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OUR HISTORY

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1844

The Headgate Congregational Chapel was built, drawing its membership from the west and south of the town, and being extremely well supported. At its zenith it had over 200 members.

1868

A balcony was added supported by slender metal pillars that you can still see in the foyer and auditorium, although they are no longer weight bearing.

1903

The premises further expanded to create a church hall and Sunday School. The church hall was used for local productions, as well as indoor gatherings and sports.

1929

A first floor was added.
Towards the end of the 19th century temperance was a firmly held principle in the Congregational Church. Many members and several Ministers espoused pacifism; in both World Wars a significant number registered as conscientious objectors. In the second World War the church operated a forces’ canteen and Prisoners of War were given friendship and fellowship. A centre for the unemployed was provided during the 1930’s depression. Since 1945, no fewer than four members of Headgate Chapel have been Mayor of Colchester –Walter Buckingham, Cyril Child, Bob Russell and Westley Sandford.

November 1968

The chapel was reduced “to a charred shell” after a fire thought to have been started by faulty wiring setting light to curtains stored in the balcony.

April 1970

The chapel re-opened with false ceilings and walls that hid the balcony but reduced the space heating requirements.

1972

Work to try and help different Christian denominations co-operate and explore the idea of Christian Unity resulted in the Congregational and Presbyterian churches coming together to create the United Reformed Church. At the same time, the building of Southway and Balkerne Hill meant that Headgate Chapel and St Marys-at-the-Walls Anglican Parish Church were left in cul-de-sacs, cut off from their communities. The members of both churches got together and decided to build a new church, Christ Church, in Ireton Road, which they would share on an equal footing.

1978

Christ Church opened and in the same year the Headgate Chapel was Grade 2 listed as part of a national drive to identify and increase the number of buildings of architectural interest that were at risk of being demolished as towns and cities expanded. After the chapel was vacated, it became the headquarters for the local Labour Club. When that relocated, it enjoyed a spell as The Palm Springs Ladies Health Club. The jacuzzi used in the Health Club is still in situ under the raised floor at the rear of the stage area (the original apse).

September 2001 – March 2002

While the major conversion work was undertaken by local contractors, much of the work to set up the theatre area itself was done by volunteers. In 6 months a team of about 30 volunteers worked flat out to turn the dream into reality. David King, who was one of those volunteers said: “I remember the day we installed the lighting – there was three-and-a-half miles of electric cable that needed to supply 118 points. We had over 20 people feeding the cable off big drums to help run it safely around the building. Another job which, took us three days, was painting the auditorium ceiling – but worst of all was rubbing down and painting rusty scaffold poles which form the theatre’s lighting grid”.

April 2002

The Headgate Theatre opened. Regarded by some as an architectural gem, and an attraction in its own right, the auditorium seats 87 people and is an intimate space that makes members of audience feel as though they are part of the set.

July 2018

The adjoining premises, a former restaurant, become available. The generosity of former patron David Forder allowed the Trust to acquire a lease on part of the premises to help us to address the continued demand for studio space and the shortage of backstage facilities, whilst improving the facilities for disabled patrons and hirers. Again, while the major work was carried out by contractors, a team of volunteers worked to knock through into the premises and carry out extensive refurbishment of the dining area, bar, and kitchens.
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