History of the Bancroft Players
Excerpts adapted from:
“The Bancroft Players 1945-1985: A Personal View”
by Keith Crook
The Queen Mother Theatre is home to The Bancroft Players who both own and run the venue. The history of the group and the theatre are closely intertwined. From the groups earliest days there was a declared intention to establish a permanent drama venue in Hitchin.
The Bancroft Players were formed in 1945 from the wartime Hitchin Entertainments Society. From the beginning the group’s objectives were the production of plays and the establishment of a permanent theatre for Hitchin.
The first production was Pygmalion, staged at the Town Hall in December 1945. This was followed in March 1946 with The Importance of Being Earnest.
A joint effort by the Bancroft Players and Hitchin Urban District Council resulted in the construction of The Woodside Open Air Theatre (“The Dell”).
It opened in 1951 with a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and following a period of neglect it has become the venue for occasional productions, notably as part of the Hitchin Festival.
St. Annes Hall
A permanent home for the society was found in 1955 and St. Annes Hall was finally bought in February 1956 for the sum of £800. The building was gradually extended and developed until it opened for its first public production in 1965 as The Players’ Theatre.
The society suffered a decline in membership through the early 1970s but as things improved thoughts turned towards establishing a modern, purpose built theatre
Building the New Theatre
It was 1977 when the society drew up plans for a purpose built theatre and launched an appeal for the £80,000 required. Initial fundraising was slow and many people suggested spending the money on maintaining St Annes Hall. However by 1981 the society was able to make a start but even £8000 from the 1981/1982 season was not going to build the new theatre.
Fundraising and Donations
Three local companies agreed to carry out the work on a no-profit basis and in May 1982 it got underway. There was now something for people to see and a £60,000 appeal was launched to complete the work. Then Hunting Gate, who were already working on the project, donated £10,000 to the costs.
Laying the Foundations
In September 1982 a ceremony has held for the laying of the “Foundation Stone” by the President of the Appeal for the new theatre, Mr. Jimmy Hill.
At the same ceremony, Richard Whitmore spoke about the name of the new venue. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother had been approached for permission to name the theatre after her. The original idea had been to call it the Queen Elizabeth Theatre but she suggested the unique title The Queen Mother Theatre. Hitchin therefore has the honour of being the UK’s only theatre bearing this name.
In 1983 the Theatre was nearing completion and the Bancroft Players finally moved out of St Annes Hall. It was then sold for £26,000 and has since been knocked down for a residential development.
The September 1983 production A Man for All Seasons was the first play in the newly completed Queen Mother Theatre.
The Theatre Today
Since then there have been a number of developments and extensions including the building of a studio and workshop. Most recently the foyer area has been extended to provide more space for audiences and improved box office facilities.