Playbill showing Master Betty's first London appearance

Playbill showing Master Betty's first London appearance

The late 18th and early 19th century saw a vogue for child stars. In the provinces, children as young as three or four (usually the offspring of company members) appeared on the stage. The great actor Edmund Kean began his career aged nine, billed as The Infant Carey in 1798. The most famous 'infant phenomenon' was William Henry West, known as Master Betty or The Young Roscius and The Wonderful Boy. West was born in Ireland and made his stage debut in 1803 aged 11. A successful tour of Ireland and Scotland followed, and by the time he came to London in 1804 he was already famous. This poster advertises his first season at Covent Garden, and there was such a fierce crush for tickets that the troops had to be called out to keep order.