“Sensation, Sensation, Sensation”: Collecting the New Age - the extraordinary case of the 5th Marquis of Anglesey

Professor Vivien Gardner
Monday, 7 June 2021 - 6:30pm


Professor Gardner’s presentation will offer a unique snapshot of Britain’s fascination with the ‘new’ that characterised the lifestyle of many of the cultural elite at the turn of the last century – viewed through the lens of the remarkable life of the 5th Marquis of Anglesey. 

Henry Cyril Paget inherited the marquisate in 1898 aged 23, with extensive estates on Anglesey and in Staffordshire, and an annual income of £110,000. Within four years, he had bankrupted the estate, spending exponentially on jewels, furs, cars, boats, perfumes, potions, medicines, toys, dogs, an adopted child and theatricals. The chapel at Plas Newydd was converted into a theatre, and he ‘stole’ a professional theatre company performing with them in his ‘bijou’ theatre. In 1903, he toured with a production of Wilde’s ‘An Ideal Husband’, until bankruptcy and ill-health forced him to retire to the continent. Everything from the estate was sold – down to Jacko, the talking parrot.

The Marquis died in Monte Carlo in 1905. The talk will focus on the marquis’s obsession with collecting - cars, jewels, photography, electricity, mechanical toys, and even a child. His acquisition of ‘stuff’ was, arguably, not simply fashion, but a rejection of Victorian ‘collecting’ - characterised by scientific taxonomies, classical aesthetics and, for the aristocracy, heredity - in favour of an engagement with objects though sensation, power and transience, which marked late Victorian and Edwardian Britain.

Paradoxically, the Marquis’s collecting, the talk will argue, was only made possible by those very aristocratic privileges under threat from the major social and political shifts taking place in the period.


About the speaker

Viv Gardner, Professor Emerita at the University of Manchester, is a theatre and performance historian, specialising in gender and sexuality – in all its forms – in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her original work was on First-wave feminism and theatre - the Actresses Franchise League and the New Woman – to which she has recently returned, editing the unpublished memoir of Kitty Marion, an actress, suffragette-arsonist and birth control campaigner. She has also worked on productions in Uganda, South Africa and for the Kennedy Center in Washington as an adviser and workshop leader, and in Brazil using theatre in gender and adult literacy projects.  Her fascination with the 5th Marquis of Anglesey was sparked by a visit to Plas Newydd in the 1990s with her children, and the very unusual and theatrical photographs of the ‘Dancing Marquess’ on display. She is currently writing a biographical and cultural account of the 5thMarquis’s life.



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Event image: from an album of photographs of various productions at the Gaiety Theatre, Anglesey Castle [aka Plas Newydd, Anglesey] and the various roles taken by the Marquis of Anglesey with the reference no : BMSS/26224. Date c. 1900.

Image courtesy of BU Archives and Special Collections