£2.4m Heritage Lottery Award received by Bristol Old Vic

Bristol Old Vic set to become major heritage destination after £2.4m awarded from Heritage Lottery Fund.

  • £2.4million Heritage Lottery Fund award received today
  • Theatre set to be transformed into a major heritage destination, with a new programme of heritage related activity and outreach
  • Thunder Run to be opened up to the public
  • 250 years of archival documents to be conserved and brought to life


Bristol Old Vic is set to be transformed into a major heritage destination with the announcement today of a £2.4m Heritage Lottery Fund award.

The investment will fund the refurbishment of the historic Coopers’ Hall, enable the reveal of the original 1766 theatre façade, and ensure that the Thunder Run is both accessible to the public and fit for future use.

Alongside this significant contribution to the planned capital works, the grant will provide for a substantial programme of conservation, cataloguing and digitisation of the theatre’s archives, which are held between the University of Bristol Theatre Collection and Bristol Record Office.

Furthermore, the development of a new digital platform, the installation of new heritage interpretation and interactive exhibitions at the theatre, and a wide reaching programme of tours and activities will ensure that Bristol Old Vic, already recognised as a centre for artistic excellence, will also become an internationally significant heritage destination.

Chief Executive, Emma Stenning said “Bristol Old Vic has long cherished the very special place that it holds in the hearts of Bristolians far and wide – thousands of whom flocked to King Street this May to celebrate the building’s 250th birthday.  It’s a feeling that has inspired our heritage project, and we hope that in protecting and sharing the architecture and archives of the theatre in new and exciting ways, we are in fact creating a celebration of the people of this city, who have cared for it, without fail, for so many years.”

Bristol Old Vic’s ambitious 2-phase refurbishment began with the redevelopment of the theatre’s historic Georgian auditorium, (completed in 2012), and now looks to redevelop the Front of House spaces, create a new Studio theatre and preserve the unique architecture of the building and its archives.

As a result of the HLF award, architectural conservation and renovation can now take place including:

·         Major renovation of Coopers’ Hall, which has served as a staircase and foyer for the theatre since 1972. The project will return this unique 18th century Guild Hall to its original dimensions, with a grand hall at piano nobile level, allowing it to function as a public space once again.

·         The reveal of the original 1766 theatre façade for the first time in its 250 year history.

·         New public access to the theatre’s historic roof space; home to the famous Thunder Run, the 18th century ‘surround sound’ system consisting of weighted balls being rolled down wooden gutters built into the rafters to create the sound of thunder in performances. Bristol Old Vic’s Thunder Run is the oldest example of only three to be found in the UK.


In addition, the project will enable a unique partnership between Bristol Old Vic, Bristol Record Office and Theatre Collection.  By working together, these organisations will develop new ways to connect the extraordinary wealth of historic material with the public, whilst also using it as a continued source of creative inspiration for artists, students and other enthusiasts.

Nerys Watts, Head of HLF South West, said: “This is fantastic news for Bristol and our nation’s theatrical heritage – and just in time to celebrate Bristol Old Vic’s landmark 250th anniversary!

“Today’s investment, which would not have been possible without National Lottery players, will secure the future of fascinating archives, open up historic and characterful spaces and reveal its incredible story as the world’s oldest theatre.”

Bristol Old Vic’s substantial archive is held by both the Theatre Collection and the Bristol Record Office. The Theatre Royal Archive, covering the history of the building from its foundation in 1766, is held at the Record Office, a Designated Archive. The records contain material concerning the establishment of the theatre and include the first minute book, which begins with the meeting of Alexander Edgar, Roger Watts and Thomas Symons on the 25 October 1764, as they begin to plan for the theatre which would open two years later.

Ray Barnett, Head of Collections and archives at Bristol Culture said: “We are incredibly excited to be collaborating with Bristol Old Vic and the University of Bristol Theatre Collection on a project that will enable us to conserve, catalogue and digitise the historic archives of the Theatre Royal. The result will be a detailed and accessible online resource that pieces together 250 years of theatrical heritage in Bristol”

The archive of the Bristol Old Vic Company from its foundation in 1946 is held by the University of Bristol Theatre Collection, an Accredited Museum. The archives held at Theatre Collection span the entire remit of the company’s work including production records such as a prompt books, programmes, production photographs, posters, show files and press cuttings. Alongside this, the Theatre Collection holds key archives that help tell the story of Bristol Old Vic. These include those of actors, directors, designers and theatre historians which will also be made available to the public as of this project.

Jo Elsworth, Director of the Theatre Collection said: "This is fantastic news for the history and heritage of theatre in Bristol. The University's Theatre Collection has a long-standing relationship with the Bristol Old Vic and I am delighted that we will be able to work together, with the city's Record Office, to share this fascinating archive with the public."


For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact Amanda Adams

Bristol Old Vic Press Manager 0117 949 4901 / aadams@bristololdvic.org.uk



To download a wide selection of high res images showing Bristol Old Vic’s 250year history and plans for the future: www.bristololdvic.org.uk/heritagepress