Archive holds secret to Guiseley actress Adeleide Neilson's success

Renowned Shakespearean actress Adelaide Neilson

Renowned Shakespearean actress Adelaide Neilson

First published in Local news Ilkley Gazette: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter

She was a renowned Shakespearean actress who took America by storm, but today the name Adelaide Neilson will mean nothing to most people.

But a fascinating insight into the life of the famous beauty whose success spanned two continents is given in a historical society’s archive.

The actress who grew up in Guiseley went on to enjoy fame and fortune both in England and in America, where she was the darling of theatrical society.

She is pictured in the online archive of Aireborough Historical Society, which gives a glimpse into the story of her success and her untimely death at the age of 32.

Born in 1848 in Leeds, she was the illegitimate daughter of a needlewoman, Elizabeth Brown, who had been forced to abandon her own fledgling career in acting when she became pregnant.

Named Elizabeth after her mother, she attended the Primitive Methodist Chapel and Sunday School in Otley Road. She became a nurse-maid for the Padgett Family who lived at Hawkhill House.

Her career in theatre was launched when she left home in 1861 at the age of 13, changing her name to Adelaide Neilson. Within the space of a few years she became a well-known actress, winning praise for her portrayals of Shakespearean heroines.

Her success led to tours of America where she won critical acclaim and popular adoration.

Archivist Carlo Harrison said: “She returned to Guiseley on several occasions to visit her family, causing much excitement in the town.”

But her gilded life came to an abrupt end in 1880 when she was taken ill and died suddenly on holiday in France. Her death shocked legions of fans at home and in the US.

She was buried in Brompton Cemetery, south-west London, where a white marble cross bears the inscription “In Loving Memory of Adelaide Neilson – Gifted and Beautiful, Resting.”

Carlo said all the society’s photographs had been donated over the years, usually by members of the public.

“In Miss Neilson’s case all the original photographs are held in our photograph albums in the Archive Room in Yeadon Town Hall,” he said.

“She was very famous in USA and her death in France has mysterious undertones to it.

“In USA they had plates, cups, goblets etc with her image on them while she was still alive.”

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