Celebrating 100 years since the first play was performed in Welwyn Garden City

CB Purdom playing the lead role in George Bernard Shaw's The Shewing-Up of Blanco Posnet, the first play performed in WGC.

CB Purdom playing the lead role in George Bernard Shaw's The Shewing-Up of Blanco Posnet, the first play performed in Welwyn Garden City in 1921. - Credit: Barn Theatre

Today –  May 28 – marks 100 years since the first play was performed in Welwyn Garden City.
Here Barn Theatre archivist Robert Gill writes about that opening performance in 1921.


On May 28, 1921 – 100 years ago this week – the first play to be performed in Welwyn Garden City took place.

The amateur performance was by local residents and performed in the Brickwall Barn, Welwyn Garden City.

The play was directed by CB Purdom, who also played the lead with a cast of 22.

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CB Purdom was one of the founders of Welwyn Garden City alongside Ebenezer Howard. He also went on to create the Theatre Society in the town in October 1921.

Brickwall Barn was part of Brickwall Farm, which was situated on the Great North Road (the old A1). 

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The farm is now Digswell Nursery, run by the St John of God Hospitaller Services. Brickwall Barn is no more as it was destroyed by a German incendiary bomb in World War Two.

The play performed was called The Shewing-Up of Blanco Posnet, written by George Bernard Shaw, who lived in nearby Ayot St Lawrence at Shaw’s Corner.

The play is set in the American West. Blanco Posnet, a local drunk and reprobate, is brought before the court accused of stealing a horse belonging to the Sheriff.

He had been found walking along a road out of town after having left his brother's house in the early hours of the morning.

The same night, the horse had gone missing from his brother's stable.

His accusers assume he has sold or concealed the horse.

Blanco says they can't convict him without evidence that he ever had the horse.

He also says he was owed some jewellery belonging to his mother, which had been bequeathed to him, but his brother had refused to hand it over.

Even if he did take the horse, he did so as payment for the debt his brother owed.

Unfortunately he was unaware that the horse was merely being stabled by his brother but belonged to the Sheriff.

His brother, a reformed drunkard who is now a church Deacon, lectures Blanco on morality and judgement but Blanco ridicules his brother's view of God.

The play was originally to have been first performed at His Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket, London.

However, the censor demanded changes to the text because the statements made by Blanco Posnet about God were thought to contravene the blasphemy law.

Shaw refused to alter the text, insisting that the views expressed were absolutely central to the meaning of the play.

The first performance eventually took place in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, in 1909 as originally written. Seems the blasphemy laws did not apply in Ireland, and James Joyce, the Irish writer, was allegedly in the audience.

The Theatre Society went on to produce a number of other plays and established a theatre in a barn at the Lower Handside Farm, Handside Lane in 1932, which today is the thriving Barn Theatre.

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