All about the Westovian Theatre Society - Pier Pavilion South Shields

The Westovian House

Westovian Theatre Society 1977Before 1950 the society had rehearsed in the Dorset Cafe, the Havelock Inn and in private homes, notably those of Stella Newton and Wallace Coxon. So certain that were stored all over the town, mostly in members homes. 21, Beach Road was purchased as a Headquarters and was renamed 'Westovian House in 1950. This was due in no small part to Charles Hare the current chairman, at that time, also a Director of The Tyne Commercial Building Society who knew the housing market. There was much discussion and argument the previous year, from members who thought the burden would fall on only a few and some members who were needed to be Trustees responsible for the repayment of the mortgage. However the sale went through, by a majority vote and members rallied round to renovate and clean the new headquarters.

Jim Gray remembers joining the society at this time as a Junior aged 15 and spending great periods of time in company with the other juniors and senior members clearing out and cleaning. He describes the building as in almost it's original condition from 100 years before, all pre war papers and varnish. The two downstairs rooms were knocked into one, to provide rehearsal space, the old fireplaces removed and gas fires installed. The kitchen which had originally been a breakfast room was full of wall cupboards and was left in its condition for many years serving to provide tea and coffee from a boiler or if only a few people a large kettle on the gas stove. He remembers his introduction to the semi-basement, from the kitchen down steep steps to a warren of rooms, originally the servants quarters in times of 'Upstairs Downstairs', but not used as such for decades, because it was in great need of clearing and cleaning.

Overlooking the front garden from a semi-basement window was a living room which, could be entered from stone steps down and through a door under the main steps up to the front door. This room-corresponded in size to the front lounge upstairs. There was a wide corridor, which lead to a kitchen under the dining room which had a huge black leaded range in it, a shallow sink and wooden draining board and a coal house off. Numerous rooms and stores extended to the back of the property and what would have been a large bedroom, still with the corner fire place in it. The basement was used as a flats, property store and a place to build and decorate sets, which when finished, were transferred to St Aidan's Hall, or in later times to the Pier Pavilion.

The basement was never really cleared until the front was let to Dr. Funnell who turned it into a surgery and the back finally cleared when the house was sold in 1981. By then the front rooms had been The Beacon Snooker Club, The Bowler Hat Club and finally O'Briens. There were actually hundreds of objects stored everywhere in the basement and perhaps thought useful for some future play. There were flats, doors, Victorian and other fireplaces grates, various pieces of furniture and suites, chairs, carpets, curtains, china, pots and pans, prancing horses, urns and Grecian ladies made of iron, books and many other pieces, including at least four marble clocks standing on the mantle piece. There was also a grandfather clock, which was moved about over the years ending up in the garage. Nearly all went into skips during clearances in the mid seventies but the grandfather clock lasted until we sold the house and was seen on many sets over the years.

On the mezzanine floor, there was a huge bathroom still containing the iron, free standing bath, toilet and wash basin. First floor front became the committee room, with original fire place, it had a large Edwardian table in the middle and a set of matching chairs set round it. It also housed a beautiful dresser with glass cupboards above, which held the past Westovian scripts. First floor side was the wardrobe, shelved and 'cupboarded' out and the first floor back eventually became known as the ' junior room decorated by Jim himself. The attic was shabby and housed various trunks, wood crates and boxes all filled with beautiful original clothes, from Victorian times through to pre war.

The cast rehearsed in the downstairs double room with the stage marked out in chalk on the floor until the weekend before a play started when everything needed was transported to the venue. The set was erected for the first on stage rehearsal on the Sunday with the Dress rehearsal Monday and the show then on stage.

In 1968 planning permission was sought and alterations were made providing a rehearsal room downstairs a Green Room and licensed Bar upstairs and a costume store and committee room in the attic. During the time problems were encountered at the Pier Pavilion in 1976 The downstairs rehearsal room was converted into a 60 seat 'theatre' for small in house productions whilst refurbishment was in progress at the 'pier'. In 1981 the house was sold to help pay for the second stage at the Pier Pavilion which reconstructed back stage dressing rooms and made a new upper dressing room cum general purpose utility room.