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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Thr 461

Argyle Theatre (Birkenhead, England) records


Records of the Argyle Theatre, music hall, including contracts, playbills and photographs.


  • Creation: 1885-1944

Language of Materials

Collection materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material. Collection is open for research.


4 linear feet (11 boxes and 25 folders)

This collection documents only select periods in the Argyle Theatre's long history. The series of booking records provides a good look at the line-up of talent on a weekly basis. The contracts record working conditions for performers in the early years of World War II. The series of window cards, playbills, and photographs cover a relatively short period of time. The location of the remainder of the Argyle Theatre's records is unknown; they may have been destroyed in the war.

Biographical / Historical

The Argyle Theatre was one of the oldest music halls in Britain, famous for its lively entertainment and for fostering new talent. It opened as a music hall in 1868 under the ownership of Dennis Grannel. In 1876 Grannell changed the name to the Prince of Wales and used the theatre to present plays. In 1890 Denis J. Clarke, Mr. Grannell's nephew, took over the management of the theatre and changed it back to a music hall under its original name of the Argyle Theatre. Clarke ran the Argyle for 45 years, making it the best-known music hall theatre in England.

Many stars began their careers at the Argyle, notably Sir Harry Lauder, Vesta Tilley, Dan Leno, George Robey, Charlie Chaplin, Flanagan and Stan Laurel (of Laurel and Hardy fame). Live performances featured songs, dances, comic skits, acrobatic performances, pantomime and other music hall acts associated with vaudeville. The Argyle was the first music hall to present radio broadcasts that were aired throughout the Commonwealth; it was also the only British music hall to broadcast direct to the United States on a coast-to-coast hook-up. In 1896, the Argyle was the first theatre outside of London to present Thomas Edison's Vitagraph Living Pictures. In 1910 it showed footage of the funeral of King Edward VII and in 1911 the coronation of King George and Queen Mary. Although the theatre showed films and newsreels for a number of years, the main attractions at the Argyle continued to be live performances.

The Argyle was destroyed by fire in an air raid during the Battle of Britain on September 21, 1940.


Organized into the following series

  1. I. Booking Records
  2. II. Contracts
  3. III. Window Cards
  4. IV. Playbills
  5. V. Photographs

Immediate Source of Acquisition

2003MT-232. Purchased from London dealer David Drummond in three accessions: record books, playbills and window cards in 1997; an index to the record books and photographs in 1998; and additional photographs and contracts in 1999.

Processing Information

Simmons College graduate student Vivien Goldman processed this collection during the fall of 1999, under the supervision of the Harvard Theatre Collection's Technical Services Librarian, Beth Carroll-Horrocks. Revised March 1, 2004.

Argyle Theatre (Birkenhead, England). Argyle Theatre (Birkenhead, England) records, 1885-1944: Guide.
Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, archives, and more. Houghton Library's collections represent the scope of human experience from ancient Egypt to twenty-first century Cambridge. With strengths primarily in North American and European history, literature, and culture, collections range in media from printed books and handwritten manuscripts to maps, drawings and paintings, prints, posters, photographs, film and audio recordings, and digital media, as well as costumes, theater props, and a wide range of other objects. Houghton Library has historically focused on collecting the written record of European and Eurocentric North American culture, yet it holds a large and diverse number of primary sources valuable for research on the languages, culture and history of indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Houghton Library’s Reading Room is free and open to all who wish to use the library’s collections.

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