from The Life and Times
of the Dibdin - Aglio Family
Thomas John Dibdin - Actor , Playwright, Songwriter
son of Charles Dibdin 1771 - 1841
Oxford Dictionary of National
Thomas was born at 5 Peter Street (now
Museum Street), Bloomsbury, London.
“Dibdin was the son of Charles Dibdin, a
song-writer and theatre manager, and of "Mrs Davenet", an
actress whose real name was Harriett Pitt. He was apprenticed to his
maternal uncle, a London upholsterer, and later to William Rawlins,
afterwards sheriff of London. He summoned his second master
unsuccessfully for rough treatment; and after a few years of service he
ran away to join a company of country players. From 1789 to 1795 he
played all sorts of parts; he worked as a scene painter at Liverpool in
1791; and during this period he composed more than 1,000 songs.”
Thomas was, in effect, the same generation as
Agostino Aglio but a few years older and brought up in London in the
theatre world, a world in which Agostino was going to be involved for
quite some time during his life. When Thomas’s father turned against
him, his Godfather, David Garrick, supported him. By the time that
Agostino was entering the Napoleonic Revolution in Italy Thomas had
written his first play and was indicating great potential.
By 1803, when Aglio had arrived in England, Dibdin
had already worked and travel extensively throughout the country and had
established himself in London. The problems of travelling around London
and for that matter up and down the country must have been similar to
those experienced by Aglio and train travel would only just have been
coming in at the end of his life. Bearing in mind that both Aglio and
Dibdin had both worked in the theatre world and both been scenery
painters, it is interesting to speculate as to whether or not they ever
As will be mentioned later both were working in the
Haymarket, although in the two different theatres there and both had
been in the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.
John Dibdin maybe by T C Dibdin
married, in 1793, the actress Anne Hilliar and by 1802 had cause riots
in London over a comic opera “Family Quarrels” and a play, and
“The Jew and the Doctors”. This was one year before Aglio arrived in
England as an immigrant.
It is moderately easy to imagine him and his wife
living and working in
London using either a hackney carriage or walking to get around the
centre of London but the prospect of travelling from London to
Manchester and then on to Chestor is daunting.
How much stuff did he have to take with him? How
long did the journey take ? What about the problems of travelling to
Hilliar maybe by T C Dibdin
From the Oxford Dictionary
of National Biography
“In 1791, at the jointly managed Liverpool
and Manchester theatres, Dibdin achieved his goal of a theatre-royal
appointment. With only hours' notice, he played Mungo—‘that most
favourite of all my father's favourite characters’ (Reminiscences,
1.111)—in Isaac Bickerstaff's The Padlock
when the Manchester Theatre reopened after a fire.
Over three years he established himself as a
scene-painter and gained valuable experience in stage management; he
also performed a season at Chester. In summer 1792 he played as far
north as Banff and Inverness.”
The reference to Mungo may explain why his brother
Charles Isaac Mungo Dibdin was given that name by his father who wrote
the music for in Isaac Bickerstaff's The Padlock.
was a stage negro of a very different stamp, and the first of his
race. He figured in The Padlock, a comic opera, words by
Isaac Bickerstaffe, music by Charles Dibdin, first presented at Drury
Lane in 1768. Mungo was the slave of Don Diego, a West Indian planter.
It was written for and at the suggestion of John Moody, who had been
in Barbadoes, where he had studied the dialect and the manners of the
blacks. He never played the part, however, which was originally
assumed by Dibdin himself. Mungo sang:
heart, what a terrible life I am led!
A dog has a better that’s sheltered and fed.
Night and day ’tis the same;
My pain is deir game;
Me wish to de Lord me was dead!
Whate’er’s to be done
Poor black must run.
Mungo here, Mungo dere,
Above and below,
Sirrah, come, sirrah, go;
Do so, and do so.
Me wish to de Lord me was dead!”
It is notable that Thomas did scene painting
bearing in mind that we would see him as an actor and writer however
perhaps like so many of the Dibdin family, he was a polymath or
Following joint engagements at Rochdale and
Huddersfield, Dibdin and his now pregnant wife journeyed in deep winter
1793–4 to South-west Wales, where, for Henry Masterman's lively
company at Haverfordwest and Carmarthen, Dibdin wrote and performed a
new song weekly. Early in 1794 their first child, Maria, was born; and Comic
Songs (1794), probably Dibdin's first publication, appeared under
his Merchant pseudonym.
In parallel with his writing and managing career,
Dibdin in 1802 joined his brother Charles in acquiring for £1400 a
quarter-share in Sadler's Wells, which by 1805 was making good returns.
But theatrical speculation was always uncertain, and their involvement
in the Dublin theatre about the same time lost the two brothers nearly
On Thomas Harris's retirement in 1809, Dibdin left
Covent Garden - Anne having departed a year earlier - and bought a
cottage at Betchworth, in Surrey, with a view of settling and it was
there that his son Thomas Colman Dibdin, who was to grow up to be an
artist, was born.
The use of the name Colman is significant as Thomas
had work with and was friends with George Colman Junior who also was a
playwright and theatre manager.
He intended to write free from London's temptations
but soon found himself drawn back into the London life and theatre
Dibdin was prompter and pantomime writer at Theatre
Royal, Drury Lane until 1816, when he took over the Surrey Theatre.
The Theatre Royal was another theatre that had
employed Agostino Aglio in 1806.
The Surrey was in fact the old Royal Circus in St
George’s Field in Lambeth that his Father had opened some years before
in 1782. It is interesting that this was in 1816, just 2 years after his
father had died, perhaps he felt that he could succeed with the theatre
where his father had failed only two years after he opened it.
A view of
The Royal Circus in St George’s Fields
This venture proved disastrous, and in 1822 he
became bankrupt with debts of £18,000
From Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
“At this juncture Dibdin accepted a three-year summer
contract as stage-manager at Morris's Haymarket, at £200 with one
benefit, while Ann superintended the women's wardrobe for ‘a very
This time in the Haymarket was a disastrous period and Thomas
ended up in King's Bench Prison in 1824, the same one that Aglio
had entered a few years before.
It is interesting that 1806 Agostino Aglio was busy
across the road at the Majestic painting a backdrop.
It is almost mystical how the two families, the
Dibdins and the Aglios moved in such similar circles and eventually in
1878 some couple of generations later they join when William Joseph
Dibdin married Marian Aglio.
One would think that once in debtor prison would be
enough and that a man with his capability would somehow sort life out so
that he and his family could be a little more settled. But no! Life had
to go on in the same adventurous way.
After this he secured the stage-managership of
Sadler's Wells, beginning on 4 April 1825 at £400 per annum, Dibdin
moved to the spaciousness of Myddelton Square in the nearby New Town and
hoped to start afresh. His contract was renewed at intervals and he
continued to write burlettas for Sadler's Wells until mid-1828, shortly
before Ann Dibdin's premature death on 29 August. He married Catherine
Court at St Pancras on 9 April 1829 and at the age of fifty-eight began
a new family.
In 1827 he published two volumes of Reminiscences;
and at the time of his death he was preparing an edition of his father's
sea songs, for which a small sum was allowed him weekly by the Lords of
the Admiralty. Of his own songs, "The Oak Table" and "The
Snug Little Island" were popular at the time.
Again in 1834
he spent nearly a year, reportedly in a condition of near starvation, in
Horsemonger Lane debtors' prison ( near the present day Newington
Causway); and in 1838 he wrote despairingly to the fund's managers that
‘the situation of my Family and self becomes daily more critically
This was only 6 years before he died at the age of
70 years old.
From Oxford Dictionary
of National Biography – Assessment
“Open, forthright, but companionable in nature,
Dibdin cultivated a wide circle of friends, including George Colman
junior, Charles Farley, Benjamin Thompson, Douglas Jerrold, Sam Russell,
and Thomas Harris (almost a surrogate father). He was ‘poet
laureate’ of the Covent Garden Beefsteak Club. However, most of his
closest friends (and his brother) predeceased him and, in the last
decade of his life, with the responsibilities of a young family, the
shocking consequences of his indigence deprived him of much of his