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William Henry Chippendale (1801-1888)

Norma Hampson is a long-standing volunteer at the Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive and has written this blog to share details from her current project: listing visitors from the early Birthplace visitor books. In this case, we meet William Chippendale, a well-established actor in the Victorian era.

Norma Hampson

The image above displays signatures of William Henry Chippendale and his wife Adelaide written when they visited the birthplace on the 31st August 1858.  He gives his address as the Theatre Royal, Haymarket whereas she gives her residence as Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA where she was born in 1821.

Chippendale Playbill
Playbill from William Chippendale's (William Henry Chippendale's father) time on stage in Edinburgh. Image courtesy: Judith Ezekiel

William Henry was born in Somers Town, London, on the 14th August 1801, to William Chippendale and Mary Ann Davies. Born into an acting family, he was brought up in Edinburgh where his father was working, and by the age of nine years was playing numerous children’s parts. Once his formal education ceased his father, well aware of the insecurity of a career on the stage, arranged for him to become an apprentice printer and auctioneer.

However, by the age of 18 years, he found himself unemployed and turned to acting as the only option open to him. He made his first professional appearance in 1819 at Montrose, as David in The Rivals, beginning a career which spanned seventy years.

From 1820–1836 he toured the provinces, making a reputation for playing old men. It seems that even as a young actor he was affectionately known as ‘Old Chippendale’ because of his talent for playing older characters. In London in 1831, as a substitute for his father, he played the Lord Mayor in Richard III and was given the sword worn by Edmund Kean, who was playing the title role.

From Crook to Chippendale
A letter by William Chippendale, addressed to Edward Crook, a theatrical agent.

As the letter above shows, Chippendale was staying with Edmund Kean in Waterford, Ireland in 1823.

In 1836, he received an offer to go to America. Leaving Liverpool aboard the George Washington, he arrived in New York on 24 August 1836 where he performed at the Park Theatre in New York for the next seventeen years, enjoying fame, money, and adulation. His most popular roles were characters in both Dickens & Shakespeare.

Whilst in New York his first wife (Eliza Rochefort Neville, whom he had married at All Saints Church in Cockermouth, Cumberland on 22 May 1821) died in 1846, having borne him three sons and five daughters. Only the last child was born in America.

On 20 November 1848, in New York, he married Adelaide Rebecca Dudley, with whom he had six children, three born in America and the others after their return to England in 1853.

He made his return to the London stage at the Haymarket, London, playing the role of Sir Anthony Absolute in The Rivals, the play in which he had initiated his career in 1819. Although he was widely reported to be a great comedian (given as his occupation in the census of 1861), he was admired by his peers for his many portrayals as Polonius in Hamlet. It was in this role that Chippendale took his farewell benefit at the Lyceum in 1879.

The Census of 1861 shows the family living at 4 Gothic Cottages, St.Pancras, London:

William Henry | head | 59 | comedian | born: St.Pancras

Adelaide | wife | 38 | born: Philadelphia, USA

Henry C | son | 11 | born: Philadelphia, USA

Mary | dau | 9 | born: New York

James A | son | 5 | born: London

Adelaide | dau | 1 | born: London

In 1864, he appeared with the Haymarket Company in the Tercentenary Pavilion in Stratford-upon-Avon, as Malvolio in Twelfth Night:

Twelfth Night Chippendale
PC72.35 Twelfth Night From L-R Mr Rogers as Sir Toby, Henry Compton as Feste, J.B Buckstone as Sir Andrew, Mrs E. Fitzwilliam as Maria, and William Henry Chippendale as Malvolio

His wife Adelaide died in 1864 and was buried on 9 December 1864 at Camden St. James, St.Pancras. William Henry then married Mary Jane Frey Seaman at Ruislip, England on 11 February 1866.

In the Census of 1881, William Henry and Mary Jane, actor and actress, appear as boarders at 40 Havelock Street, Cardiff, Glamorgan, Wales.

William Henry led a full life, married three times, and had twenty-three children (many of whom predeceased him). He died on the 3rd of January, 1888, at the age of 87 and is buried at Highgate cemetery. His wife died at 17 The Terrace, Camberwell on 26 May the same year, aged fifty-seven years and was buried at the Finchley cemetery.

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