Bridgwater Arts Centre - A Brief History

At the end of the Second World War, No 11 Castle Street was being offered for sale or to let. It had been used in the 1930's as a school of music and dance and during the war as club facilities for members of the armed services. During the 1930's a multipurpose hall had been built on the site of the garden.

In 1945, Gwen Pollard, who had a great love of music, drama and the arts in general, realised that here was a great opportunity for establishing a centre for the arts in Bridgwater. She set about negotiating the purchase of the property, at the same time realising that it would probably be beyond her means to run it as  an arts venue without substantial financial help.

The Arts Council was set up in 1946. Gwen Pollard immediately began using her considerable powers of persuasion to get the Arts Council to take a lease of the premises and, in partnership with her, to open the premises as what was to become the first Arts Centre of its kind in Britain.

Bridgwater Arts Centre was actually opened on the 10th October 1946 by Sir Ernest Pooley, Chairman of the Arts Council, at a ceremony which included the mayor of Bridgwater and representatives from many local organisations. Also present were 30 to 40 Founder Members, who formed the nucleus of Centre membership.

An open meeting was held at the end of October of that year when membership was offered to any person interested in the arts. The subscription was five shillings p.a. (25p), 300 members were enrolled.

In 1947 membership was up to 700 and in 1949 peeked at 716. This year also saw the first General Meeting of the members at which a Constitution was approved and an Executive committee was elected by ballot. The first chairman was John Paley York.

The Arts Council undertook to lease the building, maintain the interior, equip the theatre and pay the joint wardens Frederick and Annette Miller. The members agreed to provide daily and evening catering and to raise funds to improve the furnishing of rooms and equipment.

To celebrate the opening there were three evening performances by the Travelling Opera Company. There was also an exhibition of French Lithographs.

Throughout the 1946/47 season a programme of regular events was provided which included dance, recitals, drama, exhibitions, and some special programmes combining music with the writtern word. Most concerts were provided by the Bridgwater Music Club, although regular visits began by the West of England Theatre Company.

An outstanding concert was given by the Boyd Neel Orchestra. In September 1947 the centre was host, for a week, to the MARS Architectural Group for the first post-war International Conference on Modern Architecture (Le Corbusier was present).

The centre also began to be used by local drama groups, drama festivals, dancers and the Somerset Youth Service for many of its activities.

In 1982 the adjoining house, No13 Castle Street became vacant and was purchased by Sedgemoor District Council for an extension to the Centre, with the proviso that the members took financial responsibility for the refurbishment of the interior. A fund raising committee, set up in 1983, was successful in raising the sum needed and after three years all the available space at No 13 had been brought into use. The ground floor gallery was virtually doubled in size, an 18th Century paneled room was restored and made available for meetings and functions and a large first floor studio was converted from three smaller rooms. An attractively designed walled garden was also added to the venue.

Huge numbers of people use the building and much has been achieved in recent years to attract greater public interest.

Text reproduced by kind permission from the Bridgwater Arts Centre 50 year celebration pamphlet 10/10/1996

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