The Fund has over 40 volumes of various sorts containing information about the Fund and its members. These are Subscription Books, Books of Proceedings, Cash Books, Ledgers, Journals, a Letter Book and Rule Books. Some are original volumes written by the Secretary and others are duplicate volumes or notebooks.
Although the Fund was founded in 1766 a number of years had to pass before there was enough money to pay the first annuities. Most of the information begins at 1775.
There is an unexplained gap in the reports of Proceedings from 9th June 1800 until 19th June 1802. In the early years of the 19th century the Minutes are often very brief and during the time that the Theatre was being rebuilt after the fire of 1809 there is very little information. Many members left the Fund during the years 1809 - 1812 because life was especially hard and the Fund's very existence was in jeopardy during the Napoleonic wars. After 1818 when fund-raising Dinners became an annual event things gradually returned to normal.
The Committee is always made up of members who are generally working actors and stage managers. John Hughes, who was the Secretary from 1819 - 1840 was massively overworked. He would have been in many new plays and farces each season which entailed rehearsals and at the time of the annual Dinner he would have to write a huge number of letters as well as coping with weekly and even daily Fund meetings just before the event. He was also a great friend of Edmund Kean, who was then Master of the Fund, and had to spend time on his business too. It is very lucky that he found time to produce any Minutes at all, scant as they are.
Presented to Robert Stanton.
Designed and made by Mr Alan Bickley
Tragically, there are almost no original letters in the Archive before the mid 1900's. Most correspondence was written in to the proceedings books but sometimes only a report that a letter had been received is there with a brief precis of its contents.
The current Archivist, Jennie Walton, has been working for many years trying to find more information on the members of the Fund going back to 1800. The members up to this date are well covered in the 16 volume Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers and Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660 - 1800.
This is a never ending task and any help that visitors to this site may be able to give would be much appreciated.
Richard John Smith 1786-1855
Known as O.Smith from the great success he achieved playing Obi in the melodrama Obi; or, Three Fingered Jack at the Surrey Theatre in 1812, he first appeared at Drury Lane in June 1821. He joined Drury Lane Theatrical Fund, when Edmund Kean was the Master, and was a Director for nearly thirty years. He became best known for his portrayal of villains and devils. When he played Zamiel in Der Freischutz at Drury Lane, he was described in The Theatrical Observer as "the King of Terrors - the arch fiend - the devil par excellence". He later directed many of the Melodramas in which he appeared. The engraving of him as the Monster in Frankenstein, published by Duncome in 1826 is one of the earliest pictorial representations of the Monster.
The last 25 years of his career were spent at the Adelphi Theatre, still mainly playing villains, pirates and murderers. His favourite role was said to be Grampus in The Wreck Ashore. He also worked as a scene painter with some of the greatest scenic artists of his time and was an avid collector and antiquarian, said to be addicted to research. He was especially interested in Costume and Armour and amassed a 'matchless' collection of Garrickiana. He owned a bookcase 27ft long and 8ft high which was auctioned with his Library after his death. His grave stone at Norwood Cemetery has disappeared but part of the memorial inscription read "Possessing both an informed mind and cultivated tastes he was honoured by his private friends as the reverse of the assumed characters by which he was professionally known". Recently, a model theatre production about his life "Oh ! Smith" has been created by Mr Robert Poulter, and the UK premiere took place in December 2007.
Five of O Smith's relatives were also members of the Fund. His sister Susan married Edward Knight, a successful comic actor known as "Little Knight" and both spent many years at Drury Lane. His eldest sister Henrietta Smith married the actor and playwright Edmund John Eyre who was also a member. The singer Mary Ann Povey married Knight's son Edward Jnr., and she and her brother John Povey were also subscribers.