90 years a theatre: Looking back at the history of the Barn in Welwyn Garden City

The Barn Theatre in the 1930s

The Barn Theatre in the 1930s - Credit: Barn Theatre

The Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City is 90. Here Robert Gill looks back at the theatre's history.

The Barn Theatre Auditorium in the 1930s.

The Barn Theatre Auditorium in the 1930s. - Credit: Barn Theatre Archives

On January 4, 1932 the Barn in Handside Lane opened its doors as a theatre for the first time.

Built around 1598, the Barn was first used as a grain store near today’s Lemsford Road.

In 1830, the Barn was moved to its present site, combining with another barn to create a large complex on the Lower Handside Farm. 

With the coming of Welwyn Garden City in 1920, the Barn was converted into a ‘Model Dairy’ as part of the new Agricultural Guild with cows in stalls and milking facilities.

This continued until 1926 when the cows moved out due to the enlarging town and the dairy expanded with modern bottling facilities plus butter and ice cream making equipment.

L T M Gray pictured in the Welwyn Times in 1932.

L T M Gray pictured in the Welwyn Times in 1932. - Credit: Welwyn Times

Dr L T M Gray, a director of the Welwyn Garden City Company who were creating the town, converted the empty area where the cows had been into a theatre, which opened to the public on January 4, 1932.

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The first plays produced were four one-act productions which ran from January 4 to January 9, 1932.

They were:

  • The Invisible Duke by F. Sladen-Smith, presented by the Welwyn Folk Players.
  • The Fur Coat by F.J.Talbot, presented by the Welwyn Stores Dramatic Society.
  • The Devil Among the Skins by Ernest Goodwin, presented by The Welwyn Thalians.
  • The Leading Lady by H. J. Pointing, presented by the WGC Theatre Society.

The first full-length play was The Misalliance by George Bernard Shaw, which ran from February 15 to February 20, 1932, and was presented by then WGC Theatre Society.

These first plays were soon followed by regular productions, up to 10 per year, and this has continued ever since, except during World War Two and the recent COVID-19 pandemic.

Productions at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City have been postponed due to concerns over coron

The Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City. - Credit: Archant

Since 1932, a series of amalgamations and changes of ownerships has resulted in the Barn Theatre Club (formed in 1969) we have today.

NB: The Welwyn Thalians were formed in 1929, making them 92 years old and still going strong – congratulations to them!

The Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City lit up at night.

The Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City lit up at night. - Credit: Simon Wallace / MeltingPot Pictures