I’ve mentioned visiting the Playhouse Theatre in our little town of Weston-super-Mare a couple of times; a month or so ago we went to see a musical evening about Elvis Presley’s comeback, and last week we went to see the story of the Dubliners, ‘Sven Drunken Nights’. I mentioned that the theatre we saw these treats in has quite a history.
There has been people living here since before Roman times, maybe just a handful of little huts, home to fishermen and farmers; they would have fished salmon from the River Severn and provably kept sheep on the rocky promontory at the north end of Glentworth, now Weston Bay. The Roman came, stayed, buried their dead and left, and the fisherfolk and farmers continued fishing and farming.
There was a little rill running out into the sea at the place where these early Westoners lived – that is why they settled there, near to fresh water and with watercress in abundance, and withies which had so many uses including wattle for their homes and fencing and for baskets. Along the course of this little stream was a trackway, which became a road and in later years the High Street of what was a village, leading to the Parish Church. As the village developed and grew the stream was culvetted but you can still smell it sometimes as you walk along the High Street.
In 1842 Weston was a boom town – well, maybe not a boom but it was certainly growing rapidly, and had been even before the railway arrived in 1841. A year after the railway, Weston was granted a market at the north end of the High Street where an open-air market had been operating for the previous twenty years. In 1899 a frontage to the Market Hall and the shops and businesses alongside it was designed by Hans Fowler Price
After the second World War the Market had ceased to operate, and in 1946 a second theatre for Weston was opened on this site – The Playhouse! It was a theatre which saw entertainment of every sort from the sublime to the ‘cor blimey’! It’s success came to an abrupt end in 1964 when a fire destroyed most of the theatre and that which was left had to be pulled down as unsafe.
A phoenix of a theatre arose from the ashes – The Playhouse re-opened in 1969. It was a marvellous purpose-built theatre which meant a greater variety of productions could be performed. The stage was 59 foot by 28 foot with an orchestra pit which could be covered to extend out beyond the edge of the stage. There are seats for 664 so there is plenty of room for an appreciative audience – such as we were watching the ‘Seven Drunken Nights’ last week.
By a strange coincidence, the decorative panels on the frontage were by the sculptor William Mitchell who worked on Liverpool Cathedral which we visited last week. I took several photos of his work, little realising I had seen other work back home in Weston-super-Mare.