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Watercolour - Interior, showing a box and the stage, of the Old Grand Theatre, now the Gaumont Hippodrome, Colchester; Recording Britain Collection
  • Interior, showing a box and the stage, of the Old Grand Theatre, now the Gaumont Hippodrome, Colchester
    Bayes, born 1869 - died 1956
  • Enlarge image

Interior, showing a box and the stage, of the Old Grand Theatre, now the Gaumont Hippodrome, Colchester; Recording Britain Collection

  • Object:


  • Place of origin:

    Colchester, United Kingdom (painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1940 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Bayes, born 1869 - died 1956 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Pen and ink and watercolour on paper

  • Credit Line:

    Given by the Pilgrim Trust

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level D, case RB, shelf 41

Walter Bayes was a founding, but minor, member of the Camden Town Group, and this watercolour in particular demonstrates his debt to the group's leader, Walter Sickert. Music hall and theatre interiors were a favourite subject of Sickert, but whereas he preferred to concentrate on the eerie effects of flaring gas jets on the faces of performers and audience members, Bayes's pale watercolour tones emphasise the blazing lights and sparkling surfaces of the pink, white, and gilt decor of this Edwardian theatre. This, the second of two views he painted of this theatre interior, is dominated by the elaborate shell and pearl motif above the stage. The decoration pays tribute to local pride - Colchester has long been known for its oysters.

The Old Grand Theatre opened in Colchester in 1905, as the Grand Palace of Varieties. By the time Bayes painted this scene, the theatre was nearing the end of its existence as a venue for live performance. Many Victorian and Edwardian theatres were lost to dereliction and postwar development, but the Old Grand Theatre was relatively lucky: it became in turn a cinema and a bingo hall, before being restored inside and out in the 1980s and given a new lease on life as a nightclub.

Physical description

A watercolour depicting the richly ornamented interior of the Old Grand Theatre in Colchester. At left, on stage, an actress or singer in a lavender gown takes a curtain call, while three spectators watch from an ornate box at right. Above the proscenium arch is an elaborate moulding in the shape of an oyster shell and pearl.

Place of Origin

Colchester, United Kingdom (painted)


ca. 1940 (painted)


Bayes, born 1869 - died 1956 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Pen and ink and watercolour on paper

Marks and inscriptions



Height: 13.50 in, Width: 11.75 in

Object history note

Walter Bayes was a minor member of the Camden Town Group, and this watercolour demonstrates his debt to the group's chief exponent, Walter Sickert. However, whereas Sickert's theatre scenes usually concentrate on the faces of the audience in boxes lit by flaring gas jets, Bayes's paler watercolour emphasises the sparkling surfaces of the theatre's elaborate Victorian decor, particularly the oyster and pearl motif above the stage (even more so in this watercolour than in its pendant, E. 1368-1949). This was a reference to local pride, Colchester having long been famous for its oysters.
This work is from the ‘Recording Britain’ collection of topographical watercolours and drawings made in the early 1940s during the Second World War. In 1940 the Committee for the Employment of Artists in Wartime, part of the Ministry of Labour and National Service, launched a scheme to employ artists to record the home front in Britain, funded by a grant from the Pilgrim Trust. It ran until 1943 and some of the country’s finest watercolour painters, such as John Piper, Sir William Russell Flint and Rowland Hilder, were commissioned to make paintings and drawings of buildings, scenes, and places which captured a sense of national identity. Their subjects were typically English: market towns and villages, churches and country estates, rural landscapes and industries, rivers and wild places, monuments and ruins. Northern Ireland was not covered, only four Welsh counties were included, and a separate scheme ran in Scotland.

The scheme was known as ‘Recording the changing face of Britain’ and was established by Sir Kenneth Clark, then the director of the National Gallery. It ran alongside the official War Artists’ Scheme, which he also initiated. Clark was inspired by several motives: at the outbreak of war in 1939, there was a concern to document the British landscape in the face of the imminent threat of bomb damage, invasion, and loss caused by the operations of war. This was allied to an anxiety about changes to the landscape already underway, such as the rapid growth of cities, road building and housing developments, the decline of rural ways of life and industries, and new agricultural practices, which together contributed to the idea of a ‘vanishing Britain’. Clark also wanted to help artists, and the traditional forms of British art such as watercolour painting, to survive during the uncertain conditions of wartime. He in turn was inspired by America’s Federal Arts Project which was designed to give artists employment during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Over 1500 works were eventually produced by 97 artists, of whom 63 were specially commissioned. At the time the collection had a propaganda role, intended to boost national morale by celebrating Britain’s landscapes and heritage. Three exhibitions were held during the war at the National Gallery, and pictures from the collection were sent on touring exhibitions and to galleries all around the country. After the war, the whole collection was given to the V&A by the Pilgrim Trust in 1949, and it was documented in a four volume catalogue published between 1946 and 1949. For many years the majority of the collection was on loan to councils and record offices in each county, until recalled by the V&A around 1990. The pictures now form a memorial to the war effort, and a unique record of their time.

Historical context note

Victorian and Edwardian theatres were lost to dereliction and new development in great numbers following the war. At the time Bayes painted this view, the Colchester Theatre (which opened in 1905) was nearing the end of its life as a theatre. The Old Grand Theatre (now the Gaumont Hippodrome) was one of relatively few Edwardian theatres to escape post-war demolition, being converted into a cinema and then a bingo hall. Within the last twenty years the splendid interior has been restored and the theatre converted into a nightclub.

Descriptive line

Watercolour by Walter Bayes, 'Interior, showing a box and the stage, of The Old Grand Theatre, now the Gaumont Hippodrome, Colchester'; Recording Britain (Essex); ca. 1940.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Catalogue of Drawings in the 'Recording Britain' Collection given by the Pilgrim Trust to the Victoria and Albert Museum published by the Victoria and Albert Museum, Prints, Drawings and Paintings Department, 1951.
The full text of the entry is as follows:

BAYES, Walter, R.W.S.


Interior, showing a box and the stage, of The Old
Grand Theatre, now the Gaumont Hippodrome,
Signed in pencil - W B -
Pen and ink and water-colour (18 ½ x 14 7/16)
(Reproduced Vol II) [sic] Neg.No.A.128.

Mellor, David, Gill Saunders and Patrick Wright. Recording Britain: A Pictorial Domesday of Pre-War Britain. Newton Abbot and London: David & Charles in association with the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1990. p.67, illus.
Palmer, Arnold, ed. Recording Britain. London: Oxford University Press, 1946-49. Vol 2: Essex, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, Northhamptonshire and Rutlandshire, Norfolk, Yorkshire. p.1.
'In 1940 Essex seemed in more urgent need of recording than any other county except Kent. Apart from being an easy target for air-raiders and a convenient dumping-ground for bombs from machines which had failed to reach objectives farther inland, it was also a likely area for invasion, and consequently sure of priority in the attentions of the War Office. Records of Essex, then, were wanted, and quickly, before the county was occupied by the British, or the German, Army.'

Associated names

Sickert, Walter


Paper; Pen and ink and watercolour


Watercolour drawing

Subjects depicted

Essex; Theatres; Colchester


Recording Britain Collection

Collection code


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