John Philip Kemble

John Philip Kemble was born in Prescot (PT399) on 1st February 1757, the second child of Roger Kemble the actor. At the age of ten he was sent to Sedgeley Roman Catholic School in Staffordshire with a view to becoming a priest, but left after four years.

He made his acting debut at Wolverhampton in January 1776 when he joined Chamberlain's Company and toured the country playing a wide range of roles and venues. He wrote his own adaptations to many of the well known plays but these rarely appeared in print and were often only performed on a handful of occasions.

He made his London debut in September 1783 as Hamlet on Drury Lane, where he was based for the next twenty years, during which time he played an estimated 120 characters. He clearly preferred playing tradegies rather than comedies especially Coriolanus and Hamlet becoming acknowledged as an authority on Shakespeare.

He married Priscilla Brereton, the widow of an actor and an actress in her own right in December 1787 and the two appeared together on stage a number of times.

He was manager of the Drury Lane theatre between 1788-1802 and after the death of his father in 1802 he invested money into the theatre. A fire in September 1808 destroyed the theatre with Kemble only avoiding bankruptcy with the assistance of friends. The increased ticket prices in the rebuilt theatre, which opened a year after the fire, lead to vocal outbursts from the crowd, drowning out the actors on stage. Called the OP [Old Prices] riot, it lasted for 67 evenings before a compromise was reached.

He retired, due to an asthmatic condition firstly to Toulouse and then in 1817 to Lausanne, Switzerland, where he died on 26th February 1823. He was buried at Lausanne Cemetery 1st March.

(figures in brackets are reference numbers of photos in the main site)

Please send comments or information requests to <>
All pages copyright © Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council 1998