SHE was said to have been the greatest Shakespearean actress of her day - and Adelaide Neilson’s life was as dramatic as many of the figures she portrayed.

The Victorian beauty who took England and America by storm started life as the illegitimate daughter of a needlewoman but went on to find fame and fortune in the theatre before suffering a tragic early death at the age of 32.

The story of the once famous actress, who grew up in Guiseley, is told in the online archive of Aireborough Historical Society.

Born in 1848 in Leeds, she was the illegitimate daughter of Elizabeth Brown, who was forced to abandon her own fledgling career in acting when she became pregnant.

Named Elizabeth after her mother, she attended the Primitive Methodist Chapel and Sunday School in Otley Road. It is believed she worked at a mill before going on to become a nurse-maid for the Padgett Family who lived at Hawkhill House.

She lived with her mother and stepfather Samuel Bland, along with her younger brother Charles, at Greenbottom.

The identity of her real father is unknown - although she later claimed he came from the Spanish nobility. She was given her stepfather’s unromantic surname, Bland.

Samuel, whose family built the Manor House at Burnsall, made a living as a plumber and painter. His two brothers Benjamin and John Atkinson Bland had a grocers and druggists store at Henshaw Lane Head in Yeadon.

But the young Elizabeth had bigger plans. She is believed to have been just 13 when she left home to find fame and fortune in London.

First working as a seamstress and in a bar, she forged a career in the theatre, changing her name to Adelaide Neilson. At 16 she married Philip Henry Lee - a marriage which ended in 1877 when she and her husband were divorced.

She enjoyed a dazzling career and was renowned for her portrayals of Shakespearean heroines. Her triumphs included hugely successful tours of the USA where she was photographed in New York in the role of Viola by renowned portrait photographer Napoleon Sarony. She worked for several seasons in New York in front of adoring audiences.

Wherever she appeared she won critical acclaim and popular adoration - and such was her fame that plates and goblets were made adorned with her image.

Sometime after the death of her stepfather in 1872 she bought a house in Rawdon for her mother and brother. Her trips home to Yorkshire caused huge excitement.

In 1880 she went to America and Canada, performing in front of more than thirteen thousand people in Toronto in just one week.

Later that same year she visited Paris - reportedly accompanied by her fiancee Edward Compton - where her gilded life came to an abrupt end.

She was taken ill in the Bois de Boulogne and died suddenly, aged just 32.

Her death shocked legions of fans at home and in the US and thousands turned out for her funeral.

She was buried in Brompton Cemetery, south-west London, where a white marble cross bears the inscription “In Loving Memory of Adelaide Neilson – Gifted and Beautiful, Resting.”

She left an estate of around £25,000 - a huge sum at that time - part of which was used to set up a theatrical charity, the Adelaide Neilson Fund.