Francis Gentleman (1728-1784)
Francis Gentleman was an Irish actor, poet, playwright and critic.
Originally a fishing town, the discovery of a spa in the seventeenth century led to Scarborough’s development into a fashionable centre of leisure where leading society figures spent the summer season and expected to be entertained by a respectable company. In his memoir, the actor and critic Francis Gentleman describes the town as “(a place like Bath) made up in the summer of fantastical people of quality, and ravenous tradesmen, who prey on them.” A letter sent from Scarborough and printed in London’s Public Advertiser on 29 September 1787 conveys a sense of the resort’s fashionable status, noting that even so late in the season “some of the highest, and most estimable, in the first class of ancient British nobility” were arriving in the town which was “full of fashionable personages, and those of distinguished rank, as any publick place whatever, so remote from the metropolis.”
Six years later London’s Morning Chronicle, dated 18 September 1793, printed a hierarchical list of arrivals which started with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Marquis and Marchioness of Stafford, the Earl of Stair, the Dowager Countesses of Granard, Cunnyngham and Mexborough, Lord and Lady Grey De Wilton, Lords Dungannon, Belgrave, Northland, Hinchinbroke, the Bishops of Peterborough and Dublin, Lady Crauford, numerous more Lords and Ladies, the Dean of York, General Hale and then the list continued with lesser gentry. This shows not only how important public visibility and the display of prestige was in this period, but also the crucial role that the press played in this promotion. The article further suggests the ‘urban renaissance’ taking place due to popularity of the resort, as despite the great number of visitors it reassured readers that “from the great increase of new buildings, it might have been thought few would have had much difficulty in obtaining them.”
The theatre was directly associated with Scarborough’s advancement as the report concluded with a specific reference to its local company: “Donner’s rooms have been crowded; and Cawdell, the Manager of the Theatre, has reaped an abundant harvest.” Several other articles publicising the Durham company at Scarborough appeared in the national press, suggesting James Cawdell’s capacity for puffing his company. “A play at Scarborough would be a bore without Mr Cawdell,” the manager of the Yorkshire circuit, Tate Wilkinson stated of his rival, noting that in dry comedy he had “few competitors on any stage.”