Articles: Finding A New Home (1975 - 1976)

This article was first published in November 2015 on the Stephen Joseph Theatre website. It marked the last of the SJT Moments articles looking at the history of the Library Theatre, Scarborough.

The need for a new - preferably permanent - home for the Library Theatre company had been a fixture of discussions since 1963, but came to a head in 1975.
By then, the company had been told to vacate Scarborough Library by January 1976. A solution was urgently needed to enable the company to continue in Scarborough.
There had actually been enquiries about possible new homes for the theatre since 1967. Sites considered and ultimately rejected included Regent Street, Castle Road, Valley Gardens, Burniston Road, Falsgrave, Vernon Road, Westborough and Filey Road.
A number of new possibilities were now raised, the most convenient being a conversion of the former Christ Church on Vernon Road, next to the Library (and which is now Iceland). Interest was shown and plans drawn up, although the building was later deemed unsuitable for conversion.
An interesting proposal was for the former maze and crazy golf site on The Esplanade (now Dulverton Hall). The theatre’s architect George W Alderson designed a striking circular building that was submitted to the Arts Council. However, the proposed cost of £160,000 and the lack of parking put paid to this plan.
The most serious contender was the former St. Thomas's Church in East Sandgate, which had been converted into the Museum Of Bygones and since 1974 had been used by the theatre for carpentry and as a prop-store.
Plans were drawn up for an extensive conversion despite its less than accessible location and serious parking issues. Granted change of use and planning permission, it was publicised in the media that the £180,000 conversion was proceeding with a planned opening date of June 1976.
All this came to a dramatic halt on 29 October when Scarborough Town Council revealed previously secret plans for a purpose-built theatre opposite the Library on Vernon Road car park (now the back of Brunswick Pavilion) with permission to proceed approved in the same meeting.
With this surprise news, plans for St Thomas's Church were abandoned and attention turned instead to the pressing matter of a temporary home for the company whilst the new theatre was built.
Although North Yorkshire County Council had agreed to extend the Library Theatre’s use of the library for another six months - it actually became eight months - there was a definitive refusal to a several year extension.
Fortunately, an alternative was on offer with the former Westwood County Modern School, beneath Valley Bridge, offered as a short term home by the County Council with a three year lease.
Scarborough Theatre Trust agreed to move into Westwood - as it was colloquially known - at an estimated cost of £30,000 to convert the ground floor of the building into a practical theatre space.
At the same time, the new Vernon Road theatre was budgeted at £500,000 of which the Trust agreed to raise £120,000.
Twenty-one years after Stephen Joseph had opened the Library Theatre, the company performed in the Concert Room for a final time on 11 September 1976 with a performance of Alan Ayckbourn’s
Just Between Ourselves.
Sixty days later, Theatre In The Round At Westwood opened on 26 October with a revival - and first Scarborough production - of Alan Ayckbourn’s
Mr Whatnot.
The hoped for new theatre in Vernon Road never transpired though and a three-year temporary home became a twenty year permanent home renamed in 1978 as the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round to honour its founder.
But that’s another theatre and another story.

Article by Simon Murgatroyd. Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce this article without permission of the copyright holder.