and Early Years
On May 25th
1923, the Surrey Mirror gave the first news of an exciting new project:
"It is proposed to erect a public hall for the service of Oxted
and Limpsfield and surrounding parishes, to be known as the Barn Theatre.
The project originated with the Oxted and Limpsfield Players, with whom
the Crichton Dramatic Club was early associated. The two clubs, both
of which are badly handicapped for the want of a suitable public hall
in the district, appointed a joint committee which will be responsible
for carrying the project through. Numerous meetings have been held,
the best advice has been secured and it is confidently believed that
the plans reach an ideal which has long been entertained by all of those
who have practical experience of the difficulties of organising public
and social functions in the district".
It was decided
that the best way to raise the money needed was to form a limited liability
public company with a capital of £4,000. The Oxted and Limpsfield
Barn Theatre Company Ltd., chaired by Sir Ernest J. P. Benn, Bart. (grandfather
of Tony Benn) was founded and the shares were offered to the residents
of the district.
in Blue House Lane had already been chosen due to it being about equidistant
from the centre of the parishes of Oxted and Limpsfield. It was near
to the railway station and close to the "omnibus" route and
was subsequently purchased from the then 'Squire', Hoskins Master in
October 1923 for the sum of £275. The old saw mill barn which
stood at the bottom of Limpsfield village had been purchased from Mr.
Lewis G. Fry at a cost of £75 and was to be used as the main structure
for the building. The Limpsfield Sawmill was located roughly where Limpsfield
Village Hall now stands and the bungalow which stands to the north of
the Hall is called 'Old Sawmills'. On the High Street between the two,
can be seen two remaining gateposts of the
sawmill which was still operating after the sawmill barn was removed
and re-erected. A recent specialist survey has confirmed that the main
structural timbers from the sawmill barn date from between 1362 and
1433 with the probability that the sawmill barn was constructed during
1434. The theatre was to have a seating capacity of 350, be fitted with
a hardwood floor specially designed for dancing, have an efficient system
of ventilation and heating and electric lighting. Ample accommodation
in the way of stage, ante-rooms, dressing-rooms and offices was also
planned but the sale of alcohol was banned by Charles Hoskins Master
to safeguard the sales in the nearby Hoskins Arms which his family owned.
was designed by Matthews Ridley, a firm of architects and built, at
a cost of £3,742 12s 1d, by local contractor James Boodle within
a year and on May 22nd 1924 it was opened by the playwright Mr. Harley
Granville Barker of the British Drama League. Two plays, School for
Scandal and As You Like It, were performed by the local residents during
the following week and both received excellent reviews.
a period of great activity when the demand for lettings was greater
than could be satisfied. The Crichton Dramatic Society and the Oxted
and Limpsfield Players, with a musical section under the direction of
Michael Tippett had first call on
the building but it was also used by visiting companies such as the
July Players with celebrity Flora Robson
and the Stranger Players. A strong literary and debating society hosted
lectures by Lady Violet Bonham-Carter and Randolph Churchill amongst
others, a local art exhibition was held yearly, the Oxted and Limpsfield
Horticultural Society staged their autumn show, political and Brotherhood
meetings were held and it was very popular for dances and receptions.
In 1931 an
additional piece of land at the rear of the theatre was purchased for
£136 and the Little Barn constructed. The size of the floor in
the Little Barn is a mirror image of the Barn stage to provide rehearsal
space for times when the theatre was busy.
Life on 27th December 1924 has recently come to light.
War and Post-War Years
The war of
course brought all this to an end and while the theatre escaped serious
bomb damage, it suffered from the various uses to which it was put by
the authorities, being used as an evacuee dispersal station, a billet
for a Canadian regiment, the Seaforth Highlanders and a school. During
the occupation by the military the dressing rooms were used as a canteen
and 100 soldiers slept in the auditorium. They held regular dances and
variety shows to which the locals were invited. After the soldiers left
the premises were used by Habadashers Aske School from London for lessons
and for meals for evacuees who had been billeted in Oxted and Limpsfield.
theatre had been de-requisitioned there was a long period of uncertainty
and its existence was in jeopardy, so much so that approaches from repertory
companies to rent or lease were considered. In 1948, an agreement was
entered into with The Barn Repertory Players and the revival began,
or so it was thought.
By the time
of the next Annual General Meeting, The Barn Repertory Players had failed
and the theatre was in debt to the tune of £67 4s 11d. Surrey
County Council were considering the possible purchase of the theatre,
but eventually they lost interest. The theatre continued to struggle
and by 1953 the overdraft was £456 15s
At this time,
the 1st Oxted Scouts were given permission to build a hut on the land
at the back of the theatre, but this did not help financially as in
lieu of rent they were to keep tidy the theatre surrounds.
In 1955 the
Board of Directors resigned and was replaced by a committee of "working"
Directors who were prepared to run and maintain the theatre. Shortly
after, Lionel Pearson became Chairman of the Board and he was joined
in February 1956 by Jack Wettern who had appeared in the cast of one
of the opening plays, School for Scandal in 1924. Despite having an
overdraft of £757 10s 7d in 1956, the interior was redecorated,
a new gas central heating system was installed and the stage lighting
was renewed. By this time the Barn Players, Student
Players and Oxted Operatic Society
were the main users but the dances had to be discontinued in deference
to the residents of Bluehouse Lane.
Ibbett Mosely Card and Co. became the managing agents and provided the
registered office of the Oxted and Limpsfield Barn Theatre Company Ltd..
They held furniture auctions in the theatre which continued until the
auditorium was fitted with raked seating.
next few years the theatre regularly hosted drama festivals, including
a school festival, a permanent apron was added to enlarge the stage,
the rear extension was re-roofed, a new kitchen and dressing room were
formed and by 1962 the theatre was virtually solvent again. The land
the theatre stood on was subject to a covenant prohibiting the sale
of intoxicating liquor but in 1964 the theatre obtained agreement from
the liquidators of the Barrow Green Estate Company to allow a bar to
open six times a year. In 1971 this covenant was fully released.
the old seats from the Plaza Cinema, Oxted were purchased for 3s each
and the idea of forming a Society of Friends was suggested which however
did not reach fruition at this time. 1975 was an expensive year for
the theatre as emergency lighting had to be installed, the roof repaired
and death-watch beetle was found. In 1976 there was an attempted coup
at the Annual General Meeting by a group who felt that the full commercial
potential of the theatre was not being exploited but fortunately the
matter was eventually dropped. Also in 1976, the Red Cross who had occupied
the Little Barn moved out to their new building but the space was quickly
taken up by the Little Barn Nursery who are still there today.
of the theatre continued rapidly. In 1981, Dr.
Eileen Joyce donated a carpet for the foyer and in 1982 a sound
system linking the stage to the lighting box and dressing rooms was
installed. Also in 1981, the Friends of the Barn
(FOBS) under the Chairmanship of Terry Rolph was formed and they provided
funds to renew the roof of the theatre.
the theatre's Diamond Jubilee and the FOBs hosted a nine day festival
of music and drama which included an appearance by Ronnie
Corbett who was a patron of the Barn 2000 appeal. The theatre was
re-roofed at a cost of £8,209 and a 'No Smoking' policy came into
force. By this time the theatre had investigated becoming a charity
but this was not considered viable.
In 1986 the
current Chairman Bruce Reed was elected
to office. The sound box, which is also known as the 'Royal Box' was
completed and the new lighting desk installed in 1987. In 1989 a new
ticket desk was fitted in the foyer and by 1991 the auditorium had been
provided with raked and new seating all of which had been
funded by the FOBs with a "Buy a Seat" scheme.
1990's the theatre became so popular that bookings had to be made years
ahead and up to 18,000 people a year were passing through the door.
During this decade improvements continued apace with the Ladies toilets
in the foyer being renewed in 1993, new gas boilers, fire and smoke
alarm systems together with stage and auditorium curtains in 1994, and
the new Gents toilets in 1995. The stage floor
was renewed following a bequest of £10,000 to the Oxted Operatic
Society following the death of Dr Eileen
Joyce their president. 1996 saw the publication of The Barn Theatre
News and the What's On leaflets and an expansion of the
lighting board circuits to 48. In 1997 a Hearing Aid Loop was installed
in the auditorium courtesy of the Student Players, the professional
standard backstage intercom net was provided and the dream of the limited
company becoming a charity was finally realised on the 10th September
of that year. 1998 saw the installation of a new fully fitted modern
kitchen and much preparation for the project known as Barn
2000 which was launched the previous year. By late 1999 the car
park at the rear of the theatre, the forerunner for Phase One of the
project, had been completed and was in use.
was to provide, much needed new facilities by extending the theatre
on the west side to provide a new bar and refreshment area, a new dressing
room and increased wing space at stage level. The proposals included
a new wheelchair friendly toilet and the provision of a wheelchair lift
from dressing room to stage level. The anticipated costs were £300,000
and it was hoped that Lottery funding would provide most of this with
the works starting in 1999 and completed for the arrival of the new
millennium, hence the title "A Vision for the Millennium". Sadly Lottery
funding was not forthcoming but undaunted and with cash in the bank
the works were commenced in May 2001 with a view to completion in phases
as monies permitted.
of the project was completed gradually over the next four years, at
a cost of £253,000, within the original budget and exactly as
planned without any compromises. A fantastic achievement made possible
by self help, determination and a lot of patience. It was also great
fun, building the biggest set yet at the Barn! The climax of the whole
project was the visit of HRH The Duke of Kent who performed the formal
opening ceremony in February 2005.
of Barn 2000 encouraged the Theatre Trustees and in November 2006 the
'BarnCool' project was launched. This was to provide air conditioning
to the auditorium and foyer and these works were completed during Summer
2008 at a cost of £80,000. A new computerised lighting desk and
loudspeaker system were also purchased at the end of that year.
more plans for the future and at the AGM in 2011, Bruce Reed who was
also celebrating 25 years in the Chair announced that fundraising would
begin shortly for a new backstage toilet and shower block. This initiative
started with the idea that it would be nice to have a porch over the
stage door, developing through adding a toilet block and eventuallly
became an extension and total redesign of the whole backstage area and
was known as DRIP - Dressing Room Improvement Project. The project was
tackled in phases with the final phase being completed in early 2019
at a total cost of £272,000.
will celebrate its centenary in 2024 and a project to completely redesign
the front and foyer area was announced at the FOBs AGM in February 2020.
The country almost immediately went into Lockdown due to COVID-19 and
the project stalled publicly, although work went on behind the scenes.
In 2020, new LED auditorium lighting was installed, removing the temporary
system installed 15 years ago.