Extracted from Family History Research into the early Victorian “low comedian” – i.e. specialist in farce – Edward Richard Wright (hard copies of all source materials collected are appended to the report, but not reproduced online due to copyright restrictions):
Generation No. 1
Comedian Edward Richard Wright, 1810-1859
1. Edward Richard Wright, son of Francis and Elizabeth A. Wright, was born 12 June 1810 in Chelsea, Middlesex. Like many professional performers of the time, he appears to grow younger with age: depending on the source consulted, his birth-year may appear as late as 1817, with multiple editions of the Dictionary of National Biography (from at least 1900 through 2010) opting for 1813. Edward’s baptismal entry in the Parish Registers of St Luke’s, Chelsea, confirms the true date; he was christened with two of his siblings, elder sister Charlotte Frances and brother John, on 20 October 1816. Dates of birth are recorded for both Edward Richard (as above) and Charlotte Frances (25 September 1807); John’s entry follows on directly from Edward’s (No.s 1529 & 1528 respectively, with Charlotte Frances No. 1527), but appears at the top of the next page, and his birthdate is not recorded. Their parents are listed as Francis and Elizabeth Wright, abode Sloane Square; Francis’ “Quality, Trade, or Profession” is “Gent.” Two further siblings have been found: James, baptised 06 February 1803, also at St Luke’s, Chelsea (as yet unverified I.G.I. entry), and Frances/Fanny Mary (baptism not yet found, but multiple census listings and her death registration suggest that she was born in late 1819 or early 1820).
Edward married his first wife, Mary Lucretia Jacobs, 06 December 1833 in Kensington, Middlesex (as yet unverified West Middlesex Marriage Index transcript). The union was not a happy one. A climactic episode in their ongoing domestic saga was reported at length in The Morning Chronicle on Saturday, 13 October 1838, under the heading “Marlborough Street”, and bears abstracting here for the light it sheds on the legal and emotional plight of both parties before a series of related Acts were instituted during the mid through late 19th century. The report details a charge of assault brought by Mrs Wright before the sitting magistrate, Mr Chambers, against her husband’s friend, Mr Lambourn, she having previously appeared before Mr Chambers in a bid to compel her husband to return their infant daughter to her custody and provide her with suitable maintenance. The article makes clear at the outset that it alludes to circumstances which have “reached the public in detached portions”, and helpfully recaps the story thus far: Mary first met Edward while still living at home, during his apprenticeship to a bookbinder some years before. Inheriting property at her mother’s death, Mary alleged that she gave it to Edward, with whom she also admitted to “such familiarities” as produced an illegitimate child that died at the age of approximately 3 months. Mary and Edward later married, some five years before the present proceedings; after acquiring about £700 of her money, Edward left her destitute, abandoning her for the Stage. After learning of his financial success as a performer, Mary sought to be received again into his home. Edward not only refused, but “took away from her, without her consent, her infant, then not more than six or eight months old”, throwing her into an increasingly distracted state, as her efforts to reclaim custody were thwarted by Edward and his family – hence her appeal to the court. Edward’s response was understated: he alleged nothing against his wife, aside from acting “imprudently with him” before their marriage. The magistrate ruled that a husband had no right to discard a wife on becoming affluent, and that a wife had the right to be with her husband, advising Mary to follow her husband “without, however, creating a public disturbance”, until she should receive proper maintenance and a promise to visit her child at agreed times. It should be remembered that, unfair as it might seem from a 21st century standpoint, the laws of the day viewed a married couple as one person, with the wife’s property owned outright by her husband at their marriage, to be retained by him after separation or divorce. He likewise held sole custody of all children, and it was his legal right to bar his wife from any contact with them; again, divorce made no difference to their positions under the law. Mary might therefore justifiably express outrage at her plight, but could not reasonably claim to have any custodial rights, or imply that Edward had defrauded her of her estate after marriage. Nevertheless, she had frequently returned to court, complaining of her husband’s and his family’s continued neglect and persecution (further examples are detailed in the article, leading up to the prosecution at hand). Mary now stated that on the 1st of October she had gone to the Stage Door of the Adelphi Theatre, where her husband was appearing, to ask for her child and for the maintenance which her husband had failed to supply for three weeks previous. There, she was intercepted by friends and members of Edward’s family, intent on preventing her from seeing him; when he at length emerged, she approached to speak with him, but was pushed aside and struck by Mr Lambourn. They left; she followed; at Covent Garden, Mr Lambourn “seized her by the wrists and held her until her husband made his escape”. In answer to the magistrate’s query as to whether she had been offered maintenance by her husband’s attorney, she produced a letter proposing the sum of 10 shillings per week, on condition that she “enter into a verbal or written engagement not to ‘annoy’ her husband again”; this she refused, affirming that she only wanted custody of her child, which she would not be persuaded to relinquish, and refused to be separated from her husband. Edward’s attorney confirmed his refusal to live with Mary, his provision for her maintenance, and insistance on his legal right to retain custody of the child. With the magistrate hesitant to rule against a wife being allowed to follow her husband, Mary insisted that no legal separation had taken place, again demanded that her child be restored to her and a suitable maintenance settled on her by Edward, “equivalent to his present income”. Four witnesses were called; three had been present at the alleged assault – Edward’s (maternal) aunt, Mrs Castells, his sister (named only as Miss Wright), and a second friend, Mr Service – all swore that Mr Lambourn had not struck Mary or held her wrists; Mary countered that they were her “bitter enemies”, the accused being one of the most active in keeping her from her child. The magistrate expressed his reluctance to refer the case to the sessions, where he felt the four testimonies given under oath would have weight with the jury; he concluded, as before, that there was no annoyance in a wife following her husband, again cautioned Mary not to create a disturbance, and ordered Mr Lambourn to pay a shilling for his discharge from the warrant. Four days after the appearance of the above article, an Advertisement was placed in the same newspaper by Mr Wright, Comedian, responding to the “reflections” on his character and publicly denying his wife’s charges. Dating his letter to the editor from New-inn-buildings, New-inn, Oct. 15., 1838, Edward wrote, “I have not ‘deserted’ Mrs. Wright; on the contrary, a home is, and always has been, provided, and a provision made for her which she does not choose to avail herself of. Neither have I ever received 700l. of her money, she never possessing that sum, nor even 50l., subsequent to my marriage, as the following letter from one of the executors will confirm, and which he kindly allowed me to make public:—-“; there follows official corroboration from Richard Doane, Barrister-at-law. Mary did not regain custody of her daughter, despite the establishment of The Custody of Infants Act the following year, which granted mothers of an unblemished character access to their children following separation or divorce. She died 24 January 1849 in the Parish of St Giles, London. Edward’s address as recorded in her terse death notice in The Times on 02 February 1849 [Issue 20089, Category Deaths, p. 8, col. C] confirms the couple’s continued separation, as well as the date of the event itself: “On Wednesday, the 24th ult., Mary Lucretia Wright, wife of Edward Wright, of Merton-villa, King’s-road, Chelsea.” Mary Lucretia Wright is listed in the St Giles &c [London/Middlesex] Death Registry Index under the March quarter of 1849 (vol. 1, p. 55), and a certificate may be ordered from the General Register Office using this reference. She was buried 27 January 1849 at Bunhill Fields Cemetery (as yet unverified City of London Burials transcript, which lists her age at death as 45, her approximate year of birth as 1804, and her address at death as 126 Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury; Bunhill Fields is an unconsecrated graveyard, favoured before its closure in 1854 by non Church of England Protestants, including Richard and Henry Cromwell, John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe, and William Blake). Nearly two years have been shaved from Mary’s true age in her burial entry: Mary Lucretia, daughter of Benjamin and Mary Jacob, was born 22 January 1802 (making her Edward Wright’s senior by eight and a half years), and baptised 17 March 1804 at Lady Huntingdon’s Surrey Chapel, Blackfriars Road, Southwark, Surrey; two further children for Benjamin and Mary have been identified, Rowland George (born 07 December 1800, baptised 09 May 1801), and Elizabeth Ann (born 02 October 1803, baptised 05 May 1804) (all as yet unverified I.G.I. entries). Surrey Chapel (now demolished) was built by the Reverend Rowland Hill, a Dissenting Minister, and his brother, Sir Richard Hill, Bart., between 1782-83. Benjamin Jacob (1778-1829) was a conductor, composer, and organist, serving at several London churches, including Surrey Chapel itself from 1794 to 1825; the former date corresponds with the year of his marriage to Mary Lucretia’s mother: their entry at St Luke Old Street, Islington, Middlesex reads “Benjamin Jacob of this Parish Bachelor & Mary Burt of this Parish Widow were married in this Church by Banns this 5th day of May 1794”, Mary signing with her mark (a cross), and Banns having been called on the 20th & 27th of April and 4th of May – their Registry entries are included at the end of this report. According to the Dictionary of National Biography, Benjamin died of consumption, leaving a widow and three daughters (his son having died young); he was buried 27 August 1829 at Bunhill Fields Cemetery (as yet unverified City of London Burials transcript, which lists his age at death as 51, his approximate year of birth as 1778, and his address at death as College Street, Brompton). Mary Lucretia was therefore interred with or near her parents, following the failure of her marriage to Edward Wright.
Children of Edward Richard Wright and his first wife, Mary
i. Unknown Wright was born before December 1833,
and died age 3 months (approx.). [A burial entry has
been located at St Luke’s, Chelsea for one Charlotte
Wright, who died age 3 months of “convulsions”, and
was buried 07 January 1834, residence Barossa Place
(Chelsea); as her parents’ names have not been recorded,
it is impossible to confirm or eliminate a possible
identification with Edward’s and Mary’s first child.
Name and place are, however, appropriate, while the
date would suggest a motive for their belated marriage:
legitimising the result of their pre-nuptial “familiarities”.
No corresponding baptism has been discovered for
either Charlotte Wright or Charlotte Jacob(s), but if
the daughter of Edward and Mary, she may have been
christened in a dissenting church prior to their wedding.]
+ ii. Charlotte Frances Wright was born 16 April 1837.
According to her baptismal record, Charlotte Frances,
daughter of Edward Richard and Mary Lucretia Wright of
13 Lower Temple Street, Birmingham, was christened 03
July 1837 at All Souls’ Church in the Parish of St Mary-le-
bone, Middlesex (No. 324); her birthdate is recorded (as
above), and like his own father, Edward’s “Quality, Trade,
or Profession” is “Gent.” Charlotte Frances married
Benjamin Webster, son of the Adelphi Theatre’s
Actor-Manager Benjamin Webster and his first wife,
Sophie West, on 09 October 1860 at St Mary’s Church
in the District Chapelry of West Brompton, Middlesex,
by Licence. [See Generation No. 2.]
More might be learned from Mary Lucretia’s 1841 census listing, but it has not yet been identified; failure to enter her distinctive middle name complicates the search — standing alone, Mary Wright is too common a name to pinpoint Edward’s wife with any degree of certainty. From 1851, more detailed information would be collected by the enumerator, providing further clues, but in 1841 ages were generally rounded down to the nearest five year mark, marital status was not recorded, nor relationship to the head of household, nor specific birthplace, merely whether or not one was born in one’s county of residence, though a separate column was provided to register births in Scotland, Ireland, or “Foreign Parts”. Edward Wright remains similarly elusive in 1841, but with his Adelphi colleagues – most notably his acting partner Paul John Bedford – likewise not found at home with their families, a theatrical tour is a distinct possibility. Daughter Charlotte has been traced to her paternal grandmother Elizabeth’s household at No 7 Brompton Vale, Hamlet of Brompton in the Parish of Kensington, Middlesex; the full list of inhabitants are (Head) Elizth Wright ([age] 40, Ind[ependent Means]), Charlotte Castels (41, Ind[ependent]), John Wright (22), Charlotte Wright (4), and Charlotte Wright (24), all born in Middlesex. Edward’s father Francis was not present, and it is possible that he had died before census night, 1841; he had certainly done so by 1851, when Elizabeth was listed among the residents of son Edward’s household. Her home in 1841 may in fact have been his: an Appendix to Volume 41 of The Survey of London, “Artists, musicians and writers resident in Brompton, 1790-1870” [Brompton (1983), pp. 253-254], records Edward Richard Wright, low comedian, as living in Brompton Vale between 1840-1843, and Cromwell Lane between 1844-1848. In 1851, the full list of inhabitants are (Head) Edward Wright (Wid[owe]r, [age] 33, [profession] Comedian, [born] Middlesex Chelsea), Elizabeth Wright (Mother, Wid[ow], 53, Middlesex Chelsea), Charlotte Wright (Sister, U[nmarried], 32, Middlesex Chelsea), Charlotte Wright (Dau[ghte]r, 13, Scholar at home, Middlesex Chelsea), plus two young female servants; their address is Merton Villa, King’s Road, St Luke Chelsea, Middlesex. By 1861, Edward’s daughter Charlotte Frances had married, and mother Elizabeth was resident in her daughter Frances Mary’s household. In 1861, the full list of inhabitants are (Head) William Henry (Mar[ried], [age] 46, [profession] Master Mariner, [born] Scotland), Frances M Henry (Wife, Mar[ried], 41, Midd[lese]x Kensington), Elizabeth A. Wright (Mother in Law, Widow, 72, Retired School Mistress, Midd[lese]x Chelsea), Charlotte Castels (Visitor, Widow, 75, Fundholder, Midd[lese]x Chelsea), plus two female servants; the address is 7 Tregunter Road, Kensington, Middlesex. This census record suggests a birth-year for Edward’s mother Elizabeth – about 1789 – and reveals her middle initial, “A.”, thus helping to identify her death registration: Elizabeth A. Wright, age 77, is listed in the Kensington Death Registry Index under the March quarter of 1866 (vol. 1a, p. 87). Her daughter, Frances Mary Henry, age 53, is listed in the Kensington Death Registry Index under the June quarter of 1873 (vol. 1a, p. 105), and Frances Mary’s husband William Henry, age 70, is listed in the Kensington Death Registry Index under the June quarter of 1885 (vol. 1a, p. 137). Certificates may be ordered from the G.R.O. using these references; further census listings for William and Fanny Mary (Wright) Henry are included at the end of this report.
It is perhaps surprising that the 1900 hardcopy edition of the Dictionary of National Biography should be more accurate than recent online editions, but this being the case, the older will be referenced below to flesh out details of Edward Wright’s career whenever its content can be supported by primary sources. The D.N.B. states that he originally worked in trade, becoming a citizen of London and member of the Skinners’ Company, which fits with first wife Mary Lucretia’s statement that he was apprenticed to a bookbinder prior to 1833. The timing of Edward’s first reported stage appearance – September 1832 at The Margate Theatre (as Marmaduke Magog in John Baldwin Buckstone’s The Wreck Ashore) – implies an earlier début than Mary’s claim to the court that Edward abandoned her for the stage directly after their marriage (December 1833). However, Mary’s dating is only offered as approximate, and may represent ’emotional’ rather than factual truth – a first London appearance in 1834 (at The Queen’s Theatre) would certainly suit her chronology. It is at this point that Edward’s theatrical career, which may be verified via newspaper advertisements, playbills, etc., renders Mary’s story somewhat more suspect. After a dull start in London, Edward honed his craft in ‘the provinces’, notably Birmingham and Bristol, recognised his innate talent as comedic, and subsequently made his comedy début on 29 September 1837 at The St James’ Theatre (as Splash in The Young Widow and Fitzcloddy in a farce titled Methinks I See My Father), where he was a palpable ‘hit’. His second child, Charlotte Frances, was nearly six months old at the time of his London re-branding, indicating that permanent separation between husband and wife took place several years after Mary’s time-keeping suggests. If, however, she is accurate in placing her daughter’s age at between six to eight months when Edward appropriated sole custody, these events must have occurred toward the close of 1837, during his stay at The St James’, where he remained for the first half of the following year. Edward was contracted by The Adelphi Theatre for its 1838/39 season, which opened on 01 October – the same night Mary waited for him outside the Stage Door, following him to Covent Graden, where Mr Lambourn allegedly held her so that Edward might make his escape. Family and friends would therefore have been assembled to celebrate his first appearance at what was coincidentally the re-opening of a newly and entirely redecorated theatre, playing Timothy in Thomas H. Bayly’s burletta The British Legion. Personal failure cannot have significantly impacted his first artistic success there, as The Adelphi was to remain Edward’s professional home for the duration of his career, allowing for off-season forays to other venues such as The Princess’ and The Strand (1843), with varying degrees of success. A complete break from 1852 to 1854 interrupts a chain which would otherwise have stretched for 21 years.
At The Adelphi, which specialized in farce, burlesque, and melodrama, Edward appeared in numerous premières of shows which remained staple fare for decades to come, creating the roles of Shotbolt in Buckstone’s adaptation of the popular Ainsworth novel Jack Sheppard (28 October 1839), Tittlebat Titmouse in R. B. Peake’s adaptation of Ten Thousand a Year and Adalgisa in William H. Oxberry’s operatic burlesque of Norma (both 15 November 1841), which filled more seats than the ‘straight’ production playing down the road at Covent Garden. By now his slapstick partnership with Paul Bedford was well-established, both in London and on tour (Paul having co-starred as Blueskin, Huckaback, and Norma in the above-named productions). Remaining with highlights from the Adelphi, as the house with which they were most closely asssociated, Edward played Alderman Cute, and Paul Sir Joseph Bowley, Bart., M.P., in Mark Lemon’s & Gilbert Abbott À Beckett’s The Chimes: A Goblin Story, Of Some Bells That Rang An Old Year Out And A New Year In; A Drama, In Four Quarters (based on Dickens’ Christmas tale, and first performed 19 December 1844); he was travelling showman Master Grinnidge to Paul’s Jack Gong in Buckstone’s The Green Bushes: Or, A Hundred Years Ago, A Drama, In Three Acts (first performed 27 January 1845); the pair again featured in another Lemon & À Beckett collaboration, St. George And The Dragon; A New Grand Empirical Exposition, In Two Acts, with Paul as The Dragon and Edward as Almidor (first performed 24 March 1845); and Edward saw the year out as Tilly Slowboy in Stirling’s adaptation of Dickens’ The Cricket on the Hearth, or A Fairy Tale of Home. In 1846, he premièred the role of rheumatic dancing-master Apollo Kit in Henry Holl’s Leoline, or Life’s Trials (02 February) and Chesterfield Honeybun in Coyne’s Did You Ever Send Your Wife To Camberwell? (16 March). In July of that year he appeared as Diccon in Buckstone’s Maid with the Milking Pail; August saw him performing as Charles Claude Prong in William B. Bernard’s Marie Ducange, and in the burlesque Judgment of Paris, or The Pas de Pippins, in which he gave his Venus; in October he was Acis Moccassin in Stirling’s The Jockey Club, Mrs. Sarah Gamp in Webster’s Mrs. Gamp’s Tea and Turn Out, and Count Whirligig in Selby’s The Phantom Dancers, or The Wili’s Bride, which also featured Paul Bedford as Prince Noodlehead. Buckstone provided yet another hit with The Flowers Of The Forest, A Gipsy Story; An Original Drama, In Three Acts, Edward playing Cheap John, A Travelling Auctioneer, and Paul The Kinchin, A Gipsy Thief (11 March 1847). Later that month (15 March), Edward took the role of Jem Baggs in the Wandering Minstrel, and in the summer impersonated a literary hack in Peake’s The Title Deeds (21 June), plus a fashionable tailor in Coyne’s How to Settle Accounts with Your Laundress (26 July), the same year also seeing his Chatterton Chopkins in This House to Be Sold: (The Property of the Late William Shakspeare), Inquire Within (09 September). 1848 brought Coupefleur in Webster’s & Mellon’s The Devil’s Violin and the Revolt of the Flowers (09 October), and A. Tetterby and Co. in Lemon’s & Mellon’s adaptation of Dickens’ The Haunted Man and the Ghost’s Bargain (20 December); and 1849, Restless Wriggle in Parry’s & Mellon’s The Hop Pickers (12 March), John Grumley in Lemon’s Domestic Economy (one of his signature roles, first performed 08 November), as well as the title character in Richard & Barnabas Brough’s Frankenstein; or, The Model Man (26 December), with Paul as The What Is It, a highly cultured “monster”. Further information about these productions, including detailed costume notes, are included at the end of this report.
Title Page of Mark Lemon’s farce Domestic Economy with Wright in one of his ‘hit’ roles, John Grumley
In 1848 and 1849, Edward Wright and Paul Bedford featured in Morton’s A Most Unwarrantable Intrusion (Will Be Committed By Mr. Wright To The Annoyance Of Paul Bedford), the subtitle playing on both the genuine affection they felt for one another, and the style of improvised physical comedy which made them household names. Each performer’s personal defects were transformed into theatrical strengths within their partnership – Bedford’s lumbering ponderousness and Wright’s kneejerk ‘gagging’ – with the fame of their double act enhancing each man’s individual reputation. It also hints at the depth of their input to productions scripted by even the most prestigious Adelphi playwrights, as their by-play was assimilated into the show. This remained fluid, and could change from night to night, as is indicated by the following extract from page 13 of The Era, published on Saturday, April 24, 1886: “During the career of Wright ‘gagging’ was carried to excess. Wright took the greatest liberties with the audience, and frequently interpolated comments of his own between the lines or introduced sentences. In these whimsical and sometimes daring jokes he found a ready coadjutor in his stage companion Paul Bedford. On one occasion they were playing in some old ‘screaming farce’ in which Paul was supposed to thrash his brother actor somewhat severely. The scene had taken place amidst the customary merriment which used in those days to be evoked by popular comic actors, when at the end of the incident Wright, as if much offended and annoyed, went to the footlights and inquired if the audience did not think he had been very badly used. He desired, he said, ‘to appeal to his kind friends in front against Mr Bedford’s unjustifiable barbarity, and he felt bound to protest against such violence, which caused him considerable suffering. It was not warranted by any stage directions, &c.’ Paul at once fell in with the whim of his brother actor, and came forward with an air of mock humility to say that if he had been rather hard upon Mr Wright, and had given him a severer drubbing than the scene demanded, he was extremely sorry, and he was prepared to offer him a most ample apology, and to promise that he would not again offend in the same manner. Whereupon the two actors with mock gravity solemnly shook hands as a token of renewed friendship amidst a roar of applause and laughter from the audience, some no doubt believing the scene to belong to the piece.” Paul likewise enjoyed playing the more-than-occasional onstage joke on his partner, as he recorded in his memoirs; the following example offers a window onto their ever-changing stage-business: “We finished our second summer tour at the industrious town of Nottingham. On Saturday, the last night, the performance commenced with “Hamlet,” the Danish prince represented by Professor Tom Lyon. My then friend and fellow-labourer, Edward Wright, enacted the first gravedigger, and I the second gravedigger. The first digger prepared himself to take the town by storm by having encased his person within a dozen waistcoats of all sorts of shapes and patterns, and when about to commence the operation of digging the grave for the fair Opheha, the chief began to unwind by taking off waistcoat after waistcoat, which caused uproarious laughter among the audience. My fellow-labourer was astounded at the peals, of merriment created by the ceremony of disrobing. Little did he imagine the cause of mirth, but it was provoked thus. As my chief digger, number one relieved himself of the waistcoat garment, the innocent boy-digger, number two, encased himself in the cast-off vests, which operation created the salvos of laughter, for as number one became thinner and thinner, number two grew fatter and fatter, so when my friend discovered the motive power, he stopped the action and commenced digging Ophelia’s grave.” (Recollections and Wanderings of Paul Bedford: Facts, not Fancies, pp. 86-89.)
As reported above, Edward sought a change of venue in 1852, first undertaking a stint at The Princess’ Theatre, before moving on to The Lyceum, The Haymarket, and Sadler’s Wells, finally returning ‘home’ to The Adelphi for the 1854/55 season. A profile published on page 2 of The Daily News on Tuesday, 26 August 1856 as part of its “Sketches of London Actors” feature, reveals thwarted artistic ambition as his motive; it is worth quoting here at length, both to illustrate Edward’s strengths and limitations as an individual performer, and to highlight the death-blow which successful typecasting can deliver to this day, when the public refuses to accept actors in roles outside the genre which made them famous. It pronounces Mr Wright “perhaps the most naturally talented comic actor on the English stage, but one who has been spoilt by the audience before whom his success has been principally obtained. … The ordinary Adelphi audience is more calculated to spoil a rising actor than any other we know of. If melodrama be played, rant must take the place of expressive eloquence; passion must predominate over sentiment; an ‘effect,’ a ‘point,’ must be made by a gasp or a groan; nature is shelved, artistic expression is overlooked; the best voice has a complete victory overy the perceptive mind; and some of the finest touches of mingled art and nature pass unheeded, while claptrap conventionalisms bring down thunders of applause. There is no man on the stage with a keener eye for character, with a greater perception of the ludicrous, with better powers of personating an eccentric character, than Mr. Wright; there is no man who so neglects his opportunities, and contents himself with pandering to the gratification of the ribald and the inane. He has in himself all the requisites of a first-rate comic actor––a face, mobile, elastic, and redolent of good humour; a voice, every inflexion of which is ridiculous; a quaint mannerism indescribably funny. See him in Mr. Mark Lemon’s admirable farce of Domestic Economy, and judge whether he is a genuine actor or not. Mark his dress, his walk, his manner … note the dissatisfied, grumbling, beery manner in which he finds fault with his wife and all her household arrangements … Then the chance of losing the wife whom he so abuses––his loutish whining dread at such a misfortune; and finally, the broad grin and burst of obstreporous delight when he finds all end happily! There is no finer bit of rough natural acting extant”.
The profile continues: “Again, casting aside all conventional recollections of the great original [comic actor John Liston], see Wright in Paul Pry. Not only does he perpetually reiterate his impertinent question, but every nerve in his face is quivering with curiosity. Talking to a person, he is twiddling the skirt of his coat to feel the texture of the cloth; left alone by himself in a drawing-room, he examines every chair, looks under the valence of the sofa, and finally sniffs at the pillows to find out whether or not they are stuffed with straw! He is thoroughly imbued with the spirit of the character, and carries out its every detail. But all these finer touches are far beyond the appreciation of his audience; their fun must be strong, palpable, something that they can comprehend without the trouble of thinking. To be sure, they laugh at all this, but that is simply because they have so got into the habit of laughing at Wright that they must needs do so at everything he does. We have seen him play a semi-pathetic part––Bon Cratchit, in the dramatised version of Dickens’s Christmas Carol––in which he said a few sentences, concerning the death of his little child, in a voice and manner that touched our heart and brought the tears into our eyes, but the majority of the audience shouted. They only saw Mr. Wright, the comic actor, and could not understand his ever being anything but funny.
Two or three years ago he left the Adelphi and went to the Princess’s, where he hoped he would have a chance of proving his powers, undeterred by that clog upon his real success, indiscriminate applause. He was disappointed; he was shelved after playing a few comparatively trifling parts. Another experiment was made at the Lyceum, but there he decidedly failed. The audience at the Lyceum was … accustomed to sparkling elegancies and brilliant burlesques, but not understanding broad farce. Fed upon pine-apples and Lafitte, they did not relish roast pork and porter; and after a few provincial wanderings Mr. Wright returned to his old quarters at the Adelphi. There he still reigns the hero of those ‘screaming farces,’ the originator of those ‘roars of laughter,’ the cause of those ‘crowded houses,’ which we see advertised in such large capitals in the playbills, and there, ‘monarch of all he surveys,’ we suppose will he remain until his theatrical career is closed. That this is to be greatly deplored we must again aver; but we can scarcely wonder at his holding to his old patrons when we reflect that he is reaping both money and fame in a large degree, and that though the favourite actor of the ‘pet theatre,’ he is but mortal after all.”
Wright as John Cambricson in Bottle of Smoke (1856) written by Miss Wyndham, who co-starred as Lucy Merton
Edward married his second wife, Rose Olivia Bedford, 05 June 1857 in Wimbledon, Surrey, six weeks before the birth of their daughter, Rose Fanny. Edward Richard Wright and Rose Olivia Bedford are listed in the Kingston [Middlesex/Surrey] Marriage Registry Index under the June quarter of 1857 (vol. 2a, p.295), and a certificate may be ordered from the G.R.O. using this reference. Rose Olivia was the daughter and co-heir of Thomas Bedford, Esquire, and his wife Sophia Wells Blake, born 30 October 1826, and was niece to Edward’s acting partner, the light opera singer and comedian Paul John Bedford. According to her baptismal record, Rose Olivia, daughter of Thomas and Sophia Bedford of Pall Mall, was christened 13 April 1827 in the Parish of St James, Westminster, Middlesex (No. 260); her birthdate is recorded (as above), and Thomas’ “Quality, Trade, or Profession” is “Gent”. Thomas Bedford married Sophia Wells Blake 15 June 1812 at St Anne’s, Soho, Westminster; their union also issued in three elder sons, two of whom died young: Charles Joseph, son of Thomas and Sophia Bedford of Pall Mall, was christened 03 August 1814 in the Parish of St James, Westminster (No. 629), his birthdate recorded as July 12, and Thomas’ Quality as “Gent”; his burial entry (No. 107) records that he died age 9 weeks, and was interred in the Parish of Chertsey, Surrey on 23 September 1814, abode Pall Mall, Saint James, London. Frederick Augustus, son of Thomas and Sophia Bedford of Pall Mall, was christened 01 December 1819 in the Parish of St James, Westminster (No. 1047), his birthdate recorded as Septr 22, and Thomas’ Quality as “Gentleman”; his burial entry (No. 1852) records that he died age 18, and was interred in All Souls Cemetery, Kensal Green on 13th Feby 1838, abode 2 Lower John Street, Golden Square, St James, Westminster; Frederick Augustus Bedford is listed in the St James, Westminster [London/Middlesex] Death Registry Index under the March quarter of 1838 (vol. 1, p. 138), and a certificate may be ordered from the G.R.O. using this reference. The middle child, Joseph Richard, son of Thomas and Sophia Bedford of Pall Mall, was christened 12 April 1816 in the Parish of St James, Westminster (No. 301 – with cousin Thomas John Bedford (No. 300, on the preceding page), the son of Thomas’ brother George, who had travelled from his home in Brighton, Sussex for the double ceremony); Joseph Richard’s birthdate is recorded as Dec 24 1815, and Thomas’ Quality as “Gentleman”; Joseph Richard Bedford, Bachelor, and Susannah Price, Spinster, both of the Parish of St John the Martyr in Southwark, Surrey, were married by the Curate there on 24 April 1837, by Banns (called on the 9th, 16th & 23rd of that month) – their Registry entries are included at the end of this report, with their children’s baptism records, the family’s census listings, and Joseph Richard’s will, proved at London on 30 December 1856. He began his professional career as an Apothecary in London/Middlesex, was a dresser at Guy’s Hospital in 1839-40, published in his field, and died as “an Assistant Surgeon on the Bengal Medical Establishment of the Honorable East India Company”, at the Presidency General Hospital in Calcutta (from his will). According to a flyleaf notice by fellow Guys dresser (later army surgeon Sir) Thomas Longmore on a book written and inscribed to him by Bedford, Joseph Richard contracted dysentary and died on board ship. The origin of father Thomas Bedford’s exalted financial status is unknown, only one of his four known brothers – the above-mentioned George – being similarly ‘propertied’, and described in his children’s baptism entries as “Gentleman”. The other three, John, Paul John, and Henry Morris Bedford, followed the professions of Artist, Actor, and Vocalist respectively. Paul’s 1864 memoirs state that he was raised in Bath, Somerset, but, as is typical of the period, give away nothing of a personal nature, merely supplying a series of anecdotes in celebration of theatrical colleagues (notably Edward Wright). His own baptismal record lists his parents’ names as John and Mary Bedford, but as the joint christening at Bath Abbey – with sisters Ann Evans Bedford and Elizabeth Skeen Bedford – did not take place until 21 October 1812, with the initiates being young adults, the family’s origins remain somewhat hazy. No reason has been found to explain the gap following their elder siblings’ traditional infant baptisms: Thomas and George (who died young) were christened 06 April 1785, and George and Mary 16 March 1788 – all at St Michael’s in Bath, all listed as the children of John and Mary Bedford; brothers John and Henry Morris are still untraced. The two groups appear to have been divided socially by their professional worlds, financiers versus artists; only Rose Olivia has thus far been identified as interacting with both. Thomas’ 7 page will dated 15 April 1830 (address No. 48 Pall Mall), plus half-page codicil dated 1831, was proved at London on 18 December 1832; in it, he remembers only George amongst his siblings, and the latter’s first wife, Olivia Frances Smith, in honour of whom his own daughter may have received her middle name. Thomas bequeathed substantial assets to his surviving children and to his widow, Sophia, whose own will was proved at London on 06 May 1856. His burial record has not yet been traced. After her husband’s death, Sophia was entered as head of household in the 1841 census at Lower John Street, Parish of St James, City of Westminster ([age] 50, Ind[ependent Means], N[ot Born in same County]), living with one female servant. Daughter Rose appears under the address of her school in Brunswick Square, Brighton, Parish of Hove, Sussex ([age] 14, [employment] pupil, N[ot Born in same County]). Mother and daughter were reunited some time before the next census: in 1851, the full list of inhabitants is Charles Compton (Single, [age] 39, [profession] Chemist, [born Hey?????y – illegible]), Richard Fowler (Single, 38, Chemist, Ashby Lincoln), Herbert Bedford (Visitor, 15, Scholar, London) [perhaps Joseph Richard’s son Joseph Herbert], Sophia Bedford (Widow, 65, Householder, Oxford), Rose Bedford (Single, 23, London), plus one male porter and one female servant; their address is No. 1 Lower James Street, Parish of St James, City of Westminster. Sophia’s burial entry (No. 25034) records that she died age 71, and was interred in All Souls Cemetery, Kensal Green on 08 December 1855, abode 1 Lower James Street, Golden Square, St James, Westminster; Sophia Bedford is listed in the St James Westminster [London/Middlesex] Death Registry Index under the December quarter of 1855 (vol. 1a, p. 245), and a certificate may be ordered from the G.R.O. using this reference. Her census and Parish Registry entries are included at the end of this report, with both above-mentioned wills, Sophia’s having been proved by the oath of daughter and co-executor Rose Olivia, one year before her marriage to Edward Richard Wright. During the interim, Rose also inherited from her brother the proceeds of an Assurance Policy amounting to 3000 rupees [£300 approx., according to 18th century currency conversion, mid-19th not yet ascertained]. Whether Edward might have been tempted to repeat or enact the conduct described in his first wife’s allegations is moot, as both Rose Olivia’s parents structured their wills so as to ensure her legacy “may be for her separate use and free from the debts or control of any her husband or husbands” (Thomas, writing when his daughter was only two and a half years old); “no husband with whom my said daughter shall intermarry shall have any control over the said principal money or the interest thereon … nor shall the said principal money or the interest or dividends accruing therefrom be subject to the debts control or engagements of any such husband” (Sophia, 26 August 1845 – 12 years before her daughter’s marriage).
Child of Edward Richard Wright and his second wife, Rose
i. Rose Fanny Wright was born 20 July 1857 and died
10 March 1860. Rose Fanny Wright is listed in the Chelsea
[London/Middlesex] Birth Registry Index under the
September quarter of 1857 (vol. 1a, p. 135), and a
certificate may be ordered from the G.R.O. using this
reference. According to her baptismal record, Rose
Fanny, daughter of Edward and Rose Olivia Wright of
66 Upper Berkeley Street, was christened 08 July 1859
at St Mary’s Church in the Parish of St Marylebone,
Middlesex (No. 292); her birthdate is recorded (as above),
and Edward’s profession is Comedian. She is listed in the
Marylebone [London/Middlesex] Death Registry Index
under the March quarter of 1860 (vol. 1a, p. 377), and a
certificate may be ordered from the G.R.O. using this
reference. Her death was reported in The Times on 16
March 1860 [Issue 23569, Category Deaths, p. 1, col. A]:
“On the 10th inst., Rose Fanny Wright, the dearly loved
infant daughter of the late Edward Wright, Esq., of
Kingston-hill, Surrey.” Her given names were spelled
Rosa Fanny in her interment record, which lists her age as
2 years 8 months, with her abode unchanged at 66 Upper
Berkeley Street, St Marylebone; she was buried 14 March
1860 at All Souls Cemetery, Kensal Green (No. 32558).
Rose Fanny’s birth took place less than two years before her father’s effectual retirement from the stage, a portion of this time being spent on tour. An Advertisement on page 1 of the Edinburgh newspaper The Scotsman on 10 March 1858 announced the last night but three of the “distinguished Members of the Royal Adelphi Theatre, London, viz., MR BENJAMIN WEBSTER, MR WRIGHT, MR PAUL BEDFORD, and MADAME CELESTE”, booked into The Queen’s Theatre & Opera-House, before being “obliged to appear in Birmingham on the 15th inst.” That evening’s performance was to be for the Benefit of Mr Wright (a standard perk for leading players since 1685, as they periodically received a night’s takings to bolster their incomes); it began with The Poor Strollers (Mr Webster as Pierre Leroux, the titular poor stroller, Madame Celeste as Marie Leroux, Mr Wright as Rob Ritts & Mr Paul Bedford as Sampson, a poacher), and concluded with A Fearful Tragedy (Mr Wright as Timothy Slumpington & Mr P. Bedford as Muggleton Mulligatawney). Again according to the 1900 edition of the D.N.B., Edward appeared at the final performance of the Old Adelphi Theatre on 02 June 1858, playing Mr Osnaburg in Welcome Little Stranger, with his own final stage appearance made soon after the launch of the New Adelphi in March 1859 – he does not seem to have tread the boards after the expiration of his contract at the end of that month. Later in the year, he travelled to Boulogne, taking “refuge from ill-health, worries domestic and financial, and legal proceedings”. Edward Richard Wright died 21 December 1859 at his sister’s home in Boulogne-sur-Mer, France. With brother-in-law William Henry following the profession of Master Mariner, and thus far traceable in England only from 1861, it seems probable that Fanny Mary was the sister in question, though Charlotte Frances – who has not yet been found in England after 1851 – cannot be ruled out. His death was reported in The Times on 05 January 1860 [Issue 23508, Category Deaths, p. 1, col. A]: “On the 21st Dec., at the residence of his sister, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Edward Richard Wright, Esq., comedian, leaving a mother, daughter, two sisters, and a brother, together with a large circle of friends his many private virtues had drawn around him, to mourn his loss.” A variant, focusing on the loss to his marital, rather than parental home, was published in the same newspaper on the following day, 06 January, [Issue 23509, Category Deaths, p. 1, col. A]: “On the 21st Dec., at Boulogne-sur-Mer, Edward Richard Wright, Esq., comedian, leaving his second wife (a niece of Mr. Paul Bedford), and infant daughter.” Other broadsheets to report his death range from The Morning Chronicle (03 January) to The Glasgow Herald (09 January). Edward’s professional stature made the event newsworthy across the Atlantic as well, with the “Death of Edward Wright” featured in the London section – essentially celebrity gossip – of The New York Herald on Tuesday, January 24, 1860 (page 2): “It is said that Edward Wright, the well known low comedian of the Adelphi theatre, lately deceased, left no will, but divided his large fortune by deeds of gift. It is supposed that he has done this to prevent his wife–whom he married with a fortune some two years since–getting a penny back of her own money. This suspicion becomes the more general from their separation, by private legal arangement, six months ago, and the fact of the announcements, in the obituary of the various papers, that Mr. Wright died ‘to the inconsolable grief of his sister and daughter,’ no mention being made of his poverty-stricken widow, for whom, no doubt, benefits will be shortly arranged in town and the provinces.” While this rumour mill is wrong in its specifics as relating to Rose Olivia – her family inheritance had been safeguarded against marriage, and she was not universally excised from her husband’s British obituaries – in referencing a private legal separation, it reveals that both Edward’s marriages had ended in failure. His body was brought back to England and buried in section 4E of Brompton Cemetery, according to the latter’s online “Residents” map. The D.N.B. notes that Edward’s will was proved 21 July 1860 (citing Calendars of the Grants of Probate and Letters of Administration, England & Wales), his wealth at death being under £100. His theatrical parts were inherited by the younger comedian John Lawrence Toole, as was his double-act partnership with Paul Bedford, until the latter’s retirement some twenty years after. Wright, however, was not forgotten by colleagues, by theatre critics, or by the theatre-going public: Macready declared him to be the best low comedian he had ever seen, and in the affectionate obituaries which saluted Paul’s passing in January 1871, loss of the team that was Bedford and Wright was still more deeply lamented than that of Bedford and Toole, though it was Toole’s solo fame which proved sole comic survivor into the 20th century. The widowed Rose left Kingston Hill, Surrey after her twin bereavement of husband and daughter, and may be found at a lodging house in the Paddington, Marylebone area of Middlesex on census night 1861; the address is 29 Upper Southwick Street, and she is recorded as Rose Olivia Wright, Lodger, marr[ied – sic.], [age] 33, Independent, [born] Middlesex Pall Mall. Ten years later, she was still resident in the Parliamentary Borough of Marylebone, though had moved to her own establishment in the Civil Parish of Pancras. In 1871, the full list of inhabitants is (Head) Rose O Wright (Widow, [age] 44, [profession] House property, [born] London), Mary A Bedford (Cousin, Unm[arried], 48, House keeper, Somerset Bath), Fanny Bedford (Cousin, Unm[arried], 36, Fancy Business (Berlin), Somerset Bath), plus one male boarder (for whom “Dividends” has been entered under the “Rank, Profession, or Occupation” column), a housekeeper (separate to Mary A Bedford), valet, and housemaid; the address is No 30 Camden Road. [Mary Ann and Fanny Bedford were the daughters of Thomas’ brother John and his wife, Charlotte Buskin; their brother, John Russell Bedford, followed uncle Paul’s and Edward Wright’s profession of Comedian.] By the time of the next census, Rose had moved further afield – having dropped the use of her middle initial, as well as a year from her age, her identification was confirmed by the continued presence of her boarder from 1861, with a middle-aged couple added to the household (husband’s profession Naturalist), and her staff downsized to two teenage servants, one female, one male. Her address in 1881 is Moorland Road, Uphill, Axbridge, Somerset, and she is recorded as Rose Wright, Head, W[idow], [age] 52, with profession and birthplace left blank. According to the current edition of the D.N.B., which fails to identify Edward’s first marriage, his widow Rose Olivia Wright died 25 August 1888, age 62. The age, quarter, and year are certainly correct: Rose Olivia Wright, age 62, is listed in the Axbridge [Somerset] Death Registry Index under the September quarter of 1888 (vol. 5c, p. 300), and a certificate may be ordered from the G.R.O. using this reference. There is, however, cause for concern regarding the specific date, for which no provenance has been supplied: there is a burial entry for one Rose Wright at Norwood cemetery, Lambeth (No. A 1619) for this same day, 25 August 1888, which records that she died age 16, at the Magdalen Hospital Streatham – given the further coincidence that Rose’s uncle Paul Bedford, with the greater part of his family, was buried in Norwood Cemetery (his first wife and their eldest daughter having previously been interred at Kensal Green, also a favoured resting-place for the Wrights), further investigation is required to verify her date of death. Rose Olivia (Bedford) Wright’s burial has not yet been traced.
Generation No. 2 . . .