Nature and Scope - Music Hall, Theatre and Popular Entertainment

The Victorian and Edwardian periods were a golden age for variety, vaudeville and theatre. The era also played host to a vast range of other public entertainments and spectacles, from the educational to the decadent. The primary sources in this module not only celebrate well-known and popular forms of entertainment but also highlights lesser-known activities and leisure interests. Advertising posters, guidebooks, admission tickets and handbills represent the diverse forms of entertainment available to growing numbers of people from the late Georgian period and throughout the Victorian and Edwardian era. The documents cover a wide range of academic interests related to Victorian popular culture, and cater to all levels of researcher. Highlights from the collection include a set of early pantomime programmes; unique material from the May Moore Duprez archive; and visual material related to Belle Vue, Manchester’s popular Zoological Gardens.

Subjects include:Front cover of the Official Guide to the Belle Vue Gardens, Manchester. Image © Chetham's Library, Manchester

  • Music hall, variety and vaudeville – from business and pleasure perspectives
  • Pantomime
  • Theatre, both legitimate and illegitimate (including periodicals aimed at industry and fans; rare books; and a huge range of the very scarce popular series ‘Dick’s Standard Plays’)
  • Pleasure gardens, including Vauxhall and Ranelagh Gardens and Belle Vue Zoological Gardens, Manchester
  • Public spectacles such as firework displays and ballooning
  • Scientific and ‘educational’ exhibitions, including the Royal Polytechnic Institution, the Royal Panopticon and the Royal Aquarium
  • Visual delights such as magic lantern shows and dioramas

Material has been selected for its rarity and unavailability elsewhere, with an emphasis on venues outside London such as Bristol, Birkenhead, Manchester and Glasgow, and in America.

A wide range of material types are provided, including:

  • Engravings
  • Manuscripts
  • Photographs
  • Printed books
  • Ephemera

Libraries and archives from across Britain and the USA which have contributed material include:

The Malcolm Morley Collection (Senate House, University of London)

The collection comprises theatrical periodicals, biographies, theatre histories, stagecraft and printed play texts, including the popular series ‘Dick’s Standard Plays’.

The National Fairground Archives (University of Sheffield)

This archive provides a selection of very rare printed books focusing on unusual popular entertainments, such as waxworks and magic lantern shows.

Chetham’s Library (Manchester)

A selection of regional playbills and broadsides is contributed by this library.

Lambeth Archives

This archive holds the Vauxhall Gardens Collection, containing a range of material on the pleasure gardens and other popular entertainments in the Boroughs of Lambeth and Southwark, London.

The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin

Material has been drawn from its Pantomime Collection of printed scripts and programmes, Theatre Buildings Collection of illustrations, engravings and plans of 19th century theatres, and Prints Collection of portraits of British and American performers.

The May Moore Duprez Archive

This privately owned archive features diaries and personal papers of the vaudeville star, as well as programmes, periodicals, photographs and posters relating to her music hall career and that of other artistes.

The British Library

Highlights from this archive are the scrapbooks of ephemera relating to popular entertainments in Britain from the late Georgian period.


Supplementing the primary source material is a wealth of secondary resources, including a glossary of key terms, biographies of significant figures from this period, a dictionary of important venues, a visual gallery which allows users to create their own slideshows of images, and an interactive chronology. Unique to this module is the inclusion of 48 recordings of original Music Hall Songs, performed by some of the stars of the period including Harry Champion and Vesta Tilley.

* Please note: If you have purchased Module 3 only, you will not have access to Modules 1, 2 and 4 documents and primary source links within the secondary contextual material.