1 April 2020

Behind the Blue Plaque: Dame Ellen Terry

Each of our suites at 100 Queen's Gate Hotel — London is named after a famous resident of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. One such is the Dame Ellen Terry Suite, an exquisite one-bedroom suite named after the celebrated Victorian era English stage performer and leading Shakespearean actress in Britain.

Born into a family of actors, there was only ever one profession Terry was destined to go into. She had 11 siblings, five of whom became actors, while another two became involved with theatre management. She made her first stage appearance aged nine in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale at London's Princess's Theatre. It was the beginning of a hugely successful career in which she would perform a range of famous roles in Shakespearean classics such as Othello, The Merchant of Venice and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

After painting her portrait on a number of occasions when she was a teenager, renowned artist George Frederic Watts proposed marriage, despite being three decades her senior, and they wed in Kensington seven days before her 17th birthday. They separated after only 10 months but this was to be just the first of Dame Ellen’s three marriages. She wed and divorced actor Charles Kelly and then, at the age of 60, married her co-star, American James Carew. Reversing the roles of her first marriage, Carew was 28 years her junior. The couple separated after two years.

Her last notable role was as the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet at the Lyric Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue in 1919. The following year, she retired from the stage and in 1928, she passed away aged 81, after suffering a cerebral haemorrhage at her home in Kent.

Dame Ellen lived at 22 Barkston Gardens in Kensington’s affluent Earl’s Court area between 1889 and 1902, at the height of her stage career. It was there that she conducted her highly-publicised correspondence with Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw. Their letters were often of an intimate and affectionate nature - interestingly however, the two rarely met in person, despite living in close proximity to each other.

She shared the terraced house, which dates from 1886, with a friend, Elizabeth Rumball – affectionately known as ‘Boo’ – and Prince, a singing bullfinch. During her time in the property, the exterior was notable for extravagant floral displays on the windowsills and balcony. Discussing 22 Barkston Gardens with one interviewer, she exclaimed ‘My little home!... only full of twopenny-halfpenny things; but I love them all for dear associations’ sake’.