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Sir Henry (Brodribb) Irving

The ashes of Sir Henry Irving, actor, lie in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey. John Henry Brodribb (1838-1905) assumed the surname of Irving by royal licence in 1889. He was the son of Samuel and Mary Brodribb of Somerset. His parents moved to London and Henry began his long apprenticeship in the theatre. In 1869 he married Florence O'Callaghan and had two sons, Henry (also an actor, buried at Hampstead cemetery) and Laurence. He was by now the leading actor in London. However, one night after appearing to great acclaim in the play 'The Bells', Florence made some scornful remarks about his profession. His response was never to speak to her again or return home. Irving was renowned for his performances in revivals of Shakespeare's plays and became actor-manager at the Lyceum Theatre. In 1895 he became the first actor to be knighted. At his death noted persons in society petitioned for his burial in the Abbey.

The procession of his coffin from the house of Baroness Burdett-Coutts in Piccadilly to the Abbey was watched by over 40,000 people. It was placed in St Faith's chapel overnight and covered with a pall made of laurel leaves. The funeral took place at 12 noon on 20th October 1905 during which his ashes were buried in the south transept, next to the grave of the 18th century Shakespearian actor David Garrick, and in front of Shakespeare's memorial statue. The large congregation included the actress Ellen Terry, and writers Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker. For several days afterwards crowds flocked to see his grave and the hundreds of floral tributes. The small marble stone reads

SIR HENRY IRVING 1838-1905.

Irving's crucifix

A 17th century ivory crucifix which had belonged to Irving was presented to the Abbey in 1963 by Muriel Chevalier, a lifelong admirer of Irving who placed red roses on his grave on the anniversary of his death for over sixty years. The cross is displayed in the Abbots Pew (not open to the public)

The ashes of another great actor, Laurence Olivier (died 1989), lie next to Irving. A memorial stone to actress Dame Peggy Ashcroft is nearby.

See also the websites of The Irving Society and the National Portrait Gallery.

Further Reading

"Sir Henry Irving" by Laurence Irving, 1951

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004

The funeral service of Sir Henry Irving, 20 October 1905 (PDF, 376 KB)

Born

6th February 1838

Died

13th October 1905

Buried

20th October 1905

Field

Actor

Location

South Transept; Poets' Corner

Memorial Type

Grave

Material Type

Marble

Sir Henry (Brodribb) Irving
Sir Henry (Brodribb) Irving by Reginald Grenville Eves

[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sir Henry (Brodribb) Irving
Sir Henry (Brodribb) Irving grave

This image can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library

Image © 2018 Dean and Chapter of Westminster

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At different times of the day, or in different seasons, the light falling in the Abbey will light up something that you have walked past a million times and never seen before.

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Vanessa, Head of Conservation

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