An exciting future for Bristol Old Vic and its archives

Posted on by Lauren MacCarthy.

by Allie Dillon, Senior Archivist at Bristol Archives

We’re delighted to be part of a project to transform Bristol Old Vic into a major heritage destination, thanks to a £2.4m grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

First dividend and minute book, 1764-1815, which names the investors in the theatre and records how it was established

First dividend and minute book, 1764-1815, which names the investors in the theatre and records how it was established.

The investment is funding a refurbishment of the historic Coopers’ Hall and revealing the theatre’s original 1766 façade. It’s also funding a substantial work to catalogue, conserve and digitise the theatre’s archives, which are held at Bristol Archives and the University of Bristol Theatre Collection.

Bristol Old Vic is the longest continuously-running theatre in the UK and its archive collections document this long history.

At Bristol Archives, we hold the archive of the Theatre Royal from its establishment in 1766.

The records contain material about the foundation of the theatre and include the first
minute book, which begins with the meeting of Alexander Edgar, Roger Watts and Thomas Symons in October 1764, as they began to plan the theatre which opened two years later.

Royal licence, issued to the theatre by George III in 1778. The theatre was operating illegally until this was awarded

Royal licence, issued to the theatre by George III in 1778. The theatre was operating illegally until this was awarded.

The collection covers the history of the theatre up to the 1940s, when the theatre was sold and its trustees deposited the papers with us.

The Bristol Old Vic company was formed in 1946 and its archive is held by the Theatre Collection.

This substantial collection spans the entire remit of the company’s work and includes production records such as prompt books, programmes, production photos, posters, show files and press cuttings.

Through a unique partnership, we’re aiming to work with Bristol Old Vic and the Theatre Collection to develop new ways to access the records.

Playbill for ‘The Rivals’, 1798. The playbills are printed on thin, fragile paper and will be digitised and protected through this project

A Playbill for ‘The Rivals’, 1798, printed on thin, fragile paper that will be digitised and protected through this project.

At both archives, project staff and volunteers are starting to catalogue, repackage and digitise the collections, to preserve the records and create access to them. The digitised material will be used to create a new online resource that pieces together 250 years of theatrical heritage in Bristol.

This will be available to anyone interested in exploring the history of Bristol Old Vic, including people interested in the history or Bristol and the theatre, as well as artists, students and other enthusiasts seeking creative inspiration.

We’ll also share this wealth of historic material with the public, through new heritage interpretation and interactive exhibitions at the theatre.

In addition, Bristol Old Vic are planning a wide-reaching programme of tours and activities to promote that the theatre, already recognised for artistic excellence, will also become an internationally significant heritage destination.

The documentary heritage held in the archives will be at the heart of these projects.

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