New book on local theatre legend

Builder of Sleaford Playhouse, Joseph Smedley. EMN-181130-160212001
Builder of Sleaford Playhouse, Joseph Smedley. EMN-181130-160212001

The story of an actor and theatre manager based in the region who built the Sleaford Playhouse has been told in a new book out this week.

The book, entitled The Life and Times of Joseph Smedley, 1784-1863, was released yesterday (Tuesday) by distant relation Richard E Smedley, a retired general manager of Nottingham Theatre Royal and Concert Hall and former vice president of the Institute for Entertainment and Arts Management who now lives in Sutton on Trent.

Sleaford Playhouse. EMN-181130-160542001

Sleaford Playhouse. EMN-181130-160542001

He says: “Joseph Smedley was active during the first half of the 19th century. He toured continuously, particularly throughout Lincolnshire, but built up a very large circuit covering more than five counties.”

He said the book also explains the events and people of the time that affected him and his work.

Richard, who managed the London Palldium during his career, said: “I was first attracted by the name on a plaque on a building in Southwell that used to be a theatre he managed. I am a theatre historian and my research has taken five years on and off.”

Having learned his craft with Robertson’s Lincoln Company Smedley had set up his own company of players. Basing himself in Grimsby Joseph Smedley toured the county, holding leases on venues which included yards of public houses, parks and some genuine early theatres, in Market Deeping, Alford, Caistor, Bourne, Sleaford and Folkingham. Later he managed more productions in Horncastle and Spilsby and out of the county.

Richard E Smedley's new book - The Life and Times of Joseph Smedley. EMN-181130-160241001

Richard E Smedley's new book - The Life and Times of Joseph Smedley. EMN-181130-160241001

Richard said: “Up till this time travelling theatre troupes didn’t have a good reputation, known for thieving, drunkeness and debauchery, but he would not have that with his company and fought very hard to keep everything legal and above board. He was a very proud man.”

His life is told through the contents of play bill posters that were discovered up a chimney in Horncastle and old archives. Having built the theatre in Sleaford he later retired from the business and bought a printing business in the town. There is a plaque to him in St Denys’ Church and his family graves are in the old part of the town cemetery. Richard would like to a see a campaign to restore them.

Of the Sleaford Playhouse, Richard said it was one of the last of its kind: “After that the style of architecture of theatres changed. It is gratifying that it is again being used as a theatre.”

The book, published by Clink Street, is available to order from most bookshops and online from Amazon as well as being an ebook.