THE WAYWARD GENTLEMAN. JOHN THEOPHILUS POTTER & THE TOWN OF HAVERFORDWEST

 

                                                                  THEO


          It was while researching my ancestors that I found Theo -- as he was known-- and discovered that he not only was my gt x 3 grandfather, but a sufficiently notable individual to have a considerable store of  written records about him, which not only encouraged me to find out what he achieved and what sort of man he was, but also to go ahead and write a biographical historical novel about him, based as closely as possible on what I had found in those records. Some of the basic facts about him are, for example, that he came from Ireland to the Welsh town of Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire,  as an actor in 1778. He stayed, married well, and according to those who knew him, was “a man of engaging manners and possessed considerable ability. He formed rapidly many influential friendships… (He had) an amiable disposition and industrial energy, (and was) full of wit and humour, which he brought with him and found a ready field for its display….”   

          He set up a lending library and reading room, started the town’s first printing business which lasted nearly  one hundred years, became sheriff in 1790, and joined Lord Cawdor by taking up arms against the French invaders in 1797.

          His descendants established and ran newspapers around the world, including Australia, while the Hackney Gazette, in London, was  owned by the Potters until 1996.  They also established newspapers in Ireland as well as in Rock Island, Illinois, USA, where the Potter House is  on the National Register of Historic Places, the Potters being described in 1896 as “a literary people.

          Regarding his marriage to Elizabeth Edwardes: although I have not found proof of the connection-- the records don’t go back that far--the place of her father’s birth (Johnston, Pembrokeshire), that Theo “married well”, and the spelling of her last name, indicate that she was almost certainly related to Lord Kensington (also an Edwardes from Johnston). The signature on her marriage certificate also indicates that she was an educated woman. That Theo was also able to form so many influential friendships in such a short time, I attribute to his wife’s connection to the Edwardes family. Obviously a highly educated man indicates he was, as wel,l a reputable actor from a respectable and legitimate  theatre, not an itinerant actor of the sort to be found ranting at fairgrounds.

          Theo’s descendants by his second marriage to Susanna Harman claim he was the grandson of John Potter, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Other information regarding him and his children has been gleaned from the Parish records. Information on Haverfordwest, on Pembrokeshire as a whole, on Dublin, the Potters, and the theatre in Wales and Dublin in the latter quarter of the 18th century has been gathered from a multitude of sources, too numerous to be listed here. An article I wrote on Theo  for Pembrokeshire Life  can be found in the January 2012 issue.

          The information regarding John Potter’s close relationship with John George, son of Stephen George, manager of the Blue Boar Inn, comes from letters written by John George to his sister Mary, who married John Green (of the Green’s buses family) See: Lieutenant John George, Royal Marines, Letters 1799-1808. Ed. Dillwyn Miles, © Dillwyn Miles, 2002

          Other than  the known fact that Theo  was born in Dublin in 1752, nothing is known of his early life, but, again, based on what is known regarding his character and personality, I have written a purely fictional prequel to this book. This covers his first twenty-five years in Ireland, and  is called: "THE WAYWARD GENTLEMAN: John Theophilus Potter and  the Smock Alley Theatre."  

Genre: Biographical historical novel


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          The year is 1778, and the young Irish actor, John Theophilus Potter, arrives in Haverfordwest, Wales, from Dublin, with a troupe of performers. While there, he falls in love with a wealthy heiress, Elizabeth Edwardes, and they are married. They are very much in love, but Elizabeth refuses to leave her beloved Pembrokeshire and return with him to Ireland. Their marriage is a happy one, but it costs Theo his career as an actor, a career that had hitherto formed an outlet for his high energy and talents; and coming from the sophisticated and cultured city of Dublin, he is at a loss to know what to do in Haverfordwest, which does not even have a theater. To him, satisfaction in life comes from achievement. His wife, however, fails to understand why he cannot be satisfied living a life of idleness like any other gentleman of means.

          Theo is a favorite with the county's elite, who appreciate his ready wit and humor. However, his quest for fulfillment leaves his genteel Elizabeth forever wondering what he will do next, and given his high spirits and boundless energy, it is usually something to leave her bemused, aghast and in fear for his life..

 

                                                               REVIEWS


          "Perhaps it was inevitable that I should have enjoyed this novel so much, since it is very well-written in itself and I have a long-standing interest in 18th and 19th century Haverfordwest and the remarkable Potter family in particular. I was totally absorbed."

Robert Nisbe