FOR one year, in 1936, Amersham could boast two professional theatre companies.

The story of the Amersham Repertory Players at the Playhouse Theatre, now Amersham Auction Rooms, is relatively well known thanks to Stan Pretty and other museum researchers.

However, until recently I could find out very little about a second theatre, converted from a Tudor barn in what is now the Grade II Listed dining room of the Beacon School.

The museum has received several enquiries about this theatre, including one recently received from the president of the American Chesterton Society.

This is what we have found out so far.

Bois Farm

Bois Farm, on the main road between Amersham and Chesham, was one of the farms belonging to the Duke of Bedford’s Chesham Bois estate.

It was later owned by the Garrett-Pegge family who sold a substantial part of the farm as valuable building plots in 1906.

In 1933, the farm was sold as an investment to businessman and insurance broker, Daniel George Hayman of Cape Lodge, Amersham.

In a 1937 court case for unpaid milk, it was said that he claimed to be the “richest man in Amersham”.

The farmhouse was let to the newly founded Beacon School from 1933.

Hayman established the Bois Farm Company and planned to turn the rest of the farm into a country club and theatre with hotel rooms and a restaurant.

Harriet Augusta Norman was a director of the company, and she brought in her friend the actress and West-End director, Ida Teather in October 1935 to create the theatre.

Ida Teather (1896 – 1954)

Ida was born in Nottingham and worked in the theatre from a young age, beginning as an actor in repertory theatre, including at the well-regarded Liverpool Rep.

Whilst living in Tooting she formed the Peoples Players with her friend Stella Mary Pearce, whose mother, concert pianist Giorgia Pearce, came to Amersham in 1936 (possibly to perform at the theatre) and established the Music Studio (Nostalgia July 7, 2023).

Ida spent three years working with the innovative Austrian theatre director Max Reinhardt in Berlin and had a small part in the 1930 British-German film The Temporary Widow.

This starred German silent movie actress Lilian Harvey and Laurence Olivier in his first film role. Ida combined acting with theatre directing and production.

In 1932, she directed Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street for the Independent Theatre Club. She also worked at the Art Theatre Club and briefly owned the London Everyman Theatre.

During the war she toured stage productions and taught drama for HM Forces. In 1945, she spent three months touring the Middle East with her friend, Sir John Gielgud, with Hamlet and The Cherry Orchard.

She later became a well-regarded drama tutor and examiner and established the drama department at the University of Hull.

Bucks Free Press: 1936 card announcing recital and lecture.1936 card announcing recital and lecture. (Image: Amersham Museum)

The Theatre

Ida used her West End connections to attract an incredible list of patrons, including actor Sir John Gielgud, director Sir Tyrone Guthrie, ballet star Dame Marie Rambert, playwright Laurence Housman and the prolific writer and flamboyant polymath, Gilbert Chesterton who lived in Beaconsfield.

The theatre was established as a theatre membership club with an annual subscription of 10/6, 10 shillings and 6 pence. Seats were then priced from 1/9 up to 7/6.

The Tudor barn was converted to include a stage (which is still there), a dancefloor, and seating for 200 people.

Bucks Free Press: The converted Tudor barn with new dancefloor c 1936.The converted Tudor barn with new dancefloor c 1936. (Image: SWOP)The first production, on Boxing Day 1935, was The Nativity, adapted from the Chester Mystery Plays.

“The Theatre in a Barn” attracted a glowing review in the local press: “The premises loaned themselves most beautifully for the opening play, as the early 16th century barn proved an ideal setting for the Stable and Crib.

Although the barn has been equipped with all the latest appliances to aid perfect production, the ancient beams and the craft of 400 years ago remain”.

The next production in mid January was Laurence Housman’s controversial play Victoria Regina which had premiered on Broadway in 1935 but due to British censorship rules, could only be produced by private theatres, which is perhaps why membership theatre clubs existed.

Bucks Free Press: 1969 York Mystery Plays production of The Nativity.1969 York Mystery Plays production of The Nativity. (Image: Newsquest)

At the time there was a ban on portrayals of Victoria in public theatres in Britain.

The Bois Farm Residential Club, being a theatre club, was technically private and therefore exempt from the prohibition.

Pamela Stanley, who had premiered the play at The Gate in 1935 starred in the production as Queen Victoria, whilst Hamilton Deane “the well-known repertory actor manager, made a striking and colourful Lord Beaconsfield”.

G K Chesterton’s play Magic followed. Members were invited to a discussion of the play between Mrs Cecil Chesterton, G K Chesterton’s sister-in-law, and Kenelm Foss, the producer of the 1913 premier.

Bucks Free Press: Ogden’s Cigarettes 1930s actors’ cards showing Pamela Stanley as Queen Victoria in Victoria Regina.Ogden’s Cigarettes 1930s actors’ cards showing Pamela Stanley as Queen Victoria in Victoria Regina. (Image: Amersham Museum)

The End

The theatre only lasted for a year. Ida left after contracting appendicitis in February 1936 and her set designer, Peter Goffin, took over as director.

A series of musical evenings and lectures was also tried but there was not enough support in the town to make the venture a commercial success.

Competition from the Playhouse, The Regent Cinema and the Chiltern Club of Arts may have also been a factor.

Ida and actress, Chris Castor, successfully sued Hayman for unpaid salary, and the last performance was by candlelight due to the electricity being cut off !

During the war the site became a soldiers’ camp with the barn as the Officer’s Mess and dance hall. Homeless families sought refuge in the barn at the end of war when the site, known as Beech Barn Camp, became home to several displaced families.

In the 1950s the top camp was sold to Comben and Wakeling for a housing development, The Lees. The barns and what remained of the farm was sold to Philip Masters, the then headmaster of the Beacon School.