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The Famous Nell Gwynne

Nell Gwynne the famous mistress of Charles II was said to have been born ‘half way up a wall’ in Gwynne Street just west of the cathedral in Hereford City where a plaque now sits commemorating her birth. The street was originally called Pipe Well Lane and later renamed in her honour.

Born in 1650 Nell was one of the first generation of actresses in England, highly popular, very recognisable with her red hair and brown eyes and by far the most celebrated. With a story echoing the rags-to-royalty tale of Cinderella, Nell was the only mistress of the King to be admired by the public due to her down to earth nature.

It is thought that her grandfather came from Hereford and was a churchman who became a canon of Christ Church in Oxford. Her father an army captain was thought to have fought on the Royalist side in the Civil War and who had left Oxford after the Royalist defeat. He returned as the story goes to his father’s home town of Hereford, where he became a brewer, and it was here that his daughter Nell was born. She and her sister then went to live in Covent Garden in London with their mother, both sisters being put to work selling fruit and vegetables from barrows, or working in the brothel that their mother ran.

When her mother died, Nell sold oranges at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane where she eventually began acting and was famously known for her colourful character, wit and the number of expletives that she used in her act.

Nell came to the attention of Charles ll in 1667 and was his mistress up until his death in 1685. Did you know that over a hundred years later Nell’s grandson James Beauclerk, was to become Bishop of Hereford.

Her motto was said to be “Fear God and Serve the King”, she most definitely did that!

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