TRIBUTES were paid to the acclaimed actress Angela Lansbury on her recent death - but few people have heard about her connection with Irvine.

North Ayrshire Heritage revealed in a post last week that her great uncle, the Shakespearean and silent film actor Robert Bruce Mantell, was born in the town

The Heritage team revealed: “Robert was born in the town’s Wheat Sheaf Inn in 1854. The inn was leased by his parents and sat near the old Tolbooth, round about where Mama’s chippy is today.

“As well as being born in the Wheat Sheaf, Mantell claims it is where he was “discovered”, aged about four, by none other than the famous showman P T Barnum.

“Barnum apparently was on a visit to Irvine with General Tom Thumb and stayed overnight at the inn, when he noticed young Robert staring in awe at the diminutive “General.”

“Barnum supposedly sat the young boy on his knee and said, “Someday, my lad, you will be a great showman too.”

In 1876, he made his professional stage debut. then toured the UK, performing in condensed productions of “Hamlet”, “Othello”, “Macbeth” and “Richard III.”

It was during a performance in Liverpool that he caught the eye of the renowned Polish Shakespearean actress Helena Modjeska.

She was impressed by his good looks and persuaded him to have another go in America, which he did and this time he was a success. He became a successful Shakespearean actor, touring the US and the UK and latterly starring in silent films including “Under the Red Robe”, “The Spider and the Fly” and “The Green-Eyed Monster.”

Mantell was married four time and he had three sons and one daughter. He died at his home in New Jersey in1928 aged 74 and we now say goodbye to his great niece, Dame Angela.