George Crisp

George Crisp


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The diagram below illustrates the relationship between the Crisp and Horn family.

George Crisp and Mary Crompton Close
Crisp family tree, 1st known generation

Mr G Crisp benefit concert

Mr G. Crisp, benefit concert
Worcester, February, 1811.

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Whilst brothers John and later, Charles, earned deserved reputations as serious actors, George fashioned a reputation as a comedic actor although, some have said, not a very good one. George outlived John and Charles by over twenty years, and makes his penultimate appearance in the census of 1861 living with his wife Mary at number 8, Windsor Terrace, off the City Road in London. The census was taken on 8th April 1861 and George lived for another thirty eight days, dying on the sixteenth of May 1861 at the same address, number 8, Windsor Terrace.

1811 - 1820

George, as the youngest of the three actor brothers, claims to have been born around 1786 - 1789, this from two of the three census entries in which we have found him recorded, the 1851 and 61. He is typically inconsistent with his age. At the age of about 22 years an early theatrical appearance for George (although undoubtedly not his first by any means) was in January 1811 with brother John at the Theatre Royal, Worcester, playing one of the principle characters in the comedy High Life in the City, a few weeks later it was Hawbuck in the comedy Town and Country, whilst brother John played Rueben Glenroy. The concert was on Saturday March 2nd (1811) and was billed as a benefit, this suggests that he had been working the circuit for the entire season. The advertisement from the Worcester Journal also includes details of a benefit for Mr. Miss and Mr W. Remington the previous day. The following year George is not only performing at Worcester but also at the theatres in Chester and Hereford.

Details of another benefit concert for George at Hereford February 25th (1812) are on record. This time it is not a comedy but a serious play called The Peasant Boy written by William Dimond with music by Michael Kelly, George played Ludovico and the part of the peasant boy was played by a certain Miss Campbell. After which came a farce called Hit or Miss; or The Prime Bang-up! - the part of Dick Cypher by Mr Crisp and Jerry Blossom by Mr G. Crisp. During March George plays alongside Mr Richer in Oscar and Malvina, Richer plays Carrol (a chieftan) and George plays Morvern his lieutenant. He is again on stage at Hereford on April Fool's Day and reappears to sing at Worcester fifteen days later.

Pepper Alley, Chester.

Pepper Alley, Chester.

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Pepper Alley, Chester.

During September George was again playing at Hereford, supporting the popular Mrs Cresswell at her benefit concert, he played Mingle in The Beehive, one of his preferred characters. From Hereford to Chester for 12th November to play Nicholas in Mrs Inchbald's drama called The Midnight Hour and his own benefit on Tuesday 26th November in which he played Frank in A Cure for the Heart Ache and various other characters during the course of the evening. As is not uncommon for benefit concerts, a note at the end of the advertisement reads "Tickets to be had of Mr G Crisp, at Mr Hankey's, Pepper Alley."

Pepper Alley, or Pepper Alley Row, pictured left as painted by Louise Rayner5 had previously been known as Dark Lofts (or Row), Buttershop Row, Bakers' Row, and Cooks' Row. It ran along the north side of Eastgate Street and around the corner into Northgate Street. The Chester "rows" are an unusual configuration of two storey shops in the old town centre, a common sight these days in our modern shopping malls and precincts but not quite so common in days of yore. Chester is often referred to as "the black and white town" for the beautiful old buildings, many of which are kept black and white. The "rows", first recorded in 1293 near the town centre crossroads are covered walkways one storey above street level offering another level of shops, although the headroom in some of the rows is quite low.

The photograph below was taken in 2014 from Pepper Alley looking out over the crossroads of Eastgate Street, Northgate Street, Watergate Street and Bridge Street, the central area of the town which is now pedestrianised. The rows can be clearly seen above Walton's store which has a date plaque 1888, a young building looking much older than it is and on the opposite corner in Bridge Street above Crabtree and Evelyn's store. To the right of Crabtree and Evelyn's, on the corner of Bridge Street and Watergate Street can be seen one of the frequent sets of steps leading up the the row. The black and white colour scheme clearly evident.

The town centre crossroads, 2014.

Chester town centre
crossroads, 2014.

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The town centre crossroads, 2014.

1812 seems to have been very much the same as 1811 apart from a curiosity printed in the Chester Courant, 27th July, welcoming back Mr G Crisp to the Theatre Royal, Chester after an absence of two years whilst the Chester Chronicle described his return as his second performance these two years. He played Ralph in the entertainment of Lock and Key and the Courant described him as "an old favourite whose performances are distinguished for sterling humour and merit". It must be said, however, that many of the references found for George are simply a single line to the effect of "...followed by a comic song by Mr G. Crisp".
In 1813 George seems to have spent his time mainly in Chester or Worcester, although I should add that records relating to the other theatres on the circuit managed by John are very few indeed so George may have frequented Leominster, Shrewsbury, Stourbridge or any one of the smaller theatres at any time. During December George supported Miss Watkinson at Chester in her benefit concert, playing one of the principle characters in the "favourite Comedy" A Bold Stroke for a Husband. He took his own benefit on Monday 20th December for which the Chester Chronicle had some praise in the printed notification...

George Crisp 1813 benefit concert

George Crisp's benefit
concert 1813.

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George Crisp 1813 benefit concert.
"...Mr G Crisp takes his benefit -School for Scandal- one of the best productions of Sheridan, is the play, with a variety of entertainments. Taking into consideration Mr Crisp's value as an actor, and a public favourite, we think we may auger a crowded house on the occasion..."

George played Crabtree and brother John took the lead role as Sir Peter Teazle. At the end of the play George sung the inevitable comic song called Stage Novelties. The advertisement ended. as was the custom, with "...tickets of Mr G Crisp, at Mr Hankey's, Eastgate-row". This appears to be a new address for Mr Hankey at first glance but as I noted earlier, Pepper Alley and Eastgate Row may well have been a reference to the same street.

1814 was more of the same, March and April were spent in Hereford, before moving on to Chester where he ended April and spent all of May before moving on to Worcester in June. For August, George was back in Hereford before finishing the year in Chester. His first benefit for this year was at Hereford, 26th March, again with brother John taking the lead role as Sir Robert Ramble in the comedy Everyone Has His Fault, George played Mr Solus. The inevitable comic song was Melly the Fair and the evening's entertainment concluded with the farce Darkness Visible.

St. Nicholas' Church, 1827

Img: 35, St. Nicholas'
Church, 1827

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St. Nicholas' Church, 1827

His second benefit was on June 6th at Worcester and the evening's entertainment was true variety. The headline was a new five act comedy penned by Thomas Morton called Education, first performed at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden the previous year. Like Chester, brother John would probably take the lead role but on this occasion no parts were publicised. The play was followed by the farce Darkness Visible, which was also new to the Worcester audience. Between the two George would sing his new comic song Stage Novelties, or The Managers Last Kick.

"...in which will be introduced Remarks on Carlo (the Dog) Bulls and Bears, the Hottentot Venus. Bonaparte's Heir, and the Wonderful REAL HORSES used in the admired dramatic romance at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden called Timour the Tartar"

Mr and Miss George Crisp at Much Wenlock

Img: 36, Mr and Miss George
Crisp, Much Wenlock.

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Before returning to Chester for the October season George stayed at Hereford for a late summer break, his address during his stay was at Miss Crompton's of Wyebridge Street. On the 12th September 1814, Miss Crompton of Wyebridge Street became Mrs George Crisp at St Nicholas' Church in Hereford. Miss Mary Crompton was the eldest of seven children born to a Hereford merchant and barge owner, Jonathan Crompton and his wife Joan (probably née Hopkins).

George's marriage to Mary Crompton drew him into a fairly prominent Herefordshire family. Mary's father, Jonathan, was a successful businessman but not without some personal difficulties. He was a boat owner, a merchant and the tenant of a substantial wharf and yard in Pipe Lane, Hereford called Crompton's Wharf. Read the Crompton family's story here.

A point to muse over at this juncture is whether George Crisp had been married before. Both his brothers had married young and George was about twenty five years when he married in 1814, elderly by comparison. The reason we are thinking this way is the appearance of Miss George Crisp in April 1824 at Hereford and various other theatres up to 1827. At each appearance she was accompanied by Mr George Crisp. Of course, there may not have been a marriage, but it seems one of the more obvious and plausible explanations, death during childbirth was far from uncommon. Our mysterious Miss George first appeared in Shakespeare's Richard III alongside Mr George and Cecilia Crisp at Hereford, April 28th 1824, Mr George played the Lord Mayor of London whilst Cecilia played the Prince of Wales and Miss George played the Duke of York. She appeared several times over the next few years before disappearing in 1827, her last appearance was with Mr George at the White Hart Inn, Much Wenlock, April 16th. Miss George disappeared as suddenly and mysteriously and she appeared. We have found no early marriage record for Mr George, no baptism record or marriage record for Miss George so we can only guess as to where she came from and where she went. We assume she was George Crisp's daughter either from an earlier marriage, or as the result of a liason with Mary Crompton before they married in September 1814. A review in the Warwick Advertiser from November 1826 puts her age around 12 years, making her date of birth to be around 1814. Her appearances on stage suggest she was strong and healthy which in turn suggests her disappearance from the stage was probably due to her being married rather than an early death. This is all supposition, nothing more.

The Green Dragon Inn, Hereford

Img: 37, The Green Dragon Inn,
Broad Street, Hereford

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The Green Dragon Inn, Hereford

The marriage of George and Mary Crompton may well have been the highlight of 1814 as audience attendances at Chester and Hereford had been falling and the slide continued into 1815. Mary Anne was born in January 1815 and baptised at St Nicholas Church on the 11th of the same month, George's occupation was recorded as a Grocer. Regardless of that, in February 1816, George hired the great room of the Green Dragon Inn, Broad Street, Hereford for a private concert to take place on the 1st March. Tickets for the evenings entertainment were six shillings each but no information was forthcoming about the content of the show or who would be performing, only that it was a benefit concert for George Crisp. In the advertisement George describes himself as "late of the Hereford Theatre" and implies the motivation for the concert came from the support he received "in his undertaking" from his friends. It seems George had split from his brothers, and taken a more stable profession to support his wife and new daughter. His address was still Wyebridge Street, so was "his undertaking" the conversion of a house to a shop on the busy thoroughfare that would have been Wyebridge Street? Or the acquisition of premises in the centre of the town?

Leeds Theatre

Img: 38, Leeds Theatre

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Leeds Theatre

Below the advertisement for George's benefit concert was the usual Hereford Theatre advertisement for the weekly offering and details of a special concert commemorating the birth of David Garrick in Hereford, his native city. John and Charles both had parts to play but of George, there was no mention. At the end of February John would return to Worcester where the audiences seemed stable, and prepare a welcome for Mr Elliston to the theatre and Charles, now acting manager of Hereford theatre, was working to revive the flagging fortunes of that house.

Over the next few years George's life takes some some unexpected turns. During the summer of 1817 he appears to become attached to the York theatre circuit appearing at Leeds from the end of May through to July as a bit part actor. Sharing the Leeds stage were Mr and Mrs Watkinson, from John's Crisp's company many years previously. The theatre at Leeds at this time was never a money spinner for its owners, the local population had a fiercely Methodist element on one side matched only by a strong dissenting faction on the other. Houses were never full and the objections were regularly fuelled by performances of popular plays with titles designed to excite disapproval; School for Scandal, The Virgin Unmasked and The Clandestine Marriage among the regular favourites. George appears only as Mr Crisp in all the playbills found so far which obviously casts some doubt as to which particular Mr Crisp it is. We are sure it is neither John or Charles as both were busy with their own theatres and both would certainly demand and deserve a higher billing. Perhaps the deciding factor was the newspaper article dated May 1818 announcing Mr George Crisp was confined in York Castle for debt. The notice (Img 39) was published in the Hereford Journal, 13th May, 1818, describing Mr George Crisp, Comedian, as "late of Sheffield....but heretofore of the City of Hereford, Grocer and Draper"

Bankruptcy notice, 1818.

Img: 39, Bankruptcy notice,
Hereford Journal, 1818.

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Bankruptcy notice, 1818.

After resolving this brush with the legal system, the Theatrical Inquisitor lists G. Crisp as part of Elliston's company at London's Olympic Theatre. Here, he found himself working alongside other practitioners of "low comedy", Sloman, Keely and Henderson. Elliston had reputedly spent in excess of £2500 on decoration, renovation and a variety of improvements to the theatre's layout. The result increased the seating capacity to a little over thirteen hundred. At the time the Olympic was having its own brush with the legal system over the staging of an apparently unlicensed burletta called The Italian Wife in November 1817. The established theatres had seized this opportunity to put Elliston to the sword and moved in swiftly for the kill. Elliston's apparent neglect of duty was politely brought to the attention of the Lord Chancellor. It seems the Theatre Royals no longer saw Elliston and the little Olympic theatre as an annoyance but more of a threat. After much wrangling the Lord Chancellor found in Elliston's favour and the New Olympic theatre opened its doors 16th November 1818. However, Elliston had already committed himself to the Theatre Royal in Birmingham and by walking away from them before his lease had expired, landed himself in another legal fight. Birmingham was not going to take being abandoned lightly. The theatre claimed unpaid rent amounting to almost eight hundred pounds of which their 1821 end of year accounts showed only three hundred pounds had been paid. It is unlikely the remainder was ever paid, the theatre had burnt to the ground in 1820.

Dramatis Personæ

Img: 40, Dramatis Personæ

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Dramatis Personæ

In the book Robert William Elliston, Manager by Christopher Murray, the author lists the Olympic's company for the opening night in November 1818. Apart from Elliston and Mrs Edwin, there were Messrs Wrench, Oxberry and De Camp (all formerly of Drury Lane) and singers from the English Opera house Pearman and "Bell" Stephenson. No one else was mentioned by name. However, the author continues with: "...together with the pick of Elliston's Birmingham players and some old reliables at the Olympic." Does this mean George was part of Elliston's Birmingham company at some point during 1818?

The opening night's fare was a performance of Rochester; or King Charles the Second's Merry Days, written by William Thomas Moncrieff especially for Elliston. Image 40 alongside this text is the dramatis personæ, or cast of characters for the opening night. George Crisp plays Gruff Barney, the ostler and chamberlain at the inn, a wonderfully named minor character of no consequence and very much as we would have expected. Conspicuous by their absence are the three gentlemen from Drury Lane, Messrs Wrench, Oxberry and De Camp.

Olympic Theatre advertisement.

Img: 41, Olympic Theatre advertisement.

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Olympic Theatre advertisement.

Moncrieff's play, Rochester; or King Charles the Second's Merry Days had been very successful, running on until February 1819 with an occasional repetition during March. Elliston had succeeded in drawing custom away from the established theatres, Drury Lane in particular, but even then, whilst basking in the warm glow of success controversy was just around the corner. He had commissioned Moncrieff to write another piece in a bid to extend the theatre's favour with the public and Moncrieff obliged with a play called The Fortunate Youth. Moncrieff provided a copy for Elliston's perusal and another for the Lord Chamberlain's office in order to obtain a licence, which in the event, was denied until certain alterations had been made. Meanwhile Elliston, happy with Moncrieff's latest offering, had scheduled rehearsals based on the original script. When Moncrieff discovered this he was naturally concerned that the Elliston was intending to stage a version of the play that had been refused a licence so went to the Olympic to confront him. The resulting, very public altercation saw Mr Moncrieff being physically thrown out of the Olympic Theatre and Mr Elliston before a Magistrate on a charge of assault. The Morning Post described the events in great detail, Mr Moncrieff, of course, won his case and there, I imagine, ended a brief, but successful partnership.

Royal Olympic Theatre 1831

Img: 42, Royal Olympic
Theatre, 1831.

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Royal Olympic Theatre 1831

With the success of Elliston's Olympic theatre, it is unlikely George would have walked away from the income this would have generated for him and other members of the cast. His association with Elliston was, however, short-lived. As 1818 drew to a close no further notices linking George Crisp to the Olympic theatre have been found, the last being for December 3rd but that may have been down to a change in the advertisement. Having said that, even actors have time off, but would he have returned to Hereford for the Christmas period? His wife, Mary, still had family in Hereford and his brother Charles lived there so it is certainly a possibility. As bad as the roads were in this pre-railway age coach travel had improved and continued to improve. In 1815 the mail coach left the City Arms in Hereford at 6.45 in the morning and typically arrived in London at 5am the following day, within six years the same service was leaving Hereford at 5am and arriving in London the same day. A rough and uncomfortable journey it was and one that a couple with two young children might hesitate to undertake if, that is, Mary was living with her husband in London.

Sadler's Wells advertisement

Img: 43, Sadler's Wells
advertisement.

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Sadler's Wells advertisement

Our assumption is George remained at the Olympic until the final performance of Rochester and then his booking would have either been extended or ended. It seems it was ended as in April he is appearing on stage at Sadler's Wells in Islington. In 1819 Islington was still a small community in a rural setting on the edge of the city. A short walk eastwards across Finsbury Fields would take you to another small community called Hackney and a short walk westward across Islington Fields would take you to Pentonville, Somers Town or Camden Town, if you took a north-westerly path. The name derives from Richard Sadler's re-discovery of a natural spring on his land that had long been forgotten, he naturally promoted the waters as medicinal, claiming relief for "dropsy, jaundice, scurvy, green sickness and other distempers to which females are liable..." To further amuse the growing number of visitors taking the waters, he built a "music house" which has remained on the same site to this day. The original building was replaced under the watchful eye of Thomas Rosoman, the theatre's manager from 1746 to 1771 and it is this second incarnation of the music house that George Crisp would have been familiar with. The interior of Sadler's Wells was reconstructed during the winter of 1801-2 at a cost of about £1,500 by Rudolphe Cabanel. Richard Wroughton, a former manager and still a share holder in the theatre, described the progress thus: "the place is completely gutted and a very pretty, handsome theatre will soon be ready". The resulting style mimicked that of Covent Garden and Drury Lane with horseshoe circle and galleries with thinner cast-iron supports giving far better views of the stage from all angles of the auditorium.

Aqua-Theatre

To accommodate the installation of the tank, the stage floor was removed and the tank was placed on dwarf walls erected on the basement floor. The main tank measured ninety feet from the back of the stage to the front, twenty-four feet across and was built with channels either side so performers could float on and off during scenes. The tank had a capacity of sixty-five thousand gallons, and was filled by an Archimedes wheel. This process took twelve men twelve hours, four men would work in four hour shifts and then rotate until the entire tank was full. Even though the tanks were drained and refilled every three weeks they would become filthy, not only from the shows, but the actors would bathe in the tank, along with rowdy audience members jumping in to see if the water was real. A second tank was installed to act as a waterfall which was placed at an angle in the flies1.

Inside Sadler's Wells, 1808.

Img: 44, Inside
Sadler's Wells, 1808.

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Inside Sadler's Wells, 1808

From 1800 Sadler's Wells was managed by Charles Dibdin the Younger, the illegitimate son of composer Charles Dibdin and the actress Harriett Pitt. The success he enjoyed encouraged him, his brother Thomas, Robert Andrews (the scene painter) and composer William Reeve to became shareholders in the theatre. In 1803 a large water tank1 was installed and filled from the nearby New River head, aquatic theatre was born performing aqua dramas. The cost was close to a thousand pounds but Dibdin was convinced it would be money well spent, not "a sprat to catch a herring" he said, "more like baiting with a whale to catch a Leviathan."1 The first show was The Siege of Gibralter. It opened in 1804, depicting the naval battle between the English Navy and the Spanish Armada. In the tank were 177 miniature warships, complete with rigging and miniature cannons cast in brass. The ships were built to the scale of one inch per foot by shipbuilders from Woolwich dockyards, the sailors were portrayed by children from the streets of Islington. The 1819 season opened in April and the advertisements in the London newspapers (img 43) have some interesting detail about the decoration, structural alterations and improvements the theatre has undergone. There is no mention of the tank, Aqua theatre or aqua drama. The idea seems to have been a short lived and expensive curiosity.

Sadler's Wells in 1745

Img: 45, Sadler's Wells
in 1745.

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Sadler's Wells in 1745

Working alongside the great Joseph Grimaldi would undoubtedly have been one of the highlights of George Crisp's life. Grimaldi was still a significant draw but his popularity was declining, he had returned to Sadler's Wells after a break of four years which he spent touring the provinces, (during which he played two nights at Worcester for John Crisp and two nights at Hereford for Charles) and worked at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. The advertisement also contains the reference "G. Crisp, (Theatre Royal, Haymarket)". This is one of three references we have found to George treading the boards at the Haymarket, which we suggest, may prove to have been his finest hour. A December advertisement in the Morning Advertiser for Elliston's Olympic Theatre had a similar line and two years previously the Chester Chronicle commented on Watkinson, G. Crisp and Baker all making their appearance (past tense) there. Whether the three appeared together or at different times during the season is not clear. However, to date, we have found no evidence of G. Crisp on stage at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, but do not doubt the validity of the reports.

Sadler's Wells Playbill

Img: 46,
Sadler's Wells Playbill

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Sadler's Wells Playbill

The season George spent at Sadler's Wells with Joseph Grimaldi may have been, for him, a season to remember, but for Charles Dibdin it proved to be a season to forget. The original success of his management style faded and theatre goers, fickle as they are and probably always will be, found other forms of entertainment and other venues for their amusement. The location of Sadler's Wells was always a problem, being on the outskirts of the metropolis the area was synonymous with drunkenness, general unsocial behaviour and occasional violence, which worsened after sunset. To try and overcome the fears of their more sensitive patrons, escorts were provided to accompany them to the safer parts of the inner city. For Dibdin, 1819 was his final year as owner and manager, he was declared bankrupt and spent two years in a debtors prison. The sale of his shares in the Sadler's Wells theatre was necessary to clear his debts. George left London late in 1819, the last indication we have as to his whereabouts is an advertisement for the evening of August 31st for a "Musical Interlude" called the Caliph and Cadi or Rambles in Bagdad [sic] in which George appears. The notice (img 46), is a loose transcription of the playbill. That evenings work may have been his last at Sadler's Wells, the reasons may have had nothing to do with Dibdin, Sadlers Wells or any other everyday irritation but for more personal reasons; his daughter Heriott was born very soon after. The season at Sadler's Wells naturally continued after George's departure, in Dibdin's absence Grimaldi took over as the theatre's manager but it was too little, too late and not nearly enough to raise the theatre's fortunes, the decline inextricably continued.

Golden Valley.

Img: 47, Golden Valley,
1831. Open in new window

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Golden Valley.

Heriott was baptised at St Margaret's Church, Hereford on September 5th 1819. The location, Hereford, was something of a surprise but it was the church which threw us into immediate confusion. There is not a church dedicated to St Margaret in Hereford, furthermore, as far as we are aware, there never has been. St Margaret's, we discovered, is a geographical location, a hamlet named after an ancient church of the same name two or three miles south of Turnastone and Vowchurch, as the crow flies, considerably longer by road. Vowchurch itself is approximately ten miles west of Hereford in the Golden Valley. Between St Margaret's and Vowchurch is an area called Whitehouse, described thus:

"Whitehouse is an extensive estate originally well over a thousand acres, comprising the demise Home farm with its land and woods and a series of adjacent tenanted farms, cottages and properties. The main house is in Turnastone parish on the rising ground west of the Golden Valley with fine views across Vowchurch and the valley. The lands of the estate were in Turnastone, Vowchurch and St.Margaret's but also extended into Newton and Bacton."2

St. Margaret's Church.

Img: 48,
St. Margaret's Church.

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St. Margaret's Church.

Mary's father, Jonathan Crompton, had left Hereford after the sale of his house and company assets at Pipe Lane when he was declared bankrupt in 1815. He first moved west to Crasswall, a small village in the foothills of the Black Mountains a little under 20 miles from Hereford, before moving back eastward, leasing parts of Whitehouse Farm. Although we cannot pinpoint the year Jonathan moved to Whitehouse Farm, he moved away around 1821. It was here, Heriott was baptised, St Margaret's Church in the Golden Valley, by Mr Jones the Curate. George Crisp's profession was entered as Actor on Stage, London. The Church, parts of which are said to date back to the 12th Century has an unusual turret configuration in place of the tower and a rood screen said to date from the early 1500s. Heriott's baptism at St Margaret's can be construed whichever way one chooses, it may be that Mary and the children did not travel with George to London, but stayed with her mother and father. Or, perhaps, now with three children (or two with another on the way) George and Mary had decided the time was right to return home. We do not know of George's future employment prospects but the one aspect of this time we found perplexing was his exit from the Sadler's Wells company mid-season. Of course, the argument that Mary and the children were with George in London is slightly more persuasive. A wife should be with her husband and the children should be with their father, and if this was the case, where else would they stay on their return to Hereford but with parents? But then, is the journey from London to Hereford one that a couple with two young children might hesitate to undertake?

Charles Edward Horn and Miss Byrne.

Img: 49, Charles Edward
Horn and Miss Byrne.

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Charles Edward Horn and Miss Byrne.

A single reference from the records of London's Adelphi theatre is all we have for that city in early 1820. Mr. G Crisp is on the books playing Balaam in Moncrieff's play, Rochester; or King Charles the Second's Merry Days and Mr. Deputy Grumpy in the afterpiece Where Shall I Dine? on 20th March 1820. We have found nothing more until the three brothers open the Cheltenham theatre in early May. George's decision to leave London and return to the borders may have been influenced by his children so it is possible the spell at the Adelphi was simply honouring previously made commitments. Of course, it could also mean he had no further prospects of work in London. John Crisp had procured the Cheltenham theatre on a long term lease from John Boles Watson in April 1819, and as is usual, renovated and decorated the theatre throughout. He also had gas lighting fitted.

"The audience part of the house will receive the light from a most brilliant glass chandelier supplied by Mr Collins of Temple-Bar who furnished those for Drury-Lane and the opera house; and to render this mode of lighting both agreeable and effective, it will be suspended from the centre of the ceiling, immediately over the pit."5a

The Cheltenham Chronicle's 13th May edition announced the theatre's re-opening would be Tuesday 18th May 1819. The opening nights offering was the tried and trusted Heir at Law, from the pen of George Colman. John Crisp naturally took the lead role, Zekiel Homespun. At the bottom of the notice, no doubt added for future reference, were the lines: Performance nights will usually be Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 7 o'clock precisely.

Stephen Kemble as Falstaff.

Img: 50, Stephen Kemble
as Falstaff.

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Stephen Kemble as Falstaff.

The theatre opened its doors for the 1820 season on the 9th May under the patronage of Frances Villiers, the Countess of Jersey. The Countess, it was said, was one of King George IV more notorious mistresses when he was Prince of Wales. The entertainment offered for the opening night was Love in a Village with Mr Charles Edward Horn in a role he excelled in: Young Meadows. Opposite Horn, in the role of Rosetta, was Miss Byrne. Apparently from Ireland, Miss Byrne had been gracing the stage of Drury Lane three years previously so was probably well known to Horn. In the role of Hodge was George Crisp. The Chronicle, traditionally, dedicate more than the usual amount of column inches to the theatre. This occasion was no different. Their review focused mostly on Horn, and was very favourable to him and the rest of the performers, I have copied a few snippets from the column here:

"Mr. Horn... acquitted himself in the dialogue with much gentlemanly ease... His voice has more of sweetness than of power; and we can almost fancy that in the present instance the effects of cold were occasionally obtunding themselves... His first song was excellent given, with simplicity and feeling - the genuine characteristics of the music of this pastoral Opera..."

Of George Crisp their words were short, perhaps befitting of a part player:

"Mr G. Crisp, another brother of our spirited Manager, played Hodge: - he is an easy, cheerful, and very agreeable performer - with a great deal more of nature than art in his acting. His colouring is too faithful to be extravagant, and too content in the homeliness of its dress to seek for applause "by saying more than is set down;" this is a species of acting which the stage is much in need of."

George's Worcester Benefit.

Img: 51, "Bombastes Furioso"
by George Cruikshank.

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George's Worcester Benefit.

Image 49 gives notice of Mr Horn's and Miss Byrne's last night on the Cheltenham stage, it is also Miss Byrne's benefit night. Her choices for the night were the evergreen Duenna and the currently popular French import John of Paris. Several English translations of this play (written by Claude Saint-Just with music composed by Boieldieu) toured the provinces as the major London theatres adapted the original French piece to suit their own peculiar needs, or that of their company. Covent Garden's version, for example, was adapted by Henry Bishop and Isaac Pocock. No doubt the version Cheltenham would experience would be the Drury Lane version adapted by Samuel J. Arnold with music composed by Horn. The latter half of the notice introduces Mr S. Kemble to Cheltenham for three nights commencing 20th May. Kemble will play Falstaff in Shakespeare's King Henry the Fourth with Charles Crisp playing Hotspur. In his original address to the Cheltenham faithful published in the Chronicle, John Crisp promised to bring the best from the London stage "...the Company will be numerous, and of established and acknowledged talent" and fulfilled on his promise. Stephen Kemble was born in Kington, Herefordshire, the second son of Roger Kemble. He had two brothers Charles, and John Philip and three sisters, Elizabeth (Whitlock), Ann (Hatton) and the more successful Sarah (Siddons).

Miss Stephens.

Catherine Stephens was well known for her beautiful soprano voice, particularly of ballads. After hearing her as Polly and as Mandane, a popular critic4 of the period said she was "like nothing else on the stage, leaving all competition far behind;" She was born in 1794 and enjoyed considerable success. She was a fixture at Covent Garden for almost ten years, worked with Elliston at Drury Lane and appeared in most other major provincial theatres including Dublin, Liverpool, Bath and Cheltenham. On 19th April 1838, Miss Stephens married George Capel-Coningsby, 5th Earl of Essex, an octogenarian widower, who died the following year. Lady Essex, as she now was, survived him for forty-three years, and continued taking an interest in all matters theatrical. She died of bronchitis on 22nd February 1882 and was buried at Kensal Green Cemetery, with the great Madame Vestris and our own Mary Anne Crisp.

George again disappears after Cheltenham and we next find him in September when he reappears at Worcester for his own benefit concert. It is probable he would have been on stage somewhere in the region before this date, the theatres leased by John included some minor towns that often went unnoticed by the press. Of course, not all towns had a theatre, village, Church or tavern halls regularly staged small shows and events on market days to attract visitors, the White Hart Inn at Much Wenlock (image 36 above) is a fine example of this.

Miss Stephens as Rosetta.

Img: 52, Miss Stephens
as Rosetta3

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Miss Stephens as Rosetta

Back at Worcester, Friday, September 8th, was Mr Waldron's benefit night and his chosen entertainment was Macbeth with the afterpiece of Charles Edwards Horn's The Woodman's Hut. George Crisp's benefit followed on Monday 11th which is probably not the best evening for pecuniary rewards. He chose to play Robert Tyke in Thomas Morton's School of Reform and General Bombastes in the burlesque opera written by William Barnes Rhodes, Bombastes Furioso. His lodgings at Worcester were in Broad Street with Mrs Dawes. October was Chester, with all three brothers on the stage and a bill of fare featuring some old established favourites. The very popular Miss Stephens took the headline as Rosetta in Love in a Village, with Mr. C. Crisp as Tristram Fickle in The Weathercock, and Mr John Crisp as Crack the Cobbler in The Turnpike-Gate. Also on the bill were Laugh When You Can and Bluebeard with George Crisp, George Shuter, Waldron and Cook listed as some of the principal characters.

The remainder of the year fell into a familiar pattern with performances at Chester and Worcester, but nothing we have found for Hereford. The Chester Chronicle's review in the 27th October's edition was particularly favourable to George, "Mr George Crisp has greatly improved in his absence - he is an excellent actor". The time in London working with Elliston, Grimaldi and others was seemingly well spent. His Chester benefit was again a Monday evening (November 6th) and this is the last occasion we have found for 1820.

1821

Chester Theatre, September, 1821.

Img: 53, Chester Theatre
September, 1821.

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Chester Theatre, September, 1821.

Cheltenham seems to have taken over as the preeminent theatre in the Crisp portfolio and justifiably so. The Chronicle claims mild dismay at the short notice given for the theatres opening night offerings for 1821; "...the house certainly presented "a beggarly account of empty boxes" to witness one of the finest comedies in our language - the Rivals of poor Sheridan6" but half a column at the end of page three was dedicated to the performance regardless. George played Bob Acres (an impressionable but naive country landowner). Acres is attempting to make himself more desirable and sophisticated in order to win over the affections of Lydia Languish (a wealthy heiress) however, his designs to be more amiable, learn fashionable dances and a change of hairstyle to impress the lady all inevitably fail. "Mr G. Crisp understands Acres right well, and in a way of his own. He is more portly, and more the half-rustic - half civilised squire than any we recollect - and his last scene, in a good audience, must have afforded a high treat... ".

Cheltenham remained open seemingly through to the end of August when the company moved on to Chester. John Crisp placed an advertisement in the August 11th publication of the Chester Courant and followed it with a full advertisement on the 18th. The opening of the theatre coincided with Chester's own music festival at the Cathedral attended by the Archbishop of York and the Bishops of Chester and St. Asaph (Wales). The festival opened Tuesday 25th and continued throughout the week, John Braham and Miss Stephens were among the list of performers. The theatre, for its part, put on the Green Man and Warlock of the Glenn on Monday, followed by Rochester and The Fate of Calais on Tuesday. The theatre would also be open Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. In the advertisement John described the the performers as the Cheltenham Company leaving no doubt as to how much he believed his fortunes had improved by taking the lease. The little theatre at Hereford that so mortified Grimaldi with its "...common square room, with a stage four yards wide and about as many high..."7 now seems a long way away.

John Crisp, Auction.

Img: 54, John Crisp
Auction.

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John Crisp, Auction.

In early October the Cheltenham company packed up and closed the doors on Chester. The last night of this short season was the 12th October and it was set aside for Charles' benefit concert. John Crisp, in the meantime, was having serious financial difficulties. The gas lighting fitted to Cheltenham and Worcester theatres had cost a considerable amount of money, a good investment in the future of both theatres undeniably but other costs were mounting. The rent was overdue on Cheltenham theatre and a supporting wall at Shrewsbury theatre had collapsed. One small clip in the Chester Courant (image 54) from October 1821, sheds some light on his plight. Of course, this may simply be John selling off his Chester home and contents to raise some much needed capital but it gives the distinct appearance of being too little too late. We have found no record of bankruptcy proceedings against John Crisp but he was incarcerated in the Kings Bench prison in Southwark (not to be confused with the Marshalsea) and released in 1822. A meeting of his creditors was held on 23rd February, 1822, at the Talbot Inn, Shrewsbury. Charles meantime, in John's absence, opened the Kidderminster theatre which again needed extensive renovation and decoration before it could be used, possibly another theatre leased from the Boles Watson family. But what of George Crisp while all this was going on? Once again he has disappeared.

Catherine Crisp's benefit concert and marriage announcement.

Img: 55, Benefit concert
and marriage announcement.

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Catherin Crisp's benefit concert and marriage announcement.

We have found two pieces of information that may explain his whereabouts during the latter half of 1821. The October 21st edition of the Morning Post, in its theatrical round up, refers to Mr Crisp's representation of Touchstone, the court jester, in Shakespeare's play, As You Like It. "Some seasons have escaped since Touchstone had been ushered into notice here with the honours due to him until this occasion - Mr. Crisp made so favourable a stand in the personification, as to be deserving of considerable praise" The location of this performance was the Brighton theatre, Sussex. Later, in December of 1821 at the Church of St Giles in the Fields, Holborn, Catherine, daughter of George and Mary Crisp was baptised. The address of the family was recorded as Tottenham Court Road, and George's occupation was "Traveller". Nineteen years later Catherine married William Joseph Tuffill in Tunbridge, Kent, her father was described as George Crisp, Comedian of the Kent circuit. We can forgive the miss - spelling of Mr Tuffill's name and thank the editor of the notice for informing us that Catherine was the youngest of George's daughters. Unfortunately, it is not true as Elizabeth was born around 1829. It is an annoyance we have not been able to determine Elizabeth's or her sister Emma's exact date and place of birth.

Stourbridge Theatre

In 1800 Stourbridge theatre was owned by John Henry Colls, a gentleman, William Wood, a printer, both of Worcester and William Gill, a house painter of Leicester7. They leased the theatre to John Boles Watson and Robert Hoy. When Hoy split from Watson he took Stourbridge for £42 per anum rent, plus fees for "the use of scenery, costumes and properties". These terms were probably inherited by John Crisp when he joined Hoy in a partnership and ultimately bought him out. When John took over Stourbridge he let it to Mrs Nunns for two years8 before resuming control himself.

1822 was a year sparse of information. All early references to any Crisp are across the border in Wales. Brecon theatre was opened in February and notices continue throughout the year. George was once again working with Charles and took a benefit night in May. The final notice was in early June which declared: "Mr. Crisp...has, with liberal feeling, announced that, previously to the close of the season, he intends appropriating the entire profit of one nights performance to the benefit of the poor of Brecon." A gesture of good will that usually generates positive publicity and much more good will in return. A practice learnt from John and probably practised by many other theatre managers past, present and future. The latter part of the year only turned up three notices, the first confirmed the re-opening of Hereford theatre under the management of Charles Crisp, on 6th August, race week. There were no big name bookings, only Mr. G. Crisp, Mr. Vining and Miss Thomas were named as the company but the offering was a new piece by Thomas Morton called Henri Quatre: or, Paris in The Olden Time. The after piece was Charles Edward Horn's popular piece The Beehive. The second notice was for Wednesday August 21st, still under the heading of "Race Week" with no named company, the third was far more positive and interesting to the town of Hereford. The notice confirms Charles Crisp as the new manager and that he has taken the theatre on a long term lease. Much of the scenery and props belonging to the theatres were probably seized during John Crisp's bankruptcy proceedings so any show Charles managed to put on would have been a major achievement. A final unrelated notice was found in the Staffordshire Advertiser from June of this year, it relates to the Birmingham Theatre: "Mr. Crisp, the celebrated comedian, is on the list of new performers there".

Back at Hereford.

Img:56, Back at Hereford.

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Back at Hereford.

George remained with Charles as far as we can tell during the remainder of 1822 and into 1823, so we believe Birmingham's celebrated comedian to be John not George. Nothing appears in 1823 until April so the company were probably working the smaller theatres. On April 21st the newly decorated Stourbridge theatre opened its doors to not very many people. The evenings entertainment was the managers staple Heir at Law and A Rowland far an Oliver, two very popular plays that usually mean full, or close to full, houses. The following Wednesday Henri Quatre, with Charles Crisp playing Henri, was again indifferently supported. The company was strong, Messrs. Shuter, Vining and George Crisp with Miss Poole, Miss E. Quantrill and for the first time I am aware of, Miss Crisp. Towards the weekend numbers grew until finally the house was crowded, a review of the mixed week published in The Drama had little time for Charles Crisp: " Mr. C. would do well to dispense with a little of the blustering, vulgar air and manner which uniformly perverts his noblest efforts". Mr Vining "...was very successful as Charles Stanley, and Shuter's Vortex gave general satisfaction; George Crisp's Frank Oatlanils was an admirable personation." Of the ladies he continued "...Miss Poole, as Florence, looked and played charmingly; Miss E. Quantrill's Clotilda was very naturally enacted, and with a great portion of animation; and Miss Crisp's Louisou was a most engaging performance. This young lady, who is not more than seventeen, has already evinced capabilities in the first line of characters, both in tragedy and comedy, of the highest order."

John Crisp at Sheffield.

Img:57, John Crisp
at Sheffield.

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John Crisp at Sheffield.

July 30th. Hereford opened for the assizes with The School for Scandal and welcomed back John Crisp as Sir Peter Teazle. Charles Crisp played Charles Surface with Miss Crisp as Lady Teazle, George is not named. The theatre only stayed open until the 4th August but re-opened later for Race Week. The Miss Crisp of the billing here, and previously at Stourbridge, we believe is Miss Eliza Crisp, daughter of Charles, born in November 1806. Eliza was the first of the next generation to appear on stage, although she was not the first born. Her namesake Eliza, daughter of John, was born in 1805 and by the rules of convention, would have been entitled to use the title Miss Crisp had she taken to the stage. However, we know to our cost that not every reference to Miss Crisp alludes to Eliza. John Crisp's return proved popular here and he would be even more well received at Worcester. The theatre set aside a benefit night for him on Monday, August 25th, not the best night for pecuniary rewards as we have noted before but for this evening the Worcester Journal reported"...the house was crowded in every part..."

After his Worcester benefit John left the west midlands to take the post of stage manager at the Sheffield theatre. The position was for a year, working with Mrs. De Camp in the absence of her husband. Mr. and Mrs. De Camp, it seems, had taken over a number of theatres John had relinquished, Chester and Shrewsbury among them. A few lines in the Sheffield Advertiser during September announced the Sheffield company was at Shrewsbury and would be augmented by the addition of Mr. Crisp and added "...he was lately one of the proprietors of the Sheffield and Birmingham Amity coach"9

Mr Usher the Clown at Stafford.

Img:58, Mr Usher the
Clown at Stafford.

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Mr Usher the Clown at Stafford.

The post was not without controversy as Sheffield was in the grip of a Pulpit versus Theatre clash of ideals, something George had experienced at Leeds theatre several years earlier. The Sheffield Advertiser's letters page printed many column inches on the subject during the course of 1823-4. The good folk of Sheffield, the theatre's management claimed, paid little heed to the wonders of Shakespeare or Scott, but would delight in such entertainment offered by the likes of Mr Usher the Clown. Naturally this was viewed as a slur on the theatre-going inhabitants of Sheffield, to even suggest their taste in music and drama might be questionable was an outrage. The theatre's response to the criticism it was receiving was to publish the theatres takings as evidence. Mr Usher's pantomime antics on stage in the guise of a clown were proving very popular throughout the provinces, however, his more outlandish antics off the stage take some believing. He was reputed to have sailed the River Thames from Blackfriars Bridge to Westminster Bridge in a washing tub drawn by four geese.10 The figures released by the theatre showed clearly he was the theatre's highest earning act, more than doubling the previous periods takings which included Shakespeare's Coriolanus and Venice preserved by Thomas Otway. "Alas! poor Shakespeare, when a poor skipping clown, whose head is as light as his heels, is preferred to thy matchless muse!"11

Spoiled Child

In common with numerous other pieces, "The spoiled Child" owes its existence entirely to the cleverness of an actress in a particular description of parts. It is, indeed, "The Romp" with another title; and, we may be well assured that, but for Mrs Jordan's excellence as Priscilla Tomboy, Little Pickle would never have been heard of.
Any person who has merely read the piece, must certainly deem it an unaccountable circumstance that a composition so utterly despicable has kept constant possession of the stage since the season of its first performance - a period of more than thirty years;
The name of its author is unknown: For, all inquiries upon the subject have hitherto failed to unravel the important mystery. Being produced on Mrs Jordan's benefit night, it was at first placed to her account; but she "repelling the soft impeachment," the honour of its parentage was transferred to Mr. Ford, at that period the lady's particular friend. Soon afterwards, when played at Liverpool, it was advertised as the production of Isaac Bickerstaffe. The real author, however, notwithstanding his literary imbecility, seems to have possessed some share of common-sense, and wisely kept himself concealed. The composition of such a thing, is an offence against good taste, which few men would be courageous enough to avow themselves guilty of.13

George was still at Hereford in 1824 when the theatre opened for Assize week. The first night for the theatre was the first day of the Assizes, March 22nd. The full company was listed which included Messrs Vining, Shuter. G. Crisp, Lansdown and Horton, with Mrs Shuter, Quantrill, Connor, the Misses Quantrill and Miss Crisp, to name a few. The last performance at Hereford seems to have been around May when Miss Cecilia Crisp played Grace Armstrong opposite her father's Elshie in Sir Walter Scott's Tales of my Landlord. This was a very early performance for Cecilia, at thirteen years, and only one year after her sisters debut when there are five years between them. During September the company were at Warwick where John Crisp was engaged for race week, but there was no reference to Cecilia or George. For October, November and December the Brecon theatre was opened, newly painted, new scenery and fitted with gas lighting. Brecon, like Kidderminster, may have been one to the theatres taken over by John and passed on to Charles. It was built by John Boles Watson in 1787 and taken over by Charles Crisp in 1822. The correspondent for the Cambrian newspaper waxed lyrical about the excellent company. About Cecilia, he wrote: "The ... young lady has a most pleasing and prepossessing appearance", this being the first time she had appeared on the Brecon stage. Of the management the correspondent chose to add a little more: "We must not pass unnoticed the great care that is taken in arranging things brought on and off the stage, which is always done by a person in full livery."This is as it should be." Once again there was no mention of George but the review of Miss Eliza Crisp's benefit (20th December) for which she chose to act The Dramatist was well supported; "It was expected from this young lady's great abilities that the house would have been full. It was crowded." The reviewer included this comment on the evenings entertainment: "An interlude called "The Milliners" followed in which we reckoned five performers, the oldest of whom could not have exceeded eight years old." These five unnamed performers of eight years old or younger could well have been some, or all, of George's children; Misses George, Mary Anne, Heriott, Catherine and Emma (although Miss George would have been around ten years and Mary Anne around nine.) A report in the Hereford Journal during October stated Mr [Charles] Crisp had been approached by a London theatre with the view of Miss Eliza appearing there, John, meanwhile, was taking a benefit at the Theatre Royal, Birmingham.

George and Miss George at Brecon.

Img:59, George and
Miss George at Brecon.

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George and Miss George at Brecon.

It seems strange that all through the latter part of 1824 there is no reference to, or report of, George Crisp at Brecon, as it appears he was almost certainly there. On January 7th 1825, the entire evenings entertainment was for, and by, him. More exactly, a benefit by another name. In fact a review of the evening actually calls it his benefit night but it was never publicised as such [img.59]. His chosen entertainment for the evening was Shakespeare's Tempest with Miss George Crisp playing the spirit Ariel, with The Miller and His Men and The Spoiled Child. The latter play was a farce, generally attributed to Isaac Bickerstaffe, frequently used as a vehicle to demonstrate a young actress/actor's talents, as with Norval in the tragedy Douglas. Little pickle was a young boy, a part first played by Mrs Jordan in Dublin around 1790, our own Matlida Ray at Gloucester in 1806 and later by Madame Vestris at Drury Lane. It was a part Miss George would play again and again in the coming years.

"We are happy to hear that Mr. G. Crisp, at his benefit at Brecon on Friday last, was honoured by one of the most numerous and respectable audiences during the season; the evening's amusement gave great satisfaction, particularly the parts sustained by Miss G. Crisp in the "Tempest" and "Spoiled Child", the scene in the latter with the song of "Since the I'm doom'd." was one of the most interesting performances ever witnessed in that theatre."12

Later, in January, Mr. George was singled out for particular praise for his portrayal of Tony Lumpkin in Oliver Goldsmith's play, She Stoops to Conquer. The character, Lumpkin, is a practical joker and became so popular that he was later used in a 1778 play, Tony Lumpkin in Town, by John O'Keeffe. In February the company were welcomed to Carmarthen for a short season of ten weeks, probably the furthest point west the company ventured, and then, it was back to Bridgnorth in Shropshire.

To be continued...





1] See The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi. McConnell Stott, p.133
2] Research by the Ewyas Lacy Study Group, a non-commercial, non-profit venture studying the history of the south west region of Herefordshire.
3] Print depicting Countess of Essex (née Miss Stephens) as Rosetta. Engraved on steel by J. Rogers from a drawing by Kennerley. Published in London by G. Virtue on 18 June 1825. Harry Beard Collection. Thank you to the Victoria and Albert Museum for allowing me to reproduce this image here.
4] James Henry Leigh Hunt [1784 - 1859]. Better known as Leigh Hunt, an English critic, essayist, poet, and writer.
5] Louisa Ingram Rayner (1832-1924) born in Matlock Bath, Derbyshire, painted many towns and cities during her life and briefly lived in Chester.
5a] Cheltenham Chronicle 13th May 1819.
6] Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan [1751 - 1816] was an Anglo-Irish satirist, a playwright and poet, and long-term owner of the London Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.
7] The Economics of the British Stage 1800-1914 By Tracy C. Davis, page 247.
8] Theatre in the Cotswolds By Anthony Denning.
9] Sheffield to Birmingham coach. "The Amity,[leaves Sheffield] every morning, (Sundays excepted) at a quarter before six, to the Albion Hotel [Birmingham]". The Albion Hotel once stood at the junction of the High Street and Carrs Lane in Birmingham's town centre. See the Sheffield Directory and Guide Page lxxix.
10] See page 63 of The New Annual Register, Or, General Repository of History, Politics, and Literature for the Year. Mr. Usher was of the Coburg theatre, (1818), when he was alleged to have performed this feat. It took an hour and "...an immense number of persons witnessed the undertaking".
11] The Literary Chronicle for the Year (1824), page 813. Quoted from the correspondent Amodeus.
12] Page three of The Cambrian, 15th January, 1825.
13] Edited version of the opening remarks by William Oxberry in the publication of the anonymously penned play "The Spoiled Child", dated 1822.


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