Hannah Chaplin

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Hannah Chaplin
Hannah Chaplin, c. 1895
Born Hannah Harriet Pedlingham Hill
(1865-08-11)August 11, 1865
Camden Street, Walworth, London, England, UK
Died August 28, 1928(1928-08-28) (aged 63)
Glendale, California, U.S.[1]
Other names Lily Harley

Hannah Chaplin (August 11, 1865 – August 28, 1928) was an English stage and musical actress and the founding matriarch of the Chaplin family of actors as the mother of Sir Charlie Chaplin.

Life and career[edit]

Hannah Chaplin was born Hannah Harriet Pedlingham Hill[2] in Camden Street, Walworth, London, to Charles Frederick Hill and Mary Ann Terry.[3] Some of her family had come from Ireland.[4] She became a Music Hall entertainer and used the stage name Lily Harley.

On 16 March 1885, aged 19, she gave birth to the first of her three boys, Sydney John Hill, later Sydney Chaplin. His father is unknown, but Hannah claimed he was a bookmaker named Sydney Hawkes. Three months after his birth, on June 22, she married Charles Chaplin. Their son Charles Spencer ("Charlie") Chaplin was born in April 1889.

She gave birth to George Wheeler Dryden on 31 August 1892 in London, the son of music hall entertainer Leo Dryden and the future father of Jefferson Airplane musician Spencer Dryden. George was therefore the half-brother of Charles and Sydney Chaplin. As a result of her adulterous relationship with Dryden, Hannah and Charles Chaplin, Sr. separated soon after George's birth. Hannah became responsible for taking care of Charlie and his older brother Sydney, as George went to live with his father.

It was when Hannah's voice failed during a performance at The Canteen, an Army theatre at Aldershot in Hampshire in January 1894, that the young Charlie Chaplin, at the age of four, got his first taste of performing, when he went on as an unplanned replacement for his mother.[5] This event was portrayed in the 1992 film Chaplin, in which she was played by her granddaughter Geraldine Chaplin.

She became increasingly mentally ill and had a breakdown in 1895. In June 1896, Hannah, with her two sons Charles and Sydney, entered Lambeth Workhouse. Within a few weeks the boys were sent to Hanwell School for Orphans and Destitute Children.[6]

In 1898, Hannah had another mental breakdown, and Charles and Sydney went to live for a time with Charles Sr. and his mistress. Young Charles first appeared at this time with the Lancashire Lads. From May 1903 to September 1912, Hannah was in the Cane Hill Lunatic Asylum in Surrey. Charlie later wrote about a visit to see her in 1912:

"It was a depressing day, for she was not well. She had just got over an obstreperous phase of singing hymns, and had been confined to a padded room. The nurse had warned us of this beforehand. Sydney saw her, but I had not the courage, so I waited. He came back upset, and said that she had been given shock treatment of icy cold showers and that her face was quite blue. That made us decide to put her into a private institution - we could afford it now."[7]

The brothers took Hannah out of Cane Hill and put her into Peckham House, a private asylum, but she was returned to Cane Hill Asylum in May 1915 when they defaulted on the 30 shillings a week payment.[8] The Chaplin brothers brought her to California in 1921 where she was cared for until her death, in 1928. The Chaplin family held her funeral in the heart of Hollywood, at Hollywood's Memorial Cemetery, where Hannah Chaplin rests today, in a modest grave by the lake.


  1. ^ Chaplin, Lita Grey; Vance, Jeffrey (1998). Wife of the life of the party. The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series 61 (illustrated ed.). Scarecrow Press. p. 90. ISBN 0-8108-3432-4. 
  2. ^ http://chaplin.bfi.org.uk/resources/bfi/biog/biog.php?fid=biog1
  3. ^ Robinson, David (1994). Chaplin: his life and art. Da Capo Press. p. 643. ISBN 0-306-80600-2. 
  4. ^ http://www.wargs.com/other/chaplin.html
  5. ^ Discover Charlie Chaplin at www.discoverchaplin.com
  6. ^ Chaplin Biographical Chronology at www.cartoonresearch.com
  7. ^ Charlie Chaplin .My Autobiography' Pub by Bodley Head (1966)
  8. ^ Cache:ZqAgLYoYgusJ:www.mdx.ac.uk/WWW/STUDY/3_06.htm hannah chaplin cane hill - Google Search at the Wayback Machine (archived July 29, 2007) at webcache.googleusercontent.com

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