On Wednesday 11th January members of Grassington Players gathered to commemorate the original society’s inaugural meeting, a hundred years ago to the day.
The minutes of the first meeting were found safe in the archives and current Chairman, John Anderson had the inspirational idea to re-enact that first meeting at the exact date, time and venue.
Taking those precious historical minutes as a starting point, fellow player Mark Bamforth painstakingly researched from the 1921 census the ages and Christian names of the attendees who had taken part in the gathering at Yarkers Tearooms in Threshfield back in 1923. He put together a draft transcript which was read by the attendees with current committee members taking on the respective roles of those founding members.
President Mary Wilkinson read May Walker, Secretary Pam Watley-Homes (Hannah Garside), Treasurer Robert Fort (Ernest Pullen), Mark Bamforth read original chairman George Gardner, John Anderson, the Reverend Leighton, Paula Vickers (Hannah Grimshaw), Stephen Lodge (Abram Crabtree), Neil McCormac (John Lunham), Andrew Armstrong (William Walker), Katie Milner (Joyce Maufe), Paul Coultas (Henry Greenhough, Tom Powell (William Dennis) and Jonny Jowett (Arthur Blades).
Grassington Players is interested to hear of anyone with family connections to those original members and would welcome any relevant memorabilia for display at productions during this centenary year.
The small and quite moving celebration at the same tearoom (now The Hedgerow), was attended by several current and former members of the Grassington Players, including the oldest extant members Nan Jowett and Beryl Bamforth. A toast was raised with glasses of sherry to the founding members, to the next 100 years and to Hutchinson family of The Hedgerow for their hospitality.
The gathering heard how the original founders called themselves the Grassington & District Amateur Dramatic Society and agreed to pay an annual subscription of 5 shillings with the aim of raising funds for renovations at the Grassington Devonshire Institute.
Known colloquially as the Town Hall, The Devonshire Institute continues to receive support from Grassington Players today and is the venue for all the society’s productions. A centenary dinner celebration was held there on 28 January with the main hall and foyer theatrically dressed for the occasion with all the glamour of The Great Gatsby by Paula Vickers and her willing recruits.
Material from the archives was on display including old programmes. More than 200 productions have been staged since the society’s inception, with a recurring theme of a few favourites such as When We Are Married, which was revisited for the third time last year.
Over the years the society has performed in drama festivals and graced television screens with news coverage and the series The Dales documenting its staging of the amateur world premiere of Calendar Girls in 2012.
After the buffet centenary dinner prepared by Grassington House, members heard from Beryl Bamforth who’s tenure in Grassington Players dates back to 1966. Over the years she was involved in more than 40 productions, performing, backstage or directing, and recalls how, when she was Secretary, she sent out the 11-year old Mark Bamforth, now 62, on his bike to deliver membership subscription letters. She expressed her sadness that at 89 years old she is no longer able to take an active role.
The Bamforths are not the only generational family in Grassington Players; Joan Whitaker, her daughter Esme (sadly missed) and grandson Will Binns all played a part in the ongoing story of the society, and President Mary Wilkinson, her daughter Zarina and grandchildren Chris and Harriet Belk have been the backbone of the committee for several years.
Mary called for members to pull together to ensure the Players survive for a further 100 years, appealing for more people to learn the backstage craft that enables productions to be staged.
After the speeches, Robert Shield, a dance teacher from Swing Dance in Leeds gave a quick lesson in how to dance the Charleston and many Players took to the floor in fabulous 1920s outfits sourced from the Players own costume store, Ilkley Playhouse, Northern Costume Hire and Colne Hippodrome.
Back in 1923, the society’s first productions were a series of one act plays ‘The Monkeys Paw’, ‘No Servants’, ‘Mother ‘o Pearl’ and ‘If This Should Meet The Eye’. A century on, the Players propose to present three productions including the stage adaptation of ‘Brassed Off’ in collaboration with a local brass band in the autumn and a Ghost Walk around Grassington.