Sarah Achurch Ward


Actress & Theatre Manager

Sarah Ward [née Achurch], actress and theatre manager, was born in 1726 or early 1727, the daughter of the York-based actor Thomas Achurch (1707?–1771). The identity of her mother is unknown.

Sarah Achurch began her theatrical career in the mid-1740s at York. About 1744 she married her fellow actor and a minor playwright Henry Ward (d. 1758). Around 1745 she and her husband transferred to Thomas Este's Taylor's Hall company in Edinburgh. Following internal disputes the company split into two groups, one led by Sarah Ward.

Ward made her London début at Covent Garden on 3 October 1748, as Cordelia to James Quin's Lear. Ward's career continued to combine regular contracts at Drury Lane with provincial appearances, including the summer season of 1750 with Linnett's company at Bath and Bristol. In 1752 she returned to Edinburgh with John Lee, who, having finally escaped his contract with Garrick, had quit London to assume management in Edinburgh. Among Lee's company were James Love, Stampier, Digges, and Ward, and it was around this time that the latter two began their affair. In September 1752 Ward joined Thomas Sheridan's Smock Alley company, and made her Dublin début on 24 November 1752, as Monimia in Thomas Otway's The Orphan. She was a favourite with Dublin audiences and spent three years there. 1755 saw her return to Edinburgh, where she appeared as Mrs Sullen in George Farquhar's The Beaux' Stratagem on 25 November.

In a complicated financial dispute, Lee lost control of the Edinburgh theatre. While James Callender was briefly appointed business manager, ‘artistic policy’ was controlled by Digges, who rejoined the Edinburgh company in September 1756. It was during this season, on 14 December, that Ward appeared as Lady Barnet to Digges's Norval in the première of John Home's Douglas. It was to prove one of her most popular and celebrated roles.

Ward remained in Edinburgh until May 1758, when she left to appear in Newcastle and Liverpool. She travelled on to Dublin, where she and Digges played the 1758–9 season at Smock Alley. During the summer of 1759 her relationship with Digges finally ended. Ward returned to Covent Garden and remained there for the next twelve seasons.

It is uncertain just how many children Ward had: certainly at least three with Henry Ward, of whom at least two became actors. Ward had at least six more children with Digges, although how many survived to maturity is not known.

Ward died on 9 March 1771 at the age of forty-four. In her career she had displayed great tenacity, managing a company at a time when women managers were almost unheard of and then becoming the partner of West Digges in a personal as well as a professional sense. Her independent career shows that she was not overshadowed by Digges, although her strength of character was clearly of a kind that made her a difficult member of companies led by the likes of Garrick and Barry. While she has not been especially celebrated by later eras, Ward was clearly one of the more remarkable performers of her day.

© Oxford University Press



Adrienne Scullion, ‘Ward , Sarah (1726/7–1771)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 11 June 2014]

Sarah Ward (1726/7–1771): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/64362 


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