The Melville collection tells the story of a once thriving, theatrical family. It consists of play texts, some photocopied playbills, programmes, photographs, items relating to specific theatres, publicity material and a large number of personal papers.

The collection was acquired in several batches from 1990 onwards, including the purchase of the Bad Woman Dramas, plays written by Frederick Melville and Walter Melville. These were plays with a strong moral theme, very much suited to the tastes of the day.

When the material was received it had no immediately apparent order and so the decision was taken to sort it into a series of categories, consisting of theatres, biography, publicity material, periodicals, playtexts, programmes, playbills, Melville associates, music and miscellaneous. The collection comprises ca 1,500 items.

The 'Bad Woman Dramas' and the other manuscript and typescript texts are in LibrarySearch.

Collection in brief

Contents: play texts, programmes, playbills, photographs, publicity material, personal papers
Period: 19th-20th century

Acquisition and cataloguing

Andrew Melville III had assembled the collection for the purpose of writing a book about his family. After his death in 1988 the material was offered to the University of Sussex, by his widow Joan. They declined on the grounds that their courses didn't cover drama of this period, but suggested that the University of Kent, with its thriving Drama Department and its library collections of Victorian popular plays and playbills might be interested. The Templeman Library acquired the Melville collection with the help of Jan Shepherd of the Drama Department and Professor Louis James (English and American Literature) who held the chair of 'Victorian Melodrama' at that time.

Funding was received under the Non-Formula Funding Programme (Follett Funding) to conserve and catalogue all the material in the Victorian & Edwardian Theatre Collection. The documents were rehoused in acid free containers and are kept in a special store air conditioned by equipment bought with the non-formula funding provided by the Follett initiative.

The Melville family

George Melville

The Melvilles were a thriving theatrical family. The dynasty started with George Melville (1824-1898), a Shakespearian actor, who is reputed to have run away from home at the age of nine to join the travelling theatrical troupe of John Richardson.

A black and white photograph of George Melville

George Melville


His son Andrew Melville (1853-1896) was an actor and theatre proprietor in many towns and cities all over the country.

A black and white photograph of Andrew Melville I

Andrew Melville I

Frederick and Walter

Andrew's two eldest sons Frederick and Walter carried on the tradition, acting in, managing, directing, producing and writing plays. They shared the proprietorship of the Lyceum Theatre in the Strand putting on their own plays, many of which were never published, and staging elaborate pantomimes, the titles of which they tried to keep secret every year until the last possible moment.

A black and white photograph of Fred and Walter Melville.

Fred and Walter Melville 

Edith, Minnie, Kate, Beatrice, and Andrew II

Their sisters, Edith, Minnie, Kate and Beatrice were all actresses, and their brother Andrew Melville II (1882-1938) was also a successful actor and theatre manager and producer.

A collage of photographs of the Melville family, in costume.

From top left: Andrew I, Alice, Edith, Walter, Frederick, Kate, Minnie, Andrew II, Beatrice and Jack.  

Andrew III

His son, Andrew Melville III (1912-1988), was also associated with the theatre, and was married to the actress Joan Matheson who appeared in Mrs. Dales' Diary.

Andrew III was the last Melville to be associated with the theatre. He retired in 1950. Seventeen years later he was inspired to write a book about his own family by reading the biographical work "Neath the Mask" by a descendant of another theatrical family, John East. John East himself, and Joan, Andrew's wife helped Andrew to make copious notes and to collect much family and theatrical memorabilia on the Melvilles . A first draft was eventually produced tentatively entitled "The Melvilles of melodrama". Unfortunately the book has never been published. A letter exists from Harraps declining to publish it on the grounds that there was not enough interest in matters of this kind. Andrew III died in 1988.

A photograph of Rose Ralph, wife of Andrew Melville II in hat with feather holding Andrew Melville III as a baby.

Rose Ralph, wife of Andrew Melville II, holding Andrew Melville III as a baby.  

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