Transporting 169 years of history

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In 1982, it was announced that The Old Vic was to be put up for sale. It was down to two bidders: one was a highly respected musical theatre figure and the other was an American-Canadian theatrical impresario and philanthropist. Following sealed bids, it was Ed Mirvish who came to buy the theatre – outbidding his competitor by just £5,000.

The Royal Victoria Hall Foundation had to leave the theatre after 102 years, leaving behind a small, itemised list of goods:

  • 4 chairs
  • 1 kettle
  • Gestetner duplicator and cabinet
  • Safe
  • 1 manual typewriter
  • Several packets of Old Vic greeting cards

Everything else had to go – including the remainder of the theatre’s vast archive and it was down to just two people to see that it made it to the Bristol Theatre Museum safely. This is Carol’s Old Vic story:

‘I have many memories of The Old Vic, having worked for the Royal Victoria Hall Foundation (its owners from 1891 – 1982), for 40 years, but one of my favourites is 29 September 1987 when our former Chair Tom Vaughan and I hired a van and took the remainder of The Old Vic archives to the University of Bristol Theatre Museum.

The theatre had been sold to Ed Mirvish in 1982 and, as with any property sale, we had to vacate the building; a difficult proposition with few staff and me being heavily pregnant! Bristol Old Vic came to the rescue and sent a van to take filing cabinets and cupboards full of invaluable Old Vic archive material for safe keeping to the Theatre Museum at Bristol. The Theatre Collection at Bristol at the time was a fairly small enterprise with two staff. However, it became clear to Tom and I that they took great care of the archives and, after taking professional advice, it was decided that the remainder of The Old Vic archives, which had been temporarily stored at the V&A and at Queen Mary College, would be taken to Bristol so that the archives could be kept together.

As ever in theatre, funds were short and so Tom and I hired a van (he drove I am pleased to say!) and collected the boxes from the London locations and took them to Bristol – the photo shows us happy with our achievement at the end of the day.

Sadly Tom died in 1994, and I would love him to have seen how the University of Bristol Theatre Museum has flourished and grown and how well The Old Vic archive is kept and used by researchers. The current owners of The Old Vic also deposit their archives at the Museum so that there is continuity, and our current Chair Valerie Colgan is as passionate as I am about their preservation.

The Museum has recently been awarded Archive Service Accreditation in addition to its Museum status.’

Do you have an Old Vic story to share in the countdown to our bicentenary? We’d love to hear from you.

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