The Life of John Maddison Morton, Playwright and Brother

John Maddison Morton (3 January 1811 – 19 December 1891) was an English playwright who in later life became a Brother of the Charterhouse.

He was famous in the 19th century for his one-act farces, though with the exception of Box and Cox (1847), Morton’s plays have not been performed regularly since his death in 1891.

The son of Thomas Morton, who was also a popular dramatist, Morton was born in Pangbourne, Berkshire. My First Fit of the Gout, produced in London in 1835, was his first farce.

Many of Morton’s pieces enjoyed great success and contributed to building up the reputations of leading comic actors such as John Buckstone (who was Box in the first representation of Box and Cox), Henry Compton and the Keeleys.

Although he received no royalties from it, F. C. Burnand and Arthur Sullivan’s musical adaptation of Box and Cox, Cox and Box, brought Morton a measure of fame in 1867 and continues to be revived by fans of Gilbert and Sullivan.

Nevertheless, owing to financial troubles he became a Brother of the Charterhouse in 1881.

We can trust that the conditions upheld by the Charterhouse in those days were better than those in the 1840s, when the dramatist William Thomas Moncrieff had declared:

“I was totally out of place… the Brotherhood… for the major part, were illiterate men – worn out servants, Brokendown journey men… Pauperism in its most degraded sense was strictly incalcated, the main object seemed to be debasement.”

But for a man such as Morton, who knew only the luxuries that came with success, it must have been a considerable step down from the life he was used to.

His final play, which was performed at Toole’s Theatre in 1885, was a three-act farcical comedy called Going It.

It was later said of Morton that “The unlucky thing about him was that though he could write as well at 80 as at 30, he was left stranded high and dry by the receding wave of fashion.”

He died at the Charterhouse on 19th December 1891 and was buried on the 23rd at Kensal Green Cemetery.

In June 2011, as a bicentenary celebration of Morton’s birth, the Orange Tree Theatre presented a triple bill of three of Morton’s one act farces: Slasher and Crasher!; A Most Unwarrantable Intrusion; and Grimshaw, Bagshaw and Bradshaw.

The Guardian’s reviewer Michael Billington commented that the production “proves the prolific Morton is unjustly neglected”.

kensal_green_cemetery_view_december_2005

Kensal Green Cemetery, London, where Morton is buried.

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  • My great grandmother acted in one of Morton’s plays called The two Buzzards or Whitebait at Greenwich in private theatricals in the Wrexham Theatre about 1862/3 I can’t find any reference to that play. Could anyone help

  • whilst reseaching the Normansfield theatre I came across a newspaper article in the surrey comet dated 1885 where two of his one-act farces were used i would be interested to find ot more

  • This is my Great Great Uncle. I wrote at quite length about his life in Family History Magazine. The middle name of Maddison not only Johns but of my grandfathers middle name too, came from a chap named Maddison from the North Country who had some association with Thomas Morton. I have mentioned to the Charterhouse a few times about my connection. He is buried with his brother in Kensal Green Cemetary. He was also married three times.

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