Theatrical archives and manuscripts 1900 to present

Black and white photographic portrait of Tom Stoppard, seated
Tom Stoppard, playwright (photo: Fay Godwin © The British Library Board)

We hold the archives of playwrights, actors, directors, critics, theatre companies and theatrical agents. The collection is a unique resource for the study of West End, Fringe and regional British theatre since 1900.

About the collection

The range of material in our archives is extensive, including scripts, letters, diaries, reviews and production photographs. We are increasingly collecting archives in both paper and digital formats. 

Our collection includes the archives and/or manuscripts of:

We also hold part of the archive of Ellen Terry and Edith Craig on loan from the National Trust.

You will find manuscripts of British plays in our Lord Chamberlain’s Plays and Modern Playscripts collections.

Our guide to Literary Archives and Manuscripts, 1600 - present contains information about pre-20th-century dramatists.

What is available online?

Selected material is available on Discovering Literature: 20th Century.

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

You can consult theatrical archives and manuscripts in our Manuscripts Reading Room. Use our online catalogue, Explore Archives and Manuscripts, to find and order your material.

You may need to provide us with a letter of introduction or further information in order to access manuscripts and archives. Use our online catalogue to find out whether access conditions apply.

We don't generally allow access to uncatalogued material, but please contact the Manuscripts and Maps Reference Enquiry Team for further advice on this.

What is available in other organisations?

The following resources will help you find material held in other institutions:

Further information

How to guides

Find and request Lord Chamberlain's Plays

How to locate items in our largest single manuscript collection

How to handle archives

Watch our guide and help us keep our archive material in good condition

How to reuse images of unpublished manuscripts

Guide to the copyright of unpublished documents

About Explore Archives and Manuscripts

With Explore Archives and Manuscripts you can search for information about our rich and unique archive and manuscript collections.

Guide to Explore Archives and Manuscripts

A guide to help you use the catalogue, covering: login, search, how to manage your results, how to browse the collections and how to request items

Get a Reader Pass

Access over 170 million collection items for free with a Reader Pass.

Guide to researching provenance of books now in the British Library

Where do the British Library’s old printed books ‘come from'? Who owned or read them in centuries past? Why does it matter?

Access manuscripts and archives

Accessing manuscripts and archives and obtaining a Letter of introduction or recommendation

Find Persian manuscripts

Details of Persian manuscripts are to be found in a number of catalogues

Find papyri

How to identify papyri and request them

Search for Cyrillic items in the catalogue

How to search for Cyrillic items in the catalogue

Find Arabic manuscripts

Details of Arabic manuscripts are to be found in a number of catalogues

Find charters, rolls, and seals

How to access medieval and early modern European documentary collections

How to handle folded items

Find out how you should hand items like large maps and book inserts.

Find Hebrew manuscripts

Guide to finding Hebrew manuscripts in our online catalogues

Using the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC)

How to use the English Short Title Catalogue (ESTC)

How to get a Reader Pass if you are under 18

How to apply for an under 18 Reader Pass

How to order images

Instructions on how to order images of the British Library's collections from our Imaging Services