Melville Theatre Collection

Scope and Content

The collection consists of play texts, some photocopied playbills, programmes, photographs, items relating to specific theatres, publicity material and a large number of personal papers.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Melvilles were a thriving theatrical family. The dynasty started with George Melville (1824-1898), a Shakespearian actor, who is reputed to have run away from home at the age of nine to join the travelling theatrical troupe of John Richardson. His son Andrew Melville (1853-1896) was an actor and theatre proprietor in many towns and cities all over the country.

Andrew's two eldest sons Frederick and Walter continued the tradition; managing, directing, producing, writing and acting in plays. These included the 'Bad Woman' dramas: plays with a strong moral theme, very much suited to the tastes of the day. The brothers shared the proprietorship of the Lyceum Theatre in the Strand where they produced their own plays, many of which were never published, and staged elaborate pantomimes. Their sisters, Edith, Minnie, Kate and Beatrice were all actresses: their brother Andrew Melville II (1882-1938) was a successful actor and theatre manager and producer.

The son of Andrew Melville II, Andrew Melville III (1912-1988), was also associated with the theatre, and was married to the actress Joan Matheson. Andrew III was the last Melville to be associated with the theatre. He retired in 1950. Seventeen years later he was inspired to write a book about his own family which led Andrew to make copious notes and to collect much family and theatrical memorabilia on the Melvilles. A first draft was eventually produced, tentatively entitled "The Melvilles of Melodrama" but, unfortunately, the book has never been published. A letter exists from Harraps declining to publish it on the grounds that there was not enough interest in matters of this kind. Andrew III died in 1988.


This collection is arranged in thematic sections:

  • UKC/MEL/PEOPLE : material about Melville family members and associates
  • UKC/MEL/THE : material about theatres, especially those that the Melvilles owned
  • UKC/MEL/PLAYS : material about plays written and produced by the Melvilles
  • UKC/MEL/PHO : photographs of theatres and of people associated with the Melvilles
  • UKC/MEL/OTH : miscellaneous Melville items

Access Information

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


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

Other Finding Aids

Item level catalogue of papers available on the Special Collections website

Item level catalogue of play texts available on the University of Kent and Cathedral Library catalogue

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Some of the material in this collection is fragile.

Archivist's Note

Funding was received under the Non-Formula Funding Programme (Follett Funding) to conserve and catalogue all the material in the Victorian & Edwardian Theatre Collection. The documents were rehoused in acid free containers and are kept in a special store air conditioned by equipment bought with the non-formula funding provided by the Follett initiative.

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


Custodial History

Andrew Melville III had assembled the collection for the purpose of writing a book about his family. After his death in 1988 the material was offered to the University of Sussex, by his widow Joan. They declined on the grounds that their courses did not cover drama of this period, but suggested that the University of Kent, with its thriving Drama Department and its library collections of Victorian popular plays and playbills might be interested. The Templeman Library acquired the Melville collection with the help of Jan Shepherd of the Drama Department and Professor Louis James (English and American Literature) who held the chair of 'Victorian Melodrama' at that time. The collection was acquired in several batches from 1990 onwards, including the purchase of the Bad Woman Dramas, plays written by Frederick Melville and Walter Melville.

When the material was received it had no immediately apparent order and so the decision was taken to sort it into a series of categories, consisting of theatres, biography, publicity material, playtexts, programmes, playbills, Melville associates, music and miscellaneous.


No further accruals expected