DIDCOT'S NEW THEATRE & ART's CENTRE
August 30th 2008
After more than 30 years without a cinema we now have a new multi-screen cinema just over a year old. This was in the plan with our new town centre.
A theatre was also planned for but has taken nearly two years longer to be completed but finally opened this weekend. There was exhibitions in and around the cinema and theatre area to celebrate it's
opening, including tours around the interior of the new building.
I can't say that the outside design of the theatre impresses me much and there have been numerous complaints about the boxy look of the building. It looks like five oblong boxes stuck together in
opposing angles. Sadly, we can't expect much from modern buildings these days. However, the proof of the building is in the interior and it looks good, if rather contemporary. However, it certainly
looks as if it will do the job that it is built for.
Along with the theatre auditorium there is an exhibition and Art Gallery. I heard too that there was to be a dance hall but couldn't see how this was to be fitted in. However, read on.
Whatever you think of the building this represents a massive change to Didcot, which was always a bit of a backwater and little more than a large village. For all these years we had to take a train or
bus trip into Oxford and Reading for most of our shopping. For almost 20 years the town has expanded after becoming an overspill to London but while the homes and population grew there was no
new facilities to go with the expansion.
The town owes it's basic growth to the Great Western Railway when they decided to build the junction off their mainline to Oxford and the north at this point.
The population has trebled since I moved here in 1964 and the new town centre, cinema, theatre and shopping centre are very welcome additions to the growing town. Sadly there still doesn't appear
to be any cloth shops for the older man or woman. Everything appears to be geared to young people up to around 35 years old. However, that these new facilities are all at the top of my street makes
it all the more convenient and welcome.
On a really positive note, when you remember how rundown this corner of the town was and when they built the Supermarket and how that massive and very high 'solid' red-brick wall made it look like
a prison the cinema and theatre have really brightened this corner up considerably.
Whatever, here is a pictorial tour with some personal comment on the new complex.
The top of Station Road. This was a through way onto the Broadaway, the main highway and shopping centre running east to west through the town.
On the left were a group of five railway terrace houses plus another large detached railway house plus a few other buildings. The railway houses were
demolished in the late 70's to build a large car park and a Summerfield's Supermarket. Now they too have gone and the cinema and theatre built in their
Station Road is now pedestrianised from this point southwards, except for residential vehicles, as the entrance to the new shopping centre is on the left
and is also pedestrian only.
The new Cornerstone Theatre. Note those 'five boxes' I mentioned. There is still some fencing to be cleared away.
Our New five-screen cinema complex of which I have become quite a regular patron.
The cinema seen in context with the theatre
A small temporary stage had been built here where a brief history of Didcot was enacted by three actors.
Inside the entrance you walk directly into the lounge, which has a bar on one side and the ticket office at the other end.
The west side of the lounge with the ticket Office beyond. Entrance to the auditorium is upstairs.
Looking east in the lounge. Showing the contemporary art, which compliments similar patterns on the outside wall facing the shopping centre.
The brand new auditorium, showing the control room and the stage lighting array around the ceiling
A view from the control room to the stage. I was intrigued by the quite large number of lighting panals overhead. Far more than I had expected to see.
Ditto. This picture was taken in available light while the one above was with flash
A closer view of the Control Room
A full face on view of the auditorium and control room. An interesting inclusion is that all these seats and steps, on each side, all fold
back as one unit right up to the control room, which allows the auditorium to be used as a dance floor. Ah, the Dance Hall! A true
muliti-media building indeed.
One of the dressing rooms being used by children for face painting during the weekend event.
A youngster having her face painted. Braveheart really started a trend!
The Green Room. Used as a waiting area by guest artists etc.
A view from the Green room, looking towards the cinema, down Station Road and the entrance to the shopping centre.
Looking down on the lounge and ticket office from the auditorium stairs
The rehearsal Room.
A view from the rehearsal room. Looking down on the new town. Notice the contrast with the much older Broadway's pub on the
far right. That's my local. The Pizza restuarant is also very nice. The doorway on the left leads into the old telephone exchange building.
Another view of the ticket office from the stairs. At the back is the children's art room and on the far right the art gallery
The booking office staff. Oh the joys of the first day of a new job!
The Art Gallery. Quite small but another new venue for the town. For this weekend they are displaying pictures and details of how
the Cornerstone was designed and built. What works of art may we see in this venue's new future.!
The 'Free' art room, where youngsters can learn various artistic skills.
The temporary outside stage. Just getting ready for another showing of that brief history of Didcot. Starting with the Viking raids, of course.
Then Didcot became under threat with the building of Wallingford Castle, four miles to the east.
A strange mix of old and new workmen's cloths represents ye builders of olde.
The castle was attacked numerous times, which apparently was good for Didcot.Today it is a ruin.
And so the builders return to patch the castle up after the raids
And by the speed of the Tardis we shoot into the future
Here we see Brunel building his broad gauge line. Placing Didcot firmly on the map.Not only so, but actually changing
the name. It was originally called Dudcote but the GWR didn't think much of that and so changed it. The railway
companies did that sort of thing.
Once again two great wars intervened.
The 1st & 2nd World wars
In the mid 70's Didcot 'A' Power Station opens. Followed by Didcot (gas powered ) 'B' Power station in the latter 80's.
The plant not only kept Didcot Loco Depot open after the demise of steam trains but myself and colleagues in regular
work right up until retirement.
The Power station supplies electricity to well over 3 Million homes.
In the 90's the 'Jet' plant was built at Appleford just outside Didcot. It took over atomic
reasarch from close-by Harwell.
And so right up to today with the opening of the Cornerstone where they will
present such entertainment as Hamlet.........
To really great live music.
The audiance enjoy the short play in the late summer sunshine. Good thing this wasn't the week before, when it simply
poured down for days.
And so we leave Didcot to it's new future as an ever-growing town.
Strange to think that back in the winter of 1964/5 I was departing from Didcot goods yard with a freight train and as we passed the old Football Ground and industrial estate
to the south and the mainly open view northwards my driver, who was at the time both a councillor and JP in the town, told me that on the north side of the railway there was
to be a massive housing estate and on the south side
would be lots of new shops.
Well, at the speed that appears to be the norm for Councils worldwide, here we are 44 years later and 'walla' we have everything that he said would be. Silly me, I never did
believe him as the years passed and nothing appeared to happen.
Just think, if it had been built at the time it would now be a modern slum shouting for reinvestment .
Oh, the synic in me!
A Little about present day Didcot