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David Pibworth | The Blog

Actor, Writer, Producer, Director

Before The Arches Theatre, We Had The Railway Line

Bedford to Northamton, five times a day ...



In my last blog post I looked at the history of the open-air theatre. This week, I wanted to tell you a bit more about the history of our beautiful outdoor theatre and how it first started out ...

The Arches Theatre when it was just a railway line! Good job it was raised above the flood plain!

The Arches Theatre when it was just a railway line! Good job it was raised above the flood plain!

I grew up in Olney with my parents and brother. When I was young, my father bought the farmland in Clifton Reynes, where the old railway line and the Arches are situated.

By the point of his purchase, the railway line had well and truly closed. I'm sure many of you remember that it was part of the Midland Railway's Bedford to Northampton line, which opened on 10th June 1872. The line began in Bedford and served Turvey station, also in Bedfordshire, Olney in Buckinghamshire and both Horton and Northampton.

Initially, there were five trains that ran in both directions each day, however by the 1950s there were only four running. The line was never very busy with passengers as the towns and villages the line served were small, and there was no significant uptake in train travel.

In later years, fewer people were moving to these areas, so there was no real need for this line any more. The railway closed to passengers on 5th March 1962 and two years later goods facilities were withdrawn.

It appears that the lines busiest years were during the war when a MOD depot was opened in 1939 in Piddington. The line was closed between Olney and Turvey around 1940 so that that part of the railway could be used as a siding to store war materials.

"I find this absolutely fascinating as there is just so much history to the line that runs above our limestone Arches!"

I've always known that the venue is on a flood plain, but it wasn't until recently when I saw the amazing photo (courtesy of MK Heritage) of a train travelling over the Arches during the flood of 1951. It was just astonishing to see the bridge in action.

For many years we left the railway alone. I was aware of the bridge and its beautiful arches, but I hadn't really given it a second thought. That was until after I had seen my dear friend Amy Marchant and The Wet Mariners in The Tempest at The Willow Globe Theatre, Wales.

That led me to think about bringing this fantastic theatre group to us. It was Julie who suggested the Arches, and the rest, as they say, is history. We set to work clearing the brambles, bushes, nettles and ivy that had hidden our new outdoor venue for many years, to open it up to how it looks today.

Of course, we had to have The Wet Mariners open the Arches as they were the inspiration behind it all. They gave a fantastic performance of Shakespeare's As You Like It to a sold-out audience of just over 100. Everything was just fantastic; from the acting and staging to the weather and the audience.

"It really is a fantastic venue!"

Steeped in local history and with so much character and beauty; we want to share it with you. Sadly, there is no public walkway through the land, so you'll either have to come and see a show this August, or just admire The Arches from afar! You can do so from the Olney recreation ground, just on the other side of the River Great Ouse.

The Wet Mariners will be returning this summer with Romeo and Juliet, so if you would like to find out more and also see the other performances that we are showing this summer, please take a look at our website which you can find at

We look forward to seeing you!

Until next time ...


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More about David Pibworth ...

David is the owner and Artistic Director of The Arches Theatre in Clifton Reynes near Milton Keynes. Productions are underneath some flood arches on the disused Midland railway line (Bedford to Northampton). It is equidistant from Bedford, Northampton and Milton Keynes. You bring your food, drink and chairs and enjoy the varied shows that are produced. This year - 2022 - there are 12 productions on throughout the season, from Shakespeare to Ripping Yarns plus a music weekend.

David has been involved in 'Light Ent' for many years, working with Ray Galton and Alan Simpson adapting the scripts of 'Steptoe and Son' and those of Tony Hancock to the stage. He has produced shows for Norman Wisdom (which makes him feel old), Al Murray, and Joe Pasquale amongst others, and also worked in the music business promoting and producing shows with Chas and Dave, Neil Inness, Kenny Ball, Acker Bilk and others of that ilk.

He is also the director of a film school for young people in his home town of Olney as well as supporting many local events.

He recently negotiated permission from Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais to stage a short run of 'Porridge' on stage which proved a success.

This year the annual charity performance at The Arches Theatre will be the last of 'Ripping Yarns' by Michael Palin and Terry Jones, with the profits being donated to The National Brain Appeal' for research into dementia as David's father and uncle died of it, as did Michael Palin's friend and writing partner Terry Jones. Last year they raised an astonishing £10,000 and are hoping to get somewhere close again with the support of audiences and sponsors.

David also has a stage hire company and his wife Julie runs a livery yard, so they are surrounded by horses, dogs, light entertainment and and a 17 year old daughter.

He plays in a comedy jazz band and collects strange props such as the Spitting Image puppets of Denis Thatcher and Alan Bennett, the child catchers bike from the stage show of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and various other 'things' all of which he sells to raise money for the Arches Theatre, although he always finds it hard to part from these props. However as the theatre receives no funding at all, he is always devising ways to keep it going! Sponsors are always welcome!


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