Alfred Darbyshire Collection

  • Reference
      GB 133 ADC
  • Dates of Creation
      1665-1938 [bulk 1860s-1900s]
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      5 series; 24 items. 2 linear metres. The collection is in fair condition. The contents of many of the albums are affected by foxing and some of the bindings are in a fragile state, with loose boards and loose leaves. More specific information is provided in the item-level descriptions below.
  • Location
      Collection available at the John Rylands Research Institute & Library.

Scope and Content

The collection largely comprises fourteen large albums compiled by Alfred Darbyshire, in which are mounted autograph letters, cuttings from newspapers and periodicals, playbills, theatre programmes, printed ephemera, watercolour sketches, and photographs. The bulk of the correspondence, cuttings and printed items relates to Darbyshire’s interests in theatrical matters (such as his organisation of the Charles Calvert Memorial Performance in Manchester in 1879) and his membership of social and professional organisations in Manchester.

Notable correspondents include Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Ford Madox Brown, Charles and Adelaide Calvert, Walter Crane, Charles Dickens junior, Emily Faithfull, Annie Ireland, Henry Irving, George Du Maurier, Val Prinsep, George Gilbert Scott, Frederic James Shields, Ellen Terry, Ellen Lancaster Wallis, Genevieve Ward, Hon. Lewis Strange Wingfield, and W. B. Yeats.

The nine photograph albums in ADC/3 contain photographs of: buildings, predominantly in Manchester and the North West of England, designed or restored by Alfred Darbyshire and his partnership, Darbyshire and Smith; other buildings and street scenes in Manchester and Salford; cathedrals, abbeys, castles and historic houses in Britain, Ireland, Italy and other European countries, Egypt and the United States.

The additional materials in ADC/5 include a manuscript catalogue of books, autograph letters and artworks owned by Alfred Darbyshire; an album of photographs of members of Alfred Darbyshire’s family, as well as of his friends and associates, members of the professional and gentry classes from Manchester and its environs, and figures from the wider worlds of the theatre, art and literature; and an album of sketches and drawings by Alfred Darbyshire.

The collection is relevant to studies of architecture, the theatre, literature, the social and cultural history of Manchester, the history of photography, and the history of popular culture in the second half of the 19th century.

Administrative / Biographical History

Alfred Darbyshire (1839-1908), architect, was born on 20 June 1839 in Salford, Lancashire. Descended from an old Quaker family, he was the son of William Darbyshire and Mary Bancroft and a nephew of George Bradshaw, originator of the famous railway guides. Following education at several Quaker schools, Darbyshire was articled to the Manchester architect Peter Bradshaw Alley in 1855 and he also attended Manchester School of Art. On 10 August 1870 Darbyshire married Sarah Marshall (1838-1933), daughter of William Marshall of Westmorland; they had four children: Anna Gertrude (b. 1872), Ethel Mary Ada (b. 1873), Percy William (b. 1875) and Hester Margaret (b. 1880); Hester married Guy Christian Thornely in 1917.

Darbyshire established his own architectural practice in St James Square, Manchester, in 1862. In January 1886 he entered into partnership with Frederick Bennett Smith (b. 1863) as Darbyshire & Smith; the partnership was dissolved in 1905. Darbyshire is best known as a theatrical architect. He built the Comedy Theatre (1884; later called the Gaiety) in Manchester and carried out alterations at the Theatre Royal, the Prince’s Theatre and the Palace of Varieties in the city. He also designed a theatre at Rawtenstall, Lancashire, and altered and decorated the Lyceum Theatre (London) in 1878 for Henry Irving, with whom he developed the ‘Irving–Darbyshire safety plan’ (1884), which involved separating the audience from the stage with a fire-proof curtain and the provision of protected escape routes. The plan was first fully implemented in his rebuilding of the Theatre Royal in Exeter (1889), following the disastrous fire that killed nearly two hundred people in 1887. His other major buildings include: Alston Hall, Lancashire (1876); the churches of St Cyprian (1899) and St Ignatius (1900) in Salford; and the Carnegie Library in Knutsford, Cheshire (1903-4). He was an associate (1864) and vice-president (1902-5) of the Royal Institute of British Architects. From 1901 to 1903 he was president of the Manchester Society of Architects and he encouraged the foundation of a chair of architecture at the Victoria University of Manchester.

Darbyshire was a keen amateur actor in his earlier years and had many theatrical friends, including Charles Calvert (1828-1879) and Sir Henry Irving (1838-1905). He was one of Calvert’s executors and organized the Calvert memorial performances at Manchester in October 1879, securing the involvement of several leading actors, artists and literary figures including George Du Maurier, Herman Merivale, Lewis Wingfield, and Helen Faucit, with Darbyshire acting the part of the nobleman Jaques in As You Like It. He was one of the original members of the Brasenose Club, Manchester, formed in 1869 to ‘promote the association of gentlemen of Literary, Scientific, or Artistic Professions, Pursuits, or Tastes’. Other members included Charles Hallé, Alexander Ireland, Alfred Waterhouse and Henry Enfield Roscoe.

Darbyshire also published many books, pamphlets and articles on architecture and the theatre, including The Booke of Olde Manchester and Salford (1887), An Architect’s Experiences: Professional, Artistic, and Theatrical (1897) and The Art of the Victorian Stage (1907). Copies of the two last works are present in the archive.

Alfred Darbyshire died on 5 July 1908 and was buried at Flixton parish church. There are several photographs of the interior of St Michael’s, Flixton, in ADC/4 below.

Sources: ‘Alfred Darbyshire’, Architects of Greater Manchester 1800-1940 website, [accessed 22 May 2021]; Ian Dungavell, ‘Darbyshire, Alfred (1839–1908), architect’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), [accessed 22 May 2021].


The collection has been arranged into five series: 

  • ADC/1: Albums of autographs, portraits and drawings, 1665-1907 [bulk 1879-1900];
  • ADC/2: Scrapbook, 1797-1901 [bulk 1890-1900];
  • ADC/3: Photograph albums, 1851-1905;
  • ADC/4: Loose photographs, n.d. [?1880s-1890s];
  • ADC/5: Additional materials, 1850s-1938 [bulk 1860s-1900s].

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The bulk of the collection was purchased by the Library at auction at Capes Dunn, Manchester, on 16 February 1999, having been alerted to the sale by Mr David Wilmore of Theatresearch.

The additional material comprising ADC/5 was purchased by the Library from the bookseller Roger Treglown of Macclesfield in 2013.

Conditions Governing Use

Photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The bulk of the collection had formerly been kept at Moseley Hall, Cheadle, Cheshire, the home of Moseley Hall Grammar School from 1946 until its relocation to new premises in 1970, after which the hall was demolished. The retiring headmaster of the school gave the collection to an unknown gentleman around 1980, who put the collection up for auction at Capes Dunn, Manchester, on 16 February 1999.

The previous history of the additional material comprising ADC/5 is not known.


No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

The Library also holds the Darbyshire Heraldic Collection, comprising two notebooks on the heraldry of Henry V and Richard III and a bound volume of notes made by Alfred Darbyshire on heraldry; ref. Eng MS 100 and Eng MS 292.


Adelaide Helen Calvert, Sixty-Eight Years on the Stage (London: Mills & Boon, 1911). [accessed 22 May 2021].

Alfred Darbyshire, An Architect’s Experiences: Professional, Artistic, and Theatrical (Manchester: J. E. Cornish, 1897) [accessed 22 May 2021].

‘Alfred Darbyshire’, Architects of Greater Manchester 1800-1940 website, [accessed 22 May 2021].

Ian Dungavell, ‘Darbyshire, Alfred (1839–1908), architect’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004), [accessed 22 May 2021].

Geographical Names