Over the last 18 months our Heritage Learning and Engagement Officer Cait Barratt has been working with the Darlington Culture Volunteers to develop the Hippodrome’s archive. The archive is made up of various theatre-related material; there are programmes, posters, leaflets, brochures, photographs, newspaper articles, buildings plans and lots of information about the 100s of productions staged in the building over the last 111 years. 

The development of the Hippodrome’s archive has been funded as part of the Heritage Lottery Fund restoration grant, and aims to become a public resource.  Once all the material has been catalogued, recorded and scanned or photographed, a record will be made available online so our audiences can search for information on past productions and casts, or even look for relatives in local productions such as those staged by Darlington Operatic Society and Shildon and District Amateur Operatic Society.

Sorting the material

Before the HLF project the Hippodrome did not have a formal archive – boxes of programmes, old show files and plans had been kept in storage across several different sites. After collecting all the material and storing it in Crown Street Library’s basement, we decided that the programmes were a priority and made it a goal to catalogue all the programmes and develop a complete list of every single show that has been staged at the theatre since its opening on 17 September 1907.  This was quite a challenge!

By  July 2018 we had finally finished cataloguing all the programmes and found that the 80 boxes of programmes were not in any date order and finding a specific programme was difficult.  So in the second week of August the archive volunteers took over the Education Space in the Hippodrome and spread out every single programme in the archive.

First, the volunteers organised the programmes by decade, then by individual year and finally by month.  From the chaos of unboxing all 2,600 programmes by the middle of the week we had neat piles of programmes ordered by year.

The volunteers also tackled a large pile of programmes which either had a partial or no date on them;  by looking at other similar programmes, old brochures and using the internet the volunteers have since been able to find a date for every single programme. 

Amongst the chaos of the week we hosted an archive open day, where members of the public were invited to look at all the programmes and share their own past experiences of Darlington Hippodrome with us.  This was a great day with groups of young children and adults alike donning white gloves and exploring our precious Edwardian programmes.

The Show List

By the end of archive week we had organised all the programmes in date order and stored them in new archive boxes.  Alongside this project several volunteers used this opportunity to add to the Show List.  This list is a chronological database of all the performances that have occurred at Darlington Hippodrome.  They have been developed by using a variety of sources including programmes, publicity copy, newspaper articles, posters, records of income / expenditure and the managing director’s notebooks.

To make this master list more manageable we have created smaller lists for each year.  They are still under development and currently contain only basic information such as the show title, genre, production company details, opening and closing dates as well as a principal cast list.  The show lists from 1907 to 1979 are now available to download from our website as PDFs.

Over the next few months the volunteers are working hard to finish the individual lists from 1980 to 2018!  We also will be publishing two further databases listing all our Pantomimes and Darlington Operatic Society productions.

Get Involved

Recently we have begun to look at the large collection of the theatre’s photographs which feature external and internal shots of the building as well as previous productions. 

We need your help in identifying the shows, actors and year of a collection of un-labelled photographs.  Every single photograph has been given a unique reference number; if you recognise the show or the actor, or think you can even identify the date please contact the Heritage Learning an Engagement Officer Caitlin.Barratt@Darlington.gov.uk

Remember to include the reference number and whatever information you can provide!