Smallhythe Place

Smallhythe Place, Kent, England – Ellen Terry Memorial Museum – Pictures

Dame Ellen Alice Terry GBE (February 27, 1847 – July 21, 1928) was an English stage actress. She was born Alice Ellen, but she had reversed her names by the time of her first marriage.

Ellen Terry married three times, and was involved in numerous relationships during her lifetime. In London, during an engagement with the Haymarket Theatre, Ellen and Kate had their portrait painted by the eminent artist, George Frederick Watts, and was impressed with the music, art and elegance of his lifestyle. She married him on February 20, 1864c 1864, shortly before her 16th birthday, when Watts was 46. Ellen gave up acting during her marriage to Watts and she felt more like a timid child bride than a hostess when eminent visitors came to call. Neither she nor her husband were faithful, and they separated after 10 months of marriage.

The birth of her son, Edward Gordon Craig, in 1872, was the result of a liaison with the progressive architect-designer Edward William Godwin, with whom she retreated to Hertfordshire, again temporarily retiring from acting. The liaison cooled in 1874, and she returned to her acting career.

From 1874 she became the leading Shakespearean actress in London, and in partnership with Henry Irving became successful in England and the USA. In 1876 she married Charles Kelly. In 1903 she formed a theatre management business with her son, abandoning her business partner Irving. She struck up a friendship and a famous correspondence with George Bernard Shaw during this time, and divorced from Kelly. In 1907 she married American actor James Carew. She became a Dame Grand Cross of the British Empire (GBE) in 1925.

Ellen Terry should not be confused with Charles Dickens’ mistress Ellen Ternan, also an actress, who was a few years her senior. Her son, Edward Gordon Craig, became an important actor, designer, and director; her daughter Edith Craig became theatre director, producer, and early pioneer of the women’s suffrage movement in England; her grandnephew, Sir John Gielgud, also became an actor. The singer Helen Terry, and illustrator Helen Craig are also descendants of hers.

Her ashes rest at St Paul’s, Covent Garden, London.

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