Sunday, 4 March 2012

Bram Stoker and Sir Henry Irving in Northampton

    On Thursday 28th January 1903 Sir Henry Irving and his company of actors arrived in Northampton for a three day visit, they had travelled by special train from Euston and were courteously received by the station master.
    As Sir Henry walked down the platform other passengers bowed and a crowd gathered as He and Bram Stoker bordered a Brougham in the station yard and were driven to the George hotel in central Northampton (now the Lloyds TSB building).

    There was no grand ceremonial welcome as they had arrived much earlier than expected this was due to doubts as to whether the stage at the Northampton Royal theatre and Opera house was big enough to accommodate the production, so both Irving and Stoker went to the theatre to ensure everything was in order.

The George Hotel.

    The official welcome took place the following afternoon at 3.30 in the Council chamber and was attended by the ex-mayor Mr F.G Adnitt and ex-mayoress Mrs G.Adnitt (as the Mayor was unavoidably absent) and many other dignitaries including Mr Henry Martin J.P who presented Sir Henry Irving with a mulberry walking stick the wood of which was cut from a tree planted in Abington park by the famous actor David Garrick 130 years previously.
    This act of kindness was his way of saying thank you for an earlier meeting when, back in 1893, Mr Martin and a few other Northampton gentlemen had seen "Becket" at the Lyceum and Sir Henry had invited them to an after show supper on the stage. He then arranged carriages to take them to Euston in time for the midnight train.
    During the reception Irving was asked to plant a sapling by the side of David Garrick's tree but due to his tight schedule he declined this time, but expressed his willingness to come back and comply with their request (sadly he died before he could fulfil this honour).

    Irving's first performance at the Northampton Royal theatre and Opera house was "Louis XI" and he played to a packed house.
    According to a review from a local news paper when Irving made his first appearance quarter of an hour into the play the audience broke into "enthusiastic cheers and it was some time before Sir Henry Irving could proceed with the play", which, of course, was a great success.
The Bells.

   On the Saturday afternoon Irving was again on stage this time as Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice" for which he got "long and sustained applause" and he was joined on stage with his son Mr Lawrence Irving who played Bassanio (who received a standing ovation) and Miss Mable Hackney who played Portia.
     This performance began at 2.00pm but a queue had formed along Guildhall road as early as 10.00am, the theatre was so packed Gentlemen had to accept seats in the Gods!

 Northampton Royal theatre and Opera house

    That evening Northampton was treated to performances of "Waterloo" and "The Bells", again to a packed and enthusiastic house.
    At the end of "The Bells" Sir Henry Irving addressed the audience, as a local news paper reported;
   "he briefly expressed his oft-repeated assurances of his deep gratitude for the kindness shown to him during his brief stay in Northampton, both at the theatre and at the civic reception at the town hall, he also intimated that he would certainly return to Northampton at the first convenient opportunity".

    A large crowd gathered outside the George hotel and at Castle station where Sir Henry, his son Lawrence and Bram Stoker waved to the crowds many of whom lifted their hats and cheered.     Just after 12.00 noon on Sunday 1st February Sir Henry Irving and his company left Northampton by special train bound for Portsmouth.

    However, as they steamed south between Willesden and Kensington a tube in the trains boiler burst spraying water onto the fire. As the water flashed to steam the fireman was injured and the driver (Mr J. Blake) was badly scalded on his face, at that point the train came to a sudden stop.
    Always aware of the importance of deadlines Bram Stoker jumped from the train to find out what had happened. According to the news paper report "gave the railway officials a lively time in hurrying up a fresh engine and assured the ladies of the company that there was nothing to fear". A message was sent from Portsmouth later that night to say they had arrived safely, but late.

    The Northampton Royal theatre and Opera house opened in 1884 and nearly burned down in 1887. The building saw many of the leading Victorian actors including Miss Ellen Terry, it was re-named The Repertory theatre in 1927 and in 1933 Errol Flynn was a member of it's company for seven months.
    On it's 30th anniversary of being The Repertory theatre in 1957 Mr Lawrence Irving returned and presented the mulberry walking stick which had been presented to his Grandfather back in 1903, it can now be seen in the foyer of the theatre which is now known as the Royal theatre and opera house once more.

Interestingly in the shoe museum opposite the theatre there is a shoe on display which was part of the Mephistopheles costume worn by Irving in Faust which was an inspiration for the character of Stoker’s Dracula.

1 comment :

  1. Not particularly macabre I know but interesting none the less!