Caroline Davis, Birmingham Hippodrome’s Strategic Projects Manager, writes about archiving the theatre’s long and eventful history…
Did you know that we started life as a circus in 1899? We’ve certainly come a long way since then! We’re currently organising our archives, cataloguing the theatre’s long history of entertainment – it’s an exciting project that has thrown up some really interesting finds. Although we are a receiving theatre, meaning productions visit us already developed and produced elsewhere, we have a variety of interesting theatrical memorabilia including programmes, posters, photos and artwork dating back as far as the early 20th Century. The majority of our material is from the 1980’s onwards, following the theatre’s renovation. Birmingham Central Library collection also houses some fabulous bill posters and programmes from the very early days which has helped us a great deal in collating parts of our past.
Variety has always been a key part of Birmingham Hippodrome’s programming and, as we start cataloguing all of the pieces we hold, it is clear to see what a colourful history the Birmingham Hippodrome has had. One of my favourite things about the project is seeing how the styling of programmes has changed over the decades, studying the rise in the cost of programmes and productions advertised, reflecting the social life that developed around the theatre. One of the earliest programmes we have is from August 1926, when we were doing our twice nightly performances; boxes then cost 12/6! Some of the programme covers from the 50’s are also my personal favourites, the artwork is beautiful and they used to cost threepence!
Another interesting development has been the acquisition of some old archive footage – particularly from ATV (now Central ITV News). The Midland Archive for Central England has helped us in digitialising the clips that they held in storage in Leicester, allowing us to tell some more of the history of the building through old video footage that we will be using as part of our education programme. It’s fantastic to see how the building has changed along with the programme over the decades.
Eventually, the BIG plan is to possibly digitalise our records so that they are able to be viewed by our patrons – although there is still a big way to go at this moment in time!
Look out for more information as this project develops. In the meantime we are particularly searching for posters and programmes from the 1970s or before that. If you have any information or wish to donate old programmes please get in touch with or mark for the attention of Caroline Davis, Strategic Projects Manager, Birmingham Hippodrome, firstname.lastname@example.org, 0121 689 3044. We have had some wonderful donations from some of our long standing patrons already and we are very grateful for their generosity.