William Crossing as dramatist

After John Ford and William Strode, the next literary figure to feature prominently in the history of Dartmoor Theatre is William Crossing, who today is best known for his topographical work on the Moor. Crossing was born in Plymouth in 1840. In his early years he was a man of the theatre, and while living at South Brent ran an amateur and later a professional theatre company on the fringe of Dartmoor[i]. In 1868 Crossing wrote several pieces for an amateur company in Plymouth and for performance elsewhere[ii]. Once he began to earn his living from writing articles about Dartmoor, his theatrical activity faded into the background, but did not entirely disappear. In 1912 a play of which he describes himself as part-author (Crossing 1926), The Triumph, was produced at The Court Theatre in London. This was an adaptation of a novel by Florence Eaton[iii]. At the end of his last volume of poems, Cranmere, he lists another play among his preserved works, Winnie Darrell. In a note on the same page he describes how manuscripts, together with notes, were inadvertently destroyed and the work of nearly 60 years lost. This may explain why we have so little record of his dramatic writing, though he does not specifically mention plays among what was lost. In fact his silence on his theatrical past in his later writing suggests the alternative explanation that he may have suppressed his early plays himselfA marionette theatre which belonged to him still exists in private ownership at Peter Tavy[iv].

Mark Beeson


[i] Hamlyn Parsons. Dartmoor Collections, Vol V. MS in West Country Studies Library.

[ii]  In an article in The Western Weekly News, Plymouth, for December 10th 1904, W.H.K. Wright wrote about Crossing: ‘In 1868 he wrote several pieces for amateur theatricals; he also contributed topical verses for a member of the stock company (Mr Charles Seymour) then engaged at the Plymouth Theatre Royal. Since that time he has been connected with the stage in other parts of the country.’

[iii] The Daily Mirror, 28th November 1912, pp 7, 10 and 11.

[iv] Tom Greeves, letter to Mark Beeson, 12/9/97