Irving Family Archive


Sir Henry Irving was born John Henry Brodribb in 1838. He was one of the most famous British actor-managers and dominated the late Victorian Stage (along with Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree). He was born in Somerset but lived in London from the age of 10. It was seeing Samuel Phelps playing Hamlet that inspired Irving to take to the stage, and he joined the Lyceum Theatre, Sunderland, in 1856.

Irving's breakthrough came with the success of 'The Bells' in 1871, produced at the Lyceum in London. His personal life took second place to his professional life. On opening night of The Bells, 25 November 1871, Irving's wife, Florence criticised his profession: "Are you going on making a fool of yourself like this all your life?" Irving got out from their carriage at Hyde Park Corner, walked off into the night and chose never to see her again.

It was after this that Irving took over the lease for this theatre from Hezekiah Bateman, and Ellen Terry became his leading lady.

Irving was the first actor to be awarded a knighthood, which he received in 1895. He died during his final provincial tour in 1905 where he played Beckett.

H.B. (Henry Brodribb) Irving (1870 - 1919) was the elder son of Sir Henry and made his professional stage debut in 1891. He married Dorethea Baird, whose first major stage success came with Trilby.

Laurence Irving (1897 - 1988) was H.B.'s son was also involved in the stage, as a designer, mainly for London theatre. He also wrote a noted biography of his grandfather entitled Henry Irving: the actor and his world

John H. B. Irving (1924 - 2016) carried on the tradition of the family working within the performing arts, becoming a television producer and film maker. He also wrote a book detailing the work of his father, Laurence.

What the collection holds

This collection contains correspondence, documents, photographs, designs, diaries, sketch books and ephemera related to the activities of four members, from four generations, of the Irving family to be involved with the Theatrical Arts.

The online catalogue for this collection can be viewed here:
BTC30 - The Irving Family

Further information

Related Collections:
BTC34 - Henry Irving Society Donations

Henry Irving caricature
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