Henry Irving (1838-1905) was one the most famous English actors. His real name was John Henry Brodribb.

Irving�s acting career was helped in 1856 when he inherited �100, which he spent on theatrical wigs, swords and costumes. The money also allowed him to buy the leading part in an amateur production of Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Soho Theatre.

In his early years Irving travelled from town to town with acting troops, and his first success in London came in 1866 in a play called Hunted Down. In 1895 he became the first actor to be knighted, and is well known for reviving popular interest in Shakespeare. He was an intellectual who became a Rede lecturer at Cambridge in 1898. Despite his successes he died penniless in Bradford at the age of 68, after a performance of Becket by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

In 1910 the statue by Sir Thomas Brock was placed behind the National Portrait Gallery, looking towards the heart of London�s theatreland.


Contemporary photographs by Jeremy Young

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