History

Our theatre in Bawtry was founded rather to the end of that great expansion of Amateur theatre fostered by the British Drama League, in the early part of the 20th century. But it did stem from one of the traditional roots of local theatre - the son. or daughter, of the "big house". In our case Miss Eileen Peake of Bawtry Hall.

The latter was certainly the driving force, and it was in part of her house - The Coach House at the Hall, that the first meeting, attended by 21 people, took place on the night of the 30th September 1932: According to the minutes of the meeting; "It was duly proposed, seconded, and passed that a Society be formed to read and act plays and to meet regularly, and this Society be called "The Bawtry Dramatic Society".

Miss Peake had clearly made it known how she saw her role - Producer. I dare say few argued with the Lady of the Manor. She actually produced every production - 18 in total, over the next seven years.

Miss Peake's 18 does include many one act plays which were regularly put on at one of the many competitive Drama festivals which the Society entered, mainly in Doncaster and Sheffield, usually sponsored by the British Drama League.

Of the people at that first meeting, the last survivor, Ossie Storrs, died in 1996/1997. He was the special guest of the society at the official opening of the Lounge extension by the Mayor of Bawtry in 1995.

Returning to 1932; the first production of the Society was a double header of one act plays - "The House with Twisty Windows" and the "Invisible Duke", performed on Dec 7th and 8th in the stables at the Hall. Unfortunately the attendance and financial results of this first production have been lost.

However the April production in 1933, which consisted of three one act plays; Little Man, Legend, and Old Moores Almanack played to a total audience of approximately 115, and resulted in a net profit of £2-16-8d. Tickets sold at 1/-, and 2/- !!!!!!!


The photograph is from 'A Tale of a Royal Vest' by Roshruge - performed in 1934.


These early plays were performed in the stables at the hall which had a raised stage put up at one end. Sophistication of set is not apparent from some other photos we have from this period!

In the AGM in June 1936 it was reported that "The Coach House itself had been decorated and new seats provided and is quite a comfortable little Theatre now."

In June 1939 came the first intimations of war; the question was raised as to what should be done with the Society's properties etc in the event of war. Of course the war was a watershed for the society because during it Bawtry Hall was requisitioned by the war office and eventually housed the Northern HQ of Bomber Command, and Miss Peake and her family had to leave, never to return. The Coach House was lost to the Society and after the war productions were held in the Church Hall.

After the war, whereas committee meetings had been held invariably in the Coach House before, now they dotted around - to The Youth Movement Hut, to the Robot Café (!), the Infants School and members houses.


Photograph - J.B. Priestley play 'When We Are Married' performed in 1947.


The search was obviously on for a home for the Society and in the minutes of 22 January 1948 it is reported "They had been fortunate to obtain the Old Chapel on Station Road for storage and rehearsal".

The price was 8/6d per week plus electricity / rates etc. Very importantly, a formal agreement was signed between the society and Mrs Albert Marison for the use of the Old Chapel.

Disaster struck in 1964. Fire burnt out the chapel, all the societies' properties went; the roof laths were burnt off, the slates fell in; but the roof beams and major timbers survived as load bearing, and held up the roof of the auditorium - although a little charred!!

A play that was in rehearsal - "Friends and Neighbours" appropriately enough - was put on with the help of other Drama groups at Tickhill/Lound and Bircotes School. But no other plays were put on for two years while repairs were made and funds replenished.

In 1971 a new danger arose that threatened use of the Chapel - the building was nearly sold from under the society but the purchase was eventually secured for BADS, based on the agreement made with Mrs Marison - a decision of extreme foresight by the officers of the time.

By the late 70's early 80's, the task of rehearsing in the Chapel and transferring productions to the Church Hall was proving too restricting and it was decided to add a stage to the Chapel and convert it into an auditorium. The principal mover was Colin Crossland, with a number of members putting up loan money to cover the cost of £10,000 plus. This was a massive undertaking and was carried out to Colin's design by Doncaster Community Industries - labour was free but materials had to be acquired.
The photographs are of this project under construction.

The country was scoured for cheap equipment; auditorium seating came from a cinema, as did the electric curtain mechanism. Carpets came from an office block in London in a dawn raid one Saturday; the Curtains themselves with the benefit of a grant from the Bawtry Council.

To allow the work to be carried out no major productions went ahead in 1982. The last play in the Church Hall was 'Love in a Mist' and the first in the new theatre - The Phoenix Theatre - was 'Loves a Luxury' by Paxton and Hoile early in 1983.

A Junior Members Group was established and the members took part in Pinochio in 1984: and Puss in Boots 1989 - when the lights went out all over Bawtry one night and a performance was concluded with the aid of electric torches - said to be one of the funniest evenings on the Bawtry stage.

In 1987 we celebrated our 100th Production, Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw.

In 1995 an extension was added to the side of the old chapel building to accommodate a lounge area, kitchen and bar.

2004 saw the birth of our Folk and Blues evenings. The first night was on 7th May when we had "Random Cluster" (a folk band) ,"Vest Life" (a folk duo) and "Best of intentions", who all played to a full house.

Our building was further developed in 2005 with an extension which increased the lounge area and improved facilities to comply with the Disability Act. This cost £100,000. Half came from grants and donations including £37,000 from the Arts council. The other £50,000 came from our own efforts and many sponsored walks, rides, raffles, coffee mornings etc.

Our Theatre Director, Bob Geeson, is photographed right, overseeing construction of this extension.

After a number of years with no junior section, this was revived with an offer by drama teacher Tony Jones to take on running a Saturday morning Young Players drama group. He was later joined by drama coach Sarah Cowan. The group has proved to be a great success with over 40 members.
2005 also saw the birth of the Film Society, thanks to the efforts of Rupert Atkinson, with two films screened in the Spring of that year and the first full season commencing in the September.

And then in 2011, we started building again, to convert the old flat roof above the stage to an apical roof and to replace the old chapel roof above the auditorium.

This redesigned replacement roof over both areas incorporates new storage space, supports for lighting, sound, electric film screen and curtain tracks. Air conditioning and better ventilation have also been installed.

 

  

Phoenix Theatre, Station Rd, Bawtry, DN10 6PT

  ©Bawtry Theatre 2011