The History of the Society by Nanette Goodman
The Hinckley Concordia Amateur Operatic Society has been in our town for over 100 years, but started life as a chapel society called The Hinckley Baptist Operatic Society. The operas and operettas they performed were rehearsed and staged in the school room of the Baptist Chapel in Hinckley and some very fine work was done there - beautiful voices, beautifully trained voices.
The society wished to improve themselves both artistically and technically, but this was not possible on the small stage in the school room. It was decided by the committee to maintain rehearsals in the chapel, but find an alternative venue to perform the shows. This they did, moving firstly to The Working Men’s Club in Hinckley situated just down the road from the chapel. Unfortunately this did not last long as the brewery made changes to the Club which did not incorporate the staging of shows. The last show performed there was “Carousel” in 1964.
The next venue was the St. George’s Ballroom in The Horsefair in Hinckley. This was a nightmare for all concerned. A stage had to be erected along with seating for the auditorium, scenery, lighting, sound, props, make shift dressing rooms and costumes. Everything had to be taken to the ballroom after midnight when the Saturday dance had finished. Work continued all through the night to enable the respective technicians to set up their equipment the following day. The cast then arrived at around7.00pm to begin their dress rehearsal, rehearsing into the early hours as they opened to a live audience the following night.
Despite the difficulties the society was prepared to continue at the ballroom. However, they were informed that the ballroom had been sold and was to become a night club. The last show staged there was “My Fair Lady” in 1967. This was produced by Mr David Goodman, who went on to produce the society’s shows until his untimely death in 1997. Again the company were without a home. Mr Fred Robottom, the then Chairman of the society, called the committee together and said “We cannot continue like this” and he suggested that the society should look for premises to purchase. He said “Somewhere of our own, where we could improve in all areas as we intended to do.”
An Extraordinary General Meeting was called and members were informed of Fred’s proposal. After much debate the members agreed. Then the whole of the Hinckley area was scoured for somewhere suitable to purchase and after much searching the disused hosiery factory of Moore, Eady and Murcott Goode, situated at the bottom of Stockwell Head hill in Hinckley, was found to be suitable.
The owners offered to sell just half of the building, and Fred purchased this for the Society with his own funding. This was in 1969. The Committee arranged the repayment with Fred, which was to be ‘as and when’ funds were available.
A public meeting was also called to inform the town of our plans and to ask for any help we could get. This was Chaired by Mr George Baxter, the then Headmaster of Hastings High School.
Fundraising began and work on the premises commenced renovating the factory and turning it into a theatre. Many people gave freely of their time, particularly those with building skills and those who had no building skills laboured for those who had. Mr Gordon Paul, who owned a building company in Burbage, contributed greatly to the construction of transforming the factory and he delayed payment for his work for years, thus enabling the society to accumulate funds.
Fundraising and working on the project was hard but rewarding, however, a bitter blow was to come. Fred and his wife Edith went to their holiday home in Skegness for a few days break, but while they were there Fred suffered a fatal heart attack.
The Society was devastated, but determined that Fred’s dream of giving his society a home and the town a place of entertainment must be accomplished and completed.
As the society now had a home, they could no longer call themselves The Baptist Operatic Society, so a new name had to be found. It was decided to retain just a little of the Baptist days by taking the name “Concordia”, a name which hung over the proscenium arch of that tiny stage in the Baptist School Room. Not only did the society adopt this name, but they also gave it to the Theatre.
Eventually what was owing to Fred was repaid and upon doing so Edith Robottom, Fred’s Widow, gave back enough money to tarmac the front of the theatre. Much is owed to Fred and Edith.
After three years work, all was now in place for the first show, “The Sound of Music”, which opened in November 1972. The official opening of the Concordia Theatre was on 27th April 1973, with a Gala Opening produced by Mr Tony Howkins - “The Seven Ages of Man”
Other societies joined and the other half of the factory was purchased. Many have given much of themselves and still do, making the theatre what it is today, a unique place of entertainment.
Below are the names of friends who gave so much - we are indebted to them all.
Fred and Edith Robottom
After Fred’s death Edith continued to be wardrobe mistress and then prompt, and was greatly involved with the society and the theatre until her death
Roy, Joan and Dorothy Hewitt
Roy and Joan were both members of Baptist Choir as well as being operatic society members. Roy had a strong bass voice and Joan was a good contralto. Roy was the youngest brother of Edith Robottom and his involvement in getting the theatre ready for the opening is immeasurable. He was still knocking nails in just before the doors opened for “The Sound of Music”. Sadly, Roy died in 1974. His wife Joan continued helping in many areas, wardrobe making aprons, peg bags etc., cleaning the back stairs after shows, and to this day helps her daughter, Dorothy, on the preserves stall every Saturday morning and at special functions in the theatre. Dorothy has worked none stop from day one. A Trustee, bar duties, props Mistress to the Society, plus her preserves stall - all jams and preserves being made by her. Dorothy still organises many fundraising events and over the years she has raised hundreds and hundreds of pounds.
Alan worked tirelessly for the society and the theatre. Besides being a performer (excellent bass voice), he was the Society’s Treasurer for 30 years, an office he held until just before his death in 2008. Alan was a senior Statesman who was treated with great respect, being the first and only president the Society has had. He was also the Theatre Treasurer for many years and a Trustee. He has been greatly missed.
Derrick and Lorna Abbott
Derrick was a man of many talents, who gently did so much for the society. Besides performing (another good bass voice), he was always there giving advice in his kind, helpful and unassuming manner. Derrick was secretary for many years and along with his wife Lorna, looked after the ticket sales and box office. Everyone in the society held him in high esteem.
Producer, Committee Member, Trustee and Theatre Chairman until his death in 1997, David was devoted to the society and continued to produce from his hospital bed, even though he was very ill with Leukaemia. He was carried into the theatre to watch his last show “Singing in the Rain” being performed. David died just a few days later. He was a man with a wicked sense of humour who loved life and people and many loved him.
In the early days Arthur was the sound and lighting technician for the society. He was responsible for organising the engineering building programmes within the theatre and also the central heating. He was always on call. Having many skills he could turn he hands to Arthur saved the theatre hundreds of pounds. He became Theatre Chairman after David’s Death. Arthur died in 2009 and his skills have been greatly missed.
Len and Phil Burton
Len’s business attributes were a great help, he gave advice right from the very beginning. Besides working on the building, he and his wife Phil, under very difficult circumstances ran a bar for the patrons, situated in the then Public Room, which is now the Green Room. Besides alcoholic drinks, tea and coffee was also available. Len was the first House Manager and he and Phil organised all front of house duties. Although in his nineties Len continued his interest with the society and supported the shows until his death.
Fred and Cissie Johnson
Fred was one of the first Trustees - he donated to the boiler to the theatre for the central heating. Cissie was a committee member and performed in many shows, playing leading roles, having a very good contralto voice.
George chaired the first public meeting and became the first Chairman of the theatre. Being a Head Master his knowledge in many areas was invaluable. He allowed the society to perform fundraising concerts in the school hall at Hastings High School and he continued to have an input until he and his wife moved to Boston, Lincs.
Marjorie was the accompanist to the society, playing for all rehearsals and in the orchestra pit for the shows. Many principals received extra coaching at Marjorie’s home and when fundraising began she played for numerous concerts. She was a kind gentle lady who loved music and delighted in hearing people sing. Marjorie always had a twinkle in her eye and an infectious giggle, which helped with many a difficult rehearsal. The fee she received for playing in the pit, Marjorie always gave back as a donation to the society. A much loved lady.