Sarah Siddons: Westminster’s Shakespearean Starlet

Playbill for the play in which Sarah Siddons, Charles Kemble and Roger Kemble all performed at Drury Theatre in 1802. Image property of Westminster City Archives.Sarah Siddons (1755 – 1831) was born in Brecon, South Wales, at the Shoulder of Mutton Inn, into the Kemble family – the legendary acting dynasty of the time. She married Will Siddons, an actor, at the age of 17.

Sarah made her Drury Lane debut in 1775. It did not go well! Her performances were poorly received, and she was given a note from the manager of Drury Lane Theatre stating that her services would no longer be required. She was, in her own words,
“banished from Drury Lane as a worthless candidate for fame and fortune…”

She left London and toured the circuit in the provinces for the following 6 years, in particular York and Bath, building up a solid reputation. By the time she returned to Drury Lane in 1782, she was an immediate sensation.

Sarah siddons as Lady Macbeth. Image property of Westminster City Archives.She was most famous for playing Lady Macbeth and the writers of the time coined the term ‘Siddonimania’, to describe her weeping and hysterical audiences who were gripped with ‘Siddons Fever’. After Lady Macbeth she played Desdemona, Rosalind, Ophelia and Volumnia, all with great success; and formally retired from the stage in 1812.

In her latter years, Sarah lived at Westbourne Farm, with her brother Charles in the nearby cottage. The house was located by what is now Harrow Road, but was demolished in 1904.

Westbourne Farm, the home of Sarah Siddons. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

C. Havalliaud’s statue of Sarah Siddons in Paddington Green. Image property of Westminster City Archives.C. Havalliaud’s statue of Sarah in Paddington Green was unveiled in 1897. There is also a statue to commemorate Sarah by the sculptor Thomas Campbell in Westminster Abbey, in the chapel of St Andrew. You can find out more about Westminster’s history, including its rich theatrical heritage, by visiting the Archives Centre.

[Ana]

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