Albert Smith
by Malcolm Loveday BEM

Albert Smith, from drawing in ‘The Struggles & Adventures of Christopher Tadpoles at Home and Abroad’. Pub Richard Bently, New Burlington St, London. 1848

Most people today would be hard pressed to recognise the name of the person acclaimed in 1855 by a popular journalist as being ‘the most popular and best known man in London’. That person was Albert Smith (1816 – 1860) who was an ‘A-list’ celebrity of the time and undoubtably Chertsey’s most famous resident of the Victorian period. His national claim to fame was the series of one man shows at the Egyptian Hall in Regents Street relating his ascent of Mont Blanc and his travels in Egypt and China. However, to Chertsey residents he is more famously known for The Tale of Blanche Heriot which he stated was based on an old legend of Chertsey Church. The story is commemorated by the bronze statue near Chertsey Bridge which shows Blanche Heriot hanging on the clapper of the curfew bell.

Blanche Heriot Statue near Chertsey Bridge. Donated by Richard Cook as Section 106 planning gain money when an office block was built in the early 1990s. Sculpt: Sheila Mitchell FRBS.

Set during the Wars of the Roses and published in 1840, Blanche Heriot provides the story of of a young lady who prevented a curfew bell sounding by hanging on to the bell clapper, thereby saving a captive due to be executed when the bell rang. This basic theme has been repeated in several stories, plays, films, poems and songs, both in the UK and in the USA, all of which probably owe their origins to Albert Smith’s original tale. The Tale of Blanche Heriot was first published locally in the Chertsey Almanac and then in a London publication The Wassail Bowl. It was then staged as a popular Victorian melodrama at the Surrey Theatre in London in 1842. It is worth noting that Chertsey is one of the few towns in the country where a Curfew bell is still rung today, and Albert Smith was brought up opposite Chertsey church where his father ran a medical practice.

Albert completed his medical studies and was admitted as a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, he joined his father’s successful medical practice, however he and his brother had an interest in the theatrical activities and were friends of Charles Dickens and Albert was a member of Dicken’s theatrical company whilst Arthur became Dicken’s manager for his lecture tours. Dickens frequently visited the Smith family at Chertsey and also based the house robbery in Oliver Twist in Chertsey.

Smith’s show comprised of humorous sketches, impersonations, anecdotes ventriloquism and songs. It ran for several seasons, closing in July 1858 after 2000 shows. It earned Smith £30,000.

Albert Smith wrote and produced numerous articles for periodicals including Punch until a rift developed and he left to help set up a rival publication The Man in the Moon producing 30 issues between Jan 1847 & June 1849. Smith was among the early travel writers, visiting Europe, the Levant & the Middle East as well as famously ascending Mont Blanc. He also had published several other books.

He is buried in Brompton Cemetery together with his brother.

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