our history

‘Quiet Wedding’, Oct 1446 – St. Mark’s Parochial Hall

1945 The Harrogate Dramatic Society was formed. It included members from two Harrogate Drama groups: The Elizabethans and The Drama Cell.

March 1946 The Society’s first production: “Tonight at 8:30″ – three one-act plays by Noel Coward, was performed at St. Mark’s Church Hall.

October 1946 “Quiet Wedding” by Esther McCracken, the first three-act play the Society presented, was performed at St. Mark’s Church Hall. Rehearsals were held in members’ houses.

After a successful opening in Harrogate, the Society entered “Quiet Wedding” for the first post-war Skipton Drama Festival in 1946 and gained the Amateur Theatre trophy as runner-up.

The Society subsequently had a long and successful association with the Skipton (later – the Craven) Drama Festival winning many awards culminating in the outstanding success of “Waters Of The Moon” by N C Hunter in 1978 when the play won every major award – The Irving Trophy, The Producer’s Trophy (Joan Mallett), Best Actress (Jacquie Scarborough) and Best Actor (Don Valentine). To the best of our knowledge this was a distinction never before achieved by any Society at that festival.

‘The Barrets of Wimpole Street’, April 1947 – The Royal Hall, Harrogate


The Royal Hall

April 1947 It was decided to risk putting on a large scale production at The Royal Hall as well as playing at St.Mark’s Church Hall. The first of these productions was “The Barretts Of Wimpole Street” by Rudolph Besier which was a great success:

“By skilful casting, adroit production and careful rehearsal, The Harrogate Dramatic Society has reached a new standard of achievement.” (Lal Walker, The Harrogate Advertiser).

Those three factors are still a fundamental part of the Society’s work and worth.

October 1947 The society presented “Autumn” by Gregory Ratoff and Margaret Kennedy at St Mark’s Church Hall and then entered the play for the first post-war Harrogate Drama Festival. The production was Joint Winner and was also entered for the Skipton Festival, where it was awarded The Irving Trophy (Festival Winner).

By this time the Society had raised nearly £700 towards its goal of a Little Theatre.

‘Alice in Wonderland’, Dec 1948 – The Royal Hall, Harrogate

1948 First Christmas production at The Royal Hall – “Alice In Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll opened on Boxing Day and played for a week. The financial success of the Royal Hall productions in 1947 and 1948 (as well as “Romance” by Edward Sheldon in 1949) enabled The Society to face its future with confidence.


The Old Swan Hotel

After successful negotiations with The Harrogate Hydro (now The Old Swan Hotel) the Society moved into its first real “home”. The ballroom and winter garden were transformed four times a year into a palatial Little Theatre and rehearsal premises (in the old Turkish Baths) were made available. Later a rehearsal room and a committee room were made over, solely for the Society’s use, in the maids’ wing upstairs.

1956 The tenth anniversary of the Society was celebrated by a dinner dance at The Old Swan. The Society was established and successful with over a hundred members and over 600 Patrons.


Harrogate Theatre

January 1962 “Simon and Laura” by Alan Melville was the play which began our connection with the Harrogate Theatre. The Old Swan had become a thriving hotel open to conferences and exhibitions and therefore was no longer able to allow the Society to use the ballroom on regular dates four times a year. So the HDS turned its attention to The Harrogate Theatre, then known as The Opera House, and arrangements were made to perform there twice a year as well as still performing at the Little Theatre.

The HDS has always and will continue to support and work with Harrogate Theatre. We have worked for the theatre and in the theatre. HDS members ran the gallery for three seasons, manning it on Saturday nights as well as helping actors and assisting with wardrobe and properties. Since 1962 we have raised money for the theatre by putting on shows, and have combined with the professional company on a number of special occasions. Several members of our Society have served on the theatre board.

1964 First open air production in the Valley Gardens – “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare. This was a great success and half the proceeds were given to local charities.

‘A Man About the House’, Jan 1966 – The Little Theatre, Old Swan Hotel


1966 21st birthday

“Twenty one years ago from the ashes of The Drama Cell and The Elizabethans there arose, like the fabled phoenix of old, a new Society, The Harrogate Dramatic Society, pledged to present the very best in amateur entertainment. This year, as we celebrate our coming of age, we can hold up our heads with pride, sure in the knowledge that our pledge has been redeemed.

“We at The Opera House feel a special affection for the Harrogate Dramatic Society, for between the amateur and the professional companies who share this theatre there exists a rapport that is all too rare . . . our relationship is marked by a spirit of wholehearted co-operation and mutual regard . . . amateur and professional actors tread the boards together at The Opera House . . . we are working towards the same end, a thriving theatre in Harrogate . . . that we can see light at the end of the tunnel can be largely credited to a core of stalwart theatre-lovers – prominent amongst them the members of The Harrogate Dramatic Society.” (Nancy Poulteney, Artistic Director Harrogate Theatre 1966)

1967 Directors of the Old Swan informed us reluctantly that they could no longer offer us the Little Theatre or the maids’ quarters on any regular basis therefore the society had to find a new ‘home’.


59 East Parade

Through the good offices of our then Chairman, D.W. Thompson, we acquired our second ‘home’ at 59, East Parade – affectionately known as just “59”. We had the first floor flat – a rehearsal room, committee room and kitchen, and a cellar in which we could store and build our very considerable (by this time) collection of flats and scenery. Joan Chamley offered her attics in which to store the Society’s large and comprehensive wardrobe.

59, East Parade became our home in a very real sense. Green Room meetings were held every Wednesday night – classes, demonstrations, talks and play readings formed a season’s programme. Coffee mornings were held on the first Saturday of every month (this has continued right up to the present day) and fund raising / social evenings were held on the last Saturday of every month. We played in the Little Theatre, the Harrogate Theatre, the Royal Hall, St. Mark’s Hall and St. Luke’s Hall.

Whilst resident at 59, The Arts Council Of Great Britain, which gives a large grant to the theatre, stated in its rules that no part of its grant could be used to subsidise the amateur theatre. Therefore the rental for one week at Harrogate Theatre would be 1/52nd of its running costs. The local authority made the same stipulation. As the rent had trebled we could no longer afford to play in the main house.

1972 Fortunately a Studio Theatre had been created when the theatre was refurbished in 1972 so we transferred there. We played at St. Mary’s Church hall twice a season to make money which meant we could also just afford to perform in the Studio.

The Killing Of Sister George, May 1980


Life Begins At…

1985 Returning to The Old Swan Hotel for the 40th season, the society performed “Move Over Mrs. Markham” by Ray Cooney. In May, a light hearted review – “Forty-simmo” – looked back out our 40 years of history.

September 25th 1985 on HDS’s actual birthday, Harold Pinter’s play “Birthday Party” was performed.

February 1986 To conclude a year of celebrations a dinner-dance was held in the ballroom of the Old Swan Hotel, attended by the Mayor and all the Presidents of all the societies in Harrogate.

1988 It was decided to risk a main-house production again (the Francis Durbridge thriller, “Deadly Nightcap”) in spite of the rent being £3000 a week. Luckily this production was a great success. The society was then able to continue to play one main house and three Studio productions per season.

1995 Our Golden Anniversary loomed and thoughts turned to what great celebrations should be planned for our 1995-96 season. Sadly, Joan Chamley (our wonderful wardrobe mistress, who had collected and housed our costumes for 30 years) died, which meant we had to find storage space for our ever-increasing wardrobe department. As the top floor of 59 became available to us it was decided to take the opportunity to move our wardrobe department there. We saved some money for our increased rent by having a modest though enjoyable 50th anniversary party at Harrogate Golf Club rather than a lavish dinner dance with guests. The summer was spent cleaning, painting, and re-carpeting 59. Our wardrobe department was installed on the top floor and our props were moved upstairs from the first floor which meant we could now create a Green Room with a carpet and comfortable furniture. Joan Chamley’s bequest to the society of £2000 paid for the work.

The Winslow Boy, Oct 2000


The New Millennium

We did not make a very successful entry into the new millennium…in fact at our 2000 AGM the Treasurer had to report a serious loss on the season. This was a potentially massive problem that had to be tackled. Costs were rising, rents at the Theatre and 59 were at an all-time high.

Membership fees rose from £15 to £20 and ticket prices were slightly increased. Our new Chairman, Frank Moorby encouraged everyone to pull together and do everything possible to get out of the morass, which we did.

Consequently, the next season, every play was a financial as well as artistic success. Members rallied round and organised fund-raising events and at the 2001 AGM it was announced that not only had we wiped out the debt, we had made a profit!

February 2008 “I’ve been to a marvellous party”

Our wonderful President, Joan Mallett passed away.

Joan had been involved with the Society for many years and is sadly missed by all who knew her. The energy, strength and enthusiasm she threw into her time with HDS was remarkable and she remained a strong supporter until the day she died.”(Stuart Kellett, Chairman HDS 2007 – 2010 & 2013 – present day)

Our current home, 20 Regent Parade


The show must go on!

The Society learned that our home at 59 was to be redeveloped and we would need to find new premises – a new home! After difficult and protracted negotiations we finally secured a lease on a workshop building Rear of 20 Regent Parade. In the words of Ian Rattee, who masterminded the renovations:

“We all found our forced removal from 59 East Parade after 40 years a seriously traumatic experience and I am sure that when Stuart continued his Chairmanship in 2009 he was expecting the dramas to be confined to the theatre stage and not to be taking place in the offices of planners, lawyers and the like, culminating in the conversion of near derelict premises into our new home. Through all this the underlying strength of HDS has been very evident with different people stepping forward to deal with the multifarious problems at the right time and bringing us to what is a situation offering great opportunities and excitement at the start of the 2010/2011 season.

“There was a great sense of this at the AGM when members attending having come through the inauspicious black door and climbed the dodgy creaking stairs found themselves in the bright surroundings of our new rooms. And they are new rooms. When we moved in during early April we were faced with a leaking roof, bulging wall cladding, toilets the like of which those of us who had not been to China had never seen, a mountain of properties, scenery, costumes, wood and a multitude of items the use of which nobody could remember. There was barely room to move. Gradually a space was created and work was able to be started so that 5 months later we have excellent premises in which to work. Much remains to be done, it is true, but the future is clearly bright. One thing we must never forget is that these are our New Rooms. BEFORE HDS MOVED IN THEY DID NOT EXIST. Virtually everything there, apart from the outer walls, is the creation of HDS. While we can look back warmly on what was achieved in our 40 odd years at 59 East Parade we must take pride in our new rooms, look after them and look forward to new successes and new opportunities.

“So what do the new rooms offer? Firstly we have two rehearsal spaces, one the same size as the Theatre Studio and the other the same size as the Main Stage, with the added facility that the wall separating them can be removed rapidly to provide a really very big room which will easily accommodate our meetings, coffee mornings and many other events. We now have a very well organized costume storage area which we hope will attract people to assist Sheila in this important part of our work. Downstairs work is beginning to organize our workshop facilities and the storage of furniture and properties. The stairs need to be strengthened and repaired as they are wilting a bit with such traffic that they have not sustained for a very long time. This will have to be done while constructing the sets for “Abigail’s Party” and “Absurd Person Singular” and will take a little time so that it may not be until the New Year that everything is completed.” (Ian Rattee, Chairman 2010 – 2013)

Stuart Kellett became Chairman of HDS in 2013.


Original Aims

The rules of the Society dated 6th September 1949 state that the objects of the Harrogate Dramatic Society are twofold:

1. To stimulate the interest of its members in the study of drama, and to produce plays and entertainments of literary, artistic and educational merit, in order to encourage the public of Harrogate, and particularly the youth thereof to interest itself in such works.

2. To make every effort to procure and establish a Little Theatre in Harrogate, such Little Theatre to be owned and managed by the Society for the furtherance of the aims and objects of the Society as set out above.

We have achieved and maintained the first aim – as to the second – who knows?

With grateful thanks to Joan M Mallet, Stuart Kellett and Ian Rattee for contributions towards our “History” page.