Church Hill Hitting 50

Dec 17 2014 | By More

Edinburgh’s dedicated amateur theatre

In 2015, it will 50 years since the Church Hill in Morningside opened as a theatre after converting from the Morningside High Church.

The church was bought by the then local authority, the Corporation of the City of Edinburgh, for use by the city’s amateur companies after the University decided that the Pleasance Little Theatre, on which the companies had previously relied, was needed for its own uses.

The principal performers in EPT's 1965 panto, The Enchanted Forest. Photo from EPT

The principal performers in EPT’s 1965 panto, The Enchanted Waltz. Photo from EPT

One of the groups consistently associated with the Church Hill has been Edinburgh People’s Theatre. Indeed, EPT presented the first pantomime at the new venue: The Enchanted Waltz.

In recognition of this anniversary year ahead, and to mark the company’s 2014 offering, EPT treasurer Gordon Braidwood has been delving into the archives and here reveals some of the documents which chronicle the theatre’s beginnings. The company’s photographer, Rob Fuller, has looked out a few relevant pictures.

The front of the building. Photo: Thom Dibdin

The front of the building. Photo: Thom Dibdin


The beginning

The Corporation of the City of Edinburgh

Extract of Minutes of Meeting held on April 26 1962:

“The Committee had under consideration the motion by Bailie McKay – in view of the University’s decision to develop the Little Theatre for their own purposes, that this Council consider what practical assistance they can give to amateur dramatic groups by way of alternative accommodation. The committee also had under consideration a proposal by Councillor Ingham for the conversion of Morningside High Church to form a centre for the arts, ballet, drama, music and opera and for groups interested in the well-being of the younger generation and in the encouragement of the arts.

After considering the report by the officials and the memorandum by the Arts Centre of Edinburgh ltd, The Committee were of the opinion:

  • That an arts and drama centre of the type indicated in Councillor Ingham’s proposal should be provided in the city

  • That the Morningside High Church was suitable for this purpose from the points of view of location, size and structure.

  • That, if it were to be acquired and converted for the purpose, a total capital expenditure of £50,000 (including the purchase price) should be contemplated.”

Subsequently, on 11 March 1963, the Morningside High Church was purchased by the City for the sum of £6,500 (excluding the organ, pulpit and pews) and conversion to a theatre (on lines suggested by Councillor Ingham ) was authorised at an estimated cost of £40,000.

Tenders for the extensive works required for conversion to a theatre were approved in 1964 and work was commenced.

The theatre was formally opened on 25 September 1965 with a production of The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde staged by SCDA. The following is a newspaper report of the opening event:


In the same year that Hypolite Blanc built Morningside High Church in Edinburgh, Oscar Wilde wrote The Importance of Being Earnest. Now after seventy years Blanc’s solid building and Wilde’s frivolous play have been brought together – the Lord Provost and magistrates giving their blessing to this unlikely union.

Converted at a cost of £63,000 the 380 seat Church Hill Theatre replaces the Little Theatre which closed three years ago. It is intended mainly for amateur groups who may rent it for £12 a performance. It was opened by Mr Tom Fleming, director of the Royal Lyceum Theatre Group who congratulated the town council on their enterprise.

The Scottish Community Drama Association have assembled a talented company from six Edinburgh groups for the first production. Directed by Cecil Williams they played with style and assurance on Saturday night. The ladies were particularly impressive and Dorothy Jamieson’s Lady Bracknell was quite outstanding. Her withering superiority came across like an icy blast from Belgrave Square. Christelle Teele (Gwendolen) and Brenda Taylor (Cecily) both acted with intelligence and vivacity. Moncrieff and Worthington were capably portrayed by Deryk Gould and Derek Graham.

The charming sets and costumes contributed to the gaiety of a great occasion in the amateur drama movement.

The play ran from Sat 25th September to Sat 2nd October 1965.

The ensemble of the Enchanted Waltz. EPT pantomime 1965

The ensemble of The Enchanted Waltz. EPT pantomime 1965

The Lord Provost, Sir Bruce Weatherstone, presided over the opening ceremony which was attended by members of Edinburgh Corporation and an invited audience representative of interested organisations. In addition, an exhibition of paintings and photographs was staged by a number of selected amateur artistic groups.

The first pantomime in the Church Hill Theatre was The Enchanted Waltz by Frederick Davis. This was staged by Edinburgh People’s Theatre from Monday 27 December 1965 to Monday 3 January 1966 with matinees on the first and third of January. Tickets were priced at 6/- and 4/ (30p and 20p).

The pantomime was directed by G. Dickson Brown supported by Pat Cresswell as Musical Director. Dance routines were supplied by ‘The Girls of The Betty Brandon School of Dancing’.

Excerpt from the Scottish Daily Mail 14 Dec 1965:

Edinburgh People’s Theatre have a lavish pantomime, The Enchanted Waltz, to stage in the Church Hill Theatre at the end of this month.

There are six sets and 160 costumes, all home made, except for a donkey skin.

Margaret Drummond and Sylvia Parker play pages who are turned into a donkey, while Rosemary Simpson is the fair princess who sets her suitors to compose a waltz as the price of her hand.

Thus continued the annual production of a pantomime (or children’s play) by EPT which started in 1946 with the production of Toad of Toad Hall. This was directed by Andrew Anderson and presented in the Little Theatre in the Pleasance. The first performance on Mon 23 Dec 1946 was opened by Lord Stevenson on behalf of the Pleasance Trust. The proceeds of the first night were donated to the Pleasance Trust.

Listing for EPT panto 2014

Dick Whittington
Church Hill Theatre, 33 Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Thursday 18 – Sunday 28 December 2014
Evenings at 7pm on: Thurs 18, Fri 19, Mon 22, Tue 23 & Sat 27 December.
Matinees at 2.30pm on: Sat 20, Sun 21, Sat 27 and Sun 28 December.
Tickets £10 and £8 (group rates available) from: (small booking fee)


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