Search within this description


S/SWT - Sadler's Wells Theatre Archive
About this page

Sadler's Wells Theatre Archive

Archives described on the Archives Hub are held in repositories across the UK

  • this Description
  • View XML | View PDF | View Text
This material is held at Islington Local History Centre
Reference Number(s) GB 1032 S/SWT
Dates of Creation c1712-2012
Name of Creator Sadler's Wells Theatre
Language of Material English
Physical Description 44 linear metres of boxed materials, plus 9 linear metres of volumes

Scope and Content

The collection covers the history of performance at Sadler's Wells as well as the buildings which have occupied the site, the personalities who have managed and performed at the theatre and the many financial difficulties Sadler's Wells has survived throughout its lifespan. This material includes:

  • Playbills (1793-1890)
  • Theatre programmes (1869 to present)
  • Production posters (mainly 1930s and 1970s-1990s)
  • Musical scores, including songs by the clown Joseph Grimaldi and Charles Dibdin (early 19th century to mid 20th century)
  • Scripts of plays and pantomimes (early/mid 19th century)
  • Newspaper cuttings, including early performance notices (1730s onwards) and criticisms (1770s onwards) and more recent cuttings including albums compiled by dates or themes
  • Scrapbooks and commemorative material (1920s-1980s)
  • Biographical material, concerning individuals including Grimaldi, actor/manager Samuel Phelps and the Dibdin family of dramatists/managers
  • Photographs (loose and in albums) of productions, sets and actors (1930s-1990s)
  • Illustrations and descriptions of the Sadler's Wells theatre buildings (mainly 19th century)

Around half of the collection comprises 20th century administrative records, including:

  • The Sadler's Wells Fund, established in the 1920s to save the theatre for the nation and to construct a new building which opened in 1931
  • The Sadler's Wells Foundation, a charitable trust established to continue funding the theatre (1925-1980)
  • Theatre management, including financial, administrative, staff and publicity records and material concerning further financial difficulties (1920s-1990s)
  • The Sadler's Wells opera and ballet schools (accounts, administration, student records, 1934-1951)
  • Production files for national and international tours and visiting productions (administrative/financial papers, photographs, cast and staging information, 1950s-1990s)
  • Arrangements during the Second World War, when Sadler's Wells was used as an air raid shelter
  • Building records (plans, consents, correspondence, 1920s-1990s)

Administrative / Biographical History

The Sadler's Wells site has been occupied by six different theatres since 1683. The first 'musick' house was built by a Mr Sadler, who also opened a fashionable spa there after rediscovering monastic springs believed to have medicinal properties. The spa declined in popularity but the theatre has survived through the centuries in many forms, including as an aquatic theatre staging patriotic plays in the early 1800s, a music hall showcasing acts such as Marie Lloyd and Harry Champion in the late 1800s and a drama, opera and ballet theatre in the 1930s and 1940s. The current theatre, which opened in 1998, is dedicated to international dance.

Conditions Governing Access

Open for consultation by appointment, although a small number of records containing sensitive personal data are closed.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopying is carried out at the discretion of staff, depending on the condition of the materials and according to the Local History Centre's photocopying policy, which is available on request. No photographs over 50 years old and no material over 100 years old may be copied. Copies of material still in copyright can be supplied for research use only. Written permission must be obtained from the archivist to publish or reproduce any material held in the Local History Centre. It is the responsibility of the researcher to obtain any necessary copyright clearance from the copyright holder.

Acquisition Information

The source of pre-20th century materials is unknown, although much of it may have been collected by staff at the Finsbury Public Library. The majority of the twentieth century records were received as a single deposit from Sadler's Wells Theatre in 1998 and several additional deposits have been transferred since then.


Ongoing accruals to this collection are expected.

Other Finding Aids

Online catalogue on Archives Hub.

Related Material

Additional material related to Sadler's Wells is held in several archive collections, including the V&A Theatre & Performance Collections, the University of Bristol Theatre Collection and the London Metropolitan Archives, as well as amongst personal papers in the archives of the King's College Archive Centre, Cambridge, and the Royal Northern College of Music.


Music halls

Corporate Names

Sadler's Wells Theatre

Geographical Names

Islington London
Clerkenwell London

Cataloguing Info

Title Sadler's Wells Theatre Archive
Creation Created by Allie Gillett Dillon using the cheshire for archives ead creation tool 2011-04-12

Sadler's Wells Theatre records purchased and collected by Finsbury Libraries

Reference Number(s) GB 1032 S/SWT/1
Dates of Creation 1712-2001
Physical Description 67.5 boxes and 21 oversize folders

Scope and Content

Material found within this section mainly relates to the history of Sadler's Wells up until the 1920s, this includes papers documenting the life of the theatre; production scripts, many of which are handwritten and annotated; press cuttings, posters, playbills, handbills and programmes which were used to publicise events at the theatre; song and music sheets; illustrations and photographs of the different buildings which have occupied the Sadler's Wells site; illustrations of performers and productions which have appeared at Sadler's Wells, and biographical material relating to people connected with the theatre. Some of the biographical material relates to artists who had close links with Sadler's Wells following the re-opening of the theatre in 1931.

Custodial History

The material in this section was deposited at Finsbury Library by a number of individuals. Finsbury Libraries purchased a vast quantity of material in 1922, including the production scripts, playbills and illustrations. Staff at Finsbury Library continued to add material to the collection, such as press cuttings relating to Sadler's Wells for example, and applied library reference numbers to some items. Members of the public on learning of the collection also donated items relating to Sadler's Wells to the archive. The collection was later transferred to Islington Local History Centre, who continued to add to it.

Legal, administrative and working papers

Reference Number(s) GB 1032 S/SWT/1/1
Dates of Creation 1770-1920
Physical Description 0.5 box and 2 oversize folders

Scope and Content

This series contains a small amount of mixed materials documenting the history of Sadler's Wells including examples of contracts and rules performers had to abide by; a sizeable number of tickets produced by Sadler's Wells; information on other, non theatrical, uses of Sadler's Wells and details of the ownership of the theatre lease and maintenance of the building.

Legal, administrative and working papers c 1770-1839

Reference Number(s) GB 1032 S/SWT/1/1/1
Dates of Creation 1770-1950
Physical Description 2 folders

Scope and Content

This file contains a playbill (c 1770) advertising a performance by Mrs Baker's company which claimed to be linked with Sadler's Wells, there is an article from 'Country Life' which was published in 1950 giving an explanation of the playbill's connection with Sadler's Wells. The file also contains cheques (1802); tickets (1808-c 1815); an indenture (1812) relating to the lease of Sadler's Wells; a printed copy of the 'Rules and Regulations for the Court of Rectitude' (1813); details of 'The Grand Panorama of Waterloo' which was displayed at Sadler's Wells in 1818; materials relating to the race course at Sadler's Wells (1827); tickets (1828-1839) and weekly balance sheets (1837).

Legal, administrative and working papers c 1855-1920

Reference Number(s) GB 1032 S/SWT/1/1/2
Dates of Creation 1855-1920
Physical Description 1 folder and 1 oversize folder

Scope and Content

This file contains a copy of a contract for those employed at Sadler's Wells during the management of Samuel Phelps and Thomas Longden Greenwood (c 1855); tickets (1857-1892); details of a 'special religious service' held at the theatre (1860); details of the sale of the lease of Sadler's Wells Theatre (1860); copies of two addresses given at Sadler's Wells in aid of the Clerkenwell Benevolent Society (1867 and 1872); an application form for shares in the Sadler's Wells skating rink and winter garden (1876); details of the sale of the lease of Sadler's Wells Theatre (1878); a letter requesting a script change in order for a Sadler's Wells production to be the same as one at the Royal Aquarium Theatre (1878); a list of the lease holders of Sadler's Wells from 1881-1915; a plan for the Grand Theatre, Islington (c 1888) containing annotations referring to Sadler's Wells; a invitation to an 'address on tarriff reform and imperial preference' held at Sadler's Wells (1913), and paperwork relating to the theatre building (1920).

Production scripts

Reference Number(s) GB 1032 S/SWT/1/2
Dates of Creation 1776-1876
Physical Description 8 boxes

Scope and Content

This series contains scripts of productions staged at Sadler's Wells. The majority of scripts are handwritten and contain stage directions. Some of the scripts also contain annotations and illustrations.

Production scripts-titled and dated

Reference Number(s) GB 1032 S/SWT/1/2/1
Dates of Creation 1776-1876

Scope and Content

The scripts in this section are nearly all handwritten, any published copies of scripts are indicated at file level. Some of the scripts contain stage directions and illustrations.

Sister Witches

Reference Number(s) GB 1032 S/SWT/1/2/1/1
Dates of Creation 1776
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

This script is incomplete. It has been dated from a press cutting in S/SWT/1/3/1/1.

The Man of the Black Forest

Reference Number(s) GB 1032 S/SWT/1/2/1/2
Dates of Creation 1820-1956
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

This folder contains the first two acts of this play. It also contains stage directions, scenery plans and a props list. The script is annotated in pencil, suggesting that it was used for the revival of the play in 1830. It also contains information on the history of the play which was written by theatre historian George Speaight in 1956.

Yellow Dwarf

Reference Number(s) GB 1032 S/SWT/1/2/1/3
Dates of Creation 1820
Physical Description 1 folder

Gog and Magog

Reference Number(s) GB 1032 S/SWT/1/2/1/4
Dates of Creation 1822
Physical Description 1 folder

The Smoked Miser; or, The Benefit of Hanging

Reference Number(s) GB 1032 S/SWT/1/2/1/5
Dates of Creation 1823
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

This is a copy of the published script.

Harlequin Faggot Maker and the Magic Bowl

Reference Number(s) GB 1032 S/SWT/1/2/1/6
Dates of Creation 1824
Physical Description 1 folder

Paul Jones

Reference Number(s) GB 1032 S/SWT/1/2/1/7
Dates of Creation 1827
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

This is a copy of the published script.

Theodore the Brigand

Reference Number(s) GB 1032 S/SWT/1/2/1/8
Dates of Creation 1830
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

This is a copy of the published script.

My Neighbours Wife

Reference Number(s) GB 1032 S/SWT/1/2/1/9
Dates of Creation 1833
Physical Description 1 folder

Cock a Doodle Do, or, Harlequin the Fairy of the Fiddlestick and Lost Shoe

Reference Number(s) GB 1032 S/SWT/1/2/1/10
Dates of Creation 1836
Physical Description 1 folder

Jim Crow; or, The Creole Ball

Reference Number(s) GB 1032 S/SWT/1/2/1/11
Dates of Creation 1836
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

This is a copy of the published script.


Reference Number(s) GB 1032 S/SWT/1/2/1/12
Dates of Creation 1837
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

This script is incomplete, it consists of the first scene titled 'Retreat of Big Ben.'

A Soldier and a Sailor, a Tinker and a Tailor

Reference Number(s) GB 1032 S/SWT/1/2/1/13
Dates of Creation 1837
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

This is a copy of the published script.

The Magic Pipe or Harlequin Tom the Pipers Son

Reference Number(s) GB 1032 S/SWT/1/2/1/14
Dates of Creation 1837
Physical Description 1 folder

Oliver Twist, or, The Parish Boy’s Progress

Reference Number(s) GB 1032 S/SWT/1/2/1/15
Dates of Creation 1838
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

This script has had a press review of the production stuck onto the inside of the front cover. It has had a press review of the production stuck onto the inside of the front cover.

The play is based on the serial written by Charles Dickens under the pseudonym ‘Boz’, which appeared in monthly installments in 'Bentley’s Miscellany' magazine from February 1837. It was performed at Sadler’s Wells in December 1838, before the serialisation was completed. The theatre was famed for its adaptations of popular novels of the time.

Marie or The Manor House of Mont Louvier

Reference Number(s) GB 1032 S/SWT/1/2/1/16
Dates of Creation 1839
Physical Description 2 folders

The Bride and the Prescribed, or, The Widow’s Nuptials

Reference Number(s) GB 1032 S/SWT/1/2/1/17
Dates of Creation 1840
Physical Description 1 folder

Scope and Content

This script is incomplete.

La Somnambula, or, The Female Tile Walker

Reference Number(s) GB 1032 S/SWT/1/2/1/18
Dates of Creation 1840
Physical Description 1 folder