History of Acquisition of Summerheath Hall & Conrose Players (now Hailsham Theatres)
For nearly 80 years the Summerheath Hall as been used for the presentation of dramatic entertainment.
Conrose Players first ever performance of any consequence was in April 1934,when they presented a variety entertainment in the Corn Exchange (Crown Hotel),which was repeated in 1935.
That same year they produced their first ever three act play, “Lucky Dip”, a comedy by Frank Vosper, also in the Corn Exchange, but transferred in April 1936 to the Social Hall (Summerheath Hall) for their third variety show. In November 1936 the Society’s second play “Mixed Doubles”a farce in three acts by Frank Stayton, was performed in the Summerheath Hall, where they have remained ever since.
In those early days the hall was called both the “Social Hall” and the “Labour Hall” and was in ownership of the
local Labour Party.
The Conrose Players originated from the Hailsham Beaconsfield Club and their name derived from the Hailsham Conservative and Primrose League Associations. There is a measure of irony in the knowledge that the Conrose Players, with their origin amongst the Conservatives, should have played such a significant part in obtaining the “Labour Hall” in perpetuity for the benefit of the town.
It is of further interest to note that Gilbert Murdoch, who did so much for the society as stage manager and lighting technician, and who “died in harness” in ’66, and both Charles Lucas and Leslie Burgoyne were there at the beginning.
In 1957 the owners of the Summerheath Hall decided to dispose of the property and the Conrose Players approached various residents with the idea of forming a company to acquire the hall for the benefit of the town. The negotiation on
behalf of the Society was conducted by Messrs. Tom Clements, Charles Lucas, Frank Worsley and Cecil Bale. In spite of a quite generous response, the cash total fell short of the sum required to carry out the original scheme to buy the
Plans were therefore changed and it was agreed to apply to
the Minister of Education for a grant. The Ministry grant was the customary “one third of the total cost” provided that the remaining two thirds were raised by public subscription.
The supporters of the original project were advised of the altered situation, which in effect meant that their anticipated n shareholding” was no longer viable. The only way to help the scheme now was by way of donations, as opposed
to buying “shares”, and the response was such that the sum total of donations amounted to £ 1400. As the agreed price of the building was £ 2250, and with the vendors foregoing £150 of the purchase price as their contribution to the fund, there was now, with the grant, sufficient money available for the purchase of the hall. However, the conditions of the Ministry grant stipulated certain structural repairs and the provision of certain fittings to make the building suitable for use as a Youth Club, a centre for drama and other social and recreational purposes.
It was estimated that a further £ 1800 would be required in order to complete the scheme, of which £ 600 would be covered by a Ministry grant, while the remaining £ 1200 would have to be raised by way of a further appeal to the public. Suffice it to say that the response to this second appeal was gratifying in the extreme and sufficient funds were then available to enable the project to be completed.
Let it be duly noted that all this did not happen overnight. That it happened at all was entirely due to the good offices of those members of the Conrose Players who worked assiduously to achieve the objective, which was, to save the Summerheath Hall for the town, for the primary purpose of promoting live theatre. But also for other forms of social activity. A complimentary word too, for the vendors, the local Labour Association, who showed considerable patience and
co-operation throughout the protracted period of negotiation.
Throughout the period of negotiation between, on the one hand, members of the Conrose Players Committee and on the other hand, the vendors, the local Labour Association, the Conrose Players undertook the day to day management of the hall, letting, cleaning, etc., and at the same time made many additions and improvement: including a new stage and sophisticated stage lighting. It may be said that the Society had a degree of self interest in saving the hall, but conversely, -it can not be denied that because of the determined efforts of this small band of dedicated people during 1957, 1958 & 1959 ~~ important facility was retained for the town which other wise have been lost.
The members of the Management Committee of the Summerheath Hall (a registered charity) are, in effect, trustees of a property financed originally by public Subscription, and their obligation is to ensure its continued existence. The committee is composed of regular users and residents of Hailsham.
In 2004 Hailsham Theatres was formed from the amalgamation of two groups, Conrose Players and C.A.T.S (Community Association Theatrical Section).
Historically, C.A.T.S were the ‘panto’ section, and Conrose Players performed plays. Many members of each group were the same people, and it was decided that it would be more time effective and better use of people’s skills to bring the two groups together.
The knowledge and experience from both sides gave Hailsham Theatres the opportunity to produce more varied productions which continue to this day.
The early activities of the Conrose Players are taken from local press reports of 1934, 1935 and 1936.
The details in respect of the negotiations for the transfer of the property are recorded in the minute book of the Conrose Players ADS at the time in question.
Photos from: Hailsham Theatres Archive