Jack Sheppard continued to live in the hearts of the public as a folk hero. His story inspired ballads and pantomimes that appeared shortly after his death. Importantly, his character inspired Macheath in John Gay’s The Beggars’ Opera (1728).. The Threepenny Opera, a twentieth century updating of The Beggars’ Opera that debuted in Berlin in 1928 and in English in America in 1933, included the song Mack the Knife. Mack the Knife made the hit parade in 1956 and it has kept on trucking…well, I think we all are old enough to have heard it.
So why would we have Sheppard, a hero of the 1720s, depicted in a Staffordshire figure made circa 1825? I admit to being a bit puzzled. The most obvious nineteentn century reincarnation of Sheppard was in the novel Jack Sheppard by William Harrison Ainsworth, published in 1839….but this figure looks no later than 1830 to my eye. What could have inspired the creation of a figure in Jack Sheppard’s honor around that time? And then a revealing factoid came my way: A melodrama titled Jack Sheppard, The Housebreaker, or London in 1724, by W.T. Moncrieff was published in 1825. Performances of this play must have inspired the creation of the figure.
Moncrieff’s melodrama could not have been wildly successful for I know of only this one example of the figure of Sheppard. It is a lovely figure, very bold and dashing at a swaggering 10-3/4" inches tall. Sadly, Sheppard himself was a puny runt, but how was our potter to know that? So if you are a potter and you don’t know what Sheppard looked like, what do you do? No problem! After all, nobody else was any wiser…so our potter could take his pick of the molds at his disposal. I have a figure in my archive fashioned from the same molds used for SHEPPARD.