Sir Henry Irving, the great actor manager, and some of his friends founded the ABF in 1882. In order to raise money he initiated a series of special matinees, ‘Benefits’. Irving himself took part many times together with his leading lady Ellen Terry. The list of actors who appeared to support the ABF reads like a roll call of all the theatrical luminaries of the Victorian and Edwardian stage! Even the great French actress Sarah Bernhardt took part.
Sir Henry Irving Making up for a Performance, Paul Renouard 1845-1924. Original drawing used here by kind permission of The Art Archive and The Garrick Club
Benefit performances continued until the 1930’s when the onset of the Second World War may have put an end to them. It was many years before this tradition was revived.