Robert Baddeley was born on 20 April 1733, probably in London, and it said that as a youth he was a cook to the theatrical manager, actor and playwright Samuel Foote. He made his first appearance as Sir William Wealthy in Foote’s comedy “The Minor” on 28 June 1760 at the Haymarket Theatre. In his first season at Drury Lane in 1760-61, under Garrick’s management, he acted Frankly in “The Register Office”, Gomez in “The Spanish Fryar” and a role in Foote’s new comedy Taste. After touring Irish towns for two seasons. Baddeley returned to Drury Lane, where in 1763-64 he took on some 20 roles, establishing a line of parts of older men in low comedy, such as Sir Harry Grubbin in “The Tender Husband”, the role in which he is depicted by De Wilde (G0020). He remained an established member of the Drury Lane company for another 31 years. And after Garrick’s death in 1779 Baddeley became one of the original group of actors that formed a club called ‘The School of Garrick’ – and was pictured as a member of that society by Hardy (G0021) and Spicer (G0022). Zoffany’s scene in the Garrick Club of “The Clandestine Marriage”, showing Mrs Baddeley as Fanny Sterling and Tom King as Lord Ogleby (G0023), is one of loveliest of eighteenth-century pictures; but the figure of Baddeley as Canton is in the far background. Cosway drew a portrait of Baddeley in the same role (G0019). Among Baddeley’s best roles was Moses in Sheridan’s “The School for Scandal”, which he created on 8 May 1777, and in which he is shown by Zoffany in a fine painting now in the Lady Lever Collection (BDA I: 199). Though never an actor of high talent, he did excel at playing national types, like Moses, the Frenchman in “The Recruiting Officer” and Fluellen in “Henry V”; his Swiss, Germans, and Frenchmen ‘were admirably characteristic’ (BDA I: 200).
Baddeley’s marriage to eighteen-year-old Sophia Snow in 1763 was to prove unhappy and tumultuous. She was very beautiful, vain and reckless, and she engaged in a series of amours; moreover when she took to the stage she became a more popular and favourite performer than her husband. Eventually they separated, and Baddeley lived his later years with the actress Katherine Sherry (1745-1782) and finally with Mrs Catherine Strickland, who became known as Mrs Baddeley. Robert Baddeley died in London at his house in New Store Street on 20 November 1794, having suffered several strokes over the years since 1780. Baddeley is best remembered today for the bequest in his will, proved at London on 18 December 1794, in which he left the interest of £100 to provide the actors at Drury Lane with cakes and ale on Twelfth Night, a ritual observed to this day at that theatre. He also left money to the Drury Lane Theatrical Fund – he was a founding member – for the establishment of an asylum for needy or indigent actors in a dwelling in West Molesey, Surrey. That house was lived in by Catherine Strickland until her death; but the opening of ‘Baddeley Asylum’ never occurred.