Paul Barker Collection of Osiris Players Materials

Scope and Content

Papers relating to the Osiris Players, assembled by Paul Barker during the preparation of newspaper and magazine articles concerning the history of the company and its founder, Nancy Hewins.

Administrative / Biographical History

The journalist and writer Paul Barker (born 1935) is perhaps best known for his editorship of the cultural commentary magazine New Society from 1968 to 1986. However the material assembled in this archive relate to articles written by Barker about the all-female theatre company The Osiris Players.

The Osiris Players (or the Osiris Repertory Company as they were also known) were Britain's first all-female professional theatre company who operated with the aim of introducing theatre - particularly the works of Shakespeare - to schools and audiences at improvised venues nationwide who may not otherwise have had access to live theatre at accessible prices. Started in 1924 by Nancy Hewins, they specialised in regional touring and were active until 1963.

Born in 1902 in London, (Margaret) Nancy Hewins developed an interest in the theatre - lighting and set design in particular - whilst studying at Oxford University. After graduating she started an amateur theatre company called the Isis Players in 1924. Becoming a professional company in 1927, they changed their name to the Osiris Players, with their first production as a professional outfit being The Merchant of Venice.

Osiris survived on proceeds from ticket sales and was never publicly funded. Hewins would supplement early Osiris funds by working as a lighting designer and director, particularly in large-scale pageants.

As a rule they were always all-female, and never had more than seven members in the troupe. As a travelling company members were expected to take care of necessary domestic duties (washing, cooking) as well as the dramatic (acting, props, make-up) and were paid a weekly allowance. The company would travel in two Rolls-Roycecars, getting through seven in the company's lifetime as Nancy Hewins maintained that they were the only cars suitable. They would improvise sleeping arrangements, often bedding down in school halls or barns to save on costs. Few members lasted more than a few years. During World War II, Osiris put on 1,534 (mostly Shakespeare) plays, often travelling with a horse and dray due to petrol restrictions.

The Company was disbanded by former Osiris performer Wynne Griffiths after Hewins' death in1978.

Conditions Governing Access

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.


No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

See also the core collections of the V&A Department of Theatre and Performance. Material relating to the Osiris Players (THM/302), as well as the 20th century in general may be found in several collections, including the biographical, productions, company and photographs files.

Please ask for details.

Corporate Names