J.W. Debenham Photographic Collection

Scope and Content

Collection contains black and white prints, negatives and glass plates.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Worley Debenham was a photographer specialising in theatre, ballet and opera. Born in 1876, he came from a family who embraced photography, following its invention in the 19th century. J. W Debenham was the second son of Arthur Debenham. Arthur carried on his father’s photography business and reached considerable success in portraiture photography: his sitters included King Edward VII, Queen Alexandra and the Tsar of Russia and his family on their last visit to England in 1910.

John Worley Debenham continued the family’s photography legacy, however he moved beyond portraiture, becoming renowned in the field of theatrical photography. He photographed many famous names from the theatre, ballet and opera including Laurence Olivier, Harold Turner and Flora Robson. Furthermore, he regularly took photographs to document performances at prominent venues such as The Old Vic, Sadler’s Wells and the Open Air Theatre in Regents Park. Some of his photographs are now displayed at the Royal Opera House foyer in Covent Garden. The majority of J W Debenhams’s extensive photography collection in the V&A Theatre & Performance Archives date from the 1930s to 1940s.


Collection has been arranged as follows:

  • THM/127/1 - Black and white photographic prints of theatre productions by J.W. Debenham
  • THM/127/2 - Black and white photographic prints of actors and dancers ca. 1933 by J. W. Debenham
  • THM/127/3 - Negatives of theatre productions by J. W. Debenham
  • THM/127/4 - Glass Plates of Theatre Productions by J.W Debenham
  • THM/127/5 - Glass plates of Performers, Individuals, Theatres and Performing Arts Schools by J. W. Debenham

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: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/archives/ .

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

Acquisition Information

Collection transferred to the V&A Theatre Museum in 1974.

Conditions Governing Use

Information on copying and commercial reproduction may be found here: http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/archives/ .

Appraisal Information

This collection was appraised in line with collection management policy.

Custodial History

Collection acquired by the British Theatre Museums Association (BTMA) in 1966.


No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

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

Please ask for details.

Corporate Names