The actor and writer Thomas Holcroft provides an unvarnished glimpse into the reality of strolling life at Cockermouth in Cumberland when he was acting in Booth’s company in 1775. Holcroft’s wife, the actress Matilda Tipler, had just given birth to their second child Sophy and they were in such dire circumstances that Holcroft wrote a desperate letter offering his services to David Garrick, the manager of Covent Garden Theatre. He informed Garrick that he was a strolling comedian with a family that he could barely provide for, his company was about to be broken up, and his wife was “lying in at an inn, and in circumstances that I cannot describe.” Holcroft included a poem in the letter in which he referred to his two year old son, “my sweet William, prattling youth” who “For bread oft begs in accents meek” and he also mentioned his wife in a similarly pathetic manner: “Her lips how pale! Her cheek how cold! / Matilda faints for want of food!” According to William Hazlitt who edited Holcroft’s memoirs after his death in 1809, Holcroft was acting in a manner that “drowning men catch at straws” and his editor included this “trifling verse” in the memoirs “less for the poetry than the history they contain.”  Undoubtedly Matilda’s subsequent death in Cumberland as her husband struggled to earn enough to feed his family must have coloured Holcroft’s memories of his strolling life.



Image by Unknown (appeared in P. Russell and O. Price’s England Displayed, London: Adlard & Browne), View of Cockermouth Castle in Cumberland, 1769