Saturday, January 26, 2008

Sarah Ward, my grandmother's grandmother's grandmother

This is a reconstruction by Jacqueline Taber of the portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA of Sarah Ward, formerly in the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, but missing since it was stolen in 1986. It was probably one of the earliest portraits by Lawrnce, painted when he was a boy of 16 at Bath in 1786. Ms Taber resuscitated Sarah from a poor black and white photograph kindly supplied by the Victoria Art Gallery.

Sarah Ward was born at Clonmel, Ireland, on September 2, 1735. She belonged to the troupe of actors managed by her father John Ward (b June 24, 1704 October 30, 1773) and at the age of 17 married Roger Kemble (b March 1, 1721/22) on June 6, 1753 shortly after he had joined the troupe. Ward and his wife Sarah Butcher, also a strolling player, had 15 children, but apart from Sarah,only two sons, William and Stephen, survived, and neither are said to have had any theatrical talent. Life on the road must have been harsh for small children; most died as infants and the longest lasting of the remaining ten, Elizabeth perished before her tenth birthday.

Sarah must have been extremely tough. She turned down a rich Quaker and a young nobleman in favour of Roger Kemble, against the wishes of her father, who had compelled her to swear that she would never marry an actor. Afterwards, according to Ann Kemble Hatton, one of Roger and Sarah's 13 children, Mr Ward consoled himself with the thought

"My daughter Swore she would never marry an Actor, and by G-d Sir, she has religiously kept her word'.

Roger stayed with his father-in-law's company for the next eight years, and Srah's first child Sarak Kemble (the most famous of their offspring, thefuture Mrs Sdiddns) was born on July 1, 1753 at the Shoulder of Mutton Inn, Brecon, while the company was there on tour. The next child, John Philip, was born at Prescott, Lancashire, on February 1, 1757 and was followed by Stephen George at Kington, Herefordshire, on April 23, 1758. Sarah was playing the role of the pregnant Anne Boleyn in Henry VIII earlier othe night of his birth. Then came Frances, born December 28, 1759.

Around 1761 the Kembles may have left Sarah's father and struck out on their own. On April 2 1761 their fifthchild, Elizabeth was born in E+Warrington, Lancs, followed by the sixt, Mary, at Stratford-upon-Avon on January 3, 1763. She died in infancy. Later that year the Kembles returned to Ward, and when he retired on May 24,1766, Roger took over the management.

Six more children arrived during the first 11 years of Roger's management and all those who survived became actors. All except Frances also married actors. Sarah was said to be a disciplinarian,with her children and the company. A playbill of Charles the First at Worcester on February 12, 1767 records five Kembles in the cast, including Sarah as Princess Elizabeth.

The couple retired in 1781, and lived in London for the rest of their lives, though clearly they still had connections in Bath, where Lawrence painted Sarah's portrait at the age of 51. She died on April 24, 1807, aged 71,and was buried at St Marylebone on April 29.

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