Tate Wilkinson was born in 1739, the son of John and Grace Wilkinson. His father was a clergyman at the Chapel Royal at the Savoy in London. He was educated at Harrow. In 1757, when Tate was 17, his father was convicted of conducting irregular marriages, and was transported to America, (in fact he died before he left England), leaving his son to fend for himself.
Tate Wilkinson had first visited a theatre when he was about eight years old, and from then on was involved with the theatre and theatre people. Although he was not a great actor, he was a very good mimic and impersonator, and after his father's death it was natural that he should follow a career on the stage. He was trained with Garrick and Foote, and worked in Dublin and London, until in 1765 he went to work at the Theatre Royal, York, where Joseph Baker was the manager. Wilkinson became joint manager with Baker, and was very successful, adding theatres in other northern towns, to the York circuit. When Baker died in 1770, Wilkinson became sole manager of the York circuit, which included Pontefract, Wakefield, Hull and Doncaster, as well as Leeds.
He invested his own money in building the Theatre in Hunslet Lane, and under his patronage it was a great success. As he grew older, Wilkinson became known for his eccentricity and his brusque manner, although those who really knew him praised his kindliness. In his old age he wrote his memoirs, and 'The Wandering Patentee', the history of the theatre in Yorkshire, an invaluable record of the theatre in the eighteenth century.
In 1768 Tate Wilkinson married Jane Doughty, the daughter of a York draper, and they had three children. He died in 1803, after suffering a seizure when he was on stage at the Theatre in Leeds. He is buried at All Saints Church in York.
Mrs Jordan was born in 1761, probably in Waterford, Ireland. Her mother was Grace Phillips, an actress, and her father was Francis Bland, the son of Nathaniel Bland, an Irish judge. She was baptised Dorothy, but always called herself Dora. She began her career on the stage in 1779 in Dublin where she appeared in 'The Virgin Unmasked'.
In 1782 she was seduced by the theatre manager, Richard Daly, from whom she had borrowed money. Daly threatened her with the debtor's prison, unless she repaid the loan. She fled with her mother, sister and brother to England, and arrived in Leeds, pregnant, and almost destitute. The family appealed for help to Tate Wilkinson, who had acted with Dora's mother when he was in Dublin. He offered to employ Dora, and she made her first appearance on the English stage at Leeds, as Callista in 'The Fair Penitent', using the stage name Miss Francis. To protect her identity, and confer respectability, Wilkinson suggested that she assume the name Mrs. Jordan. Her first child, Frances, was born at the end of 1782.
In 1785 she moved to London to play Peggy in 'The Country Girl' at Drury Lane. She was a great success, and went on to become a great comedy actress. Soon after her arrival in London, she fell in love with Richard Ford, the son of Dr. James Ford, a court physician. They had three children.
In 1790 she became the mistress of the Duke of Clarence, with whom she had ten of her fourteen children. She was abandoned by him in 1811, although he continued to support her financially. Her generosity to her family left her in serious debt, and she left England in 1814 to escape bankruptcy. She died in poverty in France in 1816.
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