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WOODLANDERS: The Hippodrome

The Woodlanders have always had their base at the East Woodlands Village Hall, or the Woodlands Hippodrome as it is known in its Woodlanders’ guise.  It is here that the players do most of their rehearsals and perform each autumn. It has played no small part in the Woodlanders’ history – and their success: the show is designed to fit the space provided.

The Hall stands opposite St Katharine’s church on the edge of Selwood Forest.  It is the former village school and Headmaster’s house. It was built by the Longleat Estate in about 1835 at a cost of £588 and is now Grade II listed. It is currently owned by the Thynne Educational Foundation and is leased to and run by a charity principally made up of villagers past and present.

The current hall is not a very large building, but it was even smaller when the Woodlanders started in 1977. ‘Initmate’ would be a good word to describe what it was like. So would ‘small’, ‘cramped’, ‘cold’ and ‘shabby’. However, thanks to the fundraising of the Woodlanders and others the hall was extended in 1989-90 to create a larger seating area, a purpose built stage area and improved space that provides changing rooms for the show or a meeting room the rest of the year.

The hall originally measured c 10m x 5.5m (about 33ft x 18ft). The Chairman had podium placed by the fireplace with a makeshift screen created from fencing panels, forming a barrier to the doorway to the corridor leading to the meeting room and shed where the players would change. They would make all their exits and entrances through this narrow cramped route. [nb 1989 – noted as 13 players ‘one of the smallest companies…’]. The stage itself was created from pallets!

Allowing for the makeshift stage, there was only about 20ft or so for the audience.  Somehow, possibly with scant regard for the safety aspects, they squeezed about 80 paying public in the remainder of the hall. The show proved popular locally and the music hall eventually played up to 15 nights to meet demand for tickets and generate as much income for charity as possible.

The hall was extend by about 10m (30ft) with a window that was originally at the end of the hall being repositioned on the side to provide a perfect fit with the existing windows. The building work was mainly carried out by local builder Ken House with Dave Covill undertaking the construction of much of the interior including the stage, proscenium and bar. The proscenium is a key feature of the new interior using two columns ‘rescued’ from Marston House, we are lead to believe. The extension allowed a 5.7m (18ft) stage to be added with room at the side for an entrance and some storage.

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