SHERIDAN, Richard Brinsley (1751-1816)
Plaque erected in 1881 by (Royal) Society of Arts at 14 Savile Row, Mayfair, London, W1S 3JN, City of Westminster
Literature, Politics and Administration, Theatre and Film
RICHARD BRINSLEY SHERIDAN DRAMATIST. LIVED HERE. B: 1751. D: 1816.
While in London the Irish playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan experienced both a rise and a dramatic fall in his fortunes. His stay at 14 Savile Row in Mayfair in 1813–16 is one of the most moving episodes in the area’s history.
PLAYS, POLITICS AND POVERTY
Sheridan, born in Dublin, penned a number of brilliant comedies including The Rivals (1775) and The School for Scandal (1777). He was also a leading figure in the Whig party, holding a seat in Parliament almost continuously between 1780 and 1812.
From 1776 he managed the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, but its rebuilding in 1791–94 – followed by its destruction by fire in 1809 – effectively bankrupted him, and he was excluded from involvement in the new theatre that opened in 1812.
By the time of Sheridan’s residence at number 14, Mayfair had long been his London home. Following the decline in his fortunes in 1812, however, he was forced out of his own property and had to fall back on houses provided by friends. Number 17 Savile Row, for instance, was lent to him by Lord Wellesley for a time.
BAILIFFS IN MAYFAIR
At number 14, despondent and in failing health, Sheridan’s condition reached rock bottom. A visitor found ‘all the reception rooms bare, and the whole house in a state of filth and stench that was quite intolerable’. In his final days, he narrowly avoided arrest and being carried off to a sponging house (a debtors’ prison). In desperation he wrote, ‘They are going to put the carpets out of the window, and break into Mrs S’s room and take me’.
The bailiff’s officers were deterred only by the physician’s insistence that any move would kill Sheridan. The dramatist died here on 7 July 1816, in the presence of his second wife, Hecca (c.1775–1817), who was herself seriously ill. Against his name in the rate-book is written ‘Goods distrained by Sheriff, Distraint resisted. Dead and Insolvent’.