Words by Basil Hood and Music by Sir Edward German
Watts Hall,
March 1924
Cast List
The Earl of Essex
Sir Walter Raleigh
Walter Wilkins
Silas Simkins
Big Ben
The Queen's Fool
A Butcher
A Baker
A Tinker
A Tailor
A Lord
A Soldier
First Royal Page
Second Royal Page
Queen Elizabeth
Miss Bessie Throckmorton
The May Queen
Lady in Waiting

Notes on this performance

1a. Merrie England 

And so it begins…

Sometime prior to 1924, Edith Ashdown was involved in the presentation of a musical play entitled Princess Juju by the Above Bar Guild. This experience had long- reaching effects because it inspired her to gather her friends together (including Evelyn Thorne, who ran a local ladies’ choir) to create the Above Bar Guild Musical and Dramatic Society and they produced Merrie England in the Watts Memorial Hall on 19th, 21st and 22nd March, 1924.  Records do not reveal the date of the actual formation of the Society but, considering the first production was in March, it would be safe to assume that it was sometime in 1923.

A total of 46 members took acting parts and children from the Above Bar Girls’ Guild of Service and Freemantle Girls’ Guild performed the dancing. The stage at the Watts Memorial Hall had to be specially constructed for the performances and then dismantled. 

‘They did well considering they are only amateurs’ was a common theme of many pre-war show reviews and indeed the Society’s first ever reviewer declared in the headlines ‘Fine Performance by Amateurs’ before conceding ‘Comic Opera Talent’. However, the critic was not short of praise and continued, ‘As a spectacle and from the point of view of individual effort the presentation of Merrie England by members of the Above Bar Guild Musical Society was an unqualified success – one meriting that every seat should be filled at the repeat performances to be given to-morrow and on Saturday evening.’ It would appear then that the opening night was not a sell out and since tickets for the next show were significantly cheaper, it is possible that the group had over-priced itself (not for the last time). 

The Society’s first ever ‘rave review’ was earned by Gladys Ferguson, ‘Hardly anything could have been more acceptable than Miss G. Ferguson’s study of Bessie Throckmorton. Beneath the sincerity of her love for the courtly Raleigh was a coquettish spirit which, supported by really delightful singing, made her performance one of rare excellence in an amateur.’ It was seemingly necessary to modify the acclaim by reminding everyone of her performing status.

Other amateurs also fared well at the hands of the press: ‘Surrounded by handsome courtiers, Miss Eva Thorne was a stately and dignified Elizabeth… Almost passionate in her denunciation of poor Jill-all-Alone, accused of witchcraft, played cleverly, and with commendable restraint by Miss May McLachlan, Miss G. Plummer was another outstanding figure as the May Queen… Of the male principals, Mr. A.S.M. Broomfield in the part of the comic boastful Walter Wilkins, made a decided hit. His gestures were exceedingly amusing, and he scored well with his songs. Mr. Harry Jones played Essex with distinction. Mr. H. Harris’ Raleigh was another fine piece of work, both in action and song.’

A promising beginning then – for amateurs…

Terry O'Farrell


Photo of Edith

Photo of CJ