An archive of theatre history at the University of Bristol, including hundreds of thousands of scripts, photographs, costumes and designs, has been deemed of national significance and awarded official designated status.
The collection is one of the largest archives of British theatre and live art history in the world, with items spanning four centuries.
It has now been given official designated status by Arts Council England, which recognises collections deemed of national and international significance that are housed outside national museums.
Founded in 1951 to support the establishment of drama as an academic discipline in the UK, the University of Bristol Theatre Collection comprises the archives of several companies including Bristol Old Vic, the Old Vic in London, Desperate Men theatre company and Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory.
It also holds the archive of the Royal Theatrical Fund as well as personal archives of figures including designer Oliver Messel and My Night with Reg playwright Kevin Elyot.
Among the collection’s contents, which number hundreds of thousands of individual items, are document archives, artwork, costumes, playbills and posters, designs, photographs, props and scripts.
Jo Elsworth, the collection’s director, said: “We are absolutely delighted to receive this esteemed award of designated status from Arts Council England.
“The Theatre Collection is a truly unique archive; it is the culmination of over 60 years of support form actors, collectors, designers, directors, performers and writers, all of whom have helped us build this remarkable collection.”
The University of Bristol’s archive is now counted among 152 outstanding collections held in museums, libraries and archives across England that are part of Arts Council England’s Designation Scheme.
It is one of just three theatre-specific archives to feature on the list, alongside the Samuel Beckett Collection at the University of Reading, and the combined collections of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the Royal Shakespeare Company.
Other theatre-related items that feature in wider designated collections include a Shakespeare First Folio held at the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Library and the Shakespeare library housed within the Birmingham Libraries.
Phil Gibby, the Arts Council’s area director for the South West, said: “The outstanding collection [at the University of Bristol] is one of the world’s leading collections of British theatre history, and this award is a visible assertion of our belief in its enduring cultural value. The collection helps to deepen our understanding of the world and enriches our lives, which is why we’re so pleased to award it designation status.”