Woolstore Theatre, Codford
Codford’s village theatre resulted from a society scandal during 1924-5, involving a young adventuress and a retired colonel, whom she married for his money shortly after his first wife had died. Duped but infatuated, Col Ralph Sneyd made two attempts to divorce his new wife, Irene Alexander, for her adultery, and eventually succeeded, but only after being embarrassed in the courts and through newspaper law reports. From a distinguished family (whose seat became Keele University), Sneyd was living in Hampshire during the scandal, but in 1926 he married a third time and escaped to what is now called the Wool House in Codford. His new bride (Dorothy Miller, but known as Stella) enjoyed acting, and as a present for her and her theatrical friends (who included the vicar, Canon Meyrick, and his wife) he fitted out the Woolstore courtyard as a theatre.
From their first production in 1928 the Codford Amateurs, as the group styled themselves, flourished to such an extent that in 1938 they came fourth out of more than 200 entries in a national contest. Plays were curtailed during the war, as the theatre was requisitioned for military use, but resumed in 1948. Although Col Sneyd died the following year and his wife moved away, the Codford Amateurs were allowed to use the theatre until 1955, and continued to produce plays. A separate organisation, the Woolstore Country Theatre Club, was established by Lionel Crawhall, Wiltshire County Drama Adviser, who lived in Codford, for people interested in learning about all aspects of theatre. The Amateurs and the Theatre Club merged in 1964 after the theatre had been purchased by the Amateurs’ chairman, Harry Cole, and later sold for £400 to four benefactors on behalf of the Theatre Club. The theatre had many influential supporters during the 1950s and 1960s, and offered an imaginative programme of plays and events. By the 1970s, however, enthusiasm had dampened and there were problems with maintaining the building. Its resurgence began in the 1980s when an ambitious series of improvements to the theatre – electric heating, piped water, repairs and redecoration – commenced, and this has continued in a spirit of great enthusiasm with a redesigned foyer and auditorium. In 2000 Karen Johnstone published a short history of the theatre, from which most of these details have been taken. Col Sneyd’s folly, which started it all, is alluded to in the history, but is best followed through reports in The Times, via the online Times digital archive.
View photographs and documents associated with the Woolstore Theatre from the selection on the right.