Collection of Edgar Hockley Drawings

Scope and Content

The archive comprises approximately 730 small sheets of paper of various quality and type including letters, bills and used envelopes, featuring sketches by Edgar Hockley (1860-1938) of characters in costume, accessories, scenery, properties, wigs and headdresses in ink, graphite, watercolour, gouache and crayon from over 50 theatrical productions, almost all staged at London theatres between 1887 and 1923. Hockley appears to have sketched at more than one of Buffalo Bill’s London performances; at the opening of Parliament in 1905, and at unidentified variety venues including the Palace Theatre of Varieties. The types of performances he attended as evidenced by these sketches cover a wide range, but his taste ran to spectacular and colourful productions, especially those of Henry Irving, Herbert Beerbohm Tree, and Frank Benson. Among the earliest drawings in this collection are those of Irving’s Macbeth at the Lyceum Theatre in 1888, and he clearly relished the scenic feast of Irving’s Dante which he sketched in 1903. Hockley also made tracings, and copied postcard portraits of leading actresses of the day including Sarah Bernhardt, Ada Rehan, and Ellen Terry, and of published photographs, such as a group photograph of members of the company of Richard II at His Majesty’s Theatre in 1903. His nude sketches show that he also copied classical sculpture or paintings, and display a confidence that may be evidence of sketching from life models during training as a wood engraver.

The majority of the sketches are inscribed by the artist in pen and ink or pencil with meticulous manuscript notes on colours and materials of the subjects depicted. The notes appear to have been an aide-memoire for the small colour and wash images on cartridge paper that Hockley would have executed subsequently, many of which have pin-holes in the corners indicating that they were pinned up. None of the sketches is signed but some include names of characters within the notes. The drawings were kept by Edgar Hockley in coarse handmade brown paper packets inscribed with the names of the production. Many were stored within these envelopes in sheets of folded paper occasionally inscribed with the date on which he saw the production. Over the years many of these sheets have been replaced in the wrong envelopes however, and although the current attributions have been researched as far as possible, there are still some unidentified drawings while others may still be misfiled or relate to productions for which there were no packets.

Administrative / Biographical History

Edgar Hockley was born in London in 1860. His birth was registered in Islington as the son of Thomas Browning Hockley, a tavern licensee in London, and Mary Ann Webb. They married in April 1860 at St. Andrew’s church, Holborn, when she must have been pregnant with Edgar. His father was a widower, his first wife Susanna Sarah Saunders having died in 1857. Thomas and Susanna had four children - Eliza, George, Annie and Arthur. Eliza and Arthur predeceased their mother.

Edgar Hockley, his parents and his step-sister Annie lived in Lower Clapton, Hackney, when Edgar was a child. The 1871 census reveals that Mary Ann, Edgar and Annie were living there then, after his father’s death in December 1866 at the age of 54. By April 1881, the date of the census, Edgar and his mother had moved to 19, Prospect Road, Walthamstow, his step-sister having moved to Lewisham before her marriage to George Taplin in 1878. Walthamstow at this date was rapidly changing from a rural agricultural area to a busy residential one as land-owners of two large estates had released land for building and gravel extraction, and rapid development was taking place over Markhouse Common.

Edgar described himself on the 1881 census, when he was 20, as a wood-engraver - a popular trade at the time when hundreds of talented wood engravers were employed by the illustrated magazines and periodicals to interpret drawings and designs for their publications. It is not known where he trained or worked, but he may well have been apprenticed to learn his craft with one of the many firms of wood-engravers registered in London in the 1880s. Several of Hockley’s sketches demonstrate his dynamic sketching technique, with cross-hatching and lines vigorously delineating the scenes, indicative of someone accustomed to producing confident results on a wood block.

Hockley is still recorded on the 1891 census as a wood engraver and draughtsman, with ‘sculp’ overwritten above the entry, although by this time he and his mother had moved to 14, Prospect Road. By March 1901 however, when Edgar was 40 and the need for wood-engravers had diminished in the publishing world due to advances in reproduction processes, his occupation is recorded as ‘retired wood engraver’. Presumably he could afford retirement at such a relatively young age thanks to an independent income - possibly from investments and rental income. In 1866 his father left an estate valued at around £8,000, a sizeable amount for the time, which his beneficiaries may have invested in property. Certainly his mother is described in census returns as ‘independent’ and ‘living off own means’, and his step-brother George managed properties in Walthamstow. Classified advertisements for several houses in Prospect Road are inserted in the Clerkenwell News and Evening Standard from 1865 onwards, with instructions for replies to be directed to George Hockley at 14, Prospect Road. Edgar Hockley sketched on one sheet of paper in the collection, the reverse of which is inscribed by him with the incomplete sentence ‘House let to Mr.’, and in 1899 his drawings are on the reverse of an application form for shares in the Empress Theatre and Victoria Hall, Walthamstow.

Edgar Hockley never married. His mother died in January 1911 and he continued living at the same address until his death in 1938, but there are no identifiable drawings in this collection after Phoebus and Pan at Covent Garden in 1923. He left an estate of £6,434, and his house to a neighbour Nellie Gibbs who died there in 1950. The street was demolished in the late 1960s and the area is now a large housing estate.

Edgar Hockley’s connections with the theatrical world and the specific reason for executing these sketches is still unknown. Hockley was not designing anything, but recording finished productions and noting details of their appearance, especially their colours that he identified using professional paint colour names such as ‘madder’, ‘gamboge’ and ‘cobalt blue’. From what we can glean of his life from census returns there is no evidence of theatrical relations or links, although he must have been well known especially in the London theatre world to gain entry to the dress rehearsals of the productions he sketched. It is highly unlikely that he could have made sketches and detailed notes such as these from a seat in a darkened auditorium. His apparent lack of drawing paper is curious, evidenced by the amount of sketches that are executed on the back of butcher’s bills and envelopes (many from letters from his half-brother George and his half-sister Annie), especially for a man who could afford early retirement.

Despite the enigmas surrounding Edgar Hockley’s work, the value of these extraordinary sketches in capturing the essence of a large amount of theatre and entertainment of his day is without doubt. They provide a fascinating glimpse of a colourful world of theatrical extravagance and pictorial theatre in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and a lot for researchers to discover.


The sketches are organised alphabetically by play. Where possible, as many of the sketches are kept in paper envelopes with production names, or else by other categorisation (e.g. event, actor, etc.). A few envelopes contain newspaper criticisms of the relevant plays.

Sketches of three separate Richard II productions are filed separately, but dates are unknown.

Unidentified groups of sketches are stored in separately as 'Unidentified'.

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..

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.

Custodial History

Purchase, 2015.


No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

See also the core collections of the V&A Department of Theatre and Performance. Material may be found in several collections, including the biographical, productions, company and photographs files.

Please ask for details.