The Rainford Amateur Dramatics Society have a long established and proud history. You can read through the below tabbed sections to find out more about it!
- Formation of the Society
- The Early Days
- The First Play
- The Story Unfolds
- The Church Hall
- The Story Continues
Formation of the Society
By Helen Fishwick
It is said that Christ was born in a stable; well the Dramatic Society was born in a wash house. In 1948, the Revd. Fielding Taylor requested my husband Stanley and I to form a Society with a view to raising funds for the Church, whose finances were very low. The Vicar was on the minimum stipend and the Curate dependent upon the Church Garden Party to augment his salary. On one occasion the PCC had a loan from a parishioner to pay his wage.
A meeting was arranged to be held in the Parish Room or the Hut as it was generally called. This is the hut next to the Vicarage. Something went wrong with the arrangements because the vicar and his wife were both out, the hut locked and we didn’t have a key. So on a bitter winter’s night we took it upon ourselves to go into the vicarage wash house as a last resort to hold the meeting. It was beautifully clean, the walls and boiler whitewashed and the floor scrubbed. There we made ourselves as comfortable as possible sitting on dolly-tubs, the boiler and anything else to hand.
Needless to say the meeting didn’t last long in these conditions but Mrs. Gibbins, or Sadie as everyone knew her, was made chairman. She worked at Pilkington and had friends in the Pilkington Players so she seemed right for the job. She agreed to contact Joe and Edith Anderton and Jack Sumner who had contact with the Derby Players, Ormskirk and thus under cold and uncomfortable conditions the Society was formed and a future meeting arranged
It was decided to ask Edith Anderton to be the producer of the first play and a committee was formed. The rehearsals were to be held in the Hut. The play chosen was’ Meet the Family’ and Edith laid down strict rules from the start; no one was to be late for rehearsals and there were to be no absentees. Dramatics must come first or you would be replaced. She taught us how to project our voices, how to stand, sit and do a stage turn and never to hang on to the back of a chair. This was a very good start for us all.
Rehearsals were very enjoyable evenings as most members attended and watched the progress of each play. But the gas light and gas fire in the Hut made our eyes tired and our throats dry. We were able to make a pot of tea by boiling a tin kettle in front of one of the fires. This wasn’t a good arrangement so we raised money to pay for an electric cable to he brought up to the hut from the road and electricity was installed which was a great improvement.
One night Wilson Rigby was sitting under one of the hopper windows when it crashed down over his head. We all laughed at the funny sight as he was encased in the frame but it was quite a difficult job to release him.
Jack Sumner was Stage Manager and organised the making of flats for a set. It was a time of great shortage and few new materials were obtainable. So with the help of Frank Bottomley some second hand timber was obtained and the frames made. These were covered with second hand hessian and sized before being painted. All this was done outside in the Vicarage Yard on Saturday afternoons (everyone was working Saturday mornings) The set was stored in the Vicarage stable thanks to the long suffering Vicar and Mrs. Taylor who watched everything with great interest and gave us plenty of encouragement. Mr. Taylor looked in at every rehearsal just in time for a cup of tea.
The Early Days
By Kathleen Whittaker
In the beginning a few were gathered together in the hut by the Vicarage their intention to form the Rainford Parish Church Amateur Dramatic Society and ‘the die was cast.’ At that meeting, on a November evening in 1948 well wrapped up against the cold, our only form of heating being a rather unpredictable gas fire, a Committee was formed with Sadie Gibbins as Chairman (today she would have been a Chairperson) Sadie solicited the aid of two friends who like her, worked at Pilkington, but who were also very active members of the Pilkington Dramatic Society. They answered our call for help and our first production got underway with Edie Anderton as producer.
Edie Anderton was a hard taskmaster but her ‘know-how’ was invaluable to novices venturing for the first time into the Thespian World. I remember well how she instilled into us not to miss rehearsal, learn our parts in good time and if you were a married woman, even if you were newlywed as many of us were, there was to be no sentimentality about removing your wedding ring if you were playing the part of somebody’s sweetheart. Diction was often corrected one word in particular I remember- to say AGAIN was wrong, it must be AGEN and to this day, time and agen I remember to say AGEN!
The rehearsals proceeded in the confined space of the hut and we were aware that taking two paces there would mean six on the stage at the Village Hall. Finding that many were suffering from hoarseness, Tom Lawrenson, who sadly is no longer with us, did a little experiment. He placed a saucer of water in front of the gas fire and finding it soon dried up, he installed an electric fire. Carried out the same test and ‘Eureka!’ the water remained in the saucer and we could all lift up our voices again. Always welcome was the cup of tea made in the Vicarage kitchen by willing helpers and courtesy of the vicar’s wife, Mrs. Taylor, whose son Maurice had a part in the first play.
One incident worthy of mention and which could have had disastrous consequences was the night it was very windy and a window came crashing in straight down on top of Wilson Rigby’s head. There he was with a startled expression on his face he’d been framed! Fortunately he wasn’t hurt.
Our greatest expense was the hiring of the Village Hall – the only place there was a stage and room for an audience. The hall was hired for three days ‘Wednesday for putting up the set and our one and only Dress Rehearsal and Thursday and Friday for presenting the show. Saturdays were not available as that was the night for the Village Hop. The set was erected in record time, footlights installed, props placed in position and all was ready for the Dress Rehearsal which ended with “Don’t worry, a poor dress rehearsal means a good show” or in other words “It’ll be all right on the night” didn’t help a lot’
And so with great difficulty, but with lots of fun and enthusiasm the great day arrived. Feeling decidedly shaky, taking a last nervous look at our lines, with a last minute request from our producer. “Don’t forget to project your voices,” but with many off-stage whispers of, “Good Luck!” ringing in our ears this little band of-would be actors and actresses of the Rainford Parish Church Amateur Dramatic Society stepped out of the wings and on to the stage and the show began.
Our very first play ‘Meet the Family’ was presented in March 1949 and was greeted with applause which gave us the encouragement to carry on and so the Society has continued , for fifty years, and given great pleasure to audiences and members alike.
The First Play
By Helen Fishwick
Meet the Family was given in the Village Hall under great difficulties. The hall was so expensive to hire that we had to erect the set, fix the lighting etc. on the Dress Rehearsal night. There were only two plugs on the stage and our electrician Norman Whalley plugged into an EXIT light to help matters. He needed a switch board for all his controls so a certain member jumped into his car and under cover of darkness removed a notice board marked TANKS from the bypass (tanks were stored there during the war) and it was painted green before the switches were fixed on it.
Edith and Joe did ‘make up’ and as we were all very young they went to town with the lake liner and put talc in our hair to add a few years to our appearance.
Our first dress rehearsal was full of hitches and finished about midnight. Everyone was filled with nerves on the first night. Edward Webster got up from his sick bed to play his part but as the saying goes ‘it was all right on the night’ and we were all pleased with our performances.
Immediately after the last performance the stage hands dismantled the set removing everything in one of Swallow’s vans, otherwise we would have been charged extra for the hall, which had to be cleared for the Saturday night dance.
Everyone worked very hard and was greatly rewarded by the money raised which went to provide cassocks for the Church Choir who up until then had only had surplices.
Thoughts and plans were made for the next production.
The Story Unfolds
By Helen Fishwick
I am not going to comment on each play that would take too long; but some stick out more than others.
Chiltern Hundreds was one play in particular. We had borrowed a backcloth from the Derby Players and my father had lent us a shotgun. My father had removed the shot from several cartridges to make then, safe but had left in the wads. Well, when Keith Rimmer, who was playing Lord Lister fired the gun through the french window, the wad made a huge tear in the back cloth. Needless to say we had the wads removed for the next night.
Tea was provided in the interval with great difficulty. There was an old temperamental gas geyser in the side room which was then the kitchen, this blew its top off on occasions during the play and, as well as taking a part, I was the only spare member available to make the tea which was brewed in large urns and carried out of the hall and round the front to the side door of the clinic where it was poured out. Just as I was filling one of the urns, there was this terrible bang, I nearly screamed as I thought the geyser had blown up. After this performance I was complimented by some friends on a good cup of tea and when the urn was emptied out came a dish cloth.
In ‘Beside the Seaside’ I played a large fat landlady. As I was bent double brushing sand from the floor into a dustpan my line was “My front steps are a disgrace” Jack Martindale entered and said “Yes! and your back passage isn’t so good Missus.” He meant to say “back porch”
We took ‘See How They Run’ to Eccleston Hall to entertain the patients. Annie Smith should have practised her scales during the play but she had lost her voice and just managed to croak her lines so her scales were sung off stage for her. The stage was very small and it was quite hilarious with everyone running in and out through doorways and off stage. Matron laid on a nice supper for us and Arthur Rimmer entertained on the piano. Matron thanked us for our efforts but suggested that if we went again, we shouldn’t make the patients laugh so much as it wasn’t good for them.
We had a close shave with ‘Wild Goose Chase’ when Geoff Brown had a motorbike accident and was detained in hospital. Fortunately Jack Wilson had played the part with Pilkington Players and was able to step in and save the day.
Jack Austin, who was a linesman on the railway, had just been made upon Dress Rehearsal night when the police came for him and took him down to the railway where a train had been derailed. So that Dress Rehearsal went ahead with one player missing, the sort of nightmare everyone has. I am sure that every member will have their own particular memory.
We had a very good social side with parties, theatre outings, picnics, treasure hunts, observation runs, and American Square dances with Fred Winslade as caller, a Tramps Ball and Voodoo night. In fact some people wanted to become members just for the social side but this was not permitted.
The Church Hall
By Helen Fishwick
It was after the funeral of George Gibbins, one of our founder members, that the idea of our own Little Theatre was muted. We were all very enthusiastic and raised £1000 with a Christmas Fayre. We had decided to buy a Nissan hut from Burscough Aerodrome and erect it on the Recreation Field. When we put the idea to the Vicar he asked us to consider working for something better, a brick built hall in the Vicarage garden, a hall which could be used by other church organisations. We were shattered at first by this idea but the more we thought about it the better it became and a target of £5000 was set.
An appeal was launched; the vicar’s son drew up the plans and the Revd. Taylor asked individual tradesman to give their time and skills voluntarily. This was a tremendous thing to do and the Vicar himself put in a lot of time stacking bricks for the brick setters. Mrs. Taylor organised the making of tea for refreshments and the foundation stone was laid by Col. Guy Pilkington on 13th August 1955. By March 1958, £6058 had been raised . The hall was built completely by donations and voluntary labour except for the floor, roof and lighting and the finished hall was opened by the Bishop of Liverpool. The Dramatic Society provided the stage lighting and the curtains. It was a very proud time for us all we had realised our dream – our own little theatre and a Hall for the Parish.
One cannot describe the thrill of rehearsing and playing in the new Hall. It was wonderful and sheer luxury after all the inconvenience we had previously experienced. We had curtains which didn’t need a pin to fasten them and which ran smoothly, we had fixed lighting and music, a comfortable kitchen, toilets, car park with lights and we could erect the set in comfort and in our own time. It really was a dream come true.
All seats were numbered and so were the tickets. There was always a scramble for the first rows. Programmes were sold and tea served by members in evening dresses and dinner suits. We tried really hard to create a real theatre atmosphere.
The Story Continues
By Helen Fishwick
For years we had a very good frelationship with the Pilkington Players and they helped us a lot. They came to see our plays and we reciprocated. We often joined each other in social events.
Over the years we made many gifts to the Church supporting all the various appeals, buying cassocks for the choir, a communion set, the red and white altar frontal and keeping the hall up to standard.
We always tried to help all members by fixing prices of functions to suit their pockets and although there were only four cars between us we tried to give lifts wherever possible, fetching the Andertons from St.Helens and Arthur Rimmer when he lived in Sutton. We would also meet members from the train at the junction and take them to the Village Hall to get them there on time, providing sandwiches for them if required. The men folk always provided the entertainment at our parties which they kept secret. On one occasion they all wore short frilly skirts and pan lids on elastic for bras. Gordon Taylor was very good at organising team games and we all remember Harry Whittaker and his cow.
We had two weekends in the Lake District, one at the Swan at Newby Bridge and the other at the Rothay in Grasmere. We climbed up to Easdale Tarn and went fishing, Margaret 0llerton as she then was, didn’t want to pack up because she hadn’t used her maggots up. We had lots of laughs at the Rothay which was run by a retired Vicar and his wife, a most unlikely couple. One night Mrs. Dan had a migraine and asked us to help ourselves to drinks and serve in the cocktail bar as she was going to bed. What a rush there was behind the bar “The prices are on the wall and you know where everything is” said Mrs. Dan as she departed upstairs. Another night we were playing cards in front of a beautiful log fire when a young couple came and asked for accommodation for the night. “Well!” said Mrs. Dan, we only have one room available. Are you married?” “No,” came the reply. “Are you engaged?” “Yes.” “Well you can have the room and I’ll put a screen between the beds.” Both weekends were very enjoyable and, I am sure, still vividly remembered by all who went.
Edith Anderson is in her eighties and lives in Australia as does Bill Fairness and Geoff Brown. Annie Smith lives in Somerset and looks as young as ever.
Sadly lots of members are no longer with us and lots have moved away but it is so nice to see the society after 50 years still strong and energetic. We have often heard the remark after these latter plays.” Well they’re not as good as we were.” but I have to confess that at least I think they are just about as good.