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The Special Collection: Sheffield Theatres Archive

Sheffield Hallam University is proud to be partnering with Sheffield Theatres to act as home to their archive, which contains records relating to the three principal theatres, plus a host of other historical venues.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Crucible, the Library digitised a collection of fifty programmes, one from each of the Crucible’s 50 years, alongside the opening gala production Fanfare and their anniversary production Rock paper scissors. See the collection here.

Alongside the anniversary collection, the Library is producing a growing digital collection of programmes from the Crucible’s production archive. Eventually this will offer full coverage of all shows produced at the Crucible during its history. See the collection here.

Sheffield's Theatres

Sheffield has a long and proud theatrical history. The city once boasted a huge range of venues located across the city including the Empire Palace Theatre at the junction of Charles Street and Union Street, the Empire Theatre, the Hippodrome Theatre of Varieties on Cambridge Street, the Palace Theatre on Attercliffe Road, the Theatre Royal on Pinfold Lane in Attercliffe, the Theatre Royal on Tudor Street, the Playhouse Theatre on Townhead Street, the Regent Theatre on Barker's Pool, the Surrey Theatre at 66 West Bar, and the Alexandra Music Hall (formerly the Adelphi Theatre) on the junction of Furnival Road and Blonk Street.


The Sheffield Theatres Trust

Today the Sheffield Theatres Trust administers three main theatres: the Crucible, the Lyceum and the Studio. Collectively, the largest theatre complex in the country, outside of London. Under Artistic Directors, including Colin George, Michael Grandage, Samuel West and Robert Hastie, the Crucible continues to innovate and create and has won the Regional Theatre of the Year award three times. Stars who have graced its stages have included Joanna Lumley, Joseph Fiennes, Kenneth Branagh, Sir Derek Jacobi and Sir Patrick Stewart.

Sheffield Theatres continue the proud artistic tradition and can boast achievements such as staging the first theatrical performance of Brassed off, based on Mark Herman’s film, and premiering the award-winning Everybody’s talking about Jamie, which went on to huge success in London’s West End and was later turned into a movie.

Lyceum Theatre

There has been a theatre on the current site since 1879 when the Grand Varieties Theatre was built. Originally housing Stacey’s Circus, the theatre was later managed by the parents of the music hall comedian Dan Leno, who regularly performed there in the early stages of his career. After the theatre burnt down in 1893 it was replaced by the City Theatre, which, in turn, was replaced by the Lyceum. Built in the traditional proscenium arch style, the Lyceum is the only surviving theatre outside London designed by the theatre architect W.G.R. Sprague and the last example of an Edwardian auditorium in Sheffield.

Crucible Theatre

The Crucible Theatre opened in 1971, replacing the small but well regarded Sheffield Playhouse repertory theatre in Townhead Street. Construction started in 1969 and the building took two years to complete, with the opening night gala taking place in November 1971. The theatre was built with a thrust stage, as recommended by its founding artistic director, Colin George. The architects were Renton Howard Wood Levin Architects. The opening night was a three-part programme of children acting in an improvised scene, Chekhov's Swan Song with Ian McKellen and Edward Petherbridge, and a music hall finale with a Sheffield brass band. The Crucible now also hosts touring productions and the World Snooker Championship.

Studio Theatre Web-Page

The Studio

Alongside the building of the Crucible itself, Colin George and the administrator David Brayshaw persuaded the Gulbenkian Foundation to finance the building of a professional theatre – the 400-seat Studio, which opened at the same time as the Crucible.

Related Collections

Palace Theatre, Attercliffe (Douglas Speed Walker) Collection

The Palace Theatre in Attercliffe was built for the Alhambra Theatre (Attercliffe) Sheffield Limited, and originally opened as the Alhambra Theatre of Varieties on the 3rd of January 1898. It was designed by the architects G. D. Martin and A. Blomfield Jackson, both of London, and constructed by G. Longden and Sons, of Sheffield.

Under its first manager, Frank McNaughten, it was not particularly successful. Following its renaming as the Palace Theatre it was sold off to J. Allan Edwards of Derby in 1907. In 1913 it was sold again to the Roberto Brothers, who converted it into a cinema.

In 1926 it was sold to a local architect, Arthur Richard Walker, whose sons Speed and Jack reopened it as a variety house. The theatre closed in early 1930, was redesigned and re-opened on the 13th of October 1930 primarily as a cinema. In July 1937 the theatre returned to exclusively live performances.

Unfortunately, like many variety halls of the time, the theatre’s audiences declined and it gained a reputation as a ‘number two variety house’ with many lesser acts and strip shows. The theatre closed its doors for the final time in July 1955. It was demolished in 1962. In its lifetime, the theatre had played host to stars including Charlie Chaplin, Bud Flanagan, Max Bygraves, Harry Secombe and Hylda Baker.

The items in this collection were donated by the granddaughter of Douglas Speed Walker.

A concise finding aid to the archive is available below.

The Betty Gilbert collection

Betty Gilbert was born in Sharrow Vale in Sheffield in 1926. She was a cousin of the comedian Ben Warris and inherited a love of live performance from her father, an amateur musician and entertainer. As a teenager during the Second World War, Betty attended dances, plays and musical events organised by youth clubs, the YWCA and other community organisations. This set a pattern for the rest of her life, and she remained a keen theatre-goer right up until her death at the age of 96.

Betty enjoyed both professional and community productions but she was a particular advocate for Sheffield’s active ‘am-dram’ scene. She regularly visited venues such as the Library Theatre and the Montgomery Theatre, and championed local groups like the Ecclesfield Priory Players, Sheffield Light Opera Society and the Stannington Players. In the 1970s, Betty ran Sheffield’s Gingerbread one parent family group where she passed on a love of theatre to a new generation of the city’s children through trips to the pantomime and other shows.

Betty left an eclectic collection of programmes, pamphlets and tickets which represents a cross section of the region’s wider cultural life over many decades. School plays, community productions and amateur theatre are particularly ephemeral, and it was Betty’s wish that material relating to these shows be preserved both as a scholarly resource and as a tribute to the talented and dedicated men, women and children of Sheffield who provide such joy to their audiences.

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