Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Payne, William Henry Schofield

PAYNE, WILLIAM HENRY SCHOFIELD (1804–1878), actor and pantomimist, was born in the city of London in 1804, and was apprenticed to Isaac Cowen, a stockbroker; but in his eighteenth year he ran away, and joined a travelling theatrical company in the Warwickshire circuit. He rose to play small parts at the Theatre Royal, Birmingham. Returning to London, he studied under Grimaldi and Bologna at Sadler's Wells Theatre, and then obtained an engagement at an east-end theatre, and in the following year (1825) migrated to the Pavilion Theatre. Here he remained some years, playing small parts, which he raised into importance by the admirable expression of his pantomimic action. At Christmas he represented the clown, with Miss Rountree (afterwards his first wife) as columbine. On 26 Dec. 1831 he made his first appearance at Covent Garden Theatre in the pantomime ‘Hop o' my Thumb and his Brothers,’ by Charles Farley [q. v.], in which he played Madoc Mawr, the Welsh ogre, Miss Poole being Little Jack, and Priscilla Horton (afterwards Mrs. German Reed) the Genius of the Harp. The next year he was still more successful in the pantomime produced on 26 Dec. and called ‘Puss in Boots,’ in which his character was Tasnar, chief of the Long Heads and No Bodies.

During his long career Payne played many parts, ranging from pantomime to tragedy. He was harlequin to Joe Grimaldi's clown at Sadler's Wells in 1827; he was Dandy Lover to young Joe Grimaldi's clown, and made a capital clown himself. He acted in tragedy with Charles Young, Charles Kemble, James Wallack, and Edmund Kean, and on Kean's last appearance (Covent Garden, 25 March 1833), when playing Othello, and unable to finish the part through illness, it was Payne, then acting Ludovico, who carried him off the stage. He prominently figured in grand ballet with Pauline Leroux, Cerito, Carlotta Grisi, the Elsslers, and other dancers of note, and played in state before George IV, William IV, Victoria, Napoleon III, and the Empress Eugénie.

In 1841 he was still at Covent Garden, and filled the rôle of Guy, earl of Warwick, in the pantomime produced at Christmas. On 31 March 1847 he opened at Vauxhall Gardens in a ballet with his wife and his sister, Miss Annie Payne. In 1848 he was engaged by John Knowles for the Theatre Royal, Manchester, and here he remained seven years, increasing the annual run of the pantomime from its usual twenty-four nights to one hundred, and making ‘Robinson Crusoe’ so attractive that it was represented 125 nights consecutively. On leaving Manchester he appeared with his sons at Sadler's Wells in the pantomime of the ‘Forty Thieves’ at Christmas 1854. Latterly the Payne family were regularly engaged for Covent Garden, where they became the chief actors and pantomimists in the openings, as well as the contrivers and performers of the harlequinades. They were also frequently seen at the Standard Theatre, the Crystal Palace, and other places. Through the whole of his career Payne's private virtues commanded the respect of the profession. He died at Calstock House, Dover, on 18 Dec. 1878. A writer in the ‘Spectator’ said: ‘The last true mime has departed in the person of W. H. Payne.’

By his first wife Payne had four children: (1) Harriet Farrell, who married Aynsley Cook, and, with her husband, took leading rôles in operatic performances; (2) Annie, a dancer and actress, who married William Turner; (3) Harry (1833–1895), pantomimist and clown at Drury Lane; (4) Frederick, born January 1841, who came from Manchester to London with his father in 1854, and made his first appearance in a juvenile part in the pantomime of the ‘Forty Thieves’ at Sadler's Wells. When the Payne family became regularly engaged for the Covent Garden pantomimes, he acquired distinction as the harlequin and as a graceful and grotesque dancer. His ‘hat dance’ in the pantomime of ‘Cinderella’ in 1865 was singularly quaint and clever. In 1877, while engaged in the pantomime at the Alexandra Palace, his mind became affected, and from this affliction he never thoroughly recovered, and he died at 3 Alexandra Road, Finsbury Park, London, on 27 Feb. 1880, aged only thirty-nine (Era, 29 Feb. 1880, p. 6).

[Era, 22 Dec. 1878, p. 12; Spectator, 28 Dec. 1878, pp. 1633–4; Stirling's Old Drury Lane, 1881, ii. 204–5; Dramatic Peerage, 1891, pp. 185–6; Blanchard's Life, 1891, i. 57, 127, 214, 303, 318, ii. 444.]

G. C. B.