which Miss Crisp did the article refer? As it happened no such marriage took place, we know from Eliza's will that she never married and Cecilia married in 1833, but not Sir W. Gordon.

The progress of Cheltenham's theatre which opened on June 18th was noted by the Theatrical Observer in their 14th August edition thus...

"Amid the general alarm and depression at present hanging over provincial theatricals, we have great pleasure in being able to record at least one instance of good fortune. We are informed by a correspondent on whom we can rely, that the spirited exertions of Messrs. Spencer and Crisp, of the Cheltenham Theatre, have been rewarded by the most decided and well merited success. The theatre so long deserted, has become "the fashion," and is nightly graced by audiences of the first respectability. Miss Cecilia Crisp, with all her London honours fresh upon her, has just joined the company, but the attention of the fashionables of Cheltenham is chiefly occupied at the present moment, by the announcement of the first appearance of a young lady of great beauty and accomplishments, who has recently moved in a very elevated sphere in society, and who it is rumoured has been induced to make her debut by circumstances of almost romantic interest. A fashionable amateur will support the lovely fair one on her first appearance."

Charles Sherwin Crisp died a young man of around 42 years in Gydes Terrace (now Grosvenor Street), Cheltenham, on 29th October, 1832, the result, according to the obituary column, of a "painful and protracted illness". As distressing as this was for the family it was compounded by the death of his son, John Orlando, on the same day at Lakenheath in Suffolk, the other side of the country.

Whilst researching George Crisp, our third great grandfather, we inevitably found references to John and Charles, and it soon became clear that George spent much of his life in their respective shadows. Both John and Charles were recognised as great actors of their time although they never hit the heights of Kean or Kemble but George was only ever mediocre, this was probably the reason he chose comedy for a his stage persona. John was driving force behind the family and gave both his brothers a ready made platform at the start of their careers which Charles grabbed with both hands and flourished, while George merely existed. However, all three brothers had children of their own and many of those children followed their father's footsteps and took to the stage. Of those children it was Eliza (daughter of John), Eliza and Cecilia (daughters of Charles) and Mary Anne (daughter of George) that really blossomed. George's other daughters George, Emma, Catherine and Elizabeth all appeared on the stage but started no fires, Herriot married late in life, to a widow Joseph Bowen Prosser in Boddenham in 1853.




1] The Monthly Mirror, Reflecting Men and Manners. January 1805.
1a] See Page 66, The Monthly Mirror, Reflecting Men and Manners. Published in 1805.
2] A General History of Worcester, by John Chambers. Page 377.
3] A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, volume 4.
4] See page 65 of A History of Theatres and Performers in Herefordshire by Robin Haig.
4a] Powis Land was the name given to the region of mid Wales at the death of Roderic the Great when the country was divided between his three sons. The two other regions were rather unimaginatively called North Wales and South Wales.
4b] See page 153 of "Shropshire; or, Original delineations, topographical, historical and descriptive of that county" written by Rev. John Nightingale, 1818.
5] Louisa Ingram Rayner (1832-1924) born in Matlock Bath, Derbyshire, painted many towns and cities during her life and briefly lived in Chester.
6] The Monthly Mirror confirmed this circuit on page 307 in the 1807 edition, but it also included the theatres in Shrewsbury and Bridgnorth.
7] The Cabinet: Or, Monthly Report of Polite Literature, vol 4. 1808, page 358.
8] "In 1815 the youngest brother, Charles, joined the company." See page 66 of A History of Theatres and Performers in Herefordshire by Robin Haig.
9] See page 53 of The Hereford Guide, by W. J. Rees. Published in 1806.
10] The Itinerant, Or, Memoirs of an Actor, Volume 4. By Samuel William Ryley.
11] Robert William Elliston. During 1815 Elliston played the provincial theatres whilst under contract as the "leading actor" at Drury Lane and as the manager of the Theatre Royal Birmingham, and the outright owner Olympic Theatre, London.
12] George Shuter was a popular "low" comedian around the Midlands circuit, particularly Wolverhampton, and reputed to be the son of actor comedian Edward Shuter [1730-1776]. The Monthly Mirror, vol 17.
13] Young Roscius the Second, page 210, The Monthly Mirror: Volume 19, 1805.
14] Edward Adam Ray was the father of Matilda Ray, Charles Edward Horn's first wife and the mother of Charles Horn the partner of Mary Ann Crisp. His story, written by Peter Ray, can be found in the contents.
15] From "Memoirs of Joseph Grimaldi", Volumes 1-2, edited by Charles Dickens (Boz). Page 146 18]
19] William Henry West Betty (1791-1874), English actor, known as "the young Roscius," was born on the 13th of September 1791 at Shrewsbury. He first appeared on the stage at Belfast before he was twelve years old, as "Osman" in Aaron Hill's "Zara", an English version of Voltaire's Zaire. His success was immediate, and he shortly thereafter appeared in Dublin, where it is said that in three hours of study he committed the part of Hamlet to memory.
20] Jill Edmonds wrote an article published by the Cheshire Local History Association, in their book Cheshire History number 45. The article, "Chester Theatre Royal, The Lost Interior" quotes Blomfields article written at the time of theatre's demolition in 1845-5.
21] Isaac Pocock (1782-1835) An English dramatist and painter who wrote farces, melodramas and light operas, many of which he adapted for the stage from novels. The most successful of his more than forty works was Hit and Miss (1810), a musical farce.
22] Christian Festival, February 2nd. Candlemass is derived from the ceremony which the Church of Rome dictates to be observed on this day; namely, a blessing of candles by the clergy, and a distribution of them amongst the people, by whom they are afterwards carried lighted in solemn procession. The more important observances were of course given up in England at the Reformation; but it was still, about the close of the eighteenth century, customary in some places to light up churches with candles on this day. See The Book of Days by Robert Chambers, 1802-1871
23] See the Chester Courant. Page Two, 9th October 1821.
31] The copyright of this image belongs to the Victoria and Albert Museum I thank them for allowing me to reproduce it here.
40] This wonderfully descriptive and honest review appeared in the 10th June, 1832 issue of Bell's New Weekly Messenger.


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