After the War – Amateur Dramatics

History of the Byre, St Andrews between the Wars

Prior to, and in the years immediately following, the First World War, amateur musical and theatrical productions formed part of the entertainment in St Andrews.

Enthusiasts came together largely to perform sketches, plays, musical numbers or light opera to raise money for good causes. Two leading lights in the pre-war years were Mr Walter Mitchell and Miss J E Huntingdon (later Mrs Stuart McEuen).

In September 1921 for example, a performance of “His Excellency the Governor”, a farcical romance was performed on several nights in the Town Hall to raise funds for local war widows and their children. It was largely due to the efforts of Mrs Stuart McEuen that the performance came about and Mr (now Major) Walter Mitchell returned to St Andrews to take a part in the play.

The decade following the end of the First World War saw an upsurge in Amateur Dramatic Societies in every corner of the country. In fact, throughout Scotland, the number of Amateur Dramatic Societies had doubled between 1914 and 1929. Why was this?

One answer might be that people had survived the carnage of the war but none of them has been left unscathed. Many had lost family members and friends; large numbers had themselves been wounded. With the coming of peace, the public at large was, perhaps, in the mood for the lighter things in life.

In October 1929, just after the town had said goodbye to “Jo” the Tank and the German artillery gun from the Kirkhill, St Andrews formed a Dramatic Association. It was seen as:

“a common meeting ground for all the dramatic enthusiasts in the place [regardless of] whatever other societies they might belong. By this means it was hoped to discover and encourage any talent that might be latest.”

One of the office bearers of the newly formed St Andrews Dramatic Society was local journalist and playwright A. B. Paterson.

One of these “other societies” mentioned was Hope Park Church Bible Class Dramatic Society.

In “The Byre Theatre – Through the Years”, Alex Paterson relates:

“…Hope Park Church Bible Class produced one full length play every year, and in addition, entered a team in the one-act play festival of the Scottish Community Drama Association. I was Director of these productions, and I was to bore the members by telling them that the development beyond the Kirk Hall performances would lie in our finding a little theatre of our own.”

This dream was, of course, realised in 1933 when the St Andrews Play Club was formed from members of the Hope Park Church Bible Class Dramatic Society, and they took possession of a semi-derelict cow byre.

But that is another story…

The St Andrews Play Club during a performance in 1935 of “Murder Trial” in the original Byre Theatre.

Photograph courtesy of the St Andrews Preservation Trust

Text prepared by Fiona Gray and Kate Owen

Armistice

St Andrews in the First World War

On the 11th November at 11 o’clock, hostilities between the Allies of World War I and Germany ceased.

“News from Forfarshire, Perthshire and Fifeshire shows that the announcement that the armistice had been signed was the signal for general rejoicing. Shops were shut and workmen “downed tools”, and formed enthusiastic processions, accompanied by instrumental and “rag-times” bands. In many towns thanksgiving services were held, and in the evening bonfires and fireworks were the order of the day. ” (The Dundee Courier)

In St Andrews, 11 year old Alex Paterson was assisting the Post Office in delivering telegrams. A flu epidemic had started to take hold, leading to staff shortages. He recalled in his work The Tale o’ the Toon:

“I remember the day that Armistice was declared. I delivered a telegram to Mrs Aitken, The Roundel. It was from her son who was in services abroad. Mrs Aitken was so overjoyed that her son had survived the danger of war that she gave me the present of a two shilling piece.”

Alex. B. Paterson, founder of the original Byre Theatre

Photograph courtesy of the St Andrews Preservation Trust.

Text prepared by Fiona Gray and Kate Owen.