UK Philanthropy Archive Inaugural Shirley Lecture

As part of the ongoing launch of our UK Philanthropy Archive (UKPA) we’re very excited to announce a new series of lectures – the Shirley lectures, named after one of the founding UKPA collections, the Shirley Foundation papers.

The lecture will take place next Thursday (13th May) at 1pm online – you can sign up for a free place here.

Image of Dame Stephanie Shirley alongside text advertising the inaugural Shirley Lecture online at 1pm on Thursday 13 May 2021.

Join us for the inaugural Shirley Lecture, given by Dame Stephanie Shirley herself!

We are delighted that our first Shirley Lecture will be delivered by Dame Stephanie Shirley CH – IT entrepreneur and philanthropist who has generously donated the papers of the Shirley Foundation to the University of Kent, supporting the establishment the UK Philanthropy Archive.

Dame Stephanie , who arrived in the UK as an unaccompanied child refugee on the Kindertransport, went on to found a hugely successful IT software company that specialised in employing women. Dame Stephanie used the wealth she achieved in business to give back to society through her charitable foundation – the Shirley Foundation, which granted more than £60 million to a variety of projects before spending out in 2018. The inspiration for much of her philanthropy has been technology, after her professional interests, and autism, after her son Giles who was diagnosed as profoundly autistic.

For the inaugural Shirley Lecture – Dame Stephanie will talk about her life and her experiences, her charitable interests and philanthropy.

Signed copies of her books – ‘Let It Go’ and ‘So to Speak’ – will be available to order – with all proceeds going to Autistica – the UK’s leading autism research charity.

We hope you’ll be able to join us for what promises to be an unforgettable event!

For more information about the UK Philanthropy Archive – including recordings of past events – please see our webpages here.

Online access to Special Collections & Archives at Kent aided by funding grant

Exciting news for us (and for you)! 

Programme for the pantomime Dick Whittington, performed at Drury Lane theatre. The lavishly illustrated cover depicts hoards of people parading through a traditional town street.

Programme for the pantomime Dick Whittington, performed at Drury Lane theatre

University of Kent’s Special Collections & Archives service has been awarded over £110,000 to assist with the digitising of its collections, through the Capability for Collections (CapCo) fund, administered by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Special Collections & Archives, based in the Templeman Library, Canterbury campus, preserve and manage the University’s unique and distinctive collections so that they are accessible for the benefit of teaching, scholarship and society. Collections include the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive and British Cartoon Archive. They are proud to hold Archive Service Accreditation from the National Archives in recognition of their professional standards in acquiring, preserving and providing access to the collections.

Karen Brayshaw, Special Collections & Archives Manager explains:

“The funding will allow us to purchase vital digitising equipment to help with providing online access to the recently deposited Beaverbrook Foundation’s collection of original cartoon artworks and digitising the highly visual original costume designs, theatre playbills and posters from the David Drummond Pantomime Collection”.

The grant will also support collaborative opportunities across the Institute of Cultural and Creative Industries (ICCI) and Eastern ARC, enabling the University to participate in future special collections and archives digitisation projects.

Main image: Illustrated programme for the pantomime Dick Whittington at Drury Lane Theatre from the David Drummond Collection.

Further Information:

  • UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is investing £213m to expand and upgrade existing research infrastructure to help UK researchers tackle major challenges such as COVID-19 research and recovery, and net zero goals.
  • The projects, spread across the UK, will provide UK researchers with advanced equipment, facilities and technology, and cement the UK’s position as a world-leading research and innovation superpower.
  • The investment will ensure the UK is the best place in the world for scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs to live, work and innovate. This will help to power up economic recovery and level up the UK.
  • The £213m, from the government’s World Class Labs funding scheme and made through eight of UKRI’s constituent research councils, covers investments in all disciplines from physical sciences to arts and humanities.
  • This includes a landmark £15m investment in the arts and humanities which will go to securing the future of the UK’s galleries, libraries, archives and museums.
  • UKRI is investing £15m in the Capability in Collections fund as part of the World Class Labs project.

Kent’s Special Collections and Archives hold over 150 collections including:

  • The British Stand-Up Comedy Archive and popular and comic performance from the Victorian era to the present, including pantomime, melodrama and variety works including the David Drummond Pantomime Collection
  • The British Cartoon Archive and other cartoon artwork and publications, particularly satirical works
  • The history of the University of Kent and the local area
  • Photographs, scrapbooks, engineer records, and published books relating to wind and watermills
  • Collections of 20th century prose and poetry first editions.

For further information contact Karen Brayshaw, Special Collections & Archives Manager.

Boxes of archive material from the David Drummond Pantomime collection in the stores.

Materials from the David Drummond Pantomime Collection, awaiting digitisation.

Tip of the iceberg: work shadowing in SC&A

In addition to keeping the Templeman Library a welcoming place for all, our Learning Environment Assistant Christine Davies spent some time job-shadowing us in SC&A last year. We hope you enjoy this second blog post by her, read part one here.

I like to think of the Templeman Library as an iceberg.

As you enter the building, you encounter an expansive main collection – books, journals, DVDs, arranged by format and subject area across four blocks and as many floors. I work in Learning Environment (LE), where we manage the physical circulation of these items.

Lockdown in March 2020 meant closing the building and adapting our services, but before too long we were able to re-open a Covid-secure library. For LE, that included re-shelving end-of-term returns, numbering no fewer than 20,000 books! Fortunately, I have superb colleagues whose many hands make light work. And, to be honest, it was a welcome work-out after months of desk-based operations.

As we manoeuvre our book trolleys around the stacks, we also check spine conditions and sequencing to make sure the books are labelled and ordered correctly. This is all part of caring for a physical collection and making it accessible, something we really pride ourselves on. But it’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Templeman’s collections – which encompass a plethora of digital resources and unique special collections and archives (SC&A).

Last year, I did some job shadowing with the SC&A team, who were – as ever – incredibly generous with their time and expertise. It was quite the whirlwind adventure, and offered fresh perspectives into collection management and engagement. Over several weeks, I observed and assisted with different activities and processes which, together, gave me an overview of how items are accessioned, catalogued, and used for teaching and outreach.

My first day was spent in what felt like familiar territory, assisting Jo Baines with processing the miscellaneous books collection. As you might expect, the Templeman extension had required several stock moves, and this collection was now ready to be re-homed in SC&A’s basement store. However, this was quite different to the stock moves I was used to, since the biggest challenges in main collection are to move the books as quietly and expediently as possible, whilst spacing them appropriately to accommodate new and returning stock. In an archive setting, the process was at once slower and more exhilarating. The books had been wrapped in conservation-grade tissue paper, and stored in numbered crates with accompanying stock lists. Before they could be moved to a new shelf location, we had to assess their condition and conduct a stock check – unpacking, unwrapping, identifying and organising each item by turn. We had to check title pages and be alert to signs of mould. Whilst laborious, I was struck over and over by the sheer joy of handling rare books, particularly when I discovered items pertinent to my own research! Not only did I improve my object-handling skills, but I even came face to face with one of my eighteenth-century role models.


Black and white engraving of Dorothea Jordan (1761-1816) as Phaedra.

Fig. 1 Dorothea Jordan (1761-1816) as Phaedra. Amphitryon. SC&A Misc. Book Collection.

 Title page of edition of play Amphitryon

Fig. 2 Title page. Amphitryon. SC&A Misc. Book Collection.











I stumbled across these plays purely by chance, and this was a reminder of how simple curiosity can pay off. Since working for LE gives me essentially VIP access, I am well used to the benefits of shelf-browsing; this exercise in SC&A just made me realise how challenging it can be to make archive material accessible. Special collections are, as the name indicates, special – specific conditions must be met for storing and handling them. Their searchability therefore relies greatly on the digital, and it is the cataloguer’s task to extract meaningful data from each object so that it can be reliably represented on a virtual platform.

I spent some of my job shadowing observing University Archivist Tom Kennett and Metadata Library Assistant Jennie-Claire Crate as they respectively catalogued the University of Kent’s archive and the Max Tyler book collection. These are huge projects, and I only observed a fraction of their work, but found it fascinating. Jennie was working on a database I was familiar with, the software behind LibrarySearch. Depending on the book she was cataloguing, she might find an existing record that could be duplicated or would create one from scratch, deftly translating bibliographic detail into cataloguing code. What struck me was her attention to detail, seeking to capture as much information as would be useful to future researchers. The Max Tyler collection pertains to music hall and vaudeville traditions, and includes material on contemporary performance practices like blackface. Thus, besides cataloguing techniques, this prompted a more general conversation about classification, erasure and racial politics. In the wake of Black Lives Matter I feel again how imperative such conversations are, as they inform more and more of what we do across the Templeman generally to subvert racism and support diversity. Everything is political.

Display case with elements from the Diaries of the Here and Now exhibition

Fig. 3 Taking down Diaries of the Here and Now exhibition

One of SC&A’s collection strengths is, in fact, political cartoons, and these formed the basis of a recent exhibition in the Templeman, dedicated to John Tenniel and the enduring influence of his Alice in Wonderland illustrations. Curated by Tom and Jo, I was able to help with the physical installation, taking down the preceding exhibition, and subsequently retrieving and arranging the new material. I took before and after shots of the process, which was naturally hands-on and organic, but not without its challenges! With objects that are so varied in themselves, each one has to be considered both on its own and in conjunction with others to create a visually appealing and cohesive narrative. And, of course, they have to work in the assigned space. Tom and Jo had already short-listed items, thought of a thematic structure, and done an extraordinary amount of research for the accompanying captions. The table-top cabinet (pictured below) served as a space to introduce Tenniel as a political cartoonist, whilst three wall cabinets show-cased political work by later artists inspired, respectively, by the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter’s tea party, and the Tweedle-twins. It wasn’t until we could handle the material and position it in the cabinets, however, that we could make final judgment calls on what worked – a sort of three-dimensional edit. I found this experience particularly rewarding and it taught me a lot of the practical skills needed in preparing objects for display. We had to make bespoke arrangements to support different media types, using cushions, snakes, Perspex book rests, command strips, transparencies and acid-free card, the latter cut to size to suit newspaper cuttings, facsimiles, and original art works. So it was, you might say, quite the vocabulary lesson too!

Display case with elements of the Politics in Wonderland: Sir John Tenniel at 200 exhibition

Fig. 4 Installing Politics in Wonderland: Sir John Tenniel at 200 exhibition

Whilst exhibitions form a principal part of SC&A’s outreach, and greatly contribute to the cultural life of the Templeman, I also learned more about their other engagement activities, helping Jo run a seminar with a local secondary school group. SC&A have strong links with the University’s academic schools and Partnership Development Office, and would (prior to the pandemic) regularly run these sessions from their reading room (a service they will surely revive as soon as it is safe to do so). Jo designed this particular session around the pupils’ curricular interest in the War of the Roses, selecting material to show how this historical event had been recorded and adapted from early modern times to the present. This was, for many of the pupils, their first visit to an archive; perusing early texts like Holinshed’s Chronicles therefore prompted conversation not only about Plantagenets, but about printing and book history itself. We were greatly helped by staff and students from the Schools of History and European Culture and Languages, and it was great to witness the pupils’ growing confidence over the course of the session, consolidated, rather colourfully, on handy post-its.

Books on support cushions for War of the Roses: text and adaptation seminar

Fig. 5 War of the Roses: text and adaptation seminar, SC&A Reading Room.

Coloured post-it notes on window in Special Collections reading room from War of the Roses: text and adaptation seminar

Fig. 6 War of the Roses: text and adaptation seminar, SC&A Reading Room.










Looking back, I really had some fantastic experiences with SC&A which helped build collegiality and strengthened my understanding of our different services and resources. I have always been an advocate of job-shadowing and cross-team working, and my thanks go to the whole team for making me welcome.

SC&A in review: 2020 edition

There’s no doubt that 2020 has been a markedly different year from the one we anticipated when writing last year’s annual review blog post. Like many of you, the Special Collections & Archives team have been working frequently from home since March – but that doesn’t mean we’ve been any less busy. As the end of year (thankfully) draws to a close, we’re taking the time to reflect on what we’ve achieved and hope that this compilation sends a little bit of archive magic out to your screens!  

Karen (Special Collections and Archives Manager): “What a contrast 2020 has been compared to 2019! The SC&A team, along with most other employees at the University, moved to working from home on 23rd March and we are mostly still there. We still meet at least once a week but now instead of booking a meeting room or bagging a table (and coffee) in the Library Café we now get together via our computer screens (coffee included)!  

Working remotely has presented us with opportunities to tackle some of the tasks which get overlooked and pushed aside in a busy office. Early in lockdown much of my time was taken up working on a grant application to support a project to catalogue and promote our amazing David Drummond Pantomime Collection. Our application was not successful this time round – while it was disappointing news it has given me the opportunity to delve deeper into this wonderful collection and to discover some of its hidden treasures – I’m currently exploring boxes of libretti or books of words from the mid 19th century to the mid-twentieth century. Some of them are just books of words but some have gorgeous illustrations. So far, my favourite find is Sinbad the Sailor, closely followed by Mother Goose and Dick Whittington…I could go on…It feels especially important that we catalogue this collection given the devasting effect that the virus has had on live pantomime performances around the country this year 

Brightly illustrated programme cover for the Mother Goose pantomime at Drury Lane. [David Drummond Pantomime Collection]

Brightly illustrated programme cover for the Mother Goose pantomime at Drury Lane, 1902. [David Drummond Pantomime Collection]

Lavishly illustrated programme for the pantomime Dick Whittington at Drury Lane theatre. [David Drummond Collection]

Lavishly illustrated programme for the pantomime Dick Whittington at Drury Lane theatre. [David Drummond Collection]

The rest of the team have been keeping busy too: Tom has worked on and off campus on the ever-expanding University archive, while Jo has worked on new and remote ways of delivering our popular teaching sessions. Jennie has had great fun cataloguing some of Martin Rowson’s digital cartoons (so funny!) The Max Tyler Music Hall collection has benefitted from the attentions of Clair, who has now catalogued all the research files and Mandy enjoyed scanning some of the sheet music, some of which has been recorded and uploaded by Dan Harding, Head of Music Performance at Kent it really brings our collection to life. You can listen to this recording here. Beth, our project archivist for the UK Philanthropy Archive, has continued to spread the good news about our developing collection as well as delivering an excellent online event.  

Working from home has meant that much of our volunteer work stopped abruptly in the spring – we miss our volunteer community very much and hope that we can welcome back our regular team as well as some new ones – watch this space! Having said that we did manage to set up Daniella, who was able to transcribe and translate indentures from Ronald Baldwin collection from home. See her blog post here: Thanks to Daniella’s great work we have been able to enhance our catalogue records.”  

Tom (University Archivist): “This year my highlight was the opportunity to dedicate more time than usual to looking after and developing the University of Kent Archive. This large and important collection charts the development of the University of Kent through the initial planning and development of the site in the early 1960s, its foundation in 1965, and through the succeeding 55 years of educational achievement. 

Though records of the University’s activities and decision-making processes have always been collected, it was not until relatively recently these have been gathered together in a dedicated space within the Templeman Library. As a result, a considerable backlog of archival work has built up, and the collection requires sorting, duplicate-thinning, repackaging, cataloguing and being physically arranged in its dedicated storeroom. 

Because my other SC&A duties have been less pressing, this year I’ve been able to make proper headway in carrying out essential collections development work with this archive, including consolidating the various caches of documents in the library into a single space, commencing weeding of the various runs of published information such as annual reports and prospectuses, grouping similar records and records from the same department together, and commencing cataloguing of important papers like those of Eric Fox, the first Registrar of Kent. This interesting collection includes papers on the establishment and development of the University and the various crises (usually student led) that afflicted the university in its first 12 years.

Black and white photograph of Eric Fox, first Registrar of the University of Kent, and his wife Mary on the University of Kent campus.

Eric Fox, first Registrar of the University of Kent, and his wife, Mary. July 1982 [V.453]

Working from home has also given us the opportunity to catalogue the University’s extensive photograph collection which my colleague Rachel has been working on. Rachel is also a Kent alumna so her knowledge is proving doubly useful in getting context from the images.

Black and white photograph showing a party in the Registry Office, 1990, complete with Santa and a pantomime horse. [University of Kent Archive, 1471.2]

Black and white photograph showing a party in the Registry Office, 1990, complete with Santa and a pantomime horse. [University of Kent Archive, 1471.2]

The University Archive also took receipt of two large and significant collections in autumn 2020: records of Eliot College and records of the Faculty Office. Watch this space for updates to our catalogue throughout 2021 as these collections are catalogued and made accessible to our readers.” 

Jo (Senior Library Assistant): “Throughout this year I’ve often joked that because my job involves collections and people, 2020 has meant a definite shift in my working environment. Whilst this is true (I very much miss introducing students to our collections in person), it’s been a great opportunity to develop our digital learning offer and create content that will hopefully serve our communities for years to come.  

Gif showing slides introducing Special Collections & Archives to students. There is a lot of colour and spider diagrams.

Gif showing slides introducing Special Collections & Archives to students. There is a lot of colour and spider diagrams.

I particularly enjoyed making videos of some items from our collections to help support teaching; rather than single images, filming archives helps viewers get a sense of the physicality of the object and hopefully encourages them to come and see items in person when it’s safe to do so. Our Artists’ Books Collection was the perfect example of this: the books rely (and sometimes play with) our sense of touch to convey their meaning, and it was lovely to see some of these works and convey my knowledge and enthusiasm for them digitally. You can view an example of these videos here

On a completely different note, there has been a wealth of digital learning and training created this year and it’s been really nice to have the opportunity to develop skills that being on campus doesn’t always allow for. Thanks to Kent’s Learning and Organisational Development team I completed six weeks of British Sign Language training over the summer which will hopefully serve our users well in future. I also finally got certification for my MA, so I guess I’m ‘officially’ a Librarian now! 

Jennie (Library Assistant – Curation & Discovery): “My role is to describe the items in our Special Collections and Archives and make them easy to find on our library search systems. Traditionally this is done with the item in hand, but of course this year a new approach had to be found. Luckily, we have a large and ever-growing collection of political cartoons by Martin Rowson in digital format just waiting for someone to add them to the catalogue – and that someone was me!  

A complex cartoon by Martin Rowson entitled 'Giving up the Ghost'. Prime Minister Boris Johnson lies in a hospital bed with several other Conservative MPs looking rather ill as a ghostly Theresa May floats away. A curtain pulled back reveals a confused Jeremy Corbyn in the next bed.

‘Giving up the Ghost’ by Martin Rowson, 9th June 2019, The Guardian. MRD1351, British Cartoon Archive

I was able to download the images at home and access our archival cataloguing system remotely to add some of Rowson’s fantastic satirical cartoons to our database. My personal favourite so far is Giving up the Ghost because it took a lot of detective work to figure out who all the politicians were, and because the Nigel Farage snake under the bed makes me laugh. It also features Rowson’s famous ‘fur cups’, which I make sure to add to the catalogue record when they appear. Rowson himself explained what the fur cups mean on Twitter: 

Screenshot of a Twitter conversation between John Waterworth and Martin Rowson. Waterworth asks Rowson, Great roller coaster! Can you say what the hairy teacups represent in your cartoons? Rowson responds, Fur cups. As surrealist tropes their name should be spoken with a French accent. Try it.

Exchange between John Waterworth and Martin Rowson on Twitter explaining the fur cups present in Rowson’s cartoons.

I’m sure you can work it out.”  

Clair (Digital Archivist): “I’m sure I’m not the first to mention that this year has been a very different experience of working in Special Collections & Archives! For the most part we’ve been distant from our collections in a physical sense, but this in turn has provided the opportunity for us to focus on some of the more admin-heavy collection tasks that we seldom get to focus on in the “normal world”.  

Triage of photographs of research files from the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection.

Triage of photographs of research files from the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection.

This year feels like a difficult one to draw highlights from, but there have certainly been some satisfying and enjoyable moments for me. First up, we’ve taken a few steps to improving access to our collections this year. I had the pleasure of cataloguing the entirety of Max Tyler’s research files. I won’t go in to too much depth here as I wrote a blog post on the subject back in October 2020, but just to say that it’s an impressive collection that touches on many subjects, performers, and music hall songs. You can browse the entire collection here. My colleagues have made tremendous progress with cataloguing our collection of Martin Rowson digital cartoons. This is an active collection with continuous accruals, so it’s great to see them getting added to our online catalogue. We have managed to clear our scanning backlog of newspaper cartoon cuttings with help from our Digital Imaging team. And last up, our collections can now be found on The National Archive’s Discovery platform 

Finally, I had the opportunity to develop my skills in social media archiving this year, collecting tweets on the subject of philanthropy during the covid-19 pandemic for the UK Philanthropy Archive. This piece of work not only enabled me to learn some coding skills in Python programming language, but also meant I got to work closely with my colleague Beth Astridge to develop a collection for our newest archive!” 

Mandy (Library Assistant – Digital Imaging): “I have really enjoyed scanning the music sheets from our Max Tyler Collection! They are so delicate and the pictures are so pretty. Seeing the music sheets as how they used to be has been great.”  

Colour illustrated cover of a music sheet from the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection entitled Victory and Peace Grand March

Colour illustrated cover of a music sheet from the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection entitled “Victory and Peace Grand March”

Beth (Project Archivist – UK Philanthropy Archive): “As with the rest of the Special Collections & Archives team – 2020 has been a year of challenges and disruption – but also a year of new ways of working and opportunities to explore. There are several things that happened in the UK Philanthropy Archive this year that I think are worth celebrating!  

I have focussed some time on making connections, spreading awareness about the UK Philanthropy Archive, and talking to potential donors about their collections. As always, it is so interesting to hear about the different trusts and foundations out there, to catch up with people who are passionate about the organisation they represent and the causes they support and begin to explore how they might ensure the long-term preservation of their archives.  

COVID-19 has had a notable impact on the philanthropic sector – with many funders pausing grants, diverting funds to COVID emergency schemes, and adopting more flexible grants programmes and support mechanisms. To capture a record of some of this rapid change in the philanthropic sector we have developed an archive collection of the tweets coming from many of philanthropic sector organisations and individuals during 2020. It has been fascinating to investigate how to do this, and my colleague Clair (Digital Archivist) has written about her work on this elsewhere on this blog!  

Screenshot of attendees at the official virtual launch of the UK Philanthropy Archive, November 2020.

Screenshot of attendees at the official virtual launch of the UK Philanthropy Archive, November 2020.

In March 2020 we had planned a big event to launch the UK Philanthropy Archive with a seminar and the inaugural Shirley Lecture to be delivered by the wonderful Dame Stephanie Shirley. Sadly, we had to postpone, and the event was split into two separate events. We held the first of these – a virtual seminar on Archives of Philanthropy in November, which officially launched the UK Philanthropy Archive! This brought together researchers, archivists, funders and others from the philanthropic sector to talk about the opportunities and challenges of keeping archives about philanthropy. It was well attended with lots of great presentations and interesting questions – and if you missed it – the recordings are available on our website! A big thank you to all the speakers who did an amazing job in communicating why collecting archives from the philanthropic sector is so important.  

There is so much to look forward to in 2021 from the UK Philanthropy Archive. As well as more collections being deposited with us, getting back to cataloguing and getting the collections available for research, and several oral history interviews planned, we have the inaugural Shirley Lecture (in May 2021), as well as another exciting seminar – so keep an eye out for more information on our webpages.”

The SC&A team wish you a peaceful and safe Christmas and New Year and we hope you can connect with loved ones near and far. We’re closed for Christmas from Friday (18th December) and will be back in the (virtual) office from Monday 4th January 2021.  



Don’t Dilly Dally on the Research

You may remember reading about the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection in our #musichallvareityday blog post. Today we’re going to delve a little deeper in to one part of this rich and impressive collection – the research files!

It goes without saying that Max was a great fan of music hall, and he was known by many for his specialist knowledge of the subject. But Max was also a diligent organiser and an avid researcher of music hall, and this is reflected in the research files within this collection.

Examples of the research files in Max’s collection.

Whilst working as the British Music Hall Society’s historian and archivist he would receive many queries from people all over the world. Max would always go the extra mile when responding to these queries, often carrying out a substantial amount of research on the enquirer’s behalf. He seemed to have a knack for knowing where to look for the most elusive of details, and his knowledge of obscure music hall songs was second to none. The outcomes of this research, alongside his own research for the various articles, publications and presentations he produced, was compiled into these files.

There are 183 files in the collection, on topics from individual performers, composers and historic events, through to animals, horse racing and trains. The majority of the contents is photocopied sheet music and songsheets, but they also contain biographies, published articles and newspaper cuttings, copies of photographs, print outs from the internet, and email correspondence, alongside some original examples of ephemera, songsheets and postcards.

So, what do we have here…?

Within the collection there are:

  • 115 files on specific performers, covering such well-known artists as Vesta Tilley, Gus Elen, Marie Lloyd and Dan Leno. Male performers make up almost 65% of this sub-series of files, whilst only 32% focus on female performers. There are also 3 files about double-acts and one about a performance group (The Co-Optimists).
  • 12 files on specific subjects, including racing, the Salvation Army, football, railways, the genealogy of music hall, and ballooning!
  • 5 files about specific theatres, which includes the Musical Comedy and Gaiety Theatre (London), the Palace and Middlesex music halls, The Windmill (London), and two about the Players Theatre (London).
  • 4 files about historic events; the Suffragette movement, the Jameson Raid, the Anglo-Zulu war, and the Princess Alice Paddle Steamer Disaster
  • 3 files about a specific show or production, two about the stage show ‘Trilby’, and one about the BBC radio show ‘Palace of Varieties’.
  • And 1 file about a historic figure (it’s Queen Victoria)

There are also 43 files on less specific topics, such as ‘Songwriters’ and ‘Artistes’, collations of print outs and requests from research institutions like the Bodleian Library, or alphabetised folders containing collated resources and songs.

The most frequent words to appear in the catalogue records of the research files in the Max Tyler Music Hall Collection.

Some highlights…

Now, files full of photocopies of published songsheets may not sound too exciting, however there are some real gems amongst the collection…

A songsheet for the song ‘Lambeth Walk’ which includes dance moves on the back

MWT/RES/166 – Lambeth Walk Songsheet, from ‘Me and My Girl’, with Lupino Lane, George Graves and Teddie St Denis, music by Noel Gay.


Photograph of the performer Chris Beeching looking very dapper in character as Champagne Charlie, for a production of a show performed at Wilton’s Music Hall in 2013.

MWT/RES/067 – Black and white photograph of Christopher Beeching dressed as Champagne Charlie for a 2013 production directed by Glyn Idris Jones. Photograph credited to Dan Savident.

Sheet music for a song about our local seaside town Margate, called ‘Merry Margate’.Check out an audio rendition here, performed by our very own Dan Harding from the Kent music department!

MWT/RES/167 – Photocopy of sheet music and lyrics for ‘Merry Margate’, written and composed by Lloyd G. Williams.

A souvenir folio from the first production of ‘Trilby’ on the stage in London, 30th Ocotber, 1895. Includes a cast list and photographic plates of the cast members in costume.

MWT/RES/008 – Small folio souvenier programme of Paul M. Potter’s ‘Trilby’, performed at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket on 30th October, 1895

That’s not to say all of the material within this collection is joyous and full of whimsy. The music hall tradition reflected societal norms of the day, and whilst many songs were intended to be satirical or comical, they did sometimes include racial stereotyping, blackface, stories of domestic abuse and/or offensive and outdated language. Whilst this can be upsetting and shocking to see, and to process and catalogue, it is important that we accurately record these terms and depictions in the interest of historical accuracy. Removing this material, censoring, or replacing these terms with modern equivalents, would risk falsifying the historical record and would in itself be problematic.

This collection has the potential to support some very interesting research projects. There is material here that could be used to research topics such as the representation of People of Colour in theatre, male and female impersonation around the turn of the century, or perhaps how humour was used to tell stories of poverty and depravation.

We’ve recently completed the cataloguing of the files, all of which you can now review on our online catalogue. If you’re interested in seeing anything in the files, just get in touch with us at!