Handwritten programmes, original photographs and detailed recreations of costumes will all form part of the exhibition, which launches on Thursday 20 April at the University’s Arts Centre.

The exhibition, dreamt up by MA Nineteenth-Century Studies student Roy Bayfield, will showcase material from a wide variety of performances including King Lear, Macbeth, and The School for Scandal all dating back to the institution’s original base in Durning Road, Liverpool, which was destroyed in a German bombing raid that killed 166 people in November 1940.

A performance of an unknown Greek play. The photo will be on display as part of an exhibition exploring the history of theatre and performance at Edge Hill University.

The University had already moved to its current premises in Ormskirk by that point, but the upcoming exhibition gives memorable insight into what student life was like in surroundings sadly lost to the horrors of war.

Ma Nineteenth-Century Studies student, Roy Bayfield, browses bookshelves in Catalyst

“Theatre and performance has been woven into the fabric of Edge Hill since its inception.

“Students lives were very regimented, and this was a real release for them.

“The principal at the time, Sarah Jane Hale, took a huge interest in it and there were lots of different reasons why it was such a big part of life at Edge Hill.

“Some of it was fundraising to support charities and they also entertained visiting soldiers.

“Even through the First World War and the Spanish flu epidemic, they still found time to celebrate the arts.

“This fantastic exhibition will give a real insight into what life was like at Edge Hill through the lens of theatre and performance.”

Roy Bayfield, MA Nineteenth Century Studies student

“It might seem surprising that a college with the sole purpose of training women to be teachers involved its students in dramatic performance.

“Nevertheless, the early years of Edge Hill featured extensive, frequent, and diverse performance work, for a variety of purposes.

“Now more than 135 years later, theatre and performance remain integral to student life at Edge Hill.”

Dr Cathy Butterworth, Arts Centre Manager
Headshot of Dr Cathy Butterworth, Arts Centre manager.

“Historically there’s always been a rich culture of the arts at Edge Hill right since it was founded.

“These archive materials do a fantastic job of bringing the past to life for a new audience, giving us a real flavour of how creative and inspired students’ productions were.”

Dan Copley, Archivist

The University’s roots date back to 1885 when Edge Hill College opened in Liverpool as the first non-denominational teacher training college for women.

Sarah Jane Yelf was appointed as the College’s first Principal, with the intention of producing ‘a superior class of Elementary School Mistresses’.

Sarah Jane Hale took over as principal just as the College began to grow. The premises were enlarged in 1903 when a new wing, including three new classrooms, two laboratories and a gymnasium, was opened. By 1905, student numbers had risen to 160.

A performance of an unknown Greek play. The photo will be on display as part of an exhibition exploring the history of theatre and performance at Edge Hill University.

From its origins in 1885 as a specialist institution with 41 female trainee teachers, Edge Hill now has almost 10,000 full-time students, another 3,000 part-time students on a wide range of undergraduate programmes, and almost 5,000 full and part-time postgraduate students.

Since moving to Ormskirk in the 1930s, Edge Hill has gone from strength to strength. The University was recognised with Taught Degree Awarding Powers in 2006 and Research Degree Awarding Powers in 2008. EHU is one of a select few to have held the coveted UK University of the Year title (2014/15), and Modern University of the Year (2021/22).