Lilian Baylis

"As the grandmother of our national theatre, as well as of our national opera and ballet, Lilian Baylis set an agenda of crusading hard work and devotion that is inspirational"
Richard Eyre

Lilian Baylis' first experience of management was in South Africa, where her parents, both musicians, had emigrated in 1890. She returned to England in 1898 to help her aunt, Emma Cons, run the Royal Victoria Hall as a temperance hall. Following the death of her aunt in 1912, she took over the management of the theatre and remained with it, now named The Old Vic, for the rest of her life. Amongst her greatest achievements there was the production of all of Shakespeare's plays, from The Taming of the Shrew in 1914 to Troilus and Cressida in 1923.

As the driving force behind the development of the Old Vic as the home of high-quality accessible drama and opera, Lilian Baylis decided in 1925 that Sadler's Wells would make the ideal location for the extension to the north London of her theatre policy. Over time opera, and later dance settled into the Wells as the artforms best suited to the theatre, leaving drama to flourish at the Old Vic. The programme has always been eclectic and the theatre still owes its current success to the vision and standards of Lilan Baylis who was similarly inspired by Samuel Phelps the Actor/Manager at Sadler's Wells 1844 - 1862.

"I merely throw my bread upon the waters in the hope that it may gather strength and come back after many days"
Samuel Phelps in 1876


In 1928 Baylis, with typical foresight, engaged Ninette deValois, under whose inspired direction classical ballet was developed and went from strength to strength. Baylis had enabled the creation at Sadler's Wells of what became three of the top performing companies in the land: The Royal Ballet, English National Opera and Birmingham Royal Ballet, as well as the renowned Royal Ballet School.

Charged with her beliefs and her sheer determination, the Lilian Baylis legacy is enormous, both through what she herself achieved and thus through what she enabled others to achieve.

"I know, as Samuel Phelps knew, that those who have been nourished on great music and drama, or have discovered the true recreation that they will provide, will never again accept jejune and trashy entertainments whose claim on the mind is absolutely transitory.
Lilian Baylis in 1931

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