Site, building and architects papers - South Bank and South Kensington

Scope and Content

Negotiations to secure a site for the National Theatre on the South Bank of the river Thames. The series covers developments relating to the siting of the theatre and technical details of the building, within the context of the development of the South Bank area in the late 1940s-early 1950s. This section includes communications between the Joint Council of the National Theatre and the Old Vic and various stakeholders such as the London County Council, the Fine Arts Commission and the architects appointed to design the National Theatre.

This series also includes information on negotiations surrounding the South Kensington site, which was purchased in 1937 but exchanged with the London County Council for a site on the South Bank in 1945. Issues documented include enquiries from third parties interested in use of the site after it was relinquished, as well as the issue of loss of value of the site.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Shakespeare Memorial National Theatre Committee had acquired in 1937 a site for the National Theatre in South Kensington, on Cromwell Road opposite the Victoria & Albert Museum. In in 1945, it was decided to exchange this site with the London County Council, for a site on the South Bank of the river Thames.

From 1945 to the late 1950s, three different sites were taken into consideration on the South Bank for the proposed theatre, between Waterloo Bridge and Westminster Bridge, as follows:

  • The South Kensington site is exchanged for a site between Waterloo Bridge and the Royal Festival Hall in 1945.
  • The Waterloo Bridge-Royal Festival Hall site is relinquished in favour of a new site, close to the County Hall and west of the Hungerford Bridge, ca. Dec. 1952.
  • After 1952 [possibly ca. 1958-1960] a new site is taken ino consideration; still close to the County Hall but right next to the Hungerford Bridge rather than next to the County Hall.

The National Theatre was eventually erected on the east of Waterloo Bridge.

Conditions Governing Access


Related Material

- Series SMNT/11 includes plans and drawings covering various options for the design and siting of the theatre on the South Bank during the years 1948-1961.

- Information about earlier sites that were taken into consideration by the movement are included in the correspondence in SMNT/2/1.

- Series SMNT/1/5 documents the work of Committees involved with the design and siting of the National Theatre building and associated negotiations.