Winifred Dolan Collection

Scope and Content

Collection consists of handwritten and typed manuscripts for Dolan's autobiography A Chronicle of Small Beer, her biography of Sir Richard Whittington Whittington of London and a range of manuals and guides to theatrical production and stage management. There are also a variety of annotated prompt scripts as well as a guide for acting coaches, a book of music manuscripts and a book of poetry used by her to teach elocution to her pupils at New Hall. Also included is a collection of personal correspondence and photographs featuring autographed items from Ellen Terry and Henry Irving amongst others, and a small amount of other personal ephemera.

Administrative / Biographical History

Born in England in 1867, Winifred Dolan began her theatrical career in 1891, when she joined the company of the Margate Theatre Royal. Through her poet uncle Alfred Austin she came to meet Ellen Terry and Henry Irving, both of whom would later become friends and would go on to advise her throughout her career. She also maintained friendships with Edward Gordon Craig and Marion Terry amongst other theatrical luminaries. In 1891 she moved to London and joined St James' Theatre as an understudy, during which time she gained gradual recognition amongst her peers and theatre critics, but was never to establish herself as a successful lead actress. Her last performance on a public stage was in The Lion Hunter at the Imperial Theatre, 1901.

In 1896, on her return from a break from the stage spent in Paris, she was offered and accepted the post of secretary to George Alexander at St. James' Theatre. In the following years, when not acting, she also worked as a script-reader, a front-of-house manager, adapted novels for the stage and even wrote her own plays. Dolan struggled to have these taken up by theatres, but some were performed, notably Kynaston's Wife at St. James' Theatre and The Melcombe Marriage in Brighton, both in 1912.

Dolan retired in 1904 at the age of 35 and went to work as the secretary of the Women's Unionist Association. In 1918, Dolan's sister Aggie became Prioress at New Hall in Chelmsford, a convent with a school attached, and invited Dolan to become a lay teacher of drama and elocution. She accepted the post and went on to establish a dramatic tradition at the school which exists to this day. Dolan lived in a cottage on the New Hall grounds for many years and spent the last 12 years of her life living in the on-site infirmary due to ill-health. She died on 11th June 1958 and was buried in the Community cemetery.


This collection has been arranged into the following series:

  • THM/394/1 - A Chronicle of Small Beer manuscript
  • THM/394/2 - Production, Stage Management and Action Coach Guides
  • THM/394/3 - Shakespeare prompt scripts
  • THM/394/4 - Whittington of London Biography
  • THM/394/5 - New Hall teaching ephemera
  • THM/394/6 - New Hall prompt scripts
  • THM/394/7 - Personal Correspondence and Photographs
  • THM/394/8 - Theatre Programmes
  • THM/394/9 - Personal Ephemera

Access Information

This archive collection is available for consultation in the V&A Blythe House Archive and Library Study Room by appointment only. Full details of access arrangements may be found here:

Access to some of the material may be restricted. These are noted in the catalogue where relevant.

Acquisition Information

Purchased at Christie's auction, 14 December 2004

Conditions Governing Use

Information on copying and commercial reproduction may be found here:

Appraisal Information

This collection was appraised in line with the collection management policy.


No accruals expected.

Related Material

See also the core collections of the V&A Theatre and Performance Department. Material relating to Winifred Dolan may be found in the productions files, and a copy of her autobiography is held in the library collection.

The collection contains a Queen Victoria Brooch, which was removed and added to the museum object collection. The Museum reference number is S.1123-2011 and a record is available on Search the Collections

Please ask for details.