THIS EVENT HAS TAKEN PLACE
At midday the Society for Theatre Research met with members of the Irving Society at St. Mary Magdalene, Richmond's Parish Church long associated with Edmund Kean. Member Jennie Bissett pinpointed the likely site of the former exterior entrance to the vault in which Kean was interred in 1833. This identification is supported by contemporary line drawings illustrating Kean's funeral procession as it moved from the 'Western Portal' along the south side of the church towards the open vault in the churchyard. Kean's coffin*, if it included a lead shell, probably weighed approximately 3.75 cwt and needed eight coffin bearers to carry it from Kean's house, which was attached to the then Richmond Theatre (long since demolished) and situated across the Green from today's Richmond Theatre. The coffin 'of polished oak' is seen to be covered by a pall, or mortcloth, and the hem of the pall is held by the pall bearers, in this case, the actors Macready, Braham, Farren, Harley and Cooper, and the Drury Lane Treasurer, Dunn.
Inside the church at the west end it was possible to view the 'neat mural monument' erected in memory of the great actor by his 'deeply and sincerely affected' son, Charles who 'was unable to sustain himself" in the church and at the grave. Following the funeral this monument had been placed on an exterior wall in front of Kean's vault. The Observer reporter who was present at the funeral wrote "The vault in which the remains of the "mighty meteor" were deposited, is almost under the pavement of the footpath through the churchyard and extends nearly to the walls of the church itself" (Morning Chronicle Wednesday, 29th May 1833). In the line drawing (see illustration) the low ceilinged vault appears to be full and it is reported that Kean's coffin was placed on top of other coffins already in situ at the entrance of the vault: 'The coffin of Mr. Kean lies on top of three others, and within a foot of the surface of the earth' (Gentleman's magazine obit vol 103 pt 1 p645-648).
Set in the floor of the south-west corner of the church, under a carpet, is a stone that states that Edmund Kean is buried in the crypt beneath. Paul Velluet RIBA, who was present, related to members that in 1975 it was discovered that some of the stone flooring in this area of the church was sunken and when it was lifted 'the partly collapsed brick vault below, filled with rubble ... was revealed'. Mr. Velluet was lowered into the vault and discovered two damaged lead coffin linings containing 'modest but disordered human remains within': he believed he may have gazing at Kean's skull. No coffin name plates or other forms of identification were seen. The vault was repaired and sealed.
The contemporary line drawing suggests that Kean was not laid to rest in the section of the vault that lies under the church and which in 1975 was found to be full of rubble. The drawings suggest that the exterior vault may have been a separate construction and some distance from the load bearing outer wall of the church. For the time being the exact position of Edmund Kean's final resting place cannot be verified.
The once resplendent memorial to the actors Richard Yates (1745-1796) and his wife, Mary Anne Yates (1737-1787) was formerly positioned above their grave in the chancel of the church. The architect thought it unlikely that their grave was still in place following earlier changes to the chancel and their whitewashed memorial is now positioned high on a wall in a small locked room used as a creche at the west end of the church.
Following lunch members of the two societies enjoyed a bill of triple bill of farces at The Orange Tree Theatre. The bill was made up of three farces by the inestimable Mr. John Maddison Morton (1811-1891) and they were Slasher & Crasher, A Most Unwanted Intrusion and Grimshaw, Bagshaw, &Bradshaw.
Within the plays were elements of the drama to come: Feydeau's doors and swift physical action, the surreal humour developed by the Goons and Monty Python and the (comedic in this instance) menace present in Pinter's writing. The actors, led by Clive Francis, acted in all the plays: characterisations engaged fully with the period and text, and to some extraordinary and changing circumstances to the delight of the matinee audience. Henry Bell's direction respected the period and style of the plays and he with the actors is to be congratulated on a fine piece of theatre. After the performance the director conducted a question and answer session on farce in general and Morton in particular, and this was much appreciate by those present.
*From information supplied by Henry Vivian-Neal, Friends of Kensal Green Cemetery
NB This is an extended and updated version of the report that appeared in the Irving Society's Irvingite No 56 - July 2011
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Last update: 2nd October 2011