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Roy Waters lives on through remarkable collection

Posted on 16/08/2010

This picture of Roy Waters at the Les Deux Magots cafe is one of many found in his collection.

The Founder’s Library at Royal Holloway, University of London has received an extensive theatre collection as a bequest from the estate of Roy Waters.

Roy, who had close links with the College and its Drama Department, died at the age of 79 in May this year.  An English teacher and later school inspector, Roy spent the last 40 years of his life building an extensive and diverse library relating to the theatre.

The collection includes well over 3,000 books, many of them relating to the history of the stage, famous dramatists, actors and actresses, a particular theme being Oscar Wilde. There are also runs of periodicals such as ‘Play Pictorial’ and ‘Music Hall Records’ as well as a set of ‘The Yellow Book.’ There is printed ephemera of all types: playbills, theatre programmes including many rare and early items, souvenir programmes for first nights and special productions, memorial service sheets, cigarette cards and illustrated sheet music.

The Drama Department also aims to promote use of this fantastic collection to support teaching and research. Gilli Bush-Bailey, Head of the Department of Drama and Theatre, said, “Roy was a member of a long and illustrious line of collectors of theatre materials, an ancestry that reaches back through many generations to James Winston of Drury Lane and beyond, and included in the 20th century Gabrielle Enthoven, the founder of the V&A theatre collection. His generous and enthusiastic friendship with the Drama Department at Royal Holloway has been a pleasure to us all, and we will continue to remember him as we build future research upon the treasures he has left us”.

The range of archival material is impressive, including hundreds of individual autograph letters from the 18th to the 20th century and representative of many professions associated with the theatre from actors, actresses, dramatists and pantomime stars to theatre managers and costume designers, including autograph letters of George Arliss, Sir James Barrie, Phineas Taylor Barnum, Charles Dickens and a sick note for J.S.Grimaldi.

There is much illustrative material including scrapbooks, albums, ‘Vanity Fair’ prints, many of them collected for their relevance to the life of Oscar Wilde. There are hundreds of photographs, especially cartes de visite and cabinet photographs of actors and actresses, again including some very rare Oscar Wilde examples.

Roy also collected interesting artefacts including commemorative medals, ceramics, Staffordshire figures, Agatha Walker waxes, toy theatres and puppets. Audio is also represented, through sound recordings, mainly of important stage or musical productions.  

The library is working closely with Roy’s executors to sort and arrange the material, in particular David Robinson who has also donated material to the library alongside Roy’s collection. Provision has been made through the bequest for cataloguing and it is the intention to appoint an archivist and cataloguer.

John Tuck, Director of Library Services at Royal Holloway, said, “I had the pleasure of meeting Roy Waters at his home on just one occasion a few weeks before he died. Although terminally ill, he spent three hours with me, taking me through the rooms and along the shelves of his house, pointing out the marvels of his collection. It was an unforgettable experience.”


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