Curtain Up!

This week we have enjoyed another prioritising and thought-provoking week at South Somerset District Council’s Community Heritage Access Centre, Yeovil.

We have recently received several enquiries from researchers, with World War One and World War Two themes around ARP wardens and the early years of Westland Aircraft.

One of our main partnerships this year is helping with the research to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Johnson Hall and Octagon Theatre. This is a Heritage Lottery Funded project.

At this early stage, researchers wished to see and examine the ‘theatre’ and ‘Johnson Hall’ related items and photographs in the CHAC collection for three main reasons. Firstly, to build up an understanding of the overall theatre history in Yeovil and the various groups that have contributed to this story; secondly to select programmes and images for an exhibition and thirdly oral history film recordings will be made, some of which will then be shown during the live performance next year and they will become part of the archive too.

Amanda Boyd, a researcher on the project, visited us recently to look through theatre programmes and photographs that illustrated the change and development from the Johnson Hall to the Octagon Theatre. Finding the requested items underlined the significance of accurate documentation and storage and our new object and photograph database.

With the old database, we would often print out pages of objects for people to look through. With the new system, researchers are able to suggest a simple word search like ‘theatre’; we can check and make a subset of the results and then crucially, send these results as a PDF document by email for the researcher to highlight and send back to us – all of which saves valuable time and the environment.

The next step is actually finding the physical items and photographs themselves, which really reflects the importance of clearly recording locations and also putting objects back in the same place for use on another occasion – a simple point which can be overlooked. However, if a location is recorded with a date when the object was placed there and within an accessible database, this solves the problem of the ‘single curator’ with all the knowledge in an ‘individual’ as everyone should be able to find the object, or at least know when the object was last in that location. On an even simpler level, many of the items were in a ‘leisure and theatre box!’

From the researcher’s point of view this also helps with their time, especially if they only have an hour to spend – therefore with an appointment everything is ready to go when they arrive.

With the specific theatre request, we located theatre productions, including The Marian Players at the Princes Theatre, Yeovil, changes in design of theatre programme, Thelma Parish (mother of well-known actress, Sarah) and an intriguing insight into treading the boards!

The other interesting aspect to emerge is never assume the knowledge of your researcher; as during Amanda’s visit we established the critical point of why the Johnson Hall was called the Johnson Hall in the first place; Mr Johnson giving money for a public hall in Yeovil; hence the Johnson Suite in the present Octagon Theatre.

There will be a live show at the Octagon Theatre next year bringing all the project’s research together.

So, a thoughtful morning on two grounds; a ‘spotlight’ on all things theatre in Yeovil and on our procedures – so for the next time, metaphorically ‘Curtain Up!’


Researcher on the Octagon Theatre 40th Anniversary Project, Amanda Boyd examines some of the theatre programmes in the Community Heritage Access Centre Collection.

Amanda Octagon Project


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