There's No Place Like Home
By Helen Morgan
First Published 29/9/2021
Last Updated 13/1/2022
The story of the Heald Green Theatre Club / Company
In the Beginning
Way back in 1962, various meetings were held to try and form a club to include all aspects of amateur theatre. The Ratepayers distributed 3,500 notices for an open meeting to discuss this at Long Lane church. 130 residents attended and from those, 100 became members of the newly formed Heald Green Theatre Club. The numbers were so large that both a drama and a choral section were formed .
Their meetings after that were at the Brookside building on Finney Lane (opposite where the library is now). The very first presentation was held at Long Lane Church where it had all begun. As they had no premises of their own, they were holding productions at Hulme Hall College. The choral section held carol singing at Bethesda and did a concert for Cheadle Royal patients. They also now had a social committee who were organising events for the members .
Unfortunately from 1964, Hulme Hall College would now only let the club hold productions in the school holidays and so the need was great to find another premises . Other premises used included Christ Church Hall, Styal Village Hall and Long Lane Church Hall. In May 1964 the club won its first award, The Lowry Trophy. They were runners up out of 32 productions for their rendition of “Waters of the Moon.” By June 1964 the Club was not only looking for suitable theatre premises, but also somewhere for a club room, to continue to enhance the social side of the membership too. The club was extremely fortunate in having experienced members who had considerable expertise on the television or in amateur
societies . By the end of 1964, the Brookside building was getting ready to close and so their meetings were moved to the Heald Green Hotel until April 1965 . After this the new Public Hall was expected to be open.
The Christmas dance was held at Abney Hall. The quest continued to find a permanent base for the club. It was noted that support for the shows was strong and the public were thanked as they “bear with us in our difficulty of having to stage our shows so far away” . During 1965, the social committee continued with a fun packed schedule of dances, hotpot suppers and car rallies. The search carried on for a ”pigsty to a palace anywhere in the district” that could be used as a base for the club. At the latest Manchester & District Drama Federation Annual Festival, the club was commended for having young people in their club .
With the brand new Public Hall now open, the club put on a production there called “When We Are Married”, in October 1965. The call was put out to encourage male members to join . By 1966, the club announced a full season’s programme at St Catherine’s Church and Styal Village Hall. Perhaps the Public Hall stage area was not quite right? A new season ticket system was unveiled for 17/6d rather than 4/ for a single play .
The need for “a home of our own” continued to dominate the agenda and the call was put out to anyone who knew of a building or a plot of land that could be utilised . By the end of the 1960s the club was still using lots of venues, from St Catherine’s Church and the Public Hall to Gatley Hill House. In the spring of 1970 even the Council was looking for a suitable site for them to build their own theatre to benefit the community .
At last, in 1972 after 10 years, the club signed a lease with Cheadle Royal and set about the arduous task of converting a large, lofty chapel space into a comfy theatre with all the amenities . Within 12 weeks the membership, without outside help, converted the chapel into a 156-seated theatre with dressing rooms, coffee lounge and bar. Cheadle Royal helped by getting outside contractors to make a new car park .
The converted space was opened as the home of the club by Councillor Bob Crook on May 13th 1972. The Chairman was Mr C V Hines who had joined in 1963. It was hoped that with a permanent base, the classes for youth members and adults too, could restart in earnest later that year. There was also a full social programme and fundraising activities being planned . The first play in the new auditorium was a 16th-century period drama called “The Rose Without a Thorn”. The oldest and most popular members were chosen to act.
The theatre critic from the Stockport Advertiser newspaper dated May 18th 1972, thought that this was a mistake and they should have chosen a more popular comedy or modern play. How wrong was he!! The production won the Mid-Cheshire Theatre Guild Championship award, The Greater Manchester Drama Federation (GMDF) drama shield, the Manchester Evening News Oscar went to Freda Hinson and the GMDF best actor went to Peter Womby. These accolades were even more well deserved, as whilst they were rehearsing, the building work was going on around them .
The club continued to go from strength to strength adding extra dates due to demand, entering acting festivals and continuing with a full social calendar too. The need was always there for more males to join and for new members to join for acting, set construction and stage management. They were always reminding prospective newcomers that their club was in wooded grounds, with ample parking, an attractive bar and a coffee lounge.
“I rewired [the theatre] for Exit and Emergency lighting signs [in around] 1979"
- Nigel Mcgivern, 2021
“Paul Fox aka Liam Fox started his career here in about 1986."
- Peter Bennett, 2021
“So did my cousin David Birrell. He went on to West End shows and soap appearances. His Dad was the bass player with Freddie and the Dreamers."
- Ian Hevingham, 2021
In the Autumn of 1993 Stockport Council decided that they were unwilling to carry on subsidising the Public Hall to the tune of £22,000 per year. At a meeting the previous year, no societies had come forward to take on the proposition of taking over the running of it. Later on though, Heald Green Theatre Club stepped up and were keen as they knew that the lease at Cheadle Royal was not indefinite. A lease was drawn up to pass the management of the hall over to them; if they paid for most of the upkeep. For that they could have exclusive use of the building for 5 weeks per year and at other times other clubs could continue to attend as normal. They intended to extend the main hall to give a bigger stage . However by early 1995, they had withdrawn their bid .
As the 1990s drew to a close it had been proven that a lighter programme of plays led to more attendance and so mainly comedies were performed. In fact, in 1998 all previous attendance records were broken .
In the Spring of 1999, Cheadle Royal announced they would not be renewing the lease for the club, as they wanted the chapel back for their sole use. At the end of July, that would be that. After 27 years the club had built up a strong, loyal following that enabled every seat to be filled for a play run over 6 nights.
Two neighbouring groups offered space to fit HGTC in to their 1999/2000 programme. However, enquiries were ongoing to find premises in Heald Green.
The last performance in May 1999 was to be “Blithe Spirit” by Noel Coward . Negotiations must have taken place with Cheadle Royal, as plays continued in the chapel up to May 2000, ending finally with “Don’t Dress For Dinner” by Marc Camoletti. Barbara Ritchie, a very keen supporter of youth theatre, continued to advertise that the club had a junior and youth section as well, who performed separate productions .
A new site at Gatley Golf Course, just about in Heald Green, was under consideration. Once again, a lot of work would be needed to convert unused squash courts into their new theatre .
“Cyril Hines was one of the team that worked to convert the Chapel to a theatre. He then went on to mastermind the conversion of the Squash Courts at Gatley Golf Club."
- Val Donlan, 2021
Waterfall Farm / Gatley Golf Club
Fig. 9 The late John Rowlands ; very active in the theatre both on and off stage; carving the theatre sign from an old pew taken (with permission) from Cheadle Royal Chapel, 2000
© Heald Green Theatre Archive
Click On Image To View Programme
Fig. 10 The theatre sign in 2021
© Colin Barnsley
Click On Image To View Programme
“The golf club closed down the squash section which comprised three courts, ladies and gents changing rooms and a balcony, and this was then sold and converted into a theatre."
- Michael Gorman, 2021
I spoke to a theatre member from that time.
“To be fair Cheadle Royal gave them a good time to depart. It was devastating because they thought they weren’t going to have a theatre ever again. For them to afford anywhere was really not possible. It was discovered that the squash club belonging to Gatley Golf Club was to be sold. It was looked at by 4 members of the Theatre’s Executive Committee. They could see that it would be ideal for a theatre, as it was a rectangular building with no windows. The change of use was probably not going to be a problem. It was still going to be used by the community for leisure and the Theatre Company was an organisation already in existence."
"The great thing really was the car parking situation. There was a small car park outside the squash club that would be fine for rehearsal periods or club nights, but wasn’t big enough for customers. But on the whole they didn’t play golf at night and certainly not in the winter, so they were allocated the full perimeter of the Golf Club's car parking space and there was never a problem. This theatre was capable of taking 128 patrons and so there was enough car parking."
"Then they needed money to buy it and renovate it, as it was nothing like a theatre. Gatley Golf club helped by offering them a mortgage at a very preferential rate. The Theatre raised more money by offering members the chance to buy lifetime memberships. It took ages with solicitors and lots of paperwork, but it was very interesting. Meetings with solicitors, architects, people who they had never had dealings with before. They got a huge working party together, because in a theatre there’s an awful lot of people who can do an awful lot of practical things. This company was very fortunate to have people who wanted to help and learn."
"They took all the theatre seats from the old Heald Green to the new Heald Green. They were an absolute pain to put in. They all had to be altered. It was a different flooring, different set up. It was flat and they had to have it slightly raked or else no one could have seen anything. They all had to go on actual physical rakes that had to be made. It was incredible what was achieved and none of this was professional. Ultimately as time went on they got new seating, but at the beginning they couldn’t afford to do anything brand new. It was a wonder they could afford to put a play on really. It's one of those things like moving house, it's exciting and they were all enthused and very proud of having done it. In fact they were so strapped for cash, they couldn’t even afford to have adjudicators from the Greater Manchester Drama Federation, to which they are affiliated. The members still went to the celebration dinners."
"They got a very special award for building our new theatre, so they were all very proud of that too. To build it from scratch. It was an excellent building to start with, considering it was a rectangular block. It ran from the theatre stage and back stage, right through to the entrance really where the downstairs bar was. Outside the downstairs bar was a corridor which ran straight the way through to the back stage and they had an upstairs. Now not quite sure, the upstairs must have been built, as a squash club would need a lot of height. It might have been an existing viewing area. So they went upstairs to the dressing rooms and they had to descend to go on stage. It was all very safe with a good staircase, not ladders which do happen in some theatres! The bar downstairs was not very big and the booking office was there too. A larger bar upstairs was built to accommodate the amount of people they hoped would frequent it and they hoped all their current patrons would return. They also had a well equipped kitchen, where again they were very lucky, as someone built that for them. Then the toilets and disabled toilet. It sounds very compact but there was bags of room."
"They hoped to start operating at the end of the year 2000 and a play was organised. ”Move Over Mrs Markham,” a very funny farce by Ray Cooney and John Chapman, was to be the first production in December. They just got up and ran with it. Rehearsals were done in people’s houses before they could get in there, you just had to make do and mend . They were absolutely at the last minute, everything was rushed, lights had to be set up. Not just moving furniture in but also the curtains and rigging for the lights. There were fire doors put in on one side.”
It really was a job well done. The Heald Green Theatre Company went onwards and upwards from there, winning many awards and accolades. It continued to promote both its adult and youth sections up until COVID19, when sadly the curtain came down as lockdown came into effect. During this time members have been repairing their theatre in readiness for its reopening. I am sure their members are chomping at the bit to get going once more.
On the Heald Green Theatre website, you can look back at previous plays and cast members, and book for new shows.
At the time of publication, the company plan to return with a pantomime, Cinderella, in November 2021.
HSL, Hollins Strategic Land, have put forward a plan for consultation to build around 300 houses on land owned by
the Golf Club, to be called Waterfall Brook. These proposals promise to secure the long-term future of the
Heald Green Theatre Company building. Fingers crossed! [Ed: or do we mean, break a leg?]
Fig. 9 Heald Green Theatre, 2021
© Colin Barnsley
Click On Image To View Programme
The Editor, Autumn 1993, Heald Green Public Hall, Contact Magazine, 115.pp.6
The Editor, Spring 1995, Public Hall, Contact Magazine,120,pp.4
The Editor, Summer 1998, Heald Green Theatre Company, Contact Magazine, 130,pp.8
The Editor, Spring 1999, Heald Green Theatre Company, Contact Magazine, 132.pp.8
The Editor, Autumn 1999, Heald Green Theatre Company 1999-2000 Season, Contact Magazine, 133,pp.8
The Editor, Autumn 1999, Heald Green Theatre Company New Theatre?, Contact Magazine, 133,pp.4
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