Davenham Church Players
The Davenham Players Drama Group (we just say ‘The Players’) was originally founded as the Davenham Church Players in May 1941, during the early years of the Second World War. Leading founder members included Gerald Croft, Percy Matthews and Doug Fryer. Plays were performed in St Wilfred’s Davenham Church Hall, just down the road from the current theatre. The first play performed was “Zeal of Thy House” (Dorothy L Sayers) followed in complete contrast by the farce “Charley’s Aunt” (Brandon Thomas).
At this time, one had to be a communicant (Church member) to join, leading to the disappointment of a number of potential members. But after a few years it was realised that more members were needed if we were to perform a more varied programme such as a pantomime at Christmas plus two plays a year.
In 1949, when the Northwich Music Society restarted after the war years and began to branch out into light opera including Gilbert and Sullivan, the Players agreed to give a one-act play in the Church Hall with the Northwich Music Society performing “Trial by Jury” in the second half of the programme. This co-operation allowed the Northwich Music Society to finance costumes and scenery for their first full-length venture “The Mikado” at the old Pavilion Theatre in Northwich.
By 1960/61, the rent of the Church Hall had increased to such an amount that it became impossible for the society to afford. So, after much discussion, the momentous decision was taken to work towards acquiring our own premises. A special subcommittee was set up to manage the project, leaving the main committee free to continue running productions and social activities.
Unsurprisingly, the Players did not have enough in the bank to buy a property. So, before they could commit to a purchase, a loan had to be raised and measures set in place to raise funds to complete the purchase, repay the loan and of course finance all the structural and other changes needed to turn the club into a theatre; not forgetting paying the usual day-to-day costs of running and maintaining a building thereafter.
Many fundraising events were needed to be able to afford to do this. Members worked incredibly hard running jumble sales and other events such as fashion shows, collecting scrap metal and tins and of course drama productions – anything to raise more cash!
The 100 Club
At an AGM during this fundraising period, one member explained a scheme that he had heard of in which 10 people collected £1.00 per week from 10 friends or acquaintances towards a prize draw. The money collected would allow a main prize of a car to the winner and raise £500 in cash to the Players’ funds; a new Austin Mini could be bought for this price when the model first went on sale. In this way, the “100 Club” was born.
The first 100 Club winner was the late Greta Scott, a longstanding member and supporter. Greta recalled that when her name was called out at the draw night, she was given a model tin car as the prize and was flabbergasted to learn that this represented a real car ready for her to collect from the garage. After the first year it was decided to give £500 to the winner instead of a car. The 100 Club continued into the 1990’s when it eventually folded.
While the Players were looking for a venue to acquire, by good fortune, two members, Peter Riley and Jim Edge, were having a drink in the Constitutional Club just down the road from the Church Hall and happened to overhear that the club was closing and the premises, formerly a village ‘Dame’ school, were to be sold. It is believed that the building dates from the mid-18th century. Records show that it was used as a school in 1783, when classes were moved from a room in the Parish Church belfry. The committee decided to approach the owners with the aim of purchasing the building.
During this time the decision was made that the Society would separate from the auspices of the Church and so in 1966, the Society became the Davenham Players which was registered as a charity with the Charity Commission (no. 504475) in October 1969.
Davenham Players at 59 Church Street
After two and a half years of negotiations with the owners, who were the Church Commissioners, the purchase price was settled and the sale of 59 Church Street to the Davenham Players was in the completed in March 1969. Two members agreed to stand as guarantors for the figure outstanding because it was not all that easy for a club or society to get a mortgage, but the premises were not ready for theatre use. A rebuilding and refitting programme was started that all in all took over five years to complete.
Fortunately, there were members with useful accounting, legal and building backgrounds who could provide advice and help steer the project through minefields such as Planning Permission, the Charities Commission and persuading the Church Commissioners that they really did want to sell the building.
With the purchase complete, the hard work of renovating and converting the building into a theatre began. The main room of the club had of course to be converted into an auditorium with provision for lighting, sound, curtains and audience seating. Early tasks were the disposal of two large billiard tables that occupied the area and laying a new floor.
The plot as bought in 1969 was an odd shape that would not accommodate an extension to the rear of the auditorium. In order to allow a bar/foyer to be built, in 1971 a land swap was agreed with the adjacent owner that exchanged a rather long thin piece of land for an area large enough to build the present bar and foyer with a scenery storage cellar underneath.
First Production at ‘The Players’
Although all this work was not yet complete, the first production in the new theatre was Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood in 1972, before the present bar/foyer was complete. Cast members who needed to enter at the back of the auditorium had to enter via a ladder up to a window in the back of the building. The formal opening of the theatre took place in 1975.
A merger with Sandiway and Cuddington Players took place early this century and we became the Davenham and Sandiway Players, but over time, the connection with Sandiway has been lost and in 2017, the decision was taken to revert to the name Davenham Players.
Work is underway on compiling as complete a list as we can of our productions from the formation of Davenham Church Players to the present date. You can see the current version of the list on our website and this will be made more complete as more information comes to hand.
We are short of information on certain years especially in the early years and prior to 1985. If you have any information that may be of use to us, PLEASE CONTACT US VIA OUR WEBSITE or phone Bob on 01606 45186.