Samuel Butler (1750-1812)

Samuel Butler’s company catered to the county towns of the North Riding, perfromed for the sumer season at the fashionable spa-town Harrogate and every other year travelled across the Pennines to perform in Kendal in Westmoreland and Ulverston in Northern Lancashire. Thomas Bates was described as  “almost a father” to his company of performers in the Durham Company by George Garbutt,  but Samuel Butler, a twenty-three year old former stay-maker from York, quite literally became the father of a number of his company’s performers when he married the forty-six year old, Tryphosa Brockell in 1773 to became the manager of a company which developed one of the most successful northern circuits of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Tryphosa Brockell, the daughter of a Reverend from Barnard Castle in County Durham, had been married to two actors previously. She married her first husband, Henry Miller, in 1749 with whom she had two actress daughters. Then she married the Yorkshire actor-manager J. Wright with whom she also had children who became actors. Wright died in 1771 and Tryphosa inherited the theatrical real estate. At least two of her children remained with the company and married actors, which meant that the company, like many others in this period, formed a complex family web. When he was strolling with Stanton’s company, Thomas Holcroft recorded in his memoirs the attraction for provincial manager to employ family members as it increased their share of the profits:

Our manager, has five sons and daughters all ranked as performers; so that he sweeps eleven shares, that is, near half the profits of the theatre, into his pocket every night. This is a continual subject of discontent to the rest of the actors, who are all, to a man, disaffected to the higher powers.[1]

Sybil Rosenfeld noted the complex web of family and professional connections at the start of her study of North Yorkshire’s Richmond Theatre which was established by Samuel Butler in September 1788. When the Irish actor Fielding Wallis joined the company at Ripon in 1773 and married one of Tryphosa’s daughters Jane Wright, Butler became Wallis’s step father-in-law. The family connections continued when Fielding and Jane Wallis’ actress daughter, Margaret, then married the Headmaster of Richmond School, James Tate, which meant that Butler became Tate’s great-father-in-law.

As a respected member of the clergy, Tate’s association with the company helped to maintain its reputation. Rosenfeld stresses the Butler company’s “strong reputation for respectability” which was enhanced by the family’s connections with the church.[2] The Barnard Castle born Tryphosa Brockell came from three generations of clergymen as the daughter of the Rev. Christopher Brockell, granddaughter of the Rev. John Brockell, and great-grand-daughter of the Rev. John Brockell. Fielding Wallis was the son of the protestant Rector of Boho and Templecare in County Fermanagh. Wallis’ friend and fellow company member James Field Stanfield had attended a Roman Catholic seminary school in France and was a well-known philanthropist, being a prominent abolitionist and respected figure in freemasonry. Coincidentally, Jeremy Black has also noted the disproportionate number of members of the clergy from James Cawdell’s hometown area of Baldock on the subscription list of the Durham Company manager’s Miscellaneous Poems.


[1] Thomas Holcroft, Memoirs of the Late Thomas Holcroft, Written by Himself, and Continued to the Time of his Death, from his Diary, Notes and Other Papers, ed. William Hazlitt, 3 vols. (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1816), 1:228-29.

[2] Sybil Rosenfeld, The Georgian Theatre of Richmond, Yorkshire, and its Circuit: Beverley, Harrogate, Kendal, Northallerton, Ulverston and Whitby (London: Society for Theatre Research, 1984), 2.

More Biographies

John Cunningham (1729-1773)

Although now forgotten, this Irish actor was the nation’s leading pastoral poet at mid-century.

West Digges (1720-1786)

West Digges was a popular actor in Ireland before working in Scotland and the north of England.

George Garbutt (1791-1859)

George Garbutt was from Sunderland and a local historian and freemason

Francis Gentleman (1728-1784)

Francis Gentleman was an Irish actor, poet, playwright and critic.

Francis Gibson (1753-1805)

The Whitby collector of customs Francis Gibson was a poet, playwright and fellow of the Society of Antiquaries.

William Hutchinson (1732-1814)

William Hutchinson authored an early history of the County of Durham and the "Spirit of Masonry"

Stephen Kemble (1758 –1822)

Stephen Kemble was one of the greatest provincial theatre managers of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries

William Henry Lambton (1764-1797)

William Henry Lambton was the MP for Durham and installed as provincial Grand Master of Durham in 1788.

Charlotte Lowes / Deans (1768-1859)

Charlotte Lowes was a strolling player who worked across the north of England and left a valuable memoir of her career.

George W Meadley (1774-1818)

GW Meadley was a literary figure in eighteenth-century Sunderland

William Newton (1730-1798) 

Newcastle-born William Newton exemplifies the new local builder-architect that catered to élite coal-rich clients

William Shield (1748 – 1829)

Well-known composer to George III, William Shield started his musical career as the Durham theatre company’s band leader

Robert Tannahill (1774 – 1810)

Robert Tannahill was a Scottish laboring class poet from Paisley, near Glasgow, known as the "Weaver Poet”

James Tate (1771 – 1843)

James Tate was a teacher and man of the church who was close friends with northern actors

William Taylor of Norwich (1765 –1836)

William Taylor was a prolific critic and scholar based in Norwich

Jane Wallis (1774-1848)

She was known as 'Miss Wallis of Bath' but Jane Wallis actually hailed from the north.

Ann Wheeler (1734-1804)

Ann Wheeler is a rare example of a Westmoreland dialect writer.

Tipping Brown (1758-1811)

Dr Tipping Brown was a highly regarded freemason, musician and literary man

Robert Fergusson (1750-1774)

Edinburgh's late eighteenth-century poet laureate.

James Field Stanfield (1749-1824)

The Dublin-born actor, James Field Stanfield (1749-1824), spent most of his career performing in theatres in the north of England.

Thomas Spence (1750-1814)

As a political radical, Thomas Spence was the proponent of the only political ideology, "Spencerianism", to have ever been outlawed in Britain.

Anne Slack (née Fisher)(1719-1778)

Anne Slack was Britain's first modern English-language grammarian, an entrepreneur in her own right, and wife of Newcastle printer, Thomas Slack.

Joseph Ritson (1752-1803)

Joseph Ritson was an antiquarian and historian of "the common people", friend to actors who passed through Stockton, and the man who made Robin Hood the man he is today.

Tate Wilkinson (1739 –1803)

The Yorkshire company under Tate Wilkinson’s management from 1766 to 1806 had the best-known circuit in the North

Thomas Holcroft (1745-1809)

Thomas Holcroft was a novelist, playwright and actor in the north of England

Ann Allan (1717-1785)

Ann Allan of Blackwell Grange was a prominent local philanthropist and friend to local personalities.

George Allan (1736-1800)

Antiquary and printer George Allan was an influential cultural figure in the Northeast

Robert Anderson (1770-1833)

Robert Anderson, known as the ‘Bard of Cumberland' was an English labouring class poet who wrote in Cumbrian dialect.

David Erskine Baker (1730-1767)

David Erskine Baker - actor, freemason and social mover

Susanna Blamire (1747-1794)

Susanna Blamire, posthumously dubbed the ‘Muse of Cumberland’ has been called "unquestionably the best female writer of her age”

Rowland Burdon (1757 – 1838)

Rowland Burdon was a Newcastle Banker, one time Mayor of Stockton and the first Durham MP not to have been an aristocrat.

James Cawdell (1749-1800)

James Cawdell was an actor and manager of the Durham theatre circuit.