The Barn Theatre,
25 Bluehouse Lane, Oxted, Surrey
RH8 0AA.

Tel: 01959 561811
Email: barntheatre
@btinternet.com

 




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Inception and Early Years
The War and Post-War Years
Recent Times

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Inception and Early Years

On May 25th 1923, the Surrey Mirror gave the first news of an exciting new project:
"It is proposed to erect a public hall for the service of Oxted and Limpsfield and surrounding parishes, to be known as the Barn Theatre. The project originated with the Oxted and Limpsfield Players, with whom the Crichton Dramatic Club was early associated. The two clubs, both of which are badly handicapped for the want of a suitable public hall in the district, appointed a joint committee which will be responsible for carrying the project through. Numerous meetings have been held, the best advice has been secured and it is confidently believed that the plans reach an ideal which has long been entertained by all of those who have practical experience of the difficulties of organising public and social functions in the district".

It was decided that the best way to raise the money needed was to form a limited liability public company with a capital of £4,000. The Oxted and Limpsfield Barn Theatre Company Ltd., chaired by Sir Ernest J. P. Benn, Bart. (grandfather of Tony Benn) was founded and the shares were offered to the residents of the district.

The site in Blue House Lane had already been chosen due to it being about equidistant from the centre of the parishes of Oxted and Limpsfield. It was near to the railway station and close to the "omnibus" route and was subsequently purchased from the then 'Squire', Hoskins Master in October 1923 for the sum of £275. The old saw mill barn which stood at the bottom of Limpsfield village had been purchased from Mr. Lewis G. Fry at a cost of £75 and was to be used as the main structure for the building. The Limpsfield Sawmill was located roughly where Limpsfield Village Hall now stands and the bungalow which stands to the north of the Hall is called 'Old Sawmills'. On the High Street between the two, can be seen two remaining gateposts of the sawmill which was still operating after the sawmill barn was removed and re-erected. A recent specialist survey has confirmed that the main structural timbers from the sawmill barn date from between 1362 and 1433 with the probability that the sawmill barn was constructed during 1434. The theatre was to have a seating capacity of 350, be fitted with a hardwood floor specially designed for dancing, have an efficient system of ventilation and heating and electric lighting. Ample accommodation in the way of stage, ante-rooms, dressing-rooms and offices was also planned but the sale of alchohol was banned by Charles Hoskins Master to safeguard the sales in the nearby Hoskins Arms which his family owned.

The theatre was designed by Matthews Ridley, a firm of architects and built, at a cost of £3,742 12s 1d, by local contractor James Boodle within a year and on May 22nd 1924 it was opened by the playwright Mr. Harley Granville Barker of the British Drama League. Two plays, School for Scandal and As You Like It, were performed by the local residents during the following week and both received excellent reviews.

There followed a period of great activity when the demand for lettings was greater than could be satisfied. The Crichton Dramatic Society and the Oxted and Limpsfield Players, with a musical section under the direction of Michael Tippett had first call on the building but it was also used by visiting companies such as the July Players with celebrity Flora Robson and the Stranger Players. A strong literary and debating society hosted lectures by Lady Violet Bonham-Carter and Randolph Churchill amongst others, a local art exhibition was held yearly, the Oxted and Limpsfield Horticultural Society staged their autumn show, political and Brotherhood meetings were held and it was very popular for dances and receptions.

In 1931 an additional piece of land at the rear of the theatre was purchased for £136 and the Little Barn constructed. The size of the floor in the Little Barn is a mirror image of the Barn stage to provide rehearsal space for times when the theatre was busy.

The War and Post-War Years

The war of course brought all this to an end and while the theatre escaped serious bomb damage, it suffered from the various uses to which it was put by the authorities, being used as an evacuee dispersal station, a billet for a Canadian regiment, the Seaforth Highlanders and a school. During the occupation by the military the dressing rooms were used as a canteen and 100 soldiers slept in the auditorium. They held regular dances and variety shows to which the locals were invited. After the soldiers left the premises were used by Habadashers Aske School from London for lessons and for meals for evacuees who had been billeted in Oxted and Limpsfield.

After the theatre had been de-requisitioned there was a long period of uncertainty and its existence was in jeopardy, so much so that approaches from repertory companies to rent or lease were considered. In 1948, an agreement was entered into with The Barn Repertory Players and the revival began, or so it was thought.

By the time of the next Annual General Meeting, The Barn Repertory Players had failed and the theatre was in debt to the tune of £67 4s 11d. Surrey County Council were considering the possible purchase of the theatre, but eventually they lost interest. The theatre continued to struggle and by 1953 the overdraft was £456 15s 10d.

At this time, the 1st Oxted Scouts were given permission to build a hut on the land at the back of the theatre, but this did not help financially as in lieu of rent they were to keep tidy the theatre surrounds.

In 1955 the Board of Directors resigned and was replaced by a committee of "working" Directors who were prepared to run and maintain the theatre. Shortly after, Lionel Pearson became Chairman of the Board and he was joined in February 1956 by Jack Wettern who had appeared in the cast of one of the opening plays, School for Scandal in 1924. Despite having an overdraft of £757 10s 7d in 1956, the interior was redecorated, a new gas central heating system was installed and the stage lighting was renewed. By this time the Barn Players, Student Players and Oxted Operatic Society were the main users but the dances had to be discontinued in deference to the residents of Bluehouse Lane.

In 1957, Ibbett Mosely Card and Co. became the managing agents and provided the registered office of the Oxted and Limpsfield Barn Theatre Company Ltd.. They held furniture auctions in the theatre which continued until the auditorium was fitted with raked seating.

During the next few years the theatre regularly hosted drama festivals, including a school festival, a permanent apron was added to enlarge the stage, the rear extension was re-roofed, a new kitchen and dressing room were formed and by 1962 the theatre was virtually solvent again. The land the theatre stood on was subject to a covenant prohibiting the sale of intoxicating liquor but in 1964 the theatre obtained agreement from the liquidators of the Barrow Green Estate Company to allow a bar to open six times a year. In 1971 this covenant was fully released.

In 1970, the old seats from the Plaza Cinema, Oxted were purchased for 3s each and the idea of forming a Society of Friends was suggested which however did not reach fruition at this time. 1975 was an expensive year for the theatre as emergency lighting had to be installed, the roof repaired and death-watch beetle was found. In 1976 there was an attempted coup at the Annual General Meeting by a group who felt that the full commercial potential of the theatre was not being exploited but fortunately the matter was eventually dropped. Also in 1976, the Red Cross who had occupied the Little Barn moved out to their new building but the space was quickly taken up by the Little Barn Nursery who are still there today.

Recent Times

The development of the theatre continued rapidly. In 1981, Dr. Eileen Joyce donated a carpet for the foyer and in 1982 a sound system linking the stage to the lighting box and dressing rooms was installed. Also in 1981, the Friends of the Barn (FOBS) under the Chairmanship of Terry Rolph was formed and they provided funds to renew the roof of the theatre.

1984 was the theatre's Diamond Jubilee and the FOBs hosted a nine day festival of music and drama which included an appearance by Ronnie Corbett who was a patron of the Barn 2000 appeal. The theatre was re-roofed at a cost of £8,209 and a 'No Smoking' policy came into force. By this time the theatre had investigated becoming a charity but this was not considered viable.

In 1986 the current Chairman Bruce Reed was elected to office. The sound box, which is also known as the 'Royal Box' was completed and the new lighting desk installed in 1987. In 1989 a new ticket desk was fitted in the foyer and by 1991 the auditorium had been provided with raked and new seating all of which had been funded by the FOBs with a "Buy a Seat" scheme.

During the 1990's the theatre became so popular that bookings had to be made years ahead and up to 18,000 people a year were passing through the door. During this decade improvements continued apace with the Ladies toilets in the foyer being renewed in 1993, new gas boilers, fire and smoke alarm systems together with stage and auditorium curtains in 1994, and the new Gents toilets in 1995. The stage floor was renewed following a bequest of £10,000 to the Oxted Operatic Society following the death of Dr Eileen Joyce their president. 1996 saw the publication of The Barn Theatre News and the ‘What's On’ leaflets and an expansion of the lighting board circuits to 48. In 1997 a Hearing Aid Loop was installed in the auditorium courtesy of the Student Players, the professional standard backstage intercom net was provided and the dream of the limited company becoming a charity was finally realised on the 10th September of that year. 1998 saw the installation of a new fully fitted modern kitchen and much preparation for the project known as Barn 2000 which was launched the previous year. By late 1999 the car park at the rear of the theatre, the forerunner for Phase One of the project, had been completed and was in use.

Barn 2000 was to provide, much needed new facilities by extending the theatre on the west side to provide a new bar and refreshment area, a new dressing room and increased wing space at stage level. The proposals included a new wheelchair friendly toilet and the provision of a wheelchair lift from dressing room to stage level. The anticipated costs were 300,000 and it was hoped that Lottery funding would provide most of this with the works starting in 1999 and completed for the arrival of the new millennium, hence the title "A Vision for the Millennium". Sadly Lottery funding was not forthcoming but undaunted and with cash in the bank the works were commenced in May 2001 with a view to completion in phases as monies permitted.

The whole of the project was completed gradually over the next four years, at a cost of £253,000, within the original budget and exactly as planned without any compromises. A fantastic achievement made possible by self help, determination and a lot of patience. It was also great fun, building the biggest set yet at the Barn! The climax of the whole project was the visit of HRH The Duke of Kent who performed the formal opening ceremony in February 2005.

The success of Barn 2000 encouraged the Theatre Trustees and in November 2006 the 'BarnCool' project was launched. This was to provide air conditioning to the auditorium and foyer and these works were completed during Summer 2008 at a cost of £80,000. A new computerised lighting desk and loudspeaker system were also purchased at the end of that year.

There are more plans for the future and at the AGM in 2011, Bruce Reed who was also celebrating 25 years in the Chair announced that fundraising would begin shortly for a new backstage toilet and shower block.