Manchester City Council

Libraries Theatre Collection

Manchester Libraries hold this collection of theatre material which is unique to Manchester. The collection aims to cover Manchester's theatres from the mid 18th century to the present day. It has been built up from the beginnings of the public library service in Manchester and continues to this day. It contains:

  • Programmes and playbills
  • Posters and handbills
  • Newspaper cuttings
  • Scrapbooks, postcards and other memorabilia
  • Photographs
  • Books, periodicals and manuscripts
  • Architectural plans

Material from most theatres past and present is available, with long runs of playbills and programmes for the Theatre Royal, Prince's Theatre, Palace Theatre, Opera House, the Royal Exchange Theatre and the Library Theatre. Music hall is less well represented but material is available on the Broadhead Circuit. Manchester was also the location of the first English repertory company founded by Annie Horniman at the Gaiety Theatre and there is a substantial collection of material on this including correspondence from Annie Horniman. Amateur theatre groups and theatrical societies such as the Unnamed Society are also included.

Useful publications

  1. Manchester Theatres by Terry Wyke and Nigel Rudyard. 1994. Contains a general history of theatre in Manchester, an alphabetical list of theatres and a brief history of each, and a detailed guide to the contents of the collection. (Copies of this are still available from the Arts Library at a cost of £6.95).
  2. The Early Manchester Theatre (1750-1807) by J L Hodgkinson and R Pogson 1960
  3. Annie Horniman: a pioneer in the theatre by Sheila Gooddie. 1990

Registering to use the Theatre Collection

Registering to use material

Because of the irreplaceable nature of much of the collection you will need to apply in advance to look at material in this archive. A prior visit will help you identify which items you wish to consult.

How to find what you want

The collection is in a special storage area which is not open to the public, so you will need to use our catalogues to select what you want to see. Material acquired prior to 1995 is listed in the card catalogues and in the book Manchester Theatres by Wyke and Rudyard. Material acquired after this date is listed on the computer catalogue.

There is also a special card index (the Theatre Index) giving dates and details (from the items in the collection) of actual performances which have taken place in local theatres from the eighteenth century to the present day.

Ask the staff to check the Theatre Index for information on:

  • Actors, actresses, music hall artistes etc. 
  • Theatre, ballet and opera companies
  • Titles of plays, shows and productions

    Only actors taking major roles have been indexed (though an attempt has been made to index well known actors in early roles).

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