The following is the full history as taken directly from "From Barn To Station - a brief history 1947 - 2004" written by our esteemed President Captain Derek Oakley MBE for the 200th production in 2004.
Video of the Station Theatre Conversion
To see a video of the conversion project, please click here.
This special brochure celebrates 200 plays performed by HIADS during their 57 years history. Formed by a group of amateur thespians, bored by the lack of facilities on Hayling Island just after the war, this booklet shows how the Society developed from humble beginnings with no money, home, scenery, costumes or props into the thriving, vibrant organisation it is today.
When first Victoria Hall closed, and then the Regal Cinema, it left Hayling with a huge void in the entertainment arena. Church and school halls, followed much later by the Community Centre were available for societies putting on shows, but it was the vision of three men, Arthur Oliver, Dennis Collett and Ivan Snell, supported by their wives, that led to developing both an amateur dramatic society and a theatre for their own use.
Forty five years later when Eric Dossetter and his project team conceived the idea of developing the old Station Goods Shed into the new Station Theatre, it gave Hayling a venue, not only for HIADS own plays, but also for a number of other Hayling societies and many visiting professional and amateur groups.
The encouragement given by Hayling Islanders, Havant Borough Council and Hampshire County Council for this project and the support given by our audiences, has ensured that a wide variety of entertainment is available close at hand at affordable prices. The introduction of periodic film shows has proved immensely popular.
But the whole project would not have succeeded without the talented acting members, the energy and dedication of the support teams both front of house and backstage. HIADS are proud to be able to say that theirs is arguably the best equipped and comfortable amateur theatre in the County and along the south coast of England.
I would like to thank all those who have offered photographs, programmes and anecdotes for this brief history; and also to Marilyn Stevens of Articulate Studios for permission to use some of her many poster designs for the Society; and finally to Neil Oakley for his cover design.
HIADS and the Barn Theatre
The first 49 Years of Hayling Island Amateur Dramatic Society
It is now nearly sixty years since Hayling Island Amateur Dramatic Society was first formed. On 23rd October 1947 a group of friends met at 'Springfield', the home of Arthur and Betty Oliver in Brights Lane. At this get-together HIADS was inaugurated and by the end of its first year boasted 72 members at one guinea a year. The driving forces behind this new venture were Dennis Collett as honorary secretary and Arthur Oliver as honorary treasurer. The minutes of the first meeting proclaimed that the Society was formed for the purpose of 'providing relief from the dreadful monotony of the winter on the island'.
At that time HIADS had no permanent home, but had to be content with finding somewhere to perform. Community life had been disrupted by the war which had finished only two years earlier and residents were now beginning to drift back on to the Island. Amongst those making the Island their home were a group who felt they needed an outlet for their theatrical aspirations.
Prior to World War 2
However this was not Hayling's first theatrical venture. Brenda Wood, a former member, recalls belonging to the pre-war Hayling Players, who performed their first play 'Baa, Baa, Black Sheep' in 1935 at Victoria Hall under Harry Budd's direction. Even earlier there was a pantomime 'Babes in the Wood' featuring Madame Dorothy's Juveniles being performed in the British Legion Hall in 1930. A photograph which appeared in a Hayling Islander calendar depicted a play at the Barn in 1935 with the heading 'Hayling Island Amateur Dramatic Society', in which Julianna Snell and other members of the family were shown. But no permanent Society had been formed then.
And so it was in 1947 that HIADS was born. Amongst those who joined in the early stages and who lived most of their lives on the Island were Betty and Arthur Oliver, Dennis Collett and Effie Taylor. Their first production 'Quiet Weekend' was staged at the Victoria Theatre, premises that were subsequently occupied by Broadview School in Westfield Avenue. This was the spring of 1948 Plays continued at the Victoria Theatre for three of the next four productions, but ‘Tony Draws a Hoise’ was staged at Sunshine Holiday Camp (now Mill Rythe). In those years performances were also given at St Faiths' Hall, Havant, the Globe Theatre in the Royal Marines Barracks at Eastney, and even in the canteen of Chapman's Laundry in Portsmouth. Since then the Society has mounted 200 major productions ranging from Shakespeare to Shaw, Ayckbourn to Durrenmatt, Stoppard to Checkov. There have been comedies, farces, tragedies, pantomimes and thrillers, supplemented with one-act plays, revues and youth productions.
The Creation of the Barn Theatre
The Barn Theatre: To the right is the small entrance foyer and bar, and on the left is the dressing room. The barn itself housed the stage and auditorium, with a seating capacity of 93.
At first there was a natural reluctance to go for anything too abstruse so 'safe' plays like 'Quiet Wedding', 'Outward Bound' and 'The Shop at Sly Corner' were the norm. One of the aims stated on the first programme was ‘. . . the highest standard in Plays and Productions will always be maintained’. But the Society was seeking a permanent home, and it was Captain Ivan Snell, the owner of Mengeham House who came to the rescue. In 1949, he offered to build a stage inside his Barn. Captain Snell had moved into Mengeham House in the early 1930s when the Barn was still used for its original purpose. When he updated the workings of the farm, he laid a wooden floor and his family used it as a play and activity room. The Snells were very keen on theatrical presentations and performed shows and sketches each Christmas. There was no stage as such nor lighting, but a curtain was rigged towards one end and backdrops were hung where the present stage was subsequently built. During the war the Barn saw dances and concerts for the troops.
Ivan Snell’s plan to convert the Barn into a proper theatre came to fruition in late 1949 and in the following March the newly constructed Barn Theatre stage saw its first production with 'And No Birds Sing'. Much of the stage had been constructed using the old planking from the Bailey bridge which had joined the Island with the mainland and was now being replaced. Many old stagers remember the rounded bolt heads pressing through their shoes and the stage furniture that refused to move in the right direction. In addition there were gaps between the ill-fitting planks. But at least it was a start, Captain Ivan Snell MC, JP became the first President of the Society. A note in the programme for the first Barn production tells us that this non-profit making Society had already spent 'over £170 on stage lighting and still more is needed. We have to bear the cost of heating, lighting, royalties and many other incidental expenses.' The subscription was still only a guinea with members under 20 paying 5/-. The first committee was chaired by Mrs B Frith and on the committee were Mary Grannum (now Pym), Betty Oliver, Vyvyan Dougherty and Leonard Woodward, with Dennis Collett as honorary secretary and Robert Edgar as honorary treasurer.
Fluctuating Membership in the 1950s
In the early days, membership fluctuated considerably, particularly as some members were in the Services and liable to constant moves, but a steady band of Islanders kept the Society flourishing, particularly under Betty Oliver's chairmanship in the mid-50s, Effie Taylor, Vyvyan Dougherty (a later Chairman) and Barbara Winter. Robert Edgar remained honorary treasurer for more than 20 years. Although they had performed their annual displays there, it was not until the early 60s that Mrs Snell invited the Hayling Island School of Dancing, under their principal Baba Sparkes, to share the facilities of the Barn.
Money was always at a premium and storage space difficult. The Society thrived during the 1950s and there were some notable productions amongst them 'Arms and the Man' and 'The School for Scandal'. When Hayling Island's last cinema, the Regal in Mengham, closed in 1961, some of the main curtains and flats were purchased from them, which were subsequently cut down to size. A few of the flats are still in use today.
On eight occasions during the late 50s and early 60s, a programme of One Act Plays was performed instead of a full length production which gave more actors and aspiring directors a chance to show their paces. In 1962, one of these short plays was entitled 'The Wives of Hayling', a story with music of yesteryear Islanders, and was written by a prominent member Edith Grist, under her professional stage name of Edith Newlyn, who had retired to live on Hayling.
When Captain Snell died in 1958, his widow Marjorie Snell became President of HIADS. She shared her late husband's interest and enthusiasm for the theatre and was more than delighted to allow the Barn to be used for this purpose - free of charge. The Society's first pantomime was 'Babes in the Wood' in 1965 when Mrs Snell, an accomplished pianist, provided the musical backing. Subsequently Edith Grist wrote and composed two further pantomimes 'Belles of Bow' and 'A Lad In Trouble' in which a number of youngsters had their first taste of the stage. Commander Sir David Mackworth had become the Society's chairman in 1964 but HIADS membership was at a very low ebb and his efforts in recruiting new members helped the Society back on its feet. There were no productions in 1966 and just one play and a pantomime in the following year
A New Stage
In 1967, the principal of the School of Dancing felt that the stage was unsuitable for dancing displays and it was decided to rebuild it at a cost of about £130. David Mackworth along with Jim Allsop undertook this task. The money for this was raised by the School of Dancing. The bolt heads disappeared providing a clean, flat stage with additional storage space underneath. At the rear of the Barn, Mrs Snell allowed the Society to use a store, affectionately known as 'Ring Bell For Groom' after the notice which is still on the side door. Prior to this, spare 'flats' had been stowed between the beams in the auditorium and two Victorian gas mantles provided the only emergency lighting. It was the front of house duty to light these before a performance and see that they burnt throughout.
At the same time Pam Oakley formed a Youth Group and it was these youngsters who gave the auditorium its first major face lift by painting the inside of the roof, the only time it was ever done, though the walls were re-painted from time to time. Heating in the auditorium was confined to two large, old fashioned coke stoves, which had to be lit during the day and maintained during the performance. Their speed of burning often depended on the wind direction, and on really blowy days the stoves would glow red and the audience would find themselves in the 'hot seats'! In those days the dressing room was divided down the middle segregating the sexes but provided even less room than there is today. We even 'brewed up' the stage paint there. During this time, flood lights were hung in the trees along Mengham Lane for the week of the performances so that members of the audience did not fall into the ditch alongside it.
Building the Green Room - Just £790
Under the chairmanship of Nat Walker, the Society began to revive, but on his death in 1968 enthusiasm waned slightly. At one period there were only two male acting members! It was then that a newcomer to the Island, Ailsa Pridham, put HIADS back on their feet with a highly professional production of JB Priestley's 'When We Are Married' in March 1970. At the same time the new chairman Derek Oakley launched an appeal for the £790 it cost to build the Green Room as it is today. Previously the entrance had been through the rear door of the Barn and there was a lean-to shed where the present Green Room stands. Considerable response and interest was instilled amongst Islanders. Part of the Appeal letter read 'During recent years, comparatively little has been done to improve the facilities of the Barn . . . (and) we now wish to offer improved comfort and social amenities both to our members and our audiences . . . . . If we had not replaced the old entrance shack with the Green Room it would have fallen down'. The Dancing School shared the cost of this project, raising over £150.
The cost of seats in 1970 was 3/6 and 5/- and the Society hoped to make a profit of £15 on each production for improvements! New seating was bought cheaply at Government surplus auction, the old wooden chairs actually being sold at 10/- each and we made a surplus.
From then on the Society began to prosper and in between some popular money spinners, came ambitious productions such as the strong drama of 'The Physicists' and the simplicity and imagination of 'Under Milk Wood'. In turn this attracted more members to the Society and three productions a year became normal. These would normally run from Wednesday to Saturday. In addition Club Nights were introduced, when other Societies visited the Barn for one-night stands, guest speakers such as E Martin-Brown and John Casson, son of Dame Sybil Thorndyke, spoke and theatrical topics were aired. 1977 and 1978 became bumper years with five productions each including the first of a number of summer revues. New and younger members appeared, many of whom are the mainstay today. Improvements were made to the dressing room (including running water for the first time, heating and insulation), new lighting control facilities were provided through Havant Arts, the kitchen was fitted out and a lighting-cum sound box was built at the back of the auditorium. For the first time, in 1976, an occasional licence was obtained and the bar added to our amenities for shows.
Our 100th Production
Mrs Julianna Selby had become President in 1981 shortly after her mother sadly died. Her continued support and encouragement of the arts played a significant part in the success of the Society. With the number of productions each year settling at four, 1983 found the Society with the dilemma of what to stage as their 100th production. This was cleverly solved when they did an ambitious Festival of three Full-Length Plays running in repertory over three weeks. The strength of HIADS was apparent with the talent on show in 'The Killing of Sister George', 'Dial M For Murder' and 'Barefoot in the Park'. They were directed by Jenny Veal, Marilyn Stevens and Barbara Clayden with Mair & James Hawker providing three sets which had to be reset each night.
Under the eight years chairmanship of Mair Hawker, further improvements were carried out particularly to improve facilities for the audience. It included completely new seating, re-wiring and installation of electric heaters (to replace one of the smoky, croaky archaic stoves), and new built-in storage for the Society's not inconsiderable wardrobe. Also under her chairmanship, the committee encouraged new plays and directors, and introduced Club suppers with entertainment, which were held for members and patrons about every two months. In addition she wrote three pantomimes, which not only brought a large number of youngsters to the Barn along with their family supporters, but also provided extra finance which has put the Society on a firm footing for the future. The 'home written' Christmas production pattern continued with Katie Stevens' 'Robin Hood's Christmas Challenge' in 1991 and Mair Hawker conceived and wrote another Christmas show in aid of charity in January 1993. 1992 was a vintage year with five major productions.
A New Era Approaches
During this period the Hayling School of Dancing closed on the retirement of Lady (Baba) Mackworth. Over the years, many of her pupils had won entrance to the Arts Educational School at Tring and other art establishments. Several of them took up professional stage work.
Although the upkeep of the Barn and its maintenance, including rates and community charge, were not inconsiderable, there has only been one rise in seat prices in the last six years; this despite royalties on plays now amounting to more than £150 per production. The hurricane of October 1987 came in the middle of the run of 'Deathtrap' and brought down the years of accumulated dust from the roof, but committee members and cast had boarded up the fallen door and swept through the theatre by 9 o'clock the following morning. The President standing amidst the devastation of fallen tree debris which littered her front door, epitomised the spirit of the Society when she calmly said 'The show must go on!' And it did!
For the next five years, under the chairmanship of firstly Jenny Veal then Linda MacDonald and John Duncan, even more improvements were made. Firstly retractable staging was built for the back three rows, then the Society purchased its own lighting control board and a complete re-wiring of the Barn was completed. Barbara Clayden directed the British amateur premiere of the thriller 'Pack of Lies', featured in the ‘Amateur Stage’ magazine. Several other ambitious productions were mounted and played to full houses, the week's run being extended by an extra night. 'Noises Off', 'Stepping Out' which was repeated six months later, and 'Beyond Reasonable Doubt' have all been sell-out successes, whilst 'quality' plays such as 'The Forsyte Saga', 'Flare Path' and 'The Importance of Being Earnest' formed the basis of the 1994 season, intermingled with some lighter weight productions.
In 1993, under the chairmanship of Katie Stevens, two Youth Groups were formed catering for the 8-12 age group and the 13 years upward. Yvonne Hawley-Higgs, a new member and drama teacher, took these groups under her wing and they presented several small productions, and the senior group some full length plays. Sadly in March 1994 our President and owner of the Barn Theatre, Mrs Julianna Selby died. She had been an enthusiastic supporter of the Society with her help and guidance. Her husband Ralph Selby succeeded her as President.
1995 saw a landmark in the Society's history when seven productions were mounted, including one Youth Theatre play 'The Eagle Falls'. This gave immense opportunities to a large number of members and directors, and included the British premiere of the Australian comedy 'Caravan' and taking part in the largest nationwide first night with 100 other societies performing the British Telecom sponsored play 'Nasty Neighbours', directed by John Tappy.
The Final Play at the Barn
For the final production at the Barn Theatre, it was decided to repeat 'When We Are Married', the classic Yorkshire comedy by JB Priestley. The performance ran from 18th to 25th May 1996, and was the final performance at our lovely Barn Theatre. The original production of this play in 1970 was the one which got HIADS back onto its feet after a spell in the doldrums. Vice-President Derek Oakley, who had appeared in a leading role in the play, directed. and eight of the 1970 cast, Eric Dossetter, Pem Hampton, Derek, Pam & Neil Oakley, Betty & Jane Oliver and Paul Covell came to see it.
HIADS had become an important part of Hayling life and continues to contribute to the culture and entertainment of the Islanders. The Barn Theatre, thanks to the continued support of the Snell and Selby families, was arguably the most attractive amateur theatre in Hampshire. It had atmosphere, tradition and charm, and audiences to the Barn always found a warm welcome and undoubtedly a polished and imaginative production, worthy of the best amateur dramatic societies.
The Move to the Station
In December 1992 the Society heard that the future of their tenure at the Barn Theatre was in doubt and it led them to seek new premises. The ambitious project to turn the old Goods Shed at Hayling Station into a 144-seater theatre soon caught local imagination. Vice-chairman of HIADS, Eric Dossetter decided to talk with the Selbys now in the late seventies to see what might happen to the Barn when the family passed on. It was unlikely that the estate would continue as it was, and although HIADS had no wish to leave, we really had to think about the future. The Selbys were most understanding about it and gave us their full backing. Eric Dossetter took over as chairman of a small Project Committee, and under his guidance the Station Theatre project proceeded.
HIADS would only move a mile and a half westwards across the Island to their own new theatre. It would undoubtedly be warmer and more comfortable with more amenities like loos and a larger stage, backstage facilities, workshop, foyer and bar, but the lingering atmosphere of memorable productions at the Barn rstill emain with many of our older members and supporters. There are nostalgic memories of smoky fires, draughts through the many cracks, pigeons in the auditorium, a cramped unisex dressing room and the cold, wet walk to the outside toilets. The show always went on, the audiences were appreciative and the plays compared very favourably with the best in the amateur theatre. But above all, that era will be remembered for the friendly and accommodating families of the Snells and Selbys who made it all possible. They helped us to find 'relief from the dreadful monotony of winter on the Island'.
Birth of a New Theatre
The Goods Shed and the Station
It was coincidental that in December 1992, Havant Borough Council decided they must dispose of the old South Hayling Goods Shed in Station Road and a notice was posted there to that effect. Over dinner with some members Eric Dossetter suggested that it might be the right shape and size for a theatre - it looked like a large shoe box anyway. With a little measuring it seemed to be about the right dimensions to form the auditorium and stage areas (about 60’ x 36’). An approach was made to the Borough Council and a positive response emanated. But, what was this Goods Shed?
Back Over a Hundred Years
Although there has been a frail road bridge from Havant onto Hayling Island as long ago as 1824, a proper bridge was built in 1851 which meant that the Hayling Island community developed considerably. Only four years earlier the main coast line of the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway had reached Havant and a subsequent Act of Parliament empowered them to build a link to the harbour at Langstone. This never materialised, but when the London & South Western Railway arrived at Havant in 1859 with its direct link to the metropolis, interest in a branch line to Hayling was revived. The following year the Hayling Railway Company was formed by local businessmen
It was not until 19th January 1865 that a line to Langstone was opened. Two years and much argument later a contractor Frank Furniss (hence the name of the road alongside the Station Theatre) was engaged to build the line to South Hayling. He subsequently became the operator of the branch line. A number of hurdles were overcome for the first passenger train to run on 17th July 1867 ‘in time for the second day of Hayling races’! However the first ‘pennanted’ run had been made on Coronation Day, 28th June 1867.
In the early days there were only six return trips a day but gradually goods and chattels were transported down to South Hayling station. The name changed to Hayling Island station in 1892 and such was the traffic that it underwent a face lift with a new Goods Shed, a new bay and modern signals in 1901. The plans for the Goods Shed were drawn up and a copy is displayed in the theatre. It is L.B.& S.C.R. Drawing No 3421 entitled ‘Proposed Goods Shed at South Hayling’ and is dated 6th June 1900. The main detailed plans show the office on the south west side of the building, whereas at the bottom right hand corner of the plan it is shown on the south east side, which is where it was ultimately built. The railway line passed through the western side of the shed, jutting out into the present car park, taking up one third of the shed space.
As long as the railway line was open the goods shed was used for its legitimate purpose, with loaded wagons being pulled through the shed by one of the ‘Terrier’ engines so that they could be unloaded onto a platform which stretched two thirds of the width of the shed. Goods were stored on this platform until they could be unloaded through two giant sliding doors on the eastern side into waiting vehicles. There was a hand operated crane with a lifting capacity of 30cwt at the south end of the platform and a large railway canopy over the two sliding doors.
The Closure of the Station
Dr Richard Beeching had been appointed to look into the future of British Railways in April 1961 and produced his devastating report in March 1963, closing 2,128 stations throughout the UK. Unlike many branch lines, the Hayling line was showing an operating profit at the time, but the bridge linking it to the mainland was in need of urgent repair. The estimated cost of replacing it was £400,000. There is still some controversy as to whether it was Dr Beeching’s plan or the inability to afford the money to rebuild the bridge that was the final cause of the closure of the branch line to Hayling. They just happened to coincide.
The branch line to Hayling closed in 1963 the last train running from Havant on 2nd November Soon afterwards the Shed was used for the storage of wool and cement. The bridge and railway lines were taken up in 1966 but the station platform and buildings seem to have been dismantled in 1964, so that all that remained of Hayling Island Station was the Goods Shed, now disused.
During the Torrey Canyon oil spillage disaster of 1967 the local authority stored anti-polution materials in it. Havant & Waterlooville Urban District Council assumed responsibility for the Goods Shed, which gradually deteriorated over the years, being used only for storing of council materials.
When HIADS made a survey of it in 1992, there were piles of sand, bags of cement, wire and wood littering the platform and the well. The great wooden doors at each end had long deteriorated and replaced with corrugated iron ones, which were extremely tatty.
The Station Theatre Project
To see a video of the conversion project, please click here.
As we have seen the HIADS committee approached Havant Borough Council early in 1993. They were interested but initially sceptical of the Goods Shed being converted into a theatre. The Shed might well have been demolished to make way for more industrial buildings and thus raise more money for the Council. Eric Dossetter became chairman of the Project Committee, whose members included Helena Dyer (Secretary), John Tappy (Treasurer), Derek Oakley (Fund Co-ordinator) and Brian Vinson (Building Manager) while Katie Tappy was the current Chairman of the Society. The HIADS general fund stood at about £500 and it was obvious that large money was going to be required. From initial measurements it appeared that the Goods Shed, with out any additions, would house a stage measuring 36’ x 22’, and an auditorium which could seat about 150 people, both highly suitable for HIADS needs.
The Committee engaged a highly recommended local architect Martin Critchley of Havant, comparatively new to the area, who was very keen to ‘do something different’. He produced detailed plans and costings, the latter showing that between £160,000 and £200,000 would be needed to build a suitable theatre which would meet the demands of the Society, the Council and the general public. By this time the Council, with the backing of the Chairman of the Policy & Resources Committee, Cllr Ken Moss, had become very enthusiastic about our approach and gave us their full support. Every aspect of the new building was to be in architectural sympathy with the original design.
Critchley’s plan suggested three distinct phases, firstly to make the existing building waterproof with all walls and roof safe and secure. The second, larger, phase was to add on a foyer, dressing rooms, studio and workshop. Eric Dossetter, himself a former County Councillor, approached Winchester to see what financial support could be offered and Freddy Emery-Wallace, a firm friend of the arts, was chairman of the County Council at the time. He gained backing from his council to the extent of £20,000, a tremendous ‘kick-start’ not only for the money but also because of their support which was to prove crucial later. Havant Borough Council. who approved Critchley’s plans offered the site at a ‘peppercorn rent’ and with a 25 years lease, so in early 1994, we had the full support of the two main parties. We were given four years to complete the project with the first phase estimated at £67,000.
How to Raise the Money
Fund raising started with great gusto and members of the Society rallied round. All manner of ingenious ideas came gushing forth from asking the public to fill up Smartie tubes with coins (having eaten the original contents), plant sales, coffee mornings, a promises auction, jumble sales, car boot sales, special shows and just asking for money. At one time there was a fund raising event of some kind every fortnight which was a tremendous toll on manpower but the enthusiasm shown by the members, associate members and patrons was overwhelming. In the first 18 months over £45,000 was raised apart from the £20,000 already promised. This was enough for Phase 1 to go ahead. All this time HIADS were keeping up their regular programme of plays at the Barn Theatre.
Tenders were sent out and Messrs George & R Carrell Ltd of Havant gained the contract. One of the prerequisites was the removal of the ticket office on the south side, and on one chilly, but fine weekend in January 1994, over 60 members and friends rallied to the demolition task which was completed as dusk was falling on the Sunday. Apart from the demolition, many of the ladies spent the time scraping and cleaning over 2,500 bricks for use elsewhere in the building programme. The ticket office counter was also salvaged and was subsequently converted and refurbished by Eric Palmer into the present bar.
Work started the following week. During the first Phase the whole of the roof had to be removed and replaced, a large section of the front wall came down and the railway canopy was removed. The earth from the demolished platform was used to form an outside arena for possible future use. Phase 1 was completed by May and the Mayor of Havant, Cllr Audrey Atterbury, handed over the building in exchange for our rent, a mounted peppercorn on the 29th May.
An approach to the Foundation for Sport and the Arts realised a further £40,000 in March 1995 towards the next phase, the addition of the foyer, arcade, workshop and studio area, estimated at another £123,500. The waterproofed building was then used for further fund raising activities which included plant sales, a model railway exhibition and a Wartime Hayling exhibition, along with many other associated activities. Money grew at a remarkable rate, helped by the ‘sign a brick’ for £1 campaign.
It was still going to be difficult to raise the money needed, but a casual conversation between Derek Oakley and our local MP, David Willetts in 1993 had set other wheels in motion. When the latter suggested ‘looking at the Lottery’, Derek replied “What Lottery?”. But the seeds had been sown and he wrote to the National Lottery Board who were still in the throes of working parties and decisions. Indeed HIADS were in on the discussion document for applications.
The Project Committee made very careful judgements and plans as to what sum they might ask for. It appeared that if you asked for £100,000 or more you would be subject to a visit from an assessor. Being uncertain what this might mean, HIADS requested £90,000, but an assessor was still appointed. Meeting one day in the cold, sparse building, the latter soon summed up the situation and recommended £120,000 as being more realistic to provide the latest digital lighting and sound systems. But any Lottery bid had to be matched by 40% raised by local fund-raising, so there was still work to do.
The Members put in over 30,000 work hours
In the meantime, the Society was not idle as members gradually began to decorate and fit out the interior of the Goods Shed. They worked every day as available, and especially at the weekends. Suitable jobs were found for all who wanted to help. All the walls were scraped and cleaned, all the timber taken from the roof (three-quarters of a mile of planking) was cleaned and sealed for future use, and the construction of the lighting gallery and stage commenced. It was slow, but exciting and hard work.
Phase 2 was put on hold until the announcement on 24th May 1995 that the Arts Council of England, through the National Lottery, had granted HIADS £120,000. It was the first grant to an amateur theatre on the south coast. Still £20,000 was needed to fulfill our part of the bargain in partnership funding, but this announcement was enough to spur everyone into even greater efforts. Tenders were put out and the contract was won by Hayling Builders Ltd, whose office was immediately opposite the theatre. National press and TV appearances were made including a role in the BBC Lottery Programme!
On 30th October 1995, the builders moved in and the whole area looked well and truly like a building site. The speed at which the out buildings grew was amazing, the signed bricks all being carefully laid in the arcade wall (there are four upside down!). HIADS members had an astonishing variety of skills and these were utilised to the full. Whether it was carpentry or plumbing, electrical or mechanical, sewing or painting, an estimated 30,000 work hours were put into the project by members. The outside arena was turfed by Butser Turf Company, while suitable flags were sponsored and are now flown during all HIADS productions and other national days.
Every aspect was carefully monitored by the Project team with Helena Dyer keeping the most precise details of every letter, decision and meeting carefully recorded. As the Publicity Officer Derek Oakley kept a visual record both on still camera and video, besides encouraging more and more fund raising. Theatre seats were offered for sponsorship at £100 each (£14,400) and auditorium station lamps were also sponsored for £80 each.
The End is in Sight
By Easter 1996 Hayling Builders had virtually finished and decorating the interior ready for an opening night went on apace. The stage and proscenium arch were completed as was the raked staging for the seats. Much of the timber used in this had already seen nearly 100 years service in the roof. Specialised lighting was soon installed, which has since been added to as more money has become available. The bar was constructed by Eric Palmer and a team using the solid oak counter salvaged from the Goods Shed ticket office and the whole building was beginning to take on the look and feel of a professional theatre.
The Society was determined to open in July despite the fact that no car park existed, there was no entrance foyer, no main curtains, limited lighting and sound and many other internal items needed either upgrading or replacing.. The priority had been the stage, back stage and auditorium.
An Open Day to show off our new theatre was held on 29th June 1996 when, apart from showing people around and some live entertainment, the stage was virtually covered in coins by visitors who had been saving them for months, raising a further £1,200. All was nearly set for the ‘off’. The whole project up to then had cost over £430,000, of which Hayling Islanders had contributed more than half. It was now time to repay them for their support by giving them a theatre and entertainment they could all be proud to support.
The final performance at the Barn Theatre had already taken place in May, J.B. Priestley’s ‘When We Are Married’, directed by Derek Oakley and over a June weekend, curtains, props, costumes, scenery and other accoutrements were transferred to the new Station Theatre. An era was over and there was much sadness in our departure after 46 years.
Opening of the Station Theatre
The Dream Comes True
Although the Project was not entirely finished, the first play opened on Saturday 27th July 1996 to full houses for a week with Tom Stoppard’s “Travesties” directed by Eric Dossetter. This was quickly followed by an autumn play and Christmas show. The pattern of five plays and a Christmas production each year was set for the future. Visiting groups, particularly with a musical element asked to come and perform at what many considered to be the finest amateur theatre along the south coast and beyond. This generated much needed money, and perhaps more importantly, wider audiences. The word got around and our 144 seats were more than often all filled.
A sewing team made black main curtains, legs and flies for the stage and a generous donation from the Mayor of Havant’s fund paid for the refurbishment of the bar. Another team under Freddy Dyer fitted out the large wardrobe and props room above the studio to house the ever increasing number of costumes. Similar such projects were being completed all over the building.
It was in 1996 that we were admitted and welcomed to Little Theatre Guild of Great Britain, an organisation open only to Societies that control their own theatres. There are about 100 throughout the country, most of them leading amateur dramatic societies and John Tappy became the Guild’s treasurer.
In 1997 a further approach was made to Havant Borough Council and the National Lottery in order that the whole project could be rounded off. Both were successful with £15,000 coming from the former and £39,020 from the Arts Council of England. This saw another six months of work done with the completion of the car park in March 1998. The landscaping with fencing, trees and shrubs, many of them sponsored, started the following winter following a planting plan agreed with Havant Borough Council.
A beautiful set of red main curtains were the gift of members Elsie and Charles Phillips in 1998, and these were followed in 2000 by a set of blue curtains in memory of Malcolm Cameron, who had written the pantomime ‘Robinson Crusoe’ in 1998, and a purpose built box office desk in memory of Pam Oakley, at the time the longest serving member of HIADS. The generosity of Hayling Islanders and others was beyond our wildest dreams.
The First Film Shows on Hayling for 37 Years
On 3rd July 1998 the first film was shown on Hayling Island for 37 years thus bringing yet another attraction to the Station. We opened with ‘Mrs Brown’ starring Judi Dench and Billy Connolly and it was a sell-out. Since then with the help of more donations, we have bought our own screen and projector and films are normally shown about once a month with a matinee and evening performance.
The final icing on the cake came in the form of a new sculpture ‘The Players’ by Clare Straiton which stands proudly outside the theatre. This was a project of the five Hayling Schools who raised the necessary £20,000 through the National Lottery. After a two months schools sculpture project in 1995 culminating in a week’s exhibition in the shell of the theatre, Clare was commissioned to produce a suitable sculpture to reflect the children’s work. ‘The Players’ is two figures sculptured in natural materials, such as twigs, straw and buds. The finished result, the only original sculpture on Hayling, is some six feet high and set in bronze. It was unveiled on 17th July 1999 by Tony Hart, the well known children’s artist and entertainer before a large audience of members and school children. It has been the subject of much favourable comment
During the first five years HIADS continued its policy of producing comedies (such as Murdered to Death, Season’s Greetings, Habeas Corpus & Haywire), thrillers (such as Gaslight, Blood Money & Dead Guilty), costume plays (Gaslight, The Cherry Orchard & Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime) and an annual Christmas production (Toad of Toad Hall, Cinderella and Aladdin) plus many others. We were lucky to have at least eight experienced directors, and others have developed since. Acting membership remained fairly steady in numbers, but faces changed as actors inevitably grew older or moved away.
Yvonne Hawley had been running a theatre youth group at the Barn before the move, and continued for a further four years. Some of her charges went away to drama colleges and some have remained and are now taking leading roles. The Youth theatre performed in several shortened plays (Little Women, The Sleeping Cutie & A Midummer Night’s Dream) as well as appearing in full productions and pantomimes. It wa a sad day when we had to discontinue the Youth Theatre owing to a lack of qualified supervisors and the effect of the Child Protection Act, but we still manage to use many children in such plays as A Voyage Round My Father, The Winslow Boy and our Christmas shows.
Into the 21st Century
The 100th anniversary of the building of the Goods Shed was celebrated in 2001, and to mark it HIADS held a week of free entertainment, including performances in the newly refurbished Green Room, now renamed The Platform Theatre. Redesigned and decorated by June Noble, this now provides a 50-seater venue for small and experimental productions. A short musical ‘Waitin’ for a Train’ on the main stage written by member Rob Finn also opened new ground and younger faces were beginning to appear regularly. The Platform Theatre also saw its first HIADS production, a short home-grown evening called ‘Four Candles’ directed by Carl Wood.
The new century saw a rise in acting and associate membership, many of the former being younger. Several more modern plays such as ‘Amy’s View’, ‘The Memory of Water’ and the British amateur premiere of an Australian play ‘Dead White Males’, which was also featured in Amateur Stage as their ‘Play Produced in February 2004. These plays taxed our directors, and actors alike, while the back up in stage management, props, wardrobe, lighting and sound have continued to be of a high quality.
Now that the theatre is financially viable, although costing about £40 a day to run whether there was anything going on or not, attention was paid to the refurbishment of the foyer. Acoustic panelling and new lighting were installed during 2002 as well as lowering the ceiling over the bar. The outside of the building was also repainted and there will always be ongoing upadating of equipment.
Thus the Station Theatre Project is complete - or nearly so, as there is always something new to consider. In the first eight years HIADS plays have drawn an average audience of around 70-80% per performance, a remarkably high attendance figure for an amateir group. The old Goods Shed has taken on a new lease of life, and now in the year 2004, its 14-inch thick walls resound to the words and music of Hayling Island Amateur Dramatic Society. There is little doubt that the project will have cost over a million pounds instead of just over the original £430,000 had it not been for the hard work, dedication and support given so freely by the members, associate members and patrons of HIADS.
Up to the middle of 2004, HIADS had performed 46 plays at the Station Theatre and welcomed over 50 visiting groups or individuals, ranging from a military band concert to Old Time Musical Halls, dancing displays to light opera and many professional one-nighters. We have supported Havant Arts who have held workshops at the Station and welcomed local Societies such as Hayling Musical Society and the Island Tap School. The theatre is in use six days a week and the box office is manned every weekday morning by volunteers mostly from amongst our associate members.
Now the 200th play is with us involving nearly all members of the Society either on stage, back stage or in support front of house. Two full length comedies are being performed on alternate nights over a fortnight in August. Rob Finn directs The Miser a classical play by Moliere adapted by Miles Malleson, while Yvonne Hawley directs a more recently written Discworld fantasy Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett adapted for the stage by Stephen Briggs. Only two actors appear in the 200th play, Lesley Barker and Derek Oakley, who had appeared in the 100th, ‘Barefoot in the Park’.
It is interesting to note that only four plays out of 200 have been repeated, ‘Ladies in Retirement’ (1951 & 1979), ‘When We Are Married’ (1970 & 1996),’ The Owl & the Pussycat Went to See’ (1977 & 2002) and ‘Blithe Spirit’ (1981 & 1999), the last directed on both occasions by Martin Stevens. It is impossible to record how many actors have trod the boards of the Barn and the Station but it is well in excess of 1,000 excluding Dancing Schools and visiting shows, with nearly 50 different directors in charge.
We wonder what the ghost thinks. Yes we have a ghost, and although not seen in recent years, it caused quite a stir in 1968 when the Goods Shed was a Council store. It was purportedly seen by two workmen, William Phillips and his assistant Michael Doyle and later in the day by Pete Walden (Click Here to hear a recent radio interview), an inspector. It is thought to be the ghost of Station worker Jack Wilkinson who died in 1947. He is purported to have said that the railway ‘would only close over his dead body!’ When it shut down in November 1963, his ‘spirit was said to pound the old platform and regularly appear in station outbuildings.’ There have been occasions when members have been spooked by strange and unexplained noises (such as breathing sounds) late at night, but no-one has reported actually seeing the ghost in the theatre. Many people remember when one member’s small dog was, for no apparent reason, terrified to venture into one of the dressing rooms when the theatre was first built.
Mrs Workman 1947 - 1949
Captain Ivan Snell MC JP 1949 – 1959
Mrs Marjorie Snell 1959 – 1981
Mrs Juliana Selby 1981 - 1995
Mr Ralph Selby CMG 1995 – 1997
Captain Derek Oakley MBE 1997 –
Mrs B Frith 1947 – 1954
Mrs Betty Oliver 1954 – 1956
Vyvyan Docherty 1956 – 1959
Mrs Effie Taylor 1959 –1960
Vyvyan Docherty 1960 – 1962
L N Robins 1962 – 1963
Lt Cdr Charles Skinner 1963 – 1965
Cdr Sir David Mackworth OBE Bt 1965 – 1967
Nat Walker 1967 - 1968
Mrs Vic Hunt 1968
Captain Derek Oakley 1969 – 1972
Cdr Sir David Mackworth OBE, Bt 1972 – 1975
Graham Smith 1975 – 1978
Mrs Mair Search (Hawker) 1978 – 1986
Mrs Jenny Veal 1986 – 1989
Mrs Linda Macdonald 1989 – 1991
John Duncan 1991 – 1993
Mrs Katie Tappy 1993 – 1995
Eric Dossetter 1995 – 1998
Martin Stevens 1998 – 2000
Alan Hoad OBE 2000 - 2002
Laurie Noble 2002 – 2004
Not Filled 2004 - 2006
Laurie Noble 2006 - 2008
Mrs Katie Tappy 2009 - 2011
John Duncan 2011 -2014
Alan Hoad OBE 2014 - 2016
Laurie Noble 2016 -
Dennis Collett 1947 – 1950
Bill Jackson 1950 – 1952
Mrs Betty Oliver 1952 – 1954
Bill Jackson 1954 – 1955
Miss B Tooley 1955 – 1959
Mrs Edith Grist 1959 – 1960
Mrs Mary Denys 1960 – 1961
Mrs I Gosden 1961-1964
Mrs Gwen Cleeve 1964 – 1965
Mrs Janice Barrett 1965 – 1966
Nick Danby 1966 - 1967
Mrs Edith Grist 1967 – 1970
Mrs Kathy Dossetter 1970 – 1978
Mrs Frances Lawrence 1978 – 1981
Mrs Roz Merry-West 1981 – 1983
Mrs Betty Redburn 1983 – 1986
Mrs Lesley Barker 1986 – 1988
John Tappy 1988 – 1989
Mrs Helena Dyer 1989 – 2001
Mrs Jeanette Pelloni 2001 – 2002
Miss Fiona Vinson (act) 2002 –2003
John Blackwell 2003 - 2005
Mrs June Noble 2006 - 2008
Mrs Margaret Lewis 2009 - 2011
Maureen Ogilvie 2011 - 2012
June Noble 2012 -
Mrs Betty Oliver 1947 – 1950
Robert Edgar 1950 – 1969
Lt Cdr Charles Skinner 1969 – 1971
Paul Covell 1971 – 1977
Miss Marilyn Finch (Mrs Stevens) 1977 – 1986
Mrs Pam Weir 1986 – 1989
James Hawker 1989 – 1990
John Tappy 1990 – 1996
Alan Hoad 1996 – 2000
Martin Stevens 2000 – 2002
Keith Jay 2002 - 2005
Martin Stevens 2006 - 2008
Mrs Lesley Beney 2009 - 2011
Laurie Noble 2011 - 2016
Wendy Tobin 2016 -