Monday, November 25, 2019

Much Ado About Nothing?

This is the second blog from our brilliant Volunteer Cataloguing Assistants. Angie has recently finished cataloguing a fascinating local theatre collection.

Much Ado About Nothing?

At first glance, what may seem like simple personal memorabilia, upon closer inspection reveals a record of people, pride, respect and a rich engagement with the arts in Castleford and Glass Houghton during the post war years. This is what I have learned from cataloguing a collection of around 40 programmes, tickets and photographs of amateur dramatic and musical performances carefully kept by a Castleford resident and kindly donated to Wakefield Museums & Castles by his daughter.

The productions included works by Gilbert and Sullivan, Noel Coward, J.B. Priestley and G. B. Shaw and were mainly the work of Castleford Dramatic Society, The Old Legiolians Dramatic and Operatic Society and the Castleford Grammar School Dramatic Society, and span the decade 1946-56.

As I’ve worked through the collection, I’ve been struck by the detail and respect in each one; being sure to thank every member of the production and support, giving information about how to get home on the bus, remembering past productions and looking forward to forthcoming shows, providing story lines or potted histories of the productions, all of which gives a lasting impression of a huge pride and enjoyment of being part of a community organisation and a dignity in offering quality information and entertainment for the local area. Even the production of each programme is impressive with front page designs and boxes for hand written row and seat numbers. An intriguing element about the collection is that most programmes have been folded in the same way, making me wonder if the collector always wore the same jacket when he went out and popped the programme in his top pocket to be stored away later.

The programme for Mr Cinders by Normanton and District Amateur Operatic Society in February 1949 is a historic record in itself.

It contains over 60 advertisements from local business mainly centred on High Street, Wakefield Road and Castleford Road in Normanton, including numerous butchers, drapers, florists and grocers. A picture of a pre-supermarket, pre-chain-store and pre-retail park era is conjured up with a bustling town where people bumped into neighbours and friends as they did their daily shop.

Another diversion was provided by the programme for The Lady’s Not For Burning.

With no date or society name or location, I was interested to dig around to try to establish some information. Inside the programme, the name Fothergill Hall was mentioned as the location of the play so after a little internet research I discovered that Ackworth School, founded in 1779 by Dr John Fothergill and local Quakers, had a 400 seater hall built in 1899 and named after their esteemed founder. A connection between the dramatic society and Ackworth seems likely, although not proven. Whilst reading the programme, one name jumped out at me as unusual for the local area, Casto V. Alonso. Spurred on by the discovery of the site of the hall, I googled this name and came across a published memoir written by a former post-war pupil of Ackworth School, Joe Frankl. Mr Frankl remembers a temporary Master of Spanish, Casto V. Alonso, appearing at the school (hardly unimaginable that this is not one and the same person that appears in the programme). Mr Frankl recounts a wonderful story around this teacher who, appearing exotic and being accomplished at almost every endeavour, including beginning a drama club, turned out to have come from London’s East End and not to have escaped the Spanish Civil War, according to popular reputation! After his 25 year sojourn in Ackworth, Mr Alonso’s rich story ends in a headship in Lahore, Pakistan. Aside from his role as a teacher, in the programme he is listed as a cast member, producer and tutor of drama appreciation classes in the local vicinity which seemingly paints him as a local cultural beacon. (Joe Frankl, Under the Castle: Growing Up Between the Swastika and the Cross, p.185-186)

It only begs the question, how many other fascinating personal stories, perhaps wartime, perhaps local mining stories, are woven into this wonderful, unassuming collection of local amateur productions?

No comments:

Post a Comment

We would love your comments - though they may take a day or two to appear.