East London Theatre Archive

V&A Theatre Collections - CAST - Hackney Empire - Half Moon Young People's Theatre - Hoxton Hall - Theatre Royal Stratford East - Theatre Venture - Wilton's Music Hall

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The East London Theatre Archive (ELTA) project is the culmination of a two-year digitisation project funded by JISC. The project was led by the University of East London (UEL) with electronic support from the Centre for e-Research (CeRch) at King's College London. The project began in March 2007, the website was launched in March 2009 and completed in June 2009.

ELTA has created an invaluable online database with over 14,900 images and related metadata sourced from 3,371 archive items, as well as 17 contextual essays. It preserves unique endangered theatre archive collections through digitisation and allows academic audiences to explore East London's unique contribution to the development of theatre. In bringing together collections from different theatre organisations, venues and private collectors, which would otherwise be difficult if not impossible to access, it has produced one of the most significant and wonderful online resources, enhancing the availability of digital resources in the performing arts sector. It gives researchers and students the opportunity to focus and research from 1827 to the present day.

One of the unique aspects of ELTA is that our partners took a step towards following a more coherent narrative, challenging notions of East London theatre as solely comprising 19th century music hall. The V&A Theatre Collections focused upon material sourced from 19th and early 20th century 'lost' theatres, which have now disappeared. UEL on the other hand selected and digitised material from different collections, which dated largely from the 1970s up to the present day, relating to theatres that are still existent.

ELTA has created an opportunity, not only for archive material to be preserved and presented online, but also as a platform for academic debate and collaborations, by commissioning contextual essays, by hosting events, such as the ELTA conference 'The East End Seen Though Performance' at the V&A Sackler Centre, and the website launch. Catherine Haill, as well as John Earl, have both produced beautiful essays as part of ELTA's deliverable, however, it has achieved so much more than it was first anticipated and produced a magnificent insight into different areas of 19th to 20th centuries with most positive feedback from students and users interested in theatre history. The essays have truly brought the content of ELTA together and linked disparate collections in a unique way.

Furthermore ELTA has created and established successful partnerships between higher education, the heritage sector, local theatres and community organisations. It allows for ELTA to grow beyond the completion stage and to embrace new opportunities, nurturing further developments and future projects.

The digital images and appropriate metadata are easy accessible on the ELTA website. The ELTA website was officially launched on 04 March 2009.

About JISC

JISC logo

JISC is the Joint Information Systems Committee of the UK Further and Higher education funding bodies. It is responsible for supporting the innovative use of information and communication technology (ICT) to support learning, teaching, and research. It provides a national network, a range of support, content and advisory services, as well as a portfolio of high-quality resources. Information about JISC, its services and programmes can be found at www.jisc.ac.uk.

The ELTA Project was funded by JISC, as part of it's Digi-2 Programme. We would like to thank Alastair Dunning, Programme Manager for the JISC Digitisation project, for all the wonderful support and advice, which we received from him during the 28 months of the project.

About the University of East London (UEL)

UEL logo

The East London Theatre Archive (ELTA) project was led by the University of East London. UEL is a global learning community, with over 21,000 students from 110 countries world-wide. We are a successful and inclusive University proud of our diversity, committed to new modes of learning which focuses on students and enhance their employability, and renowned for our contribution to social, cultural and economic development, locally, nationally and internationally, especially through our research and advanced scholarship. We have a strong track-record in widening participation and working with industry. For further information please see the following website: www.uel.ac.uk.

The UEL project team were responsible for the surveying, selection and creation of 4,601 images of archive material and related metadata sourced from a number of different collections. Much of the digitised material is still held at various East London locations by the originating bodies, namely Hackney Empire, Half Moon Young People's Theatre, Hoxton Hall, Theatre Royal Stratford East, Theatre Venture, and Wilton's Music Hall. UEL also sourced images from the private archive collection of building historian John Earl, while freelance photographer Jamie Lumley was commissioned by ELTA to provide architectural images of the aforesaid theatres' buildings. UEL's own Archive Department yielded additional material relating to Hackney Empire, and also for touring political company Cartoon Archetypical Slogan Theatre (CAST).

While UEL identified and digitised a small handful of 19th century playbills relating to Hoxton Hall, the majority of material digitised by UEL dates from the 1970s to 2008. The surveying process revealed that, with the exception of items sourced from Theatre Royal Stratford East, little material dating from before the 1970s had survived the passage of time. UEL project team looked for an established digitisation company that could provide excellent digitisation services and choose after a thorough tendering process to take on Max Communications Limited, which have digitised all of the smaller partners' sourced materials.

UEL also commissioned the eminent building historian John Earl to use his expertise write a contextual essay about the history of East London theatre, which can be found on the website's Themes page.

UEL Project Team

The UEL Project Team went through several project management changes. This can be detrimental to a project. However for ELTA it has worked out very positively towards the completion of the project. The project board took the opportunity in focusing on what the next phase of the project would require, the management felt in the last stage that it would be best to second someone from the LLS staff that had the experience and would stay beyond the completion of the project. This decision was taken for the continuous enhancement of ELTA and sustainability. This has worked out very well and in favour to our ELTA project.

V&A Theatre Collections

V and A logo One of three core project partners, the V&A Theatre Collections team contributed over 10,000 images and related catalogue records to the ELTA project.

What are the V&A Theatre Collections?

The V&A Theatre Collections operated under the title 'Theatre Museum' between 1974 and 1987, and for 20 years between 1987 and 2007, were based at the Theatre Museum building in Covent Garden. They have always been a part of the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A) and now have dedicated Theatre & Performance galleries there, plus a collections centre and research facilities at the Museum's premises in Kensington Olympia.

The Theatre Collections first entered the V&A in 1924, when their founder, Gabrielle Enthoven, gifted her large collection of theatrical artefacts and ephemera to the museum. That initial donation attracted many other very significant gifts from organisations such as the British Theatre Museum Association, the Society for Theatre Research, the London Archives of the Dance, and the British Drama League.

The Theatre Collections are designated as the UK's national collection for the performing arts. They cover all the live performing arts, and encompass a wide variety of physical formats, including stage cloths, costumes, photographs, paintings, a library, designs, prints and substantial archive collections.

Scope and Content

The Theatre Collections are particularly strong in theatre programmes and playbills, and current programmes are actively collected from over 200 UK theatres, adding to the half a million already in the collections, covering British Theatre from the early 18th century onwards. The material digitised for the ELTA project is selected from our material on East London, and includes a large number of such playbills, mainly relating to the Britannia Theatre, Pavilion Theatre and the Standard Theatre. In addition smaller batches of items from a number of other East London theatres were also digitised, including Bow Palace, Blackfriars Theatre, Dalston Theatre, East Ham Palace and Stratford Empire. The date range is from circa 1827 up to the mid-1930s.

Aside from these items, other material digitised for the ELTA website includes press cuttings, 1970s archaeological photographs of Wilton's Music Hall, 19th century playtexts, a scrapbook for the Brunswick Theatre (1828), selected London Pavilion Engagement books, a review book of variety acts from the London Pavilion Company, issues of The Performer magazine, and Frank Matcham architectural plans for Hackney Empire.

V&A ELTA Project Team

Research Access

Enquiries about the V&A Theatre Collections should be directed to TMenquiries@vam.ac.uk

Further information about the Theatre Collections is available at http://www.vam.ac.uk/theatre


The Centre for e-Research (CeRch) at King's College London was the technical partner for ELTA. Its staff devised the metadata requirements used by UEL and V&A, and processed the individual item descriptions into MODS format. The metadata and images were ingested into a Fedora Commons digital repository in line with the OAIS reference standard, to offer the project a sustainable archive with strong digital preservation capabilities. The MODS metadata and image files were packaged together using METS and extra preservation metadata was added. Public versions of the images were created from the masters. This website was designed by Daisy Abbott and built at CeRch, making use of the data in the repository and additional content such as the thematic essays.

Selection process

Particular parts of collections were selected for digitisation in line with initial selection criteria or 'narratives' specified by the project's Advisory Panel. This selection criterion was then further expanded to accommodate additional narratives developed by V&A Theatre Collections and UEL in the course of their archive surveys. The project's aim was digitise material which would compliment prevailing research subject areas in the UK academic community, and it was felt that these narratives would enable this to take place.

The V&A Theatre Collections team produced sixteen contextual essays which can be found in the Themes area on the ELTA website. These offer contextual information about the key themes apparent in the digitised material sourced from V&A Theatre Collections, and strive to create a more well-rounded learning experience.

Inevitably Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) played a key role in determining which archive items could be put forward for digitisation by the project, particularly with the more modern material handled by UEL. It was not always possible to identify the IPR owner, or trace relevant contact details. In these instances the items could not be digitised, and secondary surveys took place to identify suitable substitute material.

Metadata standards

The project's technical partner, the Centre for e-Research (CeRch) devised a template list of requisite metadata elements drawn from Dublin Core, PREMIS and NISO Z39.87 as expressed using the MIX schema.

For more information about the methodology of the project, please contact elta@uel.ac.uk


Using the Collection - What Users Can do

By using the website, you are agreeing to the terms and conditions of the full Licence. Basically, this allows you to download and use the images for non-commercial purposes (e.g. private study, teaching, research)

The key parts of the licence say that:

Copyright Clearance by ELTA

The East London Theatre Archive has released a wealth of digitised resources about the contribution East London has made to performing arts in the 19th to 21st Century to researchers, teachers, students, and the general public.

To allow the educational usages described above, the ELTA team has obtained the necessary copyright permission from all contributors and collections on all the material obtained and used in this archive. Please see scope of collection and copyright holder information of each contributor in About ELTA.

If you have a query about the copyright status of a particular please contact the ELTA team.

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