About Grand Memories

The "Grand Memories" journey began when I started work here in 2004. Finding my way to various departments, I would often pass through the beautiful Victorian auditorium. Alone in that vast space, I felt a real sense of history hidden amongst the plush red seats, stories of the past just waiting to be told. It seemed to me that the history of a building that had played its part in the lives of so many people, should be celebrated. However, there seemed to be no record of anyone’s memories being chronicled.

With the support of the Grand Theatre management, I set out to explore the history of our theatre further. Were there still people out there who had experienced theatre during the wartime years? Did anyone remember iconic performances by the likes of Leonard Rossiter, Sean Connery, Marlene Dietrich and Margot Fonteyn? Who were the forgotten heroes that had kept the theatre going night after night in front of declining audiences in the 50’s and 60’s? And how had the people of Wolverhampton felt when the Grand, hit hard by the recession, suddenly closed its doors in 1980? All these questions needed answering so that people of my own generation and beyond, those inheriting the Grand in the future, could understand the significance of the theatre in our city.

Questionnaires, press features and special Memory Afternoons were created to gauge public interest in the Grand’s past. The response was phenomenal and we were inundated by people who had heritage materials to donate and stories to share. I soon realised that these extensive memories of the Grand Theatre could lend themselves to a major project; the creation of a booklet, film, online resource and heritage display in our building.

Thanks to a generous grant of £43,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund we were able to make this vision a reality in 2009. Work began with oral historian Helen Lloyd and film-maker Phil Brown conducting over one hundred and thirty interviews with past patrons, workers and stars of the Grand. Young local volunteers were trained in interviewing and filming so that they too played an important part in this process.

These interviews were then painstakingly edited to provide the wonderful material which you will witness in our Grand Memories booklet and film.  Photographs, old programmes, tickets and autograph books have also been generously donated by patrons and local establishments such as Express and Star and City Archives to illustrate these memories.

Such information has also helped to shape the development of our online resource and in-house display. Please do visit our building and learn about the Grand through the years from our new information boards, gallery of stars and heritage displays situated front of house. A whole wealth of historical information can also be found throughout our Grand Memories website - so why not log on and leave your own memory of the Grand? More and more content will be added to the website every week, so even if you don't find what you're looking for on your first visit, you're sure to locate the memories you wish to remember in time!

The Grand Memories project has been a joy to work on. I am extremely proud to have met people who have made the Grand what it is today and brought their stories to light. I hope that in some way, I can leave my mark at the Grand Theatre through this project, just as so many of our interviewees have done in their lifetimes.

Happy reading and reminiscing!

Louise Bent
Grand Memories Project Manager