Bigwood Collection

Scope and Content

The Bigwood collection consists, in the main, of playbills predominantly from the Britannia. There are a few letters and theatrical ephemera such as cuttings and reviews. The collection also includes some artefacts, for example a tea service given to Bigwood by Sarah Lane.

The material spans 1809-1953, but Bigwood himself is not mentioned on a playbill until 1851.

Administrative / Biographical History

George Barnes Bigwood was born in 1829. He started his working life at the Marylebone theatre where he was briefly involved on the management side and also spent some time at the Standard. In 1862 he joined the Britannia Theatre in Hoxton where he became their 'low comedian'. He also spent many years as the Britannia's stage manager. George Bernard Shaw commented on how able he was at the job.

Early on he had problems with alcohol, often missing shows or forgetting his lines due to being drunk. Sarah Lane, the theatre's manager, always protected Bigwood. At one point he was sacked, but she had him reinstated. One of the letters to Bigwood from Sarah alludes to this problem. However when he was fifty, Bigwood suffered a head injury and was told that it would be dangerous for him to continue drinking. He therefore became teetotal and remained so for the rest of his life. When he eventually retired to Southend to run a tobacconists shop he was the longest surviving member of the Britannia company. He died in 1915 aged eighty-four.

Access Information

Contact to make an appointment for viewing. You will need to give a list of items you would like to see. Please be aware that we need at least half a day's notice of a visit.

Acquisition Information

Compiled by the comedian George Barnes Bigwood, this small collection was acquired because of Bigwood's connection with the Britannia Theatre, Hoxton.


The Bigwood Collection is part of the Victorian and Edwardian Theatre Collection at the University of Kent.

Other Finding Aids

Item level catalogue of items available on the Special Collections website

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies permitted in accordance with copyright law and at the discretion of the Specialist Collections and Academic Archives team where contents are of a sensitive nature.

Appraisal Information



No further accruals expected


Most of the information about George Bigwood comes from The Britannia diaries of Frederick Wilton and East End Entertainment by A. E. Wilson.