|I am indebted to Barbie Handley
for the following account of Samuel Jerrold's life.
Sources referred to in the text:
(WJ): Douglas Jerrold Dramatist and Wit by Walter Jerrold (1914) Hodder & Stoughton
(WBJ): The Life of Douglas Jerrold: William Blanchard Jerrold, Bradbury, Evans & Co., London, 1870.
(MS): Douglas Jerrold: A Life (1803-1857): Michael Slater, Duckworth 2001
According to biographers, Samuel Jerrold was born in 1749 and claimed to be the son of a prosperous Hackney man, a ‘large dealer in horses at a time when horses were much sort after due to the wars and the descendent of yet richer forefathers’ (WBJ, MS). However the IGI index and Ancestry.com only lists a Samuel Jerrold born on 2nd December, 1743, son of Samuel and Sarah Jerrold and Christened on 10th January, 1744 in St Dionis, Backchurch, London. Samuel was a strolling player. At the turn of the 18th century the strolling actor was considered a vagabond. Possibly he was cast off by his family and turned player to survive or he may have been stage-struck and ran away to join the strolling players. He frequently referred to having ‘played in a barn upon an estate that was rightfully his own’ (WBJ, MS).
Samuel probably married first of all Mary Carr on 23rd January, 1772 in St Giles Cripple gate (MY). They appeared to have three children, Robert, William and Mary. Probably this Robert is the illegitimate son mentioned below.
By early 1780 Samuel was married to Elizabeth Simpson, an actress in one of the companies to which Samuel belonged in his youth (WBJ). They had at least three children and the family formed part of a 20 strong company performing for a few months at the Crown Inn, Islington. The Jerrolds took a benefit night (where most of the takings went to them) on April 19th where Samuel and Elizabeth played opposite one another in the comedy The Suspicious husband with their three year old daughter (?) speaking the prologue.
Their children were:
(1) Robert - the eldest and was apparently illegitimate (MS).
In 1789 a son of Samuel, probably,Robert, was in the Dover Company of players at Eastborne with his father and was aged about 14 (WBJ), which would give his birth in about 1775. He took on the name, Fitzgerald (WBJ), when he became a strolling player specialising in Irishmen and sailors. He became manager of the Norwich and then York circuit companies and bought the Sheerness theatre from his father and died suddenly in Hull on his way from Sheffield to Leeds in May 1818 (WBJ). NB Was this the son of Samuel’s marriage to Mary Carr?
(2) Charles Edward - a warrant officer in the Navy. He died in about 1846 (WBJ). Possibly he married Barbara Punchard.
(3) a daughter- born about 1777.
In 1789 there are references to Samuel as a strolling player and printer in the Dover Company of Players which had its circuit in Kent and Sussex (WBJ). The company was playing in a large barn in Eastborne at that time. Also in the company was Douglas’s son, Robert, aged about 14. An actor in the company, Thomas Dibden described Samuel as a 'melancholy comedian' who possessed a pair of Garrick’s shoes which he always wore on stage. Dibdin, related ‘I still see the delight with which his eyes sparkled when he exhibited these relics of the mighty Roscius to me for the first time’ (WBJ, WJ). It also appears that Samuel was rather small (WJ). Dibden also describes Robert as the manager’s (Mr Richland) nephew, making Mrs Richland Samuel’s sister but it seems more likely that the manager was actually Mr Copeland (WJ).
Robert Copeland of the Copelands of Belnagean co Neath had the Dover Circuit. His son, born in 1799, also an actor, married Samuel’s daughter, Elizabeth and in 1858 a daughter of this union married a son of Douglas Jerrold’s. (MS-P9).
The Dover Players were unsalaried but were sharers in the profits, the proportion depending on the position in the company (MS). Samuel may have got an extra share because of his illustrious shoes! He would have had an extra share also as printer (MS, WBJ). As printer Samuel would have been responsible for papering the towns with playbills.
From 1789-1800 Samuel travelled further afield as part of the Derbyshire and York circuits (Robert Copeland’s wife was from Yorkshire) (WJ). In December 1792 he was acting at Gainsborough, Lincolnshire and in July 1795 at South Shields together with his third wife Mary Reid. (No mention of his first wife Mary Carr is made in any of the biographies.)
At Wirksworth Church some miles south of Matlock in Derbyshire Samuel now aged 45 and this Mary Reid ‘both of this parish’ married on April 20th 1794 with Thomas Wightman and George Salt as witnesses. Mary, an actress ‘of great energy and ability (WBJ, MS), was only about 22 at the time, much younger than Samuel. Indeed her mother, who travelled with her daughter ‘as was fitting’, was said to be younger than her son-in-law.) (WBJ, WJ)
Her mother, an actress in the same company, was probably a Scot with maiden name of Douglas (WBJ). She seemed to have looked after and educated the children whilst Mary and her husband were on stage. Mary was described by the doorkeeper, Jogrum Brown at the theatre, “She was more the active manager and was very kind. Once there was a landslip near Sheerness that carried a house and garden into the sea. Mrs Jerrold was very good to the poor sufferers and gave a benefit for them which realised £37”. Mary Jerrold’s name appears on a handbill for a performance of She stoops to conquer and Samuel may well have been a manager by this time.
Within 9 years of their marriage, two daughters and two sons were born:
Elizabeth Sarah who married William Robert Copeland
Jane Matilda who married William John Hammond
Henry, a printer and actor
Douglas William (WJ)
After their marriage the couple moved south. In 1800 Samuel was probably at Lewes (unless the Mr Jerrold named was his son, Robert), possibly in his own company. The company also included a “Mrs Read”, possibly Mary’s mother. Lewes was probably a temporary headquarters of the company. (WJ)
In 1802 Samuel Jerrold’s company (where he was now manager) was performing in Watford and appears to have been made up of mainly young members with some considerable talent. From Watford Samuel moved on to St Albans (Mirror of the Stage, July 26, 1824).
In the winter of 1802-3 the Jerrolds were in London, possibly “resting” and Mary gave birth to Douglas William (named after the maiden name of his grandmother) on 3rd January 1803 in Greek St Soho (WJ). After the birth of Douglas they moved to Willsley near Cranbrook, Kent in order to manage the theatre (he was described as the proprietor of many Theatres Rural). The theatre in Cranbrook would only have been occupied for brief seasons during the circuit of the company and was probably the family headquarters. It was said that ‘the late Mr Jerrold was astonishing the natives with a company particularly select but, by no means, numerous.’ (WJ).
As both Samuel and Mary were on the stage the upbringing of Douglas (and presumably his siblings) was left to Mrs Reid.
For the 1803/04 season Samuel, whilst still living in Willsley took his company to Sheerness. Sheerness, on the Isle of Sheppey was an important naval centre at the time of the Napoleonic wars (it was only two years after Trafalgar). The town was always full of seamen and officers. According to an article in the Monthly Correspondent on November 17th 1803 the Sheerness Theatre had opened about a month before ‘with a respectable company under the management of Mr Jerrold’ and on 14th the comedy, John Bull had been performed in front of the Port Admiral and a ‘brilliant assemblage of elegance and fashion’. In this comedy Samuel ‘respectably performed’ as Sir Simon and Mary ‘deserved praise’ as Lady Caroline Braymore. The farce was received with ‘very considerable approbation and the company likely to be successful. The theatre is fitted up with more than usual elegance’ (MS). On Easter Monday 1804 Edmund Keane joined the Sheerness Company in 1804, with a salary of 15s per week. After this season Samuel concentrated on his ‘little thatched barn theatre at Cranbrook, the chief market town of the Wield of Kent (MS).
In about 1806 Samuel was a manager, whose troop was playing in a large barn at Wilsby near Cranbrook, Kent (WBJ). Unfortunately Samuel suffered from stiff competition so decided to move from pastoral Kent.
On January 27th 1807 Samuel acquired the lease of the theatre situated in High Street, Blue Town, Sheerness from the theatre’s proprietor, Jacob Johnson, at a rental of £50 per annum (WBJ, MS). The theatre had a high dockyard wall on one side. The theatre is referred to in an article in The Roscius on August 9th 1825 where it was described as a ‘splendid corps’ and seemed to attract actors of some quality. Obviously the Sheerness audience was pretty unsophisticated, preferring songs and dancing to more heavy fare (WBJ). Shortly afterwards the family moved into Sheerness (WBJ).
Sheerness had grown considerably as a result of the Napoleonic Wars and had ‘closely-huddled little wooden houses, every other one of which was a tavern and every third a brothel’. The huts were painted with blue-grey dockyard paint, giving Blue Town its name. Blue Town was a jolly but ‘loose’ place crammed with sailors and officers being in the midst of the Napoleonic wars. Sufficient crowds frequented the small wooden theatre to make it a lucrative operation. They were a lively audience and preferred plays with a nautical reference and farces with comic songs were the chief attractions.
Jogrum Brown was a doorkeeper for many years, working in the dockyard during the day and at the theatre in the evening. He remembers Samuel acting at times (the Ghost in Hamlet) and who was not particular about the roles he played. He remembers Lord Cochrane attending frequently (and paying double). The prices were 3/- in the boxes, 2/- in the pit and 1/- in the gallery and the most successful evening (when the Russian admiral was present) took £42 18s. Jogrum remembered water costing 4d for two pails and smuggling everywhere. He managed to find 80 casks of ‘hollands’ under the floor of the boxes placed there by smugglers who travelled along the ditch running behind the theatre. Jogrum related to WBJ that ‘Mr Samuel Jerrold and his wife were very much liked. She was the more active manager and was very kind. Once there was a landslip near Sheerness that carried a house and garden into the sea. Mrs Jerrold was very good to the poor sufferers and gave a benefit for them which realised £37’. The children appeared on their father’s stage whenever a child was needed (WBJ). Jogrum’s friend remembers Douglas playing one of the child roles in The Stranger.
The theatre was popular with the free-spending transient population. As long as the war lasted it was a good investment (MS). There are records of both Samuel and Mary performing together with their daughter, Elizabeth. Times were good and they were able to send Elizabeth to boarding school in Rochester.
Little is found describing their family life but it can be assumed that they lived in a house at the theatre in Blue Town, which was subsequently annexed by the docks. The theatre was later demolished and its site taken for dock extension. It had already disappeared by 1858 when Blanchard Jerrold visited Sheerness.
Samuel is described as a ‘weak, pensive and thoughtful old man’ whilst Mary was more energetic. Mrs Reid helped the pair by taking care of their children and in the next 5 years two more children were born, Jane Matilda and Henry (MS). Mrs Reid was a kind old soul who looked after Samuel and Mary’s children whilst their parents were occupied. She used to walk with Douglas around the town and was very strict but tender, locking Douglas in his room when she was otherwise occupied (WBJ).
It appears that Samuel also had the theatre in Southend (WBJ). Samuel performed in the Theatre Royal, at the then village of Southend across the Thames at a benefit evening for Samuel in August 1810. Douglas and ‘little Jane’ performed as Norman page boys on 1st September 1810 in Adelgitha; or the |Fruits of a Single Error by Monk Lewis. Subsequently, Samuel took over the managership from Trotter, his rival manager, and was licensed to perform for 60 days from the end of each June. Samuel and Mary acted in both theatres. Douglas also appeared on stage once or twice, carried on by Edmund Kean in one play (WJ). Southend was already used as a holiday resort, but according to the Theatrical Inquisitor on October 1812 the theatre was thinly attended that season. In 1817 a visitor to Southend describes the Theatre Royal as looking more like a small chapel or meeting house. It had one door for all seats.
The family was still in Sheerness in 1813, but things were not going well in the theatre at this time. Samuel, described as an old man, had together with the Southend theatre as a summer establishment rebuilt the Sheerness stage. He had passed on the lease of the Sheerness theatre to his son, Robert in June 1813 (WJ, WBJ). However peace meant that the town was depopulated of sailors. Losses at Southend together with problems over the workers rebuilding Sheerness and the government reclamation of the land on which the theatre stood for expansion of the dockyard forced Samuel at the age of 66 to give up management altogether. The auction was conducted at the White Horse in High street. The family home was broken up. Sam was now an old man, but Mary was ‘still in full vigour of womanhood’. ‘She had a vigorous mind and energy of character’ (WBJ, MS).
Mary Jerrold now became the breadwinner for the family. Leaving Samuel and all the children except Henry in the care of Mrs Reid she left for London to find work and a place to live (MS). Samuel remained in Sheerness with Mrs Reid and the remaining children. Mrs Reid was chiefly responsible for feeding, clothing and sheltering the family until Mary summoned them to London in late December. The home in Sheerness was broken up and the family were reunited in London, arriving on the 7.00 a.m. Chatham boat on New Year’s Day 1816 never to return to Sheerness.
The family spent the next three or four years in Broad Court, Bow Street in the shadow of Covent Garden Theatre. Broad Court linked Bow Street with Drury Lane and was convenient for the two great national theatres. It was not a salubrious address and was described by Disraeli ‘those half-tawdry, half-squalid streets that one finds in the vicinity of our theatres’. Douglas remembers it to have been dingy, noisy and abounding with ‘noisy, ragged boys’. The Wrekin Tavern was ‘the favourite resort of authors, actors, poets, painters and penny-a –liners’ (WBJ) ..
The family’s fortunes were at a low ebb, with Samuel ‘a mere shadow of himself’. He had ceased to work and now spent most of his time with young Douglas (and I would assume the other children as well). Garrick’s shoes were now threadbare! Blanchard describes Samuel as ‘his poor weak father sitting in the chimney corner’ (WBJ). Mary, Elizabeth and Jane found what stage work they could both in London and in the provinces and Douglas became an apprentice to a printer with Henry following his elder brother.
In 1817 circumstances started to improve. In their poverty they were forgotten by most of their friends but an actor, James Russell who had been in Samuel’s troop in their early days when both had suffered hard times, had not forgotten them. He recalled how they had played together in a barn in Dorking and carpenter’s shop in Harrow and when business was bad Samuel had had to pawn his watch and pink satin suit. The troop had held together despite all because Samuel was ‘a man most scrupulous in the fulfilment of his engagements’. He said that ‘Samuel was the only honest manager I ever knew’. Russell now came to their aid when Samuel was friendless and of broken fortunes. He took him to the Covent Garden theatre to see Hamlet and other actors visited him.
Robert, who had bought the Sheerness theatre from his father, died suddenly in Hull on his way from Sheffield to Leeds in May 1818 (WBJ).
Samuel died in 1820 (MS), either the day before or the day after George III (28th or 30th January), but leaving the family in comfortable circumstances supported by Douglas who remained with his mother and sisters until he married. (WBJ)
By 1821 Mary and Elizabeth were members of Samuel Arnold’s company with Mary’s name appearing regularly in Lyceum playbills from September 1821 (MS). After Samuel’s death the family moved to Little Queen St, Holborn. This street linked Holborn and Great Queen Street but was demolished by the Kingsway development later in the nineteenth century. Douglas’s publisher John Duncombe (interestingly involved in some ‘soft porn’) was a neighbour at Number 19.
In August 1830 Mary was engaged at the Adelphi theatre and became primarily associated with this theatre. Her obituary in the Dramatic Register of 1852 stated that she performed the old ladies there. Mary died very suddenly in her sleep (although she had long been ailing) on 31st December 1851 at Elizabeth’s house in Liverpool at the age of 72 (WBJ) (Walter Jerrold says she was 79). Her son, Douglas had been summoned there shortly before her death and told Dickens that he’d found her “in a condition all but hopeless”.