Before The Arches Theatre, We Had The Railway Line
Bedford to Northamton, five times a day ...
POSTED BY DAVID PIBWORTH ON 26/03/2019 @ 8:00AM
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!
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 The railway closed to passengers on 5th March 1962 and two years later goods facilities were withdrawn.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 www.thearchestheatre.co.uk
We look forward to seeing you!
Until next time ...
More about David Pibworth ...
David is the owner of David Pibworth Productions (DPP) which provide corporate entertainment and also actors for corporate training and development.
Having worked in the Light Entertainment field for many years and produced shows for Al Murray & Joe Pasquale amongst others, David is in a position to advise on well-known comedy and musical acts. DPP also represent Ray Galton and Alan Simpson's scripts which include Hancock's Half Hour and Steptoe and Son.
He is the director of MK Theatre of Comedy who are very well known locally for their stage adaptations of classic comedy scripts such as Fawlty Towers, The Vicar of Dibley, Allo Allo and many others.
He is a long-standing member of Equity and the Directors Guild of Great Britain and has acted in, and directed, many productions over the years, mainly in Light Entertainment, but with occasional forays into Shakespeare etc. Every Christmas he is contracted as an Ugly Sister in Cinderella, currently with 'That's Entertainment' who also use him as a director.
He teaches eccentric magic for The Pauline Quirke Academy and MKTOC also run a youth drama school in Olney from the DPP offices.
David maintains his busy lifestyle is a surefire way to avoid being on any committees. He is married to Julie, and they have one daughter, Esther and live in Clifton Reynes, surrounded by dogs, cats and horses. They live so close to the church that David has instructed his daughter - when he dies and not before - to fire him over the wall from a circus cannon.
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