Henry (Harry) Kiell Ayliff was born 7 July 1871 at Grahamstown, South Africa, son of Johnathon Ayliff and Susannah Martha Wood. He moved to England in the 1890s and first studied painting at the Royal Academy, but in 1901 gave up painting and chose acting instead.
He played various parts in London and the provinces and began to direct one off show case productions featuring himself and other out of work actors. In 1922 he was appointed director at the Birmingham Repertory, where his April 1923 production of Cymbeline in modern dress caused quite a stir. Other productions of plays by George Bernard Shaw and Pirandello followed and he began to direct London productions as well, building an ever greater reputation for his directing skills, eventually becoming renowned as one of three great theatrical directors of the 1930s, alongside Tyrone Guthrie and Basil Dean. Shaw became a family friend.
He married Gertrude Emily Homewood an actress at Hastings in 1907. They had three children Susan Homewood born 1908, Esther Gertrude in 1910 and David Stephenson in 1916.The family lived variously at Ruislip, St Johns Wood and Westminster, until settling at 4 Holford Road Hampstead in 1936, which remained the family home thereafter.
Early in 1939 the Ayliffs acquired a country cottage – Willow Dene on The Green, Steeple Morden, which they renamed Green End. Today it is No 32 The Green. At the start of World War II in September 1939 the family retired from London to their newly acquired country cottage and were listed as resident there in the 1939 Register. In 1943 Henry was directing in Birmingham, although the family remained at Steeple Morden. Gertrude and Esther are recorded at Green End in the Civilian Residence Register 1945, although Henry is not included and none of the family appear resident at the property in later Registers.
Their ownership of Green End continued until the death of Henry, on 25 May 1949 at the Evelyn Nursing Home, Cambridge, which suggests he may have been at Steeple Morden at that time, although his abode is given as 4 Holford Road in probate documents. His funeral was held at Steeple Morden Church at 2.30pm on Monday 30 May and in the burial register he is “of Green End, Steeple Morden” and was laid to rest in the churchyard. His widow Gertrude, died 8 October 1967, age 92 and her funeral was also held at Steeple Morden and she was buried alongside Henry.
In the Steeple Morden Burial Register:
30 May 1949 Henry Kiell Ayliff of Green End, Steeple Morden, age 77.
12 Oct 1967 Gertrude Emily Ayliff of 4 Holford Road, Hampstead, Camden, formerly of The Green, age 92
In the Churchyard:
Monumental Inscription on Slab. (Pye ref B29)
In loving memory of Henry Kiell Ayliff born 7 July 1871, died 25 May 1949.
Also his wife Gertrude Emily born 29 Sept 1875, died 8 Oct 1967.
And their daughter Esther Gertrude born 5 Nov 1910, died 14 Aug 1956.
There is no entry in the Burial Register for Esther Gertrude, which suggests her funeral took place elsewhere and the text on the grave slab is “in memoriam”.
Photographs, Newspaper Reports & Probates
Last Updated on April 17, 2023