at our Open Days
The material spans 1809-1953, but Bigwood himself is not mentioned on a playbill until 1851. The collection mainly consists of playbills, predominantly from the Britannia. There are also a few letters and theatrical ephemera such as cuttings and reviews. The collection also includes some artefacts, for example a tea service given to Bigwood by Sarah Lane.
Collection in brief
Contents: playbills, letters, cuttings, reviews, film programmes
Biographical notes: George Bigwood and the Britannia Theatre, Hoxton
George Barnes Bigwood was born in 1829. He started his working life at the Marylebone theatre where he was briefly involved on the management side and also spent some time at the Standard. In 1862 he joined the Britannia Theatre in Hoxton where he became their 'low comedian'. He also spent many years as the Britannia's stage manager. George Bernard Shaw commented on how able he was at the job. Early on he had problems with alcohol, often missing shows or forgetting his lines due to being drunk.
Sarah Lane, the theatre's manager, always protected Bigwood. At one point he was sacked but she had him reinstated. One of the letters to Bigwood from Sarah alludes to this problem. However when he was fifty, Bigwood suffered a head injury and was told that it would be dangerous for him to continue drinking. He therefore became teetotal and remained so for the rest of his life. When he eventually retired to Southend to run a tobacconists shop he was the longest surviving member of the Britannia company. He died in 1915 aged eighty-four.
Most of the information about George Bigwood comes from 'The Britannia diaries of Frederick Wilton' and 'East End Entertainment' by A. E. Wilson.