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Actors & Entertainer Records (Occupations)

Nature of Source

Records of entertainers and actors. Theatrical performances were banned under rule of Oliver Cromwell but Charles II, on his restoration in 1660, authorised the reopening of theatres. Following this many taverns and pleasure gardens began offering variety shows and by the 1830s music hall began appearing.

Music hall and its stars became hugely popular but with the emergence of cinema, television and radio, the music hall gradually declined in popularity. By the late fifties the music hall had all but disappeared.

Be aware when searching for a name that many performers adopted a stage name and many ended up as paupers. Consult surviving copies of industry newspapers such as The Era (1800-1939), The Performer (1906-1957), the Encore (1892-1939) and The Stage (1880-). They are kept at The British Library Newspaper Library and at regional reference libraries such as the Mitchell Library in Glasgow and Westminster Reference Library. Also look for theatrical reviews in local and national newspapers. Annual collections of obituaries were published in The Era Almanac between 1869 and 1919.

Also see
Apprenticeship Agreements, Trade
Directories, Trade, Professional, Telephone & Street
Friendly & Fraternal Society Records
Occupational and Labour Records (Includes links and guidance on calculating historical wage rates and the cost of living)
Trade Union Records

Where Found

County Record Offices (ARCHON Directory: Find the details of a UK archive from a searchable list of over 2,500 archives The catalogue can be found on the Discovery home page)
Victoria and Albert Museum Theatre and Performance Collections (The V&A holds many special collections and archives of theatre and the performing arts from individual performers and collectors, theatres, theatre companies and other organisations. They contain diaries, letters, manuscripts, photographs, ephemera, business papers, newspaper cuttings, designs and sketches. The Collection can be accessed in the reading room at Blythe House, Olympia. The collections online catalogue can be accessed at which includes the National Art Library, the Archive of Art and Design and the library collections of the Theatre & Performance Department. Search the Collections is a further online catalogue containing texts and images from the collection whilst V&A Images contains images from the Theatre Collections, Museum of Childhood and the National Art Library)
The National Archives (COPY 1, Copyright Office: Entry Forms: Images and artwork collected by the Stationers Company in order to register copyright including theatrical photographs. There is an index to entries in the registers COPY 3 for photographs of identified individuals with an additional next held at Blythe House at the Victoria and Albert Museum. A selection of images from the series is available here)
London Metropolitan Archives (See Information Leaflet: Sources for the history of London theatres and music halls at London Metropolitan Archives)
Society of Genealogists (Resources include various actor biographies and Who’s who in the theatre and film, a unique collection called Stage history: a collection of cuttings, actor family histories, material on individual theatres and music halls)
Theatre Archives

Period Covered

1700 - Onwards

Genealogical Value

Names, addresses, occupations, career.

Further References

Baker, Richard. British Music Hall: An Illustrated History: The History Press, 2005 Buy Now on Amazon 
Bryan, George. Stage Deaths: A Bibliographical Guide to International Theatrical Obituaries, 1850-1990: Greenwood Press, 1991  Buy Now on Amazon
Clarence, Reginald (comp). ‘The Stage’ Cyclopaedia: A Bibliography of Plays: ‘The Stage’, 1909 (Available to read online or download from the Internet Archive)  
Davis, Jim & Emeljanow, Victor. Reflecting the Audience London Theatregoing, 1840-1880: University of Hertfordshire Press, 2001 (Preview available at Google Books)  Buy Now on Amazon
Earl, John. British Theatres and Music Halls: Shire Publications, 2005 Buy Now on Amazon
Gaye, Freda (ed). Who's Who in the Theatre: Pitman Publishing, 1970  Buy Now on Amazon
Highfill, Philip H & Burnim, Kalman A & Langhans, Edward A. A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers & Other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800: Southern Illinois University Press, 1993  Buy Now on Amazon
Howard, Diana. London Theatres and Music Halls, 1850-1950: Library Association, 1970  Buy Now on Amazon
Johnson, Claudia D & Johnson, Vernon E (comp). Nineteenth-Century Theatrical Memoirs: Greenwood Press, 1982 Buy Now on Amazon
Kift, Dagmar. The Victorian Music Hall: Culture, Class and Conflict: Cambridge University Press, 1996  Buy Now on Amazon
Kilgarriff, Michael. Sing us One of the Old Songs: A Guide To Popular Song, 1860-1920: Oxford University Press, 1999  Buy Now on Amazon
Kilgarriff, Michael. Grace, Beauty And Banjos: Peculiar Lives And Strange Times Of Music Hall And Variety Artistes: Oberon Books, 1999  Buy Now on Amazon
Pascoe, Charles. Our Actors and Actresses: The Dramatic List. A Record of the Performances of Living Actors and Actresses of the British Stage: London 1880 (preview available from Google Books)  Buy Now on Amazon
Ruston, Alan. My Ancestor Worked in the Theatre: Society of Genealogists, 2005
 Buy Now on Amazon
Turner, John. Twentieth Century Circus People: A Dictionary of British Circus Biography: Lingdales Press, 2003  
Turner, John. Victorian Arena - The Performers: A Dictionary of British Circus Biography (II vols): Lingdales Press, 1995 & 2000  Buy Now on Amazon
Wearing, J.P. American and British Theatrical Biography: A Directory: Scarecrow Press, 1979  Buy Now on Amazon
Wearing, J.P. American and British Theatrical Biographies: An Index: Scarecrow Press, 2012  Buy Now on Amazon
Wearing, J.P. The London Stage 1890-1959: A Calendar of Plays and Players: Scarecrow Press, 1976-  Buy Now on Amazon
Wilmut, Roger. Kindly Leave the Stage: The Story of Variety 1919-1960: Methuen, 1985  Buy Now on Amazon
Who Was in the Theatre, 1912-1976: A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Directors, Playwrights and Producers of the English-Speaking Theatre: Gale, 1978  
Zeidman, Carole. Wilton's: A History of the Hall  

Websites (Records available for past residents of Brinsworth House a retirement and care home for members of the entertainment profession) (East London Theatre Archive: In addition o the digital archive [see below], other resources include ‘Thematic Essays’, each exploring a different theme of East London's theatre past and maps showing East End theatres and playhouses) (University of Bristol Theatre Collection: holdings include production records, photographs, costume designs, prints, paintings, programmes, playbills, objects, videos and audiotapes. The material can be accessed via the online catalogue. The Theatre Collection library has over 15,000 books and more than 200 journal titles on all aspects of theatre) (GUNUKI guide: Theatre, Circus, etc)
(18th Century Theatre research)
(Leodis - a photographic archive of Leeds: Leeds Playbills. The site is making available all the playbills in the Local Studies Library collection from a wide range of Leeds Theatres such as The City Varieties, The Grand, The Princess and the Theatre Royal) (Online catalogue covering performing arts collections in the UK) (Victoria and Albert Museum: Theatre & Performance collections) (Mander & Mitchenson Theatre Collection: Online catalogue of the theatre and performance related material) (Deaths in Theatrical Circles from 1844 – 1889) (Scottish Theatre Archive Catalogue) (THEATRE-UK Mailing List) (Articles covering the history of the theatre in Britain, Europe & America)
(Records of Early English Drama: The project locates, transcribes, and edits historical surviving documentary evidence of drama, secular music and other communal entertainment and ceremony from the Middle Ages until 1642) (British Library: Literary and Theatrical Archive) (Bodleian Library: John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera: Entertainment) (Miss Lily Elsie: The site is intended to be a source of information about the life and work of the Edwardian actress Miss Lily Elsie, 1886-1962) (History of Brunskill and Loveday Limited, theatre scenery builders including a database of shows with scenery built by the company. Images of programme fronts where available) (The history of Wilton’s Music Hall, by John Earl) (National Fairground Archive) (Fairground Heritage Trust) (The Archives Hub Feature: Variety and Music Hall National Fairground Archive) (Archives Hub Feature: Fairs and Circus History) (British Music Hall Society - Archives & Memorabilia) (The Scottish Music Hall Society) (The Music Hall and Theatre Site: Information and more than 7,300 archive images on the history of Music Hall and Theatre in the UK) (Site includes portraits, biographies, reviews and recordings relating to the theatre, music hall and other forms of popular entertainment) (Ancestry Message Boards: Occupations)

Online Databases

Online Catalogues (Listing of online catalogues for the partial whereabouts of records including Access to Archives [A2A], National Register of Archives [NRA) (The Stage Online Archive) (British Museum Collection Online: Search the catalogue for theatre related material held by the British Museum) (Who's who in the Theatre, 1935) (Playbills Of The Theatre Royal Edinburgh) (National Library of Scotland: Scottish Theatre Programmes Database: Access to records of an extensive collection of programmes, playbills and posters. These items from theatres and other venues date from the 19th century onwards) (Motion Picture Studio Directories, 1919 and 1921: The database has listings of actors and actresses including alphabetical listings of industry professionals) (British Newspaper Archive: Collection includes digitised editions of The Era the entertainment industry newspaper, 1838-1900. The content can be searched for free with limited context at Connected Histories) (Royal Shakespeare Company Performance Database: Online access to information about the plays, productions and performers who have been involved with the RSC from 1879 to the present day) (East London Theatre Archive: Database of performing arts resources, from playbills and programmes to press cuttings and photographs taken from different East London Theatres and V&A Theatre Collections) (Arts Archive Database: Search archived listings, theatre productions as well as people, groups, organisations and companies dating back to the mid-90s) (John Johnson Collection: An Archive of  Printed Ephemera: The collection provides access to scanned items from the Bodleian Library's holdings documenting various aspects of everyday life in Britain from the 18th to the early 20th century including posters and handbills for theatrical and non-theatrical entertainments, broadsides relating to murders and executions, book and journal prospectuses, popular topographical prints. The contents of John Johnson Collection can also be searched at Connected Histories together with a number of other databases)

CD Roms

S & N Genealogy Supplies (Who's Who in the Theatre, 1922; Biographia Dramatica, a biographic record of actors, playwrights and their works from the 1500s to 1811)