Sadler's Wells Theatre Archive

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.

Access Information

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

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.

Other Finding Aids

Online catalogue on Archives Hub.

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.


Ongoing accruals to this collection are expected.

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.

Corporate Names