The London Metropolitan Archive is home to a wide collection of theatre records, from letters and legal documents to programmes, prints and photographs. In 2004 the archive received Heritage Lottery funding to conserve around 3000 architects’ theatre plans and blueprints dating back to the 1850s and spanning over 100 years. These drawings, many of them very beautiful, give a fascinating insight into a turbulent period in the theatre, from the ending of the restrictive Patent laws to the rebuilding after the Second World War.
The 19th century saw London theatres expand from a handful at the beginning of the century to over thirty by the 1900s, not counting the many local theatres and music halls that grew up in the suburbs. It was also the first era to produce specialist theatre architects such as C.J. Phipps and Frank Matcham.
The Theatreland website provides an overview of a century of theatre and tells the story of some of the playhouses with the most illustrious – or checkered – histories. Find out about the theatres that began as circuses and varied their dramatic fare with trapeze acts; the playhouse that survived over two centuries and four fires to become a major draw for audiences today, and the group of theatres destroyed to make way for a major London thoroughfare. In the Image Gallery, you can look at some of the Archive’s prints and newspaper cuttings as well as the Theatreland plans and blueprints themselves. Discover more about both the theatre buildings themselves and the changes that took place in performances over the century, from the introduction of women on the stage to the technical innovations which led to the great Victorian spectaculars.