Echoes of the past: Memories of the Southowram Methodist Players

Left to right; Helen Whitehead, Vivien Pendleton (now Mrs Butterworth), Joan Firth, Dianne Gill and Arthur Heap
Left to right; Helen Whitehead, Vivien Pendleton (now Mrs Butterworth), Joan Firth, Dianne Gill and Arthur Heap

The Southowram Methodist Players - this November 1987 scene from ‘A Fish out of Water’, will I am sure bring back many happy memories for those who took part both on stage, and those vitally important people who do the backroom work.

Sadly, this local group is no longer with us, but when did it all start, and when was its last production?

We have to go back to c1960 when the players took to the boards for the first time with Philip King’s play ‘Without a Prince’. This play had been a TV movie in 1952 where the leading lady was Billy Whitelaw. Over the next 30 years the players were a much appreciated community and supported group in the village.

Sadly, the final performance came in 1991. This was after the venue where the performances were held was sold owing to the on-going rising costs to maintain the building based in Ashday Lane. Once it was sold it was never destined to be used as a community facility anymore. Plans were submitted and was in time converted into a house.

Returning to our featured photograph, these plays were always staged in November over a three day period to a full house for every performance. It was also a tight squeeze in the changing rooms as well, with everyone trying to find a corner to put on their stage clothes. Room had also to be found for Lily Hood who would be busy trying to put everyone’s greasepaint on before they faced the floodlights.

Whilst in the tea room would be two familiar faces in Southowram, Jessie and Mary who were always affectionately known as the ‘Tea-Pot Twins’. These two ladies were always in charge of the tea and biscuits, which back in those days cost the princely sum of 15p. Not quite heated debate, but it was always an item on the agenda at committee meetings, should the price of tea and biscuits be increased, but it rarely was.

In March it was always the chapel At Homes, an event that was the main fund raising event for the church. This was another occasion when the players came into their own. They provided forty-five minutes of entertainment, this included one particular year when they performed their own version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was on the programme. This included a Halifax Town football dwarf, the mind boggles at the very thought of it.

The players occasionally went ‘on the road’ which usually included a visit to Northowram Hospital where they would perform to the older residents and those with psychiatric problems. This meant that Grace Coates the players travelling pianist would be in full flow. Not quite London’s theatre land or Broadway but both the players and audiences always had a wonderful afternoon or evening.

In January the wintery evenings were always lit up when it was the ‘Players’ party for its members and friends. This was when Joan Firth both a regular player and quiz master came into her own. On one occasion a passerby called in to ask for directions, only to be met with the sight of John Hudson sitting on Eric Hemmingway’s knee - all part of the quiz. Just what the passerby thought no one ever did get to find out.

Those were wonderful evenings and was all part of the community spirit the Southowram Methodist Players brought to the village.

Returning to this week’s featured photograph on stage at the school room in Ashday Lane on 9 November 1987: (left to right) Helen Whitehead; Vivien Pendleton (now Mrs Butterworth); Joan Firth; Dianne Gill and Arthur Heap. Thanks to Peter and Vivien Butterworth for their help with this story.