Charlotte Deans, a personal story

Charlotte Deans’ story is one of great personal trial and suffering but one that demonstrates great fortitude and resilience. As a travelling player Charlotte Deans walked the roads of Cumbria and Scotland for 70 years, during which time she twice married and bore 17 children.

The daughter of a wealthy lawyer, Charlotte was disinherited after falling in love and eloping with a travelling player. Although at first she resisted the stage, Charlotte eventually joined her husband’s profession to support their growing family.

Charlotte Deans book

Charlotte proved a talented actress and quickly found employment with a superior company. But this arrangement was not to last: she soon found herself returning to the nomadic existence of a travelling player.

As an actress Charlotte not only found herself reliant upon “the turbulent ocean of public opinion, where existence [could] only be obtained by great exertion and great indulgence,” but at the mercy of the troupes’ managers, who, she notes, showed a “marked reluctance to pay salaries regularly”.

Charlotte and her family’s fortunes were also very much tied up with the fortunes of the villagers; she notes in her journal on one occasion that she “proceeded to Alston Moor, noted as the centre of the mining district... at that time miners were very rich”.

The family always, of course, attempted to have their arrival coincide with the advent of the tourist season. “From Cockermouth we preceded to Keswick for the Regatta, which generally drew together a great concourse of genteel company, here our stay was but short though our business was very great”.

These periods of relative ease, however, only lasted while the tourists visited; eking out a living throughout the rest of the year remained a difficult business.

Front cover of Charlotte Deans (1768-1859), A Commentary on the Story of a Travelling Player, Frances Marshall, Kendal: Titus Wilson, 1984.