Mary Anne Crisp

Mary Anne Crisp


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Mary Anne Crisp was perhaps the epitome of what we have come to perceive as a star of the silver screen, long before the silver screen was invented. She was said to be beautiful and talented and it would be easy to imagine a string of suitors dancing to her tune. What follows here is the story of her life, or as much as can be pieced together. Plus, a little about her five sisters and various cousins. As ever, there are facts, interspersed with assumptions and conjecture, presented chronologically and hopefully without pride or prejudice.

Mary Anne Crisp and Charles Horn Close
Mary Anne Crisp and Charles Horn

When Mary Anne was born in 1815, her father, George Crisp, was a grocer and draper. He was one of three actor brothers born into a theatrical family. Her mother, Mary née Crompton, was the daughter of a successful Hereford merchant, Jonathan Crompton. Mary Anne, we believe, was the second daughter of George Crisp but we cannot find any reference to the first child's birth, or a previous marriage for George. Thus far we have not been able to establish who her mother was but the possibility of it being Mary Crompton should not be discounted. The mysterious girl's name was George Crisp and we place her birth about 1814, the year of George and Mary's marriage. There is more about Miss George later in this story.

The family house was in Bridge Street, Hereford, and Mary Anne was baptised at St. Nicholas Church, 11th January 1815. The young Mary Anne's early life would naturally revolve around her parents so a brief account of her father's activities during her younger days is conducive to help us understand the life Mary Anne and her sisters lead. We know almost nothing about Mary Crompton, but a little about her father and the Crompton family. George's early life with his brothers John and Charles and his later years has already been documented, links to the pages can be found from the Crisp family contents page.

1828 - 1831

John and Charles Crisp had both retired from the stage in 1831 and Charles had taken over the Mitre Tavern in Broad Street, Hereford. His retirement did not last long however, the lure of the lime-light was to call him back. The Hereford theatre was now under the control of Mr. Boles-Watson, the son of John Boles-Watson, the Hereford theatre circuit wheel had turned full circle. It seems likely that the method George and Charles employed with their earlier children would continue with Mary Anne, although chronologically there were differences in the age of each daughter's first appearance on stage. When Charles' daughters Eliza and Cecilia first appeared there were many minor theatres in the circuit where they could learn the trade, hone their skills and familiarise themselves with the way the company works together. The activities and productions of these minor theatres would often go unreported, a perfect way to iron out imperfections before hitting the bigger stage where ones every word, move and gesture is analysed by the critics. Charles' daughter, Eliza, debuted at 17 years whilst her sister, Cecilia, was 13 years; Miss George first appeared on stage at Hereford on April 28th 1824 when she was about 10 years of age. Of Mary Anne, we have found nothing before 1830, her fifteenth year.

George Crisp as Sir Tomkin Probe

Img:2, George Crisp as
Sir Tomkin Probe, 1829.

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George Crisp as Sir Tomkin Probe

In 1828, Mary Anne's father was engaged by the Theatre Royal in Manchester, in early March 1829 he played Sir Tomkin Probe in Richard Brinsley Peake's farce, Haunted Inn. Headlining the evenings entertainment was The Woodman's Hut, with music by Charles Edward Horn. George's last performance at Manchester we are aware of came on June 3rd 1829 as Toby Allspice in Morton's comedy The Way to Get Married, the choice of Miss Dyer and Miss Lawrence for their benefit evening. After Manchester, George and Mary Anne's movements were once again difficult to map.

In 1830 Charles took a step back from the stage by taking over The Mitre commercial hotel in Broad Street Hereford. He had relinquished control of all the theatres in the circuit apart from Hereford where the lease was yet to expire, the theatre remained open through Race Week before finally closing its doors after Mr Raymond's benefit night on the 24th August 1830. The theatre did not open it's doors again until January 1st 1831, and then under the direction of Mr McGibbon.

Seemingly without their father, Eliza and Cecilia were engaged by the Theatre Royal in Leicester for a few weeks over September and October in 1830. The last performance we have found for this engagement is for Miss Crisp as the Countess in Sir Walter Scott's Warlock of the Glen on 11th October. Of course there may have been more performances after the 11th, the details of which we may yet find. Still in 1830 and continuing the Walter Scott theme, at Sheffield, on October 26th, the theatre staged a production of Guy Mannering, the parts of Julia Mannering and Gilbert Glossin were played by Miss and Mr. Crisp. Continuing in Sheffield, pictured alongside is an advertisement for the manager's benefit night at Sheffield theatre dated 13th December. The entertainment includes Miss Crisp singing the The Light Guitar, another song made popular by Madame Vestris. The song was composed by John Barnett and featured in the opera Spanlette.

Miss Crisp in Sheffield

Img:3, Miss Crisp in
Sheffield, 1830.

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Miss Crisp in Sheffield

Assuming the Miss Crisp that played Julia and sang The Light Guitar are one and the same person, the question of identification lies with which Mr. Crisp played Gilbert Glossin, an easier riddle to solve. At the end of their engagement at Leicester Eliza and Cecilia could easily have continued north to Sheffield but if their father was not with them at Leicester, he would not be with them in Sheffield, not unreasonable when considering he was now the owner of the Mitre hotel and had other fish to fry. Consider also the absence of any evidence of him performing at Leicester. We also believe that if Charles had been engaged to play Sheffield, it is unlikely he would have been offered a minor role like Gilbert Glossin. The same would apply to Eliza and Cecilia who had both played Julia Mannering at various stages in their careers, whilst they may not always have taken the female lead, they would certainly have played more of a part than a single song during the interlude. This reasoning leads us to the conclusion that it was Mary Anne who played Julia Mannering on 26th October and the unsavoury Gilbert Glossin was portrayed by Mr. George Crisp rather than Mr. Charles. As for Eliza and Cecilia, the next time we find them they are back on stage in Hereford, new years day 1831.

Theatre Royal Aberdeen

Img:4, Theatre Royal,
Aberdeen, 1832.

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Theatre Royal Aberdeen

Throughout the entirety of 1831 Eliza, Cecilia and their father played the boards as they used to, The Mitre hotel ostensibly long forgotten. From January 1st to the end of June they played the Hereford theatre under the direction of Mr McGibbon, the new manager. They were joined by John, now around 50 years of age, who played Sir Peter Teazle in School for Scandal. He followed this up on Friday with a performance of The Dramatist in which he played Vapid, then on Monday 17th January he was Solus in one of his favourite comedies, Everyone has his Fault. The following Wednesday was John's benefit and the last time he would set foot on any stage in anger. John Crisp announced his retirement.

In July Eliza, Cecilia and Charles were engaged by the Adelphi theatre in Edinburgh and they remained in Scotland until March 1832 playing the Theatre Royals in Edinburgh, Perth and Aberdeen. A measure of the success that followed them through the peaks and glens of bonnie Scotland was evident from the reviews that followed each performance, the theme of which was usually "very pretty, clever girls". The reception they received could probably be summed-up by the following notice printed in the Aberdeen Journal, a "Thank You" message placed by Cecilia Crisp after her benefit of the previous Thursday which the theatre confirmed as being the best for the season. Scotland apparently left a lasting impression on Charles' son, William Henry, he and his wife spent their early married life there.

1832

The Queen's Theatre, April 1832.

Img:5. The Queen's Theatre,
April 1832.

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The Queen's Theatre, April 1832.

In early 1832 we found no references to George or Mary Anne performing anywhere and Charles, Eliza and Cecilia remained in Scotland until March. In April Charles took the lease of the Queens theatre in Tottenham Street, London and straight away Cecilia was back at work. School for Scandal and Simpson and Co. were advertised for 30th April with Cecilia as Mrs Fitzallan in the latter piece, and Miss Chambers, the latest sensation from the Bath theatre taking the headline as Lady Teazle in the main piece. After a few performances the London newspaper The Age inserted a short notice in their theatrical column:

"At the Queens Theatre the houses are improving, and so is the performance, Downton and Miss Chambers, and pretty Crisp are very attractive: The latter lady is worthy [of] the attention of the patent managers."

Miss Cecilia at the Queens Theatre  May 1832

Img:6, Miss Cecilia at the
Queens Theatre, May 1832.

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Miss Cecilia at the Queens Theatre  May 1832

The Morning Post had much to say but nothing about Cecilia, in fact the afterpiece, Simpson and Co, was not reviewed. Of Miss Chambers they waxed lyrical and of the company, including Mr Crisp who played Sir Oliver Surface, they were very complimentary and "deserve the patronage of the fashionable neighbourhood" of Fitzroy Square. Cecilia's party-piece Spoil'd Child went out on 12th May and School for Scandal was repeated on the 14th for Miss Chambers benefit. Two days later the Hereford Journal announced that Charles Crisp and his partner, Mr Spencer, had "...taken the Theatres Royal Cheltenham and Gloucester..." and his "...engagement closes in London early in June." A short tenure indeed. The Cheltenham Chronicle had obviously heard of this impending change but did not acknowledge it. In their 24th May edition they printed a piece by Alfred on the events at the Queen's Theatre, in his (Alfred's) view Miss Chambers lacks the "...attractive brilliancy..." of a star whilst Miss C.Crisp "...possesses talent of the first order..."

The few weeks spent in London drew good reviews in general and Charles engaged some popular attractions to swell the coffers, Mr T.P. Cooke was one of them. His last night was Saturday 12th May and it must have been a long night. The advertisement listed four pieces so the audience would certainly have their money's worth. The Jew and the Doctor with Mr Downton in the lead as Abednego was followed by Three Weeks After Marriage With Mr Downton again, Mr Hooper and Mrs D. Lee. Then Black-eyed Susan with Mr Cooke and Mrs Hooper. The Spoil'd Child completed the evening. Madame Vestris was also engaged and played up to the closing date, on June 4th. The Grenadier opened proceedings for the evening with Simpson and Co. repeated as the follow-on, Madame Vestris played Daphne alongside Mr. Downton in Midas the final piece. Eliza Crisp's one and only performance at the Queens theatre was to sing a duet with her sister on Charles and Cecilia's joint benefit night, the last night of performing, 5th June.

Interior of the Strand Subscription Theatre in 1832.

Img:7. Interior of the Strand
Subscription Theatre in 1832.

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Interior of the Strand Subscription Theatre in 1832.

Bell's New Weekly
Messenger
Sunday 10th June

"On Wednesday evening a Miss Cecilia Crisp appear -ed 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 passe with the play-going public; younger spirits have arisen upon the scene, and the fascinations of brighter eyes, and fresher attract -ions, 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 consider -able 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."

London woke up the following day to find the Queens Theatre closed and Miss Cecilia Crisp engaged by Mrs Waylett at the New Strand Subscription Theatre. Her first performance was as Variella in the farce of The Weathercock on the 6th June, one day after her Queen's benefit. The Strand was one of London's unlicensed theatres which stood near the corner of Surrey Street and the Strand, where the Strand underground station (long since closed) is now situated. Being unlicensed, the proprietors needed to devise ways of charging for admission as unlicensed theatres were not allowed to take money "at the door". Mrs Waylett, as a measure of both wit and defiance constructed a window and took the money through there. The Lord Chancellor was not amused and closed her down. Another idea involved offering free entrance with every bag of lozenges purchased at the shop next door (the lozenges cost four shillings, which coincidentally, was the price of a theatre ticket). Again the Lord Chancellor was not amused and closed her down. The pressure on the authorities to act against the unlicensed theatres came predominantly from the Theatre Royals, Drury Lane, Covent Garden and the Haymarket, this was probably the only subject they all agreed on. For the Strand to come under the scrutiny it did must have said something about Mrs Waylett's company and their performances. Cecilia's portrayal of Variella was witnessed and reviewed by a reporter from the Bell's New Weekly Messenger on Sunday June 10th, see note alongside.

Pay for Peeping advertisement

Img:8. Pay for Peeping
advertisement.

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Pay for Peeping advertisement

The New Strand Theatre was certainly busy, that is, as long as it was allowed to stay open. Cecilia's performance on the 6th was followed by one on the 8th, 11th, 12th and 14th of June and on Monday the 18th June four pieces were played two of which were new to the company. Wooing a Widow, or, Love under a Lamp Post was followed by Best of Husbands with Cecilia in the role of Madame Van Voorst. Then a new farce called Pay for Peeping in which Cecilia played three characters, "...a light and lively trifle possessing nothing to call for particular approval, or particular censure..." wrote the Bell's Weekly Messenger. The final piece was another farce with the rather distasteful title Damp Beds.

Charles and Eliza, meanwhile, left London for Cheltenham as George and Mary Anne were playing Liverpool. The Theatre Royal in Liverpool had opened its doors on the 18th with a ten day engagement of Mr Wallack ending with his departure for America. Also engaged were Mr James Vining and Miss Huddart, all three from the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The opening night featured Mr. J. Vining and Miss Huddart in The Hunchback accompanied by Mr and Mrs Henry Vining and Mr. Durand, another former member of John Crisp's company. The follow-on piece was The Brigand in which Mr Wallack played Alessandro Massaroni with Mr. J. Vining as Prince Bianchi. Mr. and Mrs. H. Vining, Messrs Horncastle, Hart and Gardiner also featured. Mr. Crisp played Carlotti, a minor role. In Cheltenham, Eliza was playing Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare's Macbeth alongside her father's partner, Mr Spencer's Macduff.

Back in London Cecilia continued with the successful Pay for Peeping which ran on into July, the last performance we have identified was Friday July 13th.

At the end of the season at Liverpool (September 5th) Mr. Horncastle chose for his benefit Douglas Jerrold's latest work called The Golden Calf which had opened at the Strand Theatre three months earlier. To end the evening the company would act out For England Ho! a musical drama. In between the two pieces a concert of songs, trios and comic glees would be sung by Messrs Horncastle, Hart and Benwell supported by Miss Crisp, Miss Romer and Mrs H. Lloyd.

The late season of 1832 at Hereford opened Thursday, 15th November. Mr McGibbon, the former manager, had died in London in June of the same year and the management of the theatre had reverted back to Boles-Watson. Watson's advertising for the opening night proudly announced the engagement of George and Mary Anne Crisp with Mr and Mrs Vining. Mr. Henry Vining and Miss Amelia Quantrill were for many years part of John Crisp's company along with Miss Quantrill's mother and sister. Mr. Vining and Miss Quantrill married at St. Thomas Church in Dudley, September 1828.

Hereford theatre's opening night, November 1832.

Img:9, Hereford theatre's
opening night. November 1832.

The playbill produced the theatre's opening night can be found alongside. The headline announces George, Mary Anne and the Vinings for a few nights only and as being from the Liverpool Theatre Royal. It is clear from the review in the Hereford Times that this short engagement was Mary Anne's first appearance at Hereford, her home town, but as with her cousins, her portrayal of Julia in the musical drama Guy Mannering was not her first appearance on any stage. We know George was engaged at Manchester's Theatre Royal from 1828 to 1829 so it is quite likely Mary Anne played some minor uncredited roles and sung some topical songs of the day whilst her father was there.

Mary Anne's participation in Mr. Horncastle's benefit of September 5th at Liverpool coincided exactly with her cousins Eliza and Cecilia's engagement at Cheltenham. On September 5th Eliza was playing the Widow Cheerly in The Soldier's Daughter while cousin Cecilia starred as Therese in Therese, the Orphan of Geneva, thus removing any ambiguity in identification on this particular occasion but the problem of determining which Miss Crisp was being referred to was becoming progressively more complex year on year.

Liverpool's Theatre Royal dated 1825.

Img:10: Liverpool's Theatre
Royal, dated 1825.

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Liverpool's Theatre Royal dated 1825.

Back at Hereford, in The Rent-Day Mary Anne was joined on stage by her father George who played Beanstalk, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Vining and Mr. Clifford, all familiar faces which would have helped with any nerves, but her engagement at Hereford looks to have been quite brief and ended with her benefit on Friday 23rd November with a performance of Slave followed by Rosina. The Hereford Times was impressed with her nonetheless, almost skipping over George's performance:

"...Mr. G. Crisp's "Beanstalk," was as excellent as the limits of the character admitted; to say that Mr. George Crisp is a laughter-moving actor-that his comic talent is first rate- is what must be known to every lover of comedy who has seen him really at home. But we must pass to his daughter, Miss M. Crisp, who surprised us with a powerful, fine, deep soprano voice. Her character of "Polly Briggs" admitted no opportunity to judge of her acting, but we had a rich treat in hearing her sing those beautiful ballads, "The Banks of Allan Water" and "My Own Blue Bell," in admirable style. This young lady, who has a fine person, must be a valuable auxiliary in any company. The other characters were played very creditably...."

Charles at this time was in very poor health and his partner, Mr Spencer, had taken over his responsibilities. Charles had relinquished control of the Queens Theatre in London to take control of the Cheltenham and Gloucester theatres with Mr Spencer in early June 1832. It appears Eliza left London with her father whilst Cecilia took an engagement with Mrs Waylett at the New Strand Subscription theatre. Her last performance at the Queens theatre was on June 5th 1832. Charles Crisp died in Cheltenham 29th October 1832. The Hereford Journal reported it thus: "... after a long and painful illness, Mr. Charles Crisp, one the Managers of the Theatre that town, and late this city...". With the retirement of John Crisp in January 1831, George was now the only Mr. Crisp treading the boards. Charles' son, William Henry would take up the mantle in the future but in 1832 he was still only fifteen years of age.



1] Scott Dramatised. A reference book compiled by H. Philip Bolton containing details of performances of Sir Walter Scott's works and the many variations thereof.
2] Alfred we assume to be a remote freelance critic the type of which we have quoted from time-to-time...

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