Widdicomb, Henry (DNB00)

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WIDDICOMB, HENRY (1813–1868), comedian, born in Store Street, Tottenham Court Road, on 14 Feb. 1813, was the son of John Esdaile Widdicomb or Widdicumb (1787–1854), a well-known figure for many years in London, having been from 1819 to 1853 riding-master and conductor of ‘the ring’ at Astley's Amphitheatre. The elder Widdicomb, before he was at Astley's, had ‘played the dandylover in pantomime to the clown of Grimaldi at the old Coburg Theatre. He was to the last a wonderfully young-looking man, and was an excellent ring-master’ (Blanchard, Life and Reminiscences, 1891, p. 125). ‘The unapproachable Mr. Widdicombe’ he is called in a note to the ‘Lay of St. Romwold,’ who ‘preserved the graces of his youth to an age only equalled by Tom Hill and the Wandering Jew’ (Ingoldsby Legends, 1894, iii. 85). Browning described him in a letter to his wife in August 1846 as having a face ‘just Tom Moore's, plus two painted cheeks, a sham moustache, and hair curled in wiry long ringlets.’ When there was no evening performance at Astley's he was frequently seen at Vauxhall. He died in Kennington on 3 Nov. 1854 (Gent. Mag. 1854, ii. 406).

‘Harry’ Widdicomb was entered by his father at fifteen as a clerk in the long room at the Custom House. Against his father's wish he left this employment in 1831, and obtained an engagement at the Margate Theatre under Saville Faucit. He joined the Yorkshire circuit under Down, but came to London in 1835 or soon after, and obtained an engagement under Andrew Ducrow [q. v.] When Astley's was burned down he went to Liverpool and played leading parts as a low comedian under Malone Raymond. In March 1842 he first obtained employment at a west-end theatre, being engaged by Benjamin Webster during Buckstone's absence in America. In 1845 he became joint manager of the Sheffield and Wolverhampton theatres with Charles Dillon, but three years later he returned to London and was principal comedian at the Surrey Theatre from 1848 down to 1860. He played at first occasionally and then regularly under Fechter at the Lyceum; in ‘Sarah's Young Man’ in August 1858, in Gilbert's ‘Uncle Baby’ in November 1863, as first gravedigger in ‘Hamlet’ in the revivals of ‘Hamlet’ in January 1861 and May 1864, in the ‘King's Butterfly’ in the following October, as Jacques Strop in the ‘Roadside Inn’ to Fechter's Macaire in January 1865, as Craigengelt in the ‘Bride of Lammermoor’ in January 1866, and as Moneypenny in Boucicault's ‘Long Strike’ in the ensuing September. He was last seen during 1867 at the Holborn Theatre.

Widdicomb never attained to the front rank, but he had a considerable fund of original humour and power of facial expression. He died in Kennington Park Road on 6 April 1868, and was buried at Norwood.

[Era, 12 April 1869; Gent. Mag. 1868, i. 689; Era Almanac, 1871, p. 14; Daily Telegraph, 7 April 1868; Blanchard's Reminiscences, p. 358; Letters of Robert Browning, 1899, ii. 432; Frost's Circus Life, 1876; Punch, 10 May 1899, p. 225; The Bon Gaultier Ballads, 1855, passim.]

T. S.