Yes, the name of our society is quite a mouth full but it does say who we are, what we are and where we are, although it must be said that in our 80th anniversary year the “who” is more reflective than fact.
Great Marsden – The parish of St John, was in it's early years the primary parish of the area that was to become the town of Nelson now the principal town in the rural Borough of Pendle. Pendle named as may be understood because of its location at the foot of Pendle Hill the original back drop for the tales of the Lancashire witches is situated in the centre an area of outstanding natural beauty.
The Society, founded in 1925 was very much part of parish life, Church membership and attendance in those days being mandatory for any Society member. Society performances were staged in the Church hall and the organisation was firmly established within the town's musical life.
The success enjoyed by the Society in its formative years was soon reflected in the need to secure a larger performance venue. The first move, to the Alhambra Theatre near the town centre was soon followed by a second move to the Palace Theatre, a 1700 seat giant and the largest theatre in the area. Nelson Palace was to be our home for the next forty years until an unsympathetic management viewed our one-week tenure as “not commercially viable”. We were asked to “move on”.
No other suitable venue being available in Nelson we had little choice but to set our sights further afield. The Municipal Hall three miles up the road in Colne became our new home for the next twelve years; by this time we were staging two productions per year and were therefore in weekly rehearsal throughout the year.
Throughout it's first fifty years the Society was subject to many changes and faced numerous trials and tribulations but none of this in any way prepared us for a decision we had to take in 1978 when the opportunity arose for us to own our own theatre.
The Colne Hippodrome just a few hundred yards away from the Municipal Hall was to close. The Hippodrome built in 1914 as a cini-variety theatre was a run down bingo hall with a seating capacity of approximately 600 and was ours for the asking. A temporary committee was hastily formed with parties from the three operatic societies that currently used the Municipal hall as a venue and the decision to proceed with the acquisition to purchase the Hippodrome was taken.
For the next eight and a half years the Society worked along side its partner societies in restoring, repairing and improving our own theatre at the same time as rehearsing and producing two full musical shows per year, this would not be everyone's idea of a relaxing hobby but by the Autumn of 1986 the end was in sight and on December the 6th of that year the Hippodrome reopened in great splendor to begin it's new life and for us a new home.
St John's continue to stage two full productions per year as do Colne Operatic Society, our partners in the ownership of the theatre. Our choice of production varies considerably and ranges from popular to minority interest, from cult to concert, our youngest members are tots and our oldest octogenarians, with our own theatre to run there is a calling for everyone whatever their age, origin, capability or talent.
We look forward to our next 80 years with confident enthusiasm and invite anyone with an interest in Theatre and the Performing Arts to pay us a visit either at rehearsal or at the theatre, call in, it may be a one off or it may be for life.
THEATRE CAN BE HABIT FORMING
Written in 2006 By Chairman Keith Walton