The Grave of Henry Robert Maclellan
St. Peter’s Church on North Hill has been a burial site for the people of Colchester, since the church was first established on this site over eleven hundred years ago. One interesting series of burials concerned a touring production of theatre performers (also referred to as comedians or comedy players) who died in Colchester during the mid-18th century.
One of these performers was a comedic actor called Henry Robert Maclellan who died on the 14th November 1762 aged 59 and was buried three days later at St. Peters.
His grave inscription read:
Here lies Henry Robert Maclellan comedian a tender husband and affectionate father and a credit to community to which he belonged. He was called from the stage on the 14th November 1762 aged 59.
Henry was probably buried on the south side of the church in the area now occupied by the extension which was later built in 1817, as shown in the photo. His grave stone now lies inside the porch of the side door in the south-east corner of the church. Henry was a comedic actor working for the Norwich Company of Comedians, a touring production company based at the White Swan Inn, near St. Peter’s Mancroft, Norwich in 1731 before making the Theatre Royal their base in 1758 when the theatre first opened. This group was formed from established actors from the Duke of Grafton’s Servants, who were also a touring production which was started in the late 17th century.
Very little is known about Henry, but he did read the prologue on the opening night of the Theatre Royal in Norwich on 31st January 1758. The plays performed that night were the Congreve’s The Way of the World and Henry Fielding’s farce The Mock Doctor.
Four other actors from this company were also buried in the church’s cemetery and are recorded in the parish register; although their grave stones, if indeed they had one, have not survived. They were: William James, a comedian, who was buried 22nd November 1736 aged 40, Anne Buck, a player, and wife of Timothy Buck was buried on 4th November 1737 aged 32, Timothy Buck, a comedian, was buried on 21st October 1741, aged 41 and Robert Drury, a comedian, was buried on 3rd November 1741 aged 28