Odds and quads

John Gay's celebrated "ballad opera", The Beggar's Opera, was written in 1728. These striking wax figures - of Elsie French as Mrs Peachum and Violet Marquesita as Lucy Lockit - were created by Agatha Walker on the basis of a production at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith in 1920.

March 8, 2012

Credit: Patrick Durnford/Photographs by Christopher Jordan

They form part of the Roy Waters Theatre Collection, amassed by teacher and school inspector Roy Waters over four decades. It was bequeathed to Royal Holloway, University of London, after his death in 2010, aged 79.

This remarkable array of ephemera includes manuscript letters from more than 600 actors, actresses, writers and other men and women of the theatre, including Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens, Ellen Terry and Edmund Kean; postcards, cartes de visite, cabinet cards and cigarette cards; material from toy theatres; plus playbills, programmes, prints, sheet music and newspapers, notably some relating to the assassination of US president Abraham Lincoln in 1865.

Another highlight is Samuel de Wilde's portrait of Stephen Kemble as Falstaff, reputedly the first English actor to play the role without artificial padding.

Send suggestions for this series on the treasures, oddities and curiosities owned by universities across the world to: matthew.reisz@tsleducation.com.

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