Normansfield – Protecting a Theatrical Past
The scenery stored at Normansfield is unique, it’s as remarkable as the theatre itself.
The Down’s Syndrome Association (DSA) received £85,100 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for its exciting project: ‘Normansfield – Protecting a Theatrical Past’ in July 2015.
The HLF’s grant meant that vital building works could begin to protect the rare, Victorian Grade II* listed theatre and its remarkable collection of original, hand painted scenery. The scenery, which has no equal anywhere else in Britain, is extraordinarily complete with more than 80 flats, 18 borders, 5 painted cloths and many individual pieces. The funding also allowed the creation of a fully catalogued, digital archive of the Victorian scenery to create a ‘Virtual Theatre’ which is now available at the Langdon Down Centre. The ‘Virtual Theatre’ enables a schools and further education programme to explore this important collection. It will also be accessible to members of the public to learn more about the fascinating life of this beautiful theatre.
Normansfield Theatre is a rare and beautiful example of a late Victorian, private theatre which is considered to be of great architectural and historic importance. The scenery was expertly cleaned and conserved in 2002/2003 and this HLF funding ensures that the conditions in which the scenery is stored are not at risk of flooding and damp.
Carol Boys, the Chief Executive of the DSA (owners of the Normansfield Theatre) says about the HLF grant: “We are delighted to have received the support from the Heritage Lottery Fund. This award will ensure that our Victorian scenery is further protected and will be accessed by the public digitally and through our educational programme”.
Stuart Hobley, Head of Heritage Lottery Fund London says “Thanks to National Lottery players, this unique collection of theatrical scenery can be saved from deterioration. The new digital archive will allow even more people to discover and cherish the history of Victorian Normansfield and its theatre.”
Conservation of The Scenery Collection
The scenery collection was made for the Normansfield Theatre and were well cared for in their day, however, they remained largely unseen and forgotten from the 1950’s onwards.
Theatre scenery normally has a short life expectancy, and even elaborate scenes stood a good chance of being altered for another purpose. Painted cloths and flats from earlier than 1900 are now extremely rare. The survival of this amazing theatre, with this unique collection of Victorian scenery, came to the attention of theatre historians in the 1980’s.
A team of specialists, including Dr David Wilmore and Dr Colin Sorensen from the Museum of London, began to list and photograph the scenery in 1984. Due to the poor and crowded storage, there was some casual damage and soiling of the flats.
13 years later, the Theatres Trust, with financial support from the Friends’ of Normansfield, was able to commission the Textile Conservation Centre, to survey the scenery and report on its condition.
A Conservation Plan was put in place by John Earl while all the materials were carefully wrapped and stored properly and securely. The scenery was restored. Today, this collection is the largest Victorian collection of scenery in the UK.
The Stage itself still contains the original working flaps and is only one of two working theatres with this in place today. The scenery on the stage today is a painted replica of the original, due to the fragile nature of the scenery.
Normansfield – Protecting a Theatrical Past Project
July 2015, work began on the project, starting with the external drainage works to the Langdon Down Centre which surrounds the basement area where our large collection of flats is stored. The works took 3 weeks to complete.
In July, we photographed every flat in the storage racks, and held 2 student workshops; visiting GCSE students from local secondary schools had a photographic workshop with our photographer Philip Hollis.
Week commencing 24th August, the second week of the scenery photography took place . A team of 7, under the guidance of David Wilmore, photographed every piece of scenery in our storage area and in the theatre itself. Backdrops, borders, additional flats and standalone pieces of stage scenery were photographed. Karen Thompson, who was part of the original Conservation team, was here to assess to condition of the scenery. One workshop for 4 GCSE photography students was held on 24th August, and 2 filming students from Bournemouth University documented the project through film throughout.
The next stage of the project was the cataloguing of the scenery, which took several months to complete and further work and visits from David Wilmore and our Archivist Ian Jones Healey.
Examples of the Victorian backcloths are shown below
Examples of the Victorian Flats are shown below
Examples of the Victorian props are shown below
Photos taken from the student workshops
Viewing the full digital catalogue of Victorian Scenery
To view our full catalogue of restored scenery and to create your own stage scene using our scenery on the touchscreen, please visit the Normansfield Theatre on one of the monthly open days. For open days see the museum page. Admission is free of charge.
Theatre Talks and Tours
Alternatively, please book onto one of our Theatre Tours. See here for next dates.
School visits/educational visits
To arrange a visit please contact:
Ian Jones-Healey, Archivist
T: 0333 1212 300
Normansfield – Protecting a Theatrical Past has been funded by