What is a local history study?

A local history study involves looking at how and why part of your local community has developed in the way it has.

Investigating the people and events that took place where you live will help you develop a sense of historical curiosity about your area. You can see how your locality was involved in, responded to and was affected by important events. This will strengthen your knowledge of your local community and help you forge stronger links with it. Something which, at a time like this, has never been more important.

Conducting an independent enquiry into an aspect of your local area will also develop your enquiry skills and confidence in using a range of different historical sources, such as maps, photographs, and digital archives.

Why study Bristol Old Vic?

Built in 1766, Bristol Old Vic is the oldest continuously working theatre in the English-speaking world. Older theatres do exist, like The Globe in London, but Bristol Old Vic is the only one that has run for over 250 years without ever being closed down or destroyed. This is especially impressive given that the average lifespan of a theatre in the 18th century was only 17 years!

Our historic theatre has had many different faces during its history and has been known at different times as the Bristol Theatre, King Street Theatre, and the Theatre Royal. What has remained constant is that our theatre is run for the people of Bristol, by the people of Bristol, and such its history is closely intertwined with that of the city’s.

Our huge international significance, and our deep local ties, make us the perfect topic for your local history study.

Image: Our opening night playbill from 1766. Image courtesy of Bristol Archives.

Our resources

To help with your local study we have created a range of different historical resources, all of which can be accessed from your home.

RE:SOURCES: Developed in collaboration with Light Up Learning, the University of Bristol Theatre Collection and Bristol Archives, RE:SOURCES shine a light on the amazing stories of a theatre that has been entertaining Bristol for the last 253 years. The four packs explore different aspects of our heritage, and include timelines, fact files, photographs, primary documents and more.

Our online archive: For over 250 years the people who have owned, worked inside and visited the theatre have kept records about their activity. Throughout these pages you'll discover a range of documents which chronicle the history of the theatre, from its foundation in 1764 up until the present day.

Women of Bristol Old Vic: Created by theatre maker Charlotte Churm, Women of Bristol Old Vic brings the voices of women in theatre to the forefront of the industry and celebrates their achievements across theatrical history. Each episode combines archive material, oral histories and interviews with Bristol Old Vic staff, creatives and collaborators.

Window to the Past: You might not be able to explore our theatre in person at the moment, but you can still explore it virtually using Window to the Past, our bespoke augmented reality app. We used architectural plans, committee minutes and photographs from our historic collections at Bristol Archives and the University of Bristol Theatre Collection to discover what our foyer looked like during the 1770s, 1860s, 1910s and 1970s.

Other useful resources:

Bristol Archives playbills: Bristol Archives have digitised over 800 playbills from the first century our theatre was open (that’s 1766 to 1866). Looking through them will give you a sense of who performed at the theatre, what they performed, how much it cost to buy a ticket, and much more.

Know your place: Know Your Place allows you to explore Bristol’s past through historic maps, images and linked information. Zoom in on King Street to see some really old photos of our theatre!

Historic England: Historic England have some brilliant images of our theatre on their website. They also have lots of great information about planning and conducting a local study.

How to present your local study:

Once you have researched our theatre, you should create a final piece which presents all your findings in one place. To do so, you will need to select and organise the materials you want to use (ideally drawing them from a range of different sources) and evaluate them. You should also demonstrate an awareness that different people have different views about the past, and that some of their accounts are more reliable than others.

It’s also really important that you present your local study in an interesting and enticing way. As your project is about a theatre, why not present your local study in a theatrical way? You could create a play or song. Or, you could create a playbill-inspired poster. Maybe you could even create an audio experience, similar to our Women of Bristol Old Vic project.