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
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
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