TREE, Sir Herbert Beerbohm (1853-1917)
Plaque erected in 1950 by London County Council at 31 Rosary Gardens, South Kensington, London, SW7 4NH, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea
Theatre and Film
SIR HERBERT BEERBOHM TREE 1853-1917 ACTOR -MANAGER lived here
The actor–manager Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree achieved acclaim in the late 19th century with his productions at the Haymarket Theatre and Her Majesty’s Theatre. He started managing both theatres while living at 31 Gardens in South Kensington from 1886–8.
Tree – whose real name was Herbert Draper Beerbohm – took over the Comedy Theatre in Panton Street, near Leicester Square, in April 1887 following nine years as a successful actor. That autumn he moved on to the Haymarket Theatre, where he stayed for ten years and enjoyed great success. His balance of Shakespearean and contemporary theatre – the latter of which included productions of Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance and Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People – earned him a reputation to rival that of Sir Henry Irving at the Lyceum Theatre.
The profits he made helped to finance the building of Her Majesty’s Theatre, also in Haymarket, which opened in 1897. Tree managed the theatre from that year until his death, during which time it enjoyed an international reputation. He was noted especially for his championship of Shakespeare, using spectacular scenery and effects to bring the Bard’s plays before a wider audience.
Tree lived in London for most of his life, though most of his residences – including 77 Sloane Street, his longest-term address – have since been rebuilt. He was at 31 Rosary Gardens between spring 1886 and 1888, when the four-storey brick terrace of which it is part was only a few years old. This was a brief yet significant period in his life, as it saw not only a revival in his acting career – begun in the late 1870s – but his first foray into theatre management.
In 1897 his wife, Maud, née Holt (1863–1937), recalled Rosary Gardens as ‘rather a mansion of a house in South Kensington’. It had, she continued:
a pretty drawing-room, which I made from tulip-yellow walls and light green curtains, but on the whole the house was too Lincrustan and anaglyptic for us. We never could enter into the spirit of its staircase. So we fled from its splendours.
FAMILY AND LEGACY
By his father’s second marriage, Tree had a younger half-brother – the artist and writer Sir Max Beerbohm. Tree himself fathered six illegitimate children, including the film director Carol Reed.
In 1904 he founded the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, which remains one of the world’s most prestigious theatre schools.