Players, Managers and Impresarios ( 18th and 19th Century)

This section of the website provides brief biographies of some the key actor/managers or impresarios who were influential in the development of British Theatre. Some, but not all, have had an direct impact in Scotland, either by personal engagement in the country or by their 'founding' of theatrical dynasties. The importance of Dublin, and the Irish circuit, should not be overlooked when considering Scottish activity, despite the practice of enhancing the indigent stock companies with London 'stars'.

James Morris, (ca. 1791 - 1872)

Little is known of James Morris although it appears that he was resident in Ayr from 1809 until his death.  He was closely associated with the evolution of theatre in Ayr and Kilmarnock during his lifetime and records suggest that he was one of the forty subscribers who contributed to the building of the Theatre Royal in Ayr.  He states that he was also the owner or lessee of a theatre in Kilmarnock.

Our main knowledge of Morris is gleaned from his book published 1872 under the imprint of The Ayr Advertiser: Recollections of Ayr Theatricals from 1809, although there are records of the sale of land in the Smith Street Area of the Burgh..  He arrived in Ayr in 1809 and it is believed that he was associated with the burgh until his death in the late 19th century.  Some sources have suggested that he originated in Perth and that he was a banker.  However, examination of the local trades directory and census records tell a different story.

It would appear that James Morris was born in Kilmarnock, Ayrshire.  As he states, he settled in Ayr in 1809.  The 1830 Post Office Directory for the burgh records a James Morris, glass & china merchant trading at 37 Sandgate Street in Ayr.  It records his home as St. John Street.  (St John Street links the Sandgate to Fort Street and is adjacent to number 34 Sandgate.)    Pigot's 1837 Directory for Ayr records a James Morris at 35 Sandgate Street, a dealer in Glass and China.  The 1846 Post Office Directory records a James Morris, sub-distributor of stamps, at 35 Sandgate Street with a house at Blackhill.

The 1849 Post Office Directory shows James Morris, Assistant Distributor of Stamps and Taxes, 34 Sandgate Street with a house in St John Street.  From 1851 his house is shown as 17 Charlotte Street, with  similar entries in directories for 1858, 1861, 1864, 1867,  James Morris does not appear in the 1870 Directory but a Capt. Archibald Morris, believed to be a mariner, is listed at the Charlotte Street address (previously at Ailsa Place) in that year and again in 1878.

Examination of the census records suggests that there was only one James Morris residing in Ayr during the early years of the nineteenth century.  Indeed, there are very few Morris's in Ayrshire at any time during this period.  The 1841 census record is consistent with the information in the Directories, showing a James Morris, aged 50, residing with his wife Allison at 1 St. John Street.  In 1851 the family are at 1 St John Street but James is recorded as a visitor at an address in the Gorbals (Glasgow).  He is recorded in the 1861 census at an address in Ayr but does not appear in the 1871 census.  At this time Captain Archibald Morris is recorded at the Ayr address previously occupied by the family.  He is described as a well-off ship master trading between Ayr and Liverpool.   Archibald Morris (1823 - 1881) was married to Ann Watson (1816 - 1887).  Records show the marriage date as either 1837 or 1848.  It is believed that their son, born in 1857, may have been the architect James A. Morris.

Morris's appointment as Distributor of Stamps and Taxes is an appointment under the Stamp Act that was, with the Excise, the main source of government income.  Stamped paper refers to a foolscap piece of paper which bears a pre-printed revenue stamp.  They were not a form of postal stationery.

Stamped paper has been widely used around the world to collect taxes on documents requiring stamping, such as leases, agreements, receipts, court documents and many others. The papers are bought blank apart from the pre-printed stamp and are available from stationers, lawyers offices, post offices and courts according to local regulations. The parties to the matter then write their legal business on the paper and lodge it with the court or other interested party. This is an efficient way of collecting taxes and stamping documents without the need to submit them to a separate government stamp office.  Stamped Paper was originated in London and was regulated by Act of Parliament.  In Scotland, Stamped Paper was managed from a stamp office in Edinburgh, under the London Board's control, with its own Head Distributor and Collector, Comptroller, Inspector and Solicitor. There were 21 distributors in Scotland in 1782.

Links with Ayrshire:

James Morris was a long time resident of Ayr and was active in the cultural life of the burgh.  He is variously described as owner of the Theatre Royal in Ayr and a theatre in Kilmarnock.

[Text based on A short history of the British Stage, various Ayrshire Directories and Recollections of Ayr Theatricals from 1809 .]


The opening paragraph of Morris's Recollections of Ayr Theatricals from 1809.
 magnify  [Original in the carnegie Library, Ayr.]
Ayr Theatre Royal
The Queen's Rooms or Theatre Royal, Ayr. James Morris was a subscriber to the theatre project and subsequent reports imply that he was owner or lessee of the building.  The entrance at ground floor level is a recent addition to the building.   (Photograph ©M Bailey)

Francis (Frank) Seymour fl1800 - 1840

Little is known of his early years, but Seymour was active as an actor manager throughout the early years of the 19th Century, operating mainly on the irish Circuit and in the central belt of Scotland.

Seymour was active in Glasgow by 1825 when the Brief history of the British Stage records the opening of the Caledonian Theatre in Glasgow under his management.  Seymour and  Alexander carried on a ludicrous feud over the Caledonian Theatre, the latter (when he found Seymour had forestalled him in obtaining the lease of the theatre) hiring a large cellar which ran beneath it, and giving rival performances therein. Those below spared no pains in using as much stage fire as possible, in order that the acrid fumes should ooze up through the chinks in the floor of the stage above; while those above retorted by pouring water down the chinks.

Each endeavoured to drown the other by clamour and noise of every description, and the result was an almost inconceivable pandemonium. So much did a section of the public enjoy the sport, that the Queen Street theatre was deserted and its manager forced to abandon it; whereupon Seymour obtained its lease and the Caledonian conflict was abandoned by both himself and Alexander. 

When, in 1829, the Queen Street Theatre was burnt Seymour opened a new theatre in York Street and made an unsuccessful effort to obtain the patent, his energies only resulting in the closing of his new house within two years.  Thereafter it appears that Seymour retreated to Ireland although Morris records him as managing the Ayr and Kilmarnock Theatres at the time of Paganini's 1834 tour of Scotland.

There are records that show Seymour travelling from Belfast to Glasgow in 1839, stopping for performances in Stranraer and Ayr whilst en route. This record shows that Ira Aldridge was with the company at that time.

Links with Ayrshire:

Although Seymour is primarily linked with Glasgow Theatres, it appears that he was sometime lessee or manager of the Theatre Royal in Ayr and also a theatre in Kilmarnock.  He was associated with James Morris at this time. 

[Text based on A short history of the British Stage, The Story of the Scots Stage, by Robb Lawson (1919) and Recollections of Ayr Theatricals from 1809 .]


Theatre Royal, Dunlop Street Glasgow also known as the caledonian Theatre.  Original image in the Mitchell Library, Glasgow.  magnify   [This version of the image is in the public domain.]  

Corbet Ryder (ca.1770 - 1839)

In the early years of the 19th century Ryder was actor/manager of the 'Northern Circuit' of Scottish Theatres.

Corbet Ryder was born ca.1770 and it is probable that he was part of the Ryder family of performers. The Ryder family members, including Preswick and his sons, Samuel (ca 1738-1771) and Thomas (1735-1791) spent a large part of their careers in Ireland and all three of them died there. 

The publication, A short history of the British Stage, records that, in 1772, Thomas Ryder, who was already a popular actor in Dublin, took on the running of the Smock Alley theatre when the previous manager moved to Crow Street.  Ryder succeeded to the Crow Street Theatre in 1776, retaining his lease and acted there, retaining Smock Alley only so as to prevent competition. By 1782 Ryder had disappeared from the managerial scene, bankrupt, and became a member of the company controlled by his rival Richard Daly.

Corbet Ryder was appearing in Drury Lane, London in 1798 when he played Harry Paddington in 'The Beggar's Opera'. He also played a character in Richard Cumberland's new comedy 'A Word for Nature'; a servant in Edward Morris's new comedy 'The Secret'; Walter in 'Catherine and Petruchio'; and he played a soldier in R.B. Sheridan's new tragedy 'Pizarro'.  Early in the new century he left London and gradually moved northward, eventually establishing and managing his own company which toured the northern parts of Scotland.

Records show that a Corbet Ryder appeared at Richmond as Edmund in King Lear (1804) and at Harrogate as the Duke in As You Like It (1806). The same records suggest that he may have been active as a manager in the North East during this period. 

Corbet's first wife was Louisa Goldfinch, singer from a Manchester theatrical family. Corbet and Louisa had at least four children: Thomas born 1813, twin girls and then another daughter Louisa Jane.  It is believed that Mrs Ryder died prior to 1819.

The Aberdeen Theatre in Marischal Street, built in 1795 at a cost of £3,000, was known originally as the Old Band-Box and then the Theatre Royal. It could seat 600 people and was purchased in 1812 by John Fraser.  Corbet Ryder took over as manager of the theatre in 1817, until his death in 1839. Ryder brought many prominent actors to the theatre, including Edmund Kean, William Charles Macready, John Philip Kemble, Daniel Terry and Sheridan Knowles.

Links with Ayrshire:

Although Ryder was clearly an important figure in Scottish Theatre, no clear evidence of appearances in Ayrshire has been found.

[Text based on material published by Carol McNeill, A short history of the British Stage and the Biographical Dictionary of Actors.]


Playbill for the Theatre Royal, Perth. magnify

John Jackson 1742 - 1809

John Jackson is recorded as manager of the Edinburgh Theatre Royal in the winter of 1781.  When he assumed this responsibility, he said, the condition of the house was lamentable. The roof was 'like a sieve', which let the rain through in a million of places,' and there were 'neither scenes, wardrobe, or any other appendage suitable to a Theatre Royal.'

Jackson was manager for two periods, first from 1781 to 1791, and again for a year or two from 1801.  This first spell of managership was combined with the direction of a new theatre he built in Glasgow in 1782. John Jackson built his new Glasgow playhouse on St. Enoch's Croft, using land purchased from Colin Dunlop, the Provost of Glasgow.  The 'Dunlop Street Theatre' cost £3,000 to erect.  It held sufficient patrons to yield a nightly income of £90 to £100, at Edinburgh prices. 

The theatre opened in January 1782, and was worked for fifteen years by the Edinburgh stock company. Mrs. Sarah Siddons made her first Glasgow appearance at the Dunlop Street Theatre in 1795 and Harry (Henry Erskine) Johnston filled a short engagement.  Mrs. Baddeley appeared under him in Edinburgh from 1783 to 1785, Mrs. Siddons at various times from 1784, Mrs. Yates in 1785, and Mrs. Jordan in 1786.

The patent of the Edinburgh Theatre Royal had been renewed in 1788, for another twenty years, and Jackson continued in sole managership till 1791, when financial difficulties drove him into partnership with Stephen Kemble. Eventually Jackson retired temporarily from the scene, in 1793, and in the following year Stephen Kemble announced the opening of the Theatre Royal with himself as sole patentee.

In 1801 Jackson, having secured a partner, again obtained command of the Theatre Royal after the departure of Kemble. Master Betty appeared under him in 1804 and Mrs. Siddons in 1805; and in 1808 the latter's daughter-in law, Mrs. Henry Siddons, began a long and honourable connection with the Edinburgh Stage. Despite these achievements, Jackson became increasingly unpopular and he fell from public favour. 

In 1809 he disappeared from the scene and the Edinburgh Theatre was closed for almost three years.  (It was at this time that Henry Erskine Johnston applied for the management without success.)  The Royal Patent was transferred to the New Theatre Royal, formerly the Edinburgh Circus, in Leith Walk, under Henry Siddons.

Links with Ayrshire:

Jackson is primarily linked with Glasgow and Edinburgh Theatres.   No clear evidence of Ayrshire connections have been found.

[Text based on The Story of the Scots Stage, by Robb Lawson (1919), A short history of the British Stage and Abandoned Communities operated by Stephen Fisk.]


Theatre Royal
The Theatre Royal, Shakespeare Square, Edinburgh. Engraving after a drawing by T H Shepherd published in 1829.  magnify   [Image in the public domain]

Richard Daly 1758 - 1813

By 1782 Thomas Ryder disappeared from the managerial scene in Dublin, bankrupt, and became a member of the company controlled by his rival actor-manager, Richard Daly, who had been in control of Smock Alley since 1781.

Richard Daly was a man of good education from Galway.  Intended originally to follow the legal profession,  he was at Trinity College, Dublin, before going over to England to enter at the Temple.  At this time, 1777, duelling was then extraordinarily prevalent in Ireland,  This activity was governed by strict rules of conduct and seems to have been an important rite of passage into manhood.  During his time at Trinity, Daly had fought sixteen duels in the space of two years: 'three with swords and thirteen with pistols yet with so little skill or so much good fortune that 'not a wound worth mentioning occurred in the course of the whole.'

It was said that Daly, in person, was remarkably handsome, and his features would have been agreeable but for an inveterate and most distressing squint.   Having decided to try his fortune as an actor, he went to his fellow-countryman Macklin for instruction. After a course of training with him, Daly succeeded in getting into the Covent Garden company during the winter season 1778-9.  It is probable that Daly's short experience at Covent Garden did not encourage him to entertain the hope of making a fortune in London, for he took an opportunity which came his way of returning to Ireland.

What we know of Daly is largely drawn from biographies of Mrs Jordan (Dorothy Francis).  Daly had first encountered Francis in Cork; in Dublin she appeared with Ryder before moving to Smock Alley and more rewarding parts.   Although married, with a wife playing leading roles in his company, Daly gained notoriety as a womaniser with a penchant for young actresses; one who fell for his charms early in her career was Dorothy Francis.  After a short time at Daly's theatre she became Daly's mistress in an unhappy and subservient relationship in which she conceived his child (Francis Daly) in February 1782.   Heavily indebted to the manager, she fled with her family to the mainland to pursue a substantial career as Mrs Jordan and a staring role as mistress to the Duke if Clarence, later William IV.  For three years she played in Wilkinson's company in Yorkshire until she was seen by the actor William Smith, who recommended her to Richard Sheridan of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane.  (Mrs Jordan was in Edinburgh in 1789.)

As manager, Daly's first important engagement was that of John Kemble in 1781, and in 1783 he brought Sarah Siddons to Dublin. A year later, owing to the failure of the manager who had followed Ryder at Crow Street, that theatre fell into Daly's hands, who now could prevent opposition. Thereafter, he confined himself almost entirely to the extensively refurbished Crow Street Theatre Royal, and the Smock Alley house practically ceased to exist as a theatre.  In 1790 it was turned into a storehouse, and later a church was built on its site.

Daly, whose means were diminishing, abandoned theatrical management in 1798, and his place at Crow Street was taken by Frederick Jones. It is true that after adopting the stage as his profession Daly distinguished himself from the majority of managers, including immeasurably better actors than himself, by saving a sufficient fortune to maintain himself and his family when, at the end of seventeen years, he retired.  As he was a keen gambler, however, and unscrupulous in his money-transactions, we can hardly say that it was thrift that enabled him to provide for his old age.

Links with Ayrshire: There is no evidence that Richard Daly was in Ayrshire at any time.  However, G V Brooke refers to a Daly, of the Carlisle Theatre, who takes him on tour through Penrith, Wigton,  It is possible that this may be Francis, son of Richard Daly.

[Text based on A short history of the British Stage, Mrs. Jordan: Child of Nature by Philip W. Sergeant and the Biographical Dictionary of Actors.]


Mrs. Jordan as Priscilla Tomboy.    From an engraving by W. Angus after a drawing by T. Stothard, 1786.  Illustration in the publication Child of Nature by Philip W. Sergeant.  magnify   [Image in the public domain.]

David Ross 1728 - 90

The Canongate Theatre in Edinburgh operated successfully for ten years without a patent. In January 1767, a great riot broke out in which the auditorium and stage were mostly destroyed. The theatre was repaired by its proprietors and the first patent since the Licensing Act of 1737 was obtained by the Canongate Concert Hall proprietors. 

The Theatre was sold, together with the Royal Patent, to actor/manager David Ross 1728 - 90, an experienced actor of Scottish descent, born in London.  Against considerable opposition, he opened the Canongate Concert Hall on 9th December, 1767 with a performance of The Earl of Essex, preceded by an address written by James Boswell. 

Ross had a successful season at the Canongate, playing the leading roles in several plays, including The Beggars' Opera, Romeo and Juliet and The Suspicious Husband. During his second season in Edinburgh, Ross was planning the opening of his new house to be built in Shakespeare Square.

In November 1769, Ross opened his new Theatre Royal in Shakespeare Square with a performance of The Conscious Lovers. However, the first season at this theatre was not a success, due to the poor quality of many of the supporting players in the company and Ross returned to London, to joined Foote's company at the Haymarket. Meanwhile, Foote came north into the Theatre Royal in Edinburgh.

Links with Ayrshire:

There are no records linking Ross with Ayrshire.  However, his friendship with james Boswell might imply some connections.

[Text based on the A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, article by Kathleen Airdrie, Theatre and the Church of Scotland. The Laughing Audience website, Electric Scotland's The Scottish Nation and the National Library of Scotland.]


David Ross 1728 - 90 as Hamlet by Zoffany Oil on canvas 770 x 640mm. Collrction of the Garrick Club, London.   Magnify   [This version of the image in the public domain.]

An Unscrupulous Manager

A brief and exceedingly characteristic story of Frank Seymour . . .

The victim was my old friend James Morris, Esq., of Ayr, and proprietor at the time of the Ayr and Kilmarnock theatres.

A Letter to Morris

Following the Dublin performance, "Mr. and Mrs. G. V. Brooke," on June 29, gave some readings from Othello .  . 

Next day the tragedian wrote from the City Hotel to his friend Morris, ,  ,  ,  ,

Theatre in Aberdeen with the Fraser and Ryder Families

A site was selected on the newly formed Marischal St to house a permanent theatre in Aberdeen proper. The building was completed in 1795 at a cost of £3000 raised by subscription.

Early Theatre in Arbroath

The spirit of dramatic adventure which created the 'stock' days — the difficulties of transport, the handling of much baggage, the ever-varying conditions of public appreciation .  .  . 

Aldridge and Seymour; a Cooling Relationship

A week after his engagement at Dublin’s Theatre Royal ended on December 20, 1833, Aldridge accepted a contract for four nights at the Theatre in Limerick run by actor-manager Frank Seymour.

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