Project underway to make Georgian Theatre archives more accessible

Archive specialist Emma Lloyd-Jones is pictured with volunteers from The Georgian Theatre Royal at the start of a project to re-package items from the Theatre’s extensive archive. (Left to right: Dilys Bruce, Jim Brown, Emma Lloyd-Jones, Gillian Meredith and Avril Proudlock.)

A project to make the archives of the Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond more accessible to the public is getting underway this summer thanks to a £3,000 grant from the Association of Independent Museums (AIM).

The funding will enable a large number of items from the theatre’s archive to be transferred from their current storage in opaque, acid-free tissue paper to new transparent sleeves in order to facilitate easy viewing.

The Georgian Theatre Royal is the UK’s oldest working theatre in its original form and houses hundreds of important artefacts, including 18 and 19 century playbills, posters, programmes, prints and books.

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Starting this month, the work will be carried out by a team of volunteers from the Theatre who have received training from book and paper conservator Emma Lloyd-Jones in the correct way to handle and package the material.

“The items were quite safe being stored in their original packaging but they obviously have to be unwrapped to be viewed, thereby increasing the risk of damage,” said Emma Lloyd-Jones who has previously worked as a conservator for the Universities of Oxford, Durham and York.

“The new transparent packaging means that they can easily be studied with minimal handling, which is obviously far better for the longevity of the individual objects,” she added.

The project has also included an initial assessment of the condition of the archive, and images will be taken of key items, that have not already been photographed, with a view to making them accessible online.

It is hoped that the re-packaging of the items, drawn largely from the earliest parts of the archive, will be completed by early this autumn.

Amongst the documents being re-packaged are various petitions made by the Theatre’s builder and first Theatre Manager Samuel Butler – for example a request to the Mayor and Corporation of Richmond to perform dated 1799 – as well as playbills from as early as 1773.

There are also several prints of the Theatre and actors from the Georgian period, including Miss Jane Wallis (1774-1848), a well-known child actor who performed at Covent Garden and Bath, and the famous Georgian actor Edmund Kean (1787-1833).

Anyone with an interest in local history or theatre history, together with academics and students, is able to apply to view these and other items.

The archive is an integral part of the Georgian Theatre Experience, a popular visitor attraction, which not only tells the story of the Theatre itself but also gives a unique insight into life in 18 century England.

Key exhibits from the archive are on permanent display in the Theatre museum but many other fascinating items are stored behind the scenes.To find out more about the archive – either to arrange access or to volunteer with the archive project – please contact Susie Wood at The Georgian Theatre Royal on 01748 823710 or email: