Stories from the Archive

Planes, Trains & Automobiles

Transport has always been an important concern at Glyndebourne – an opera house based not in a city, but the heart of the Sussex Downs.

Transport has always been an important concern at Glyndebourne – an opera house based not in a city, but the heart of the Sussex Downs.

Whether it’s how audience members are going to arrive for a performance, how to get a real-life car safely on and off the stage, or working out what kind of transport three magical creatures might take to get around, Glyndebourne has answered all of these questions and more during its long history.

Glyndebourne Festival Car Badges

These very handsome Glyndebourne Festival enamel car-badges came into use at the end of the 1950s. Car-parking at Glyndebourne up until that point had always been looked after by the AA, who marshalled cars into neat rows and generally supervised proceedings. But in 1953 Glyndebourne decided to take back responsibility for parking, charging a shilling for it (which increased, rather steeply to two shillings and sixpence the following year). Members parked for free if they displayed a paper document of membership, but in 1959 this system was upgraded to these badges. Festival Members could buy one for 25 shillings and then park for free in perpetuity.

We’re not quite sure when they were phased out, possibly as late as the opening of the new house, but we do know that Members would proudly bolt them onto their front bumpers alongside their AA or RAC badges. The design is the Christie family crest and their motto – “Integer Vitae” (Blameless in Life) – which was actually misspelled on the first batch. Famous Members we know had badges include cartoonist and stage designer Osbert Lancaster

Bicycle from Die Zauberflöte (2004)

Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte features three magical boys who suddenly appear and disappear at crucial points throughout the action to guide Prince Tamino in his quest. For Adrian Noble’s 2004 production, designer Anthony Ward came up with a particularly novel mode of transport for them – a three-seater tandem on which all the boys would ride one behind the other.

Built by Glyndebourne’s own props department, the bicycle was very much a functioning object, which not only flew across the back of the stage with the boys on it, but also had to be cycled on at one point. The rehearsals for the boys must have been long and complicated, as they learned how to manoeuvre this enormous, heavy object reliably under the pressure of a live performance. The prop-makers themselves were able to enjoy the bicycle under rather more relaxed circumstances, testing it out (successfully!) down the slope in front of their workshop. Bicycles, of course, make a return to Glyndebourne this summer in Rinaldo, where they take a starring role and even, once again, take flight.

1930s Glyndebourne Brochure

This beautiful, double-sided brochure was produced in 1934 for the inaugural Glyndebourne Festival, and covers every aspect of a visit to this brand-new Festival – timings, venue, booking arrangements, dining, and of course transport. The brochure makes no assumptions about Glyndebourne’s new audience, who might prefer to travel up from Victoria by Third Class rail (six shillings and sixpence) or First Class (ten shillings and sixpence). Audience members might even prefer to catch a local bus from Brighton or Eastbourne, alighting at Paygate from where it was “a short and pleasant walk” to the opera. What the brochure omits to mention is that it’s a short and pleasant walk over a very steep hill – possibly not the route of choice for ladies and gentlemen in formal eveningwear. 

Another option gives further insight into Glyndebourne’s early audiences. Visitors to the Festival are reassured that “There is an excellent landing ground for aeroplanes 100 yards from the opera house”. History doesn’t record whether anyone took advantage of this and actually brought their private plane, but more recently helicopters became a commonplace, parking up in the field opposite the house during the performance until Glyndebourne’s stopped the practice on environmental grounds.

Written by Alexandra Coghlan and Julia Aries

Image credits: Header image, photo by Guy Gravett | Die Zauberflöte, Festival 2004, photo by Mike Hoban

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