William Lionel Man was born on 7 December 1832 at Halstead Hall, Halstead, Kent, the son of Harry Stoe Man and Louisa Caroline Man nee Fowle. He was baptized on 13 January 1833 at St. Margaret’s, Halstead.
Halstead Hall was not the family seat. William’s father had bought it, using his wife’s money, in about 1828. He seems to have had little money of his own. He was declared bankrupt in 1818 and was incarcerated, for a while, in the Fleet prison in London. He paid his debts and was married the next year, but in 1824 was dismissed from his position as a purser in the Royal Navy for fiddling his expenses account. With the job went his navy pension. He was declared bankrupt again in 1843. Fortunately, the house was in his wife’s name.
Harry was at best eccentric, at worst just plain bloody-minded. He (illegally) drained and enclosed the village pond. He knocked down the gateposts of the church to make space for his wife’s carriage. When angry, he whistled through the holes in his cheeks left by the passage of a pistol ball during a naval engagement with the French in 1802. His gravestone was inscribed:
I have said to corruption thou art my father/ to the worm thou art my mother and sister.
William was the couple’s eighth child of eleven.
The eldest, Eleanor, married in middle age to a Welshman who habitually talked to inanimate objects, including his boots. The next, Harry, became a major in the Turkish Contingent and fought in the Crimean War. He never recovered from being thrown out of a window in St Petersburg and died aged forty-two. He always took off his hat when he saw a barrel of sugar because he had sugar investments. A younger brother, Septimus, got sunstroke in India, which, coupled with an unhappy love affair, unsettled his mind, though he succeeded in becoming a barrister. He would walk about Paris dressed as an Admiral and when at Halstead Hall insisted on living in the basement where he played Spanish love songs on the guitar.
William started life conventionally enough, and he was articled to a solicitor in London. He then scandalised his family by marrying Rosa Cooper, who was not only an actress, but a Roman Catholic, too – or at least he said he did. There is no record of his marriage in England, Scotland or Wales, to ‘Rosa Cooper’, which may have been a stage name, or to anyone else. So who was Rosa? She remains a mystery. She had been acting on the London stage since she was in her early teens, and some of her reviews refer to her as ‘the celebrated American comedienne.’ In 1850, she made her first appearance in a tragedy, as Lady Macbeth, with disastrous reviews, but she persevered until the reviews improved. She and William had a son, Horace, in 1856, but she continued to perform.
For a while, William combined the law with an interest in the stage. At first, he seems to have acted as Rosa’s manager and publicist.
An 1856 advertisement for Rosa Cooper’s lectures. Her qualifications may have been exaggerated
By 1857, he had joined Rosa on the stage, performing as ‘Lionel Harding’. Perhaps he did not meet with huge initial success, as he left his lodgings in Swansea without paying he bill
In 1858, he and Rosa were performing in an entertainment entitled Matrimony at Greenwich. Rosa’s performance was much praised. They then created the London Dramatic Company and went on tour, with mixed results. At Faversham they played to several near-empty houses in succession until they offered to give away a silver watch to one lucky audience member. The theatre that night was packed with boys and young men who cat-called and shouted ‘where’s the watch’ until the cast gave up and allegedly left town without paying for their lodgings. Better times came and in 1863 William and Rosa were performing together with William Montague’s company in Chelmsford and Cranbrook, where they were described as ‘popular favourites’ and Rosa ‘drew forth rapturous approbation’ as Lady Macbeth.
Rosa Cooper as Lady Macbeth (www.manfamily.org)
Perhaps to the Man family’s relief, they then decided to perform in the colonies, leaving Horace with his paternal grandmother. In 1865 they were in New Zealand, performing Shakespeare for the actor-manager Charles Dillon’s company. In 1870 they were in Sidney, where Rosa appeared in ‘her well-known and artistic realisation of the character of Lady Isabel in East Lynne’. This gave her the immortal lines: Dead! Dead! And never called me mother!
William Lionel Man as Hamlet (www.manfamily.org)
In 1872 they were giving ‘drawing-room entertainments’ in the Polytechnic Hall in Sidney with ‘very limited success’. It was a sad time for them: their son Horace had died the previous year aged fifteen. The circumstances of his death are unclear. According to his death certificate, he died of dropsy (oedema). This can be a symptom of heart or kidney disease. His death was not registered by a family member, of whom there were plenty at Halstead Hall, but by an unknown illiterate woman, Elizabeth Grosvenor, who was ‘present at the death’. The cause of death was not certified, which means he was not under the care of a doctor. His father, William, is described as ‘a lawyer’.
Five years later, Rosa was dead herself, of cholera, in Calcultta ( now Kolkata).
The next we hear of William is in 1880, when on 20 July at Holy Trinity church in Maidstone, he married Mary Fowle Starnes, a distant relation of his mother. They moved in with Mary’s aunt, Mary Cutbush, in King Street, Maidstone. William seems to have given up the stage on the death of Rosa: it was always she who drew the better reviews. In 1881, he was making his living as a journalist. He wrote under the pseudonym of ‘The Lounger’ commentaries which were syndicated to local newspapers. He also wrote a book Lecture on Shakespeare with the Reverend T. Archibald S. White, who delivered the lecture itself. The reverend gentleman’s full name was Thomas Archibald Starnes White, a relation of William’s wife.
William and Mary moved to Hythe in about 1890 and lived in Beaconsfield Terrace.
Beaconsfield Terrace, Hythe
Why Hythe? One attraction may have been the presence in nearby Sandgate of William’s brother, Edward Garnet Man, who lived in a house called ‘Halstead’. He had spent much of his career in Burma and now passed his time writing letters to the newspapers, being a JP and supporting the Primrose League.
William did not go out of his way to make friends in Hythe and made it clear that he despised the mores of polite society, the established church and humbug in general. He did, however, like the White Hart inn, which, according to his nephew Morrice, he frequented rather too often, and he gave occasional recitations.
He died on 4 March at home in Hythe. An obituary published in the Folkestone Herald is fulsome. It tells us that he studied acting at Sadler’s Wells, where he met Rosa, who was then one of the stars of the company. The couple emigrated to Australia where they took a theatre in Melbourne. His health had been broken by his experiences in India when Rosa died , so he retired to Hythe to improve his physical well-being. His later years were apparently spent trying to contact his old pals and help them:
Many a broken-down actor, poor scene shifter, and in one instance a poor old charwoman, who had formerly held some minor part in the Melbourne Theatre, can attribute the comparative ease and comfort of their declining years and their rescue from terrible poverty, to his kindness and generosity.
Unfortunately, none of this chimes with what is verifiable about William’s life, and if he rescued ‘broken-down actors’ from lives of penury, then he was generous to a fault, as he left in his will only £399. 3s 9d. He was cremated on 6 April 1904 at Woking cemetery and his ashes were interred at St. Margaret’s, Halstead
Mary remained in Hythe until her death in1916. She left nearly £30,000 in her will. Perhaps it was her money that William was so generous with.
After her death, the couple’s nieces and nephews had a tablet erected to them in St Leonard’s church.
It is ironic that William is remembered in the church, a place he visited only to scoff at the clergy, but the plaque is at the back of the church, on the north aisle wall. It is above an area now used as a bar to serve wine and beer when concerts are held in the church. It seems an appropriate place for William.
There is a coat of arms on the plaque.
The motto reads Vir Semper – Always a Man. An expert in heraldry visited St Leonard’s church a few years ago and recorded all the coats of arms. His conclusion on the Man plaque was that ‘the arms, crest, and motto do not appear in the usual literature (BGA, GA2, Elvin, Fairbairn) in relation to the name Man’.
Sources: Millennial Halstead: A Kentish Villager History by Geoffrey Kitchener, M.A.
http://www.manfamily.org for details of William’s wider family. It also has a memoir of William by his nephew, Morrice.