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1610. The Gruesome Death of Father Roger Cadwallader

A Warrant was issued for the arrest of Father Roger Cadwallader for maintaining the Catholic Faith. 


‘As there was an epidemic raging at Hereford that year, the assizes were held at Leominster. The old Forbury Chapel of St.Thomas of Canterbury was used as the Court House. Cadwallader was brought out of his prison, almost opposite, in Church Street (to which he had been made to walk in chains from Hereford) to his trial in the Court House (Which we understand to be the Forbury Chapel at this time). He was charged simply with being a priest ordained abroad. He was found guilty and condemned as a traitor to be hanged, drawn and quartered.’

‘On the day of his execution, he rose at 3am and prayed on his knees until 8am. At 4 in the afternoon…Roger Cadwallader was taken out of the gaol in Church Street and drawn on a hurdle to the place of execution at the Iron Cross.’ (Ref.5)

‘Arriving within sight of the gallows, and the block whereon he was to be quartered, they showed him these and other instruments of death, leaning him between two great fires, the one prepared to burn his heart and bowels, the other to boil his head and quarters: and thinking the sight of these did somewhat terrify him, they promised him once more that none of them should touch him, if he would take the Oath. He refused; but as some gentlemen pressed him, he replied that he was willing to declare that James I was his lawful King, and to swear to him all true allegiance. This gentleman loudly applauded, urging him to proceed with the rest of the Oath. ‘No,’ said the Martyr, ‘there is secret poison in the sequel’ (Ref.6)


He addressed the people from the ladder by which he climbed to the noose which was to hang him. He told them that he was to die for being a priest who had returned to his country to communicate the sacraments to God’s children and to draw those who were seduced, into the way of Salvation. He begged the Catholics present to say a Pater noster with him, at least privately, if they did not want to be recognised as such. Mr. Conningsby, who was one of the company present, said he hoped that none were present. He then accepted the halter from the hangman, forgave his executioners, and by name, Robert Bennet, the Bishop of Hereford, and repeated several times ‘In manus tuas Domine, commendo spiritum meum’ and was turned loose from the ladder.


His passion thereafter was prolonged and very painful because the executioners were unskilled masons who had been pressed into service for the occasion. (Hereford was the usual place for executions). Eye witnesses describe the martyr’s sufferings in great detail. The crowd murmured at the clumsiness of the butchers. When, at the end, the martyr’s head was cut off and raised on a halberd, none of the expected applause greeted the sheriff’s man responsible for the execution.


According to a tradition that seems to be well founded, Cadwallader’s head was set upon the Cross House, which stood at the top of Broad Street. His four quarters were exhibited at the four ends of town. According to Father Athanasius Rogers, who was the priest of St.Ethlebert’s when the present church in the Bargates was built in 1888, the church is on the site at which one of the Martyr’s quarters was exposed. The chapel to the right of the high alter is dedicated to his memory.’ (Ref.5)

Theatrical Heritage at the Forbury Chapel

john ward.JPG

John Ward by Thomas Beach. Courtesy of the Garrick Club, London

John Ward. b 24/6/1704 - d 30/10/1773 . Resident of Leominster for some of his life and during his retirement.

John Ward was an actor manager born in Ireland who was the proprietor of a travelling company of players (the Warwickshire Company of Comedians, or Mr Ward's Company of Comedians) that toured Midlands and Wales in the 18th century. He was the first of the Kemble theatrical dynasty which is still going (Sebastian Kemble Croft b 2001).  It is thought that John Ward's family home was in Leominster and, given that he hired the Forbury from 1754, this makes sense. He was a Methodist, which was perhaps odd for an actor at the time. According to an extract from their journals, Wesley preached in Leominster on 15 August 1746  and  his brother Samuel did so in 1749, so maybe John Ward heard them.

According to Reeves, the troupe played in the Forbury Chapel on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays after 1754 because the existing Leominster Theatre on Burgess St (which was on the site of the County Police Station built in 1883, now the NFU office) was too small. However, this does not mean that Ward only, or even mainly, performed in Leominster. Although the precise date of the founding of the Warwickshire Company of Comedians is unknown, the company was definitely in existence by 1744, when they are recorded as visiting Stratford-upon-Avon.


Their burgeoning reputation was apparent by the time of their next visit in May 1746, when a surviving letter from a local Stratford schoolmaster described them as "a Company of Strolling-Players ... much ye best Set I have seen out of London, & in which opinion I am far from being singular". Under Ward the company's performances were of a much higher standard than that typical of strolling players. Ward was also author of the two earliest surviving prompt books of Shakespeare's Hamlet. 


Over the following decades the company toured widely, performing in town halls, barns, schoolhouses and guildhalls throughout the English Midlands and Wales. Their reputation was such that they were able to play long seasons at each venue - 23 weeks at Ludlow in 1758 and 17 weeks at Brecon in 1764  and their repertoire was wide: as well as Shakespeare it extended to pantomime, music and dance.

The major turning point in the company's existence took place in 1751 when Richard Yates' company from London's
Theatre Royal, Drury Lane opened the purpose-built King Street Theatre in Birmingham to compete with the smaller venue in Moor Street. Ward's reaction to this invasion was to advertise in the London newspapers for "capital performers" to join him in Birmingham. This led eventually to Ward employing Roger Kemble and the real flowering of the Kemble theatrical dynasty.

When the Wards retired to Leominster in 1766, Roger Kemble took over the management of the Company on 24 May of that year. By the time they appeared at Worcester in 1767 they were described as "Mr Kemble's Company of Comedians", with the cast featuring the Kembles' 14-year-old daughter Sarah - the future Sarah Siddons, and their 12-year-old son John Philip Kemble.

Ward and his wife (Sarah née Butcher 1710 or 11- 1786) are buried in Leominster Priory Churchyard. The grave inscription  reads:


Here waiting for our Saviour's great assize

And, hoping through His merits hence to rise

In glorious mode, in this dark closet lies John Ward Gent. Who died Oct. 30 1773  Aged 69 years.


Also Sarah, his wife, who dies Jan. 30 1786 aged 75 years.

They whose names are here recorded were maternal grandfather and grandmother to the celebrated                Mrs. Siddons and Mr. Kemble.

Roger Kemble b.1 March 1721 d.6 December 1802.

Husband to Sarah (Sally) Ward, daughter of John and Sarah Ward

Born into a Roman Catholic family at 28/29 Church St, Hereford, where there is a commemorative plaque. 


According to Weaver, Roger Kemble continued to live in Hereford after his marriage. His great-uncle was Father John Kemble, a reculcant Catholic priest who was hanged in Hereford in 1679. His father was a barber and he was apprenticed to a wig-maker. However, aged 31, he entered the theatre by joining a company in Canterbury in 1752. Soon after he joined John Ward's company in Birmingham. In 1753, at the age of 32, he eloped with Ward's daughter Sarah (also called Sally) b.1735 - d.1807, whom he married in Cirencester. The Wards were angered at their daughter Sarah's elopement: she was very young and  although a "main prop" of her father's in the "comic province", they felt that "an actor's existence was the last into which they wished her to drift".


The Kembles were readmitted into the company, however, with Ward justifying his "sullen forgiveness" in the light of his low opinion of his new son-in-law's talents, telling his daughter "I forbade you to marry an actor. You have not disobeyed me since the man you have married neither is nor ever can be an actor".

Roger Kemble and Sarah/Sally formed their own company and toured independently for 15 years from soon after their marriage. The Kembles had 12 or 13 children who were born all over the country,  presumably because Sarah/Sally was acting throughout this time. The oldest child was Sarah (later Siddons b 1755 see below), and the next John Philip Kemble (b 1757 see below)  became leading theatrical lights. Of the other 6 who survived to adulthood at least four were famous: George Stephen (1758 - 1822) was an actor manager and writer, Elizabeth, later Whitlock (1861 - 1836) an actress; Ann later Hatton (1864 - 1838) was the first woman to write an opera libretto and became a popular novelist, and Charles; (1775-1854) was an actor who inter alia played secondary roles with his two star siblings.  

Roger Kemble retired in 1781 and the company's stock and goodwill was split between two of the company's members.  John Boles Watson renovated the theatre, announcing that it was ‘now neatly fitted up and rendered much more regular and commodious than before’.  In 1808, Jonathan Williams tells us that the “Court House” (the Forbury Chapel) was used for 40 nights every third year by the Hereford Theatre Co., and receipts for a full house amounted to £40. (Ref. 2) 


Sarah Siddons and john Kemble.jpg

John Phiip Kemble and Sarah Siddons in Macbeth by Thomas Beach. Courtesy of the Garrick Club, London

Sarah Siddons - Cultural Icon and Famous Actress of the 18th Century

Daughter of Roger and Sarah/Sally Kemble, Grand daughter to John and Sarah Ward. Sarah Siddons is likely to have performed at the Forbury Chapel during her youth, and possibly during her touring years.

According to Britannica, while still in her teens, she became infatuated with William Siddons, a handsome but somewhat insipid actor in her father's company. This had the disapproval of her parents, who wished her to accept the offer of a squire. Sarah was sent to work as a lady's maid at Guy's Cliffe in Warwickshire. There she recited the poetry of Shakespeare, Milton, and Nicholas Rowe in the servants' hall and occasionally before aristocratic company, and there also she began to exhibit a talent for sculpture). The necessary consent to her marriage to Siddons was at last obtained, and the marriage took place in Trinity Church,Coventry, in November 1773. After 30 years, the marriage became strained and informally ended with their separation in 1804. William died in 1808.   


Siddons gave birth to seven children, five of whom she outlived. She regularly performed on stage while visibly pregnant, which often elicited sympathy for her character. 

In 1774, Siddons won her first success as Belvidera in Thomas Otway's 'Venice Preserv'd'. This brought her to the attention of David Garrick, who sent his deputy to see her as Calista in  Nicholas Rowe's  'Fair Penitent', the result being that she was engaged to appear at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. 

In 1777, she went on "the circuit" in the provinces. For the next six years she worked in provincial companies, in particular York and Bath. 

Her next Drury Lane appearance, on 10 October 1782, could not have been more different. She was an immediate sensation playing the title role in Garrick's adaptation of a play by Thomas Southerne, Isabella, or, The Fatal Marriage. After Lady Macbeth she played  Desdemona, Rosalind, Ophelia, and Volumnia, all with great success; but it was as Queen Catherine in Henry VIII that she discovered a part almost as well adapted to her acting powers as that of Lady Macbeth. It was the beginning of twenty years in which she became the undisputed Queen of  Drury Lane. Her celebrity status was called "mythical" and monumental", and by the mid-1780' , Siddons had established herself as a cultural icon.


Her most famous role was that of Lady Macbeth, which she first performed on 2 February 1785. She spellbound her audience through the grandeur of her emotions as she expressed Lady Macbeth's murderous passions. Rather than portraying Lady Macbeth as a murderous evil queen, Siddons depicted her with a strong sense of maternity and a delicate femininity. As noted in Campbell's biography, Siddons returned to the role some six years later, and in 1802 she left Drury Lane for its rival establishment, Covent Garden. It was there, on 29 June 1812, after 57 performances that season, that she gave what was credited as perhaps the most extraordinary farewell performance in theatre history. The audience refused to allow Macbeth to continue after the end of the  sleepwalking scene. Eventually, after tumultuous applause from the pit, the curtain reopened and Siddons was discovered sitting in her own clothes and character - whereupon she made an emotional farewell speech to the audience. 


Siddons formally retired from the stage in 1812, but reappeared on special occasions. An 1816 request by Princess Charlotte of Wales to see Lady Macbeth brought Siddons out of retirement. Much older, Siddons was visibly weak, overweight, and was considered by some a "grotesque effigy of her former self". Her last appearance was on 9 June 1819 as Lady Randolph in John Home's play 'Douglas'.

Sidney James Bridge, Eccentric Owner of The Forbury Chapel 1931-1970's, and who donated Sydonia Park to Leominster


The following notes are based on the account of Sidney written years later by one of his apprentices, Dennis Ferguson, now preserved in the Hereford Local Studies Centre.

Sidney quickly established himself as a very good sign-writer and house decorator. He was soon joined by his brothers Fred and Ben and later by his sister Margaret and her husband (William Jell). Sidney and Jemima had no children but he saved and invested and died a rich man. Some at least of his savings he used to provide a sports ground for the borough of Leominster, called "Sydonia" and opened in 1937, with tennis courts, bowling green, pavilion etc

Sydonia Park.jpg

Sidney clearly was more than somewhat eccentric. According to Dennis Ferguson, He used to go around on a yellow painted bicycle, no socks, a scarf around his neck without even a jacket in winter, always chewing nuts, jumping on and off his bicycle to collect the rents.

He bought hazel nuts in hundredweight sacks (112 lbs, about 50 kg) which he kept at the top of the stairs. He must have been hard to live with, since he used the kitchen table to repair the plumbing in all his many properties; when it came to mealtimes, the pipes were just pushed to the centre and Sidney and Jemima ate at the corners! He also was a lay preacher and used to ride an Enfield motorcycle to the various rural chapels, with his wife in a basket-work sidecar. Presumably he never came off the road.


But most remarkably, his bedroom at the rear of the house was only 10ft square. He had the whole of the window frame taken out and if it snowed at night he used to take the blankets off the bed, shake the snow onto the floor and then shovel the whole lot out through the hole in the wall, which should of course have been the window. Presumably his wife slept elsewhere - even the sidecar might have been more welcoming!


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