Over 100 Years Old…..
We’ve been going for over 100 years…. And still trying to get it right!!!
In 1894 Loughton was a small town some 12 miles north-east of London, lying between the vast and ancient Epping Forest and the River Roding. Today it is one of the outermost suburbs of the Capital, yet, due to the proximity of the forest, retains its rural atmosphere.
The mid-19th century had seen a bitter struggle over access to the forest, which was gradually being enclosed by a few wealthy landowners. Some local commoners risked fines and imprisonment in their fight to maintain the ancient right to lop wood from the trees. The Epping Forest Act of 1878 provided for the purchase by the Corporation of London of virtually all enclosed common lands, and made 5,500 acres of forest land available for public access in perpetuity. The Act effectively abolished lopping rights, but later provided for substantial compensation for the loss of those rights. An endowment was created specifically to purchase a site and build a recreational centre for the people of Loughton. In April 1884 the Lopping Hall was officially opened, and to this day continues to be a focal point for the local community as a venue for public meetings, private functions, a dancing school, a camera club and as the home of three amateur theatrical societies.
The senior of these societies, and the oldest regular user of the hall, is Loughton Operatic Society, founded in the autumn of 1894 “to foster an interest in light opera (in particular the Savoy Operas of Gilbert and Sullivan) and to present at least one stage production every year”. Apart from breaks caused by the two World Wars these aims have been consistently achieved.
Until 1971 every opera presented by LOS, with two exceptions, was a Gilbert and Sullivan work (the society has produced all the Savoy operas at least once, and in some cases up to 11 times, with the exception of The Grand Duke which, incidentally, had not been written at the time the society was formed).
The first exception was in 1915 when, due to the war, it became necessary to find a production with no male chorus, and the society presented The Wooden Bowl by Cuthbert Nunn and Charity Begins At Home by German Reid. The second was in 1951 when the society was not permitted to perform any Gilbert and Sullivan opera during the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company’s extended season at the Savoy Theatre as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations. Edward German’s completion of Sullivan’s The Emerald Isle was deemed to be a suitable substitute.
However, the tastes of both audience and performers change, and, in 1971, following a majority decision by society members, a break with tradition was made; that year’s production was The Merry Widow. Since then LOS, whilst not abandoning G&S and continuing to present a Savoy Opera at regular intervals, has performed a wide variety of shows from Viennese operetta through Rodgers and Hammerstein to the more modern British and American musicals, plus, in 1992, the first “proper opera”, Bizet’s Carmen. In 1986 Fiddler on the Roof broke box office records, and the same show had the same result when it was next presented in 2001.
In 1975 came the first of many Music Halls. Not only have these (and the later development into variety shows) proved very popular with audiences at Lopping Hall but it has been possible to take such shows “on the road” to assorted community centres, golf clubs, village halls and local schools. Members have been happy to endure some less-than-perfect (to put it politely!) performing venues and changing facilities in the knowledge that the income derived from these excursions has saved the society from closure on more than one occasion.
The society’s centenary was celebrated in 1994 with performances at Lopping Hall of The Yeomen of The Guard, followed, a week later, by a
special Charity Performance of the same show at Epping Forest College which provided free entertainment to various groups of elderly, handicapped and disadvantaged people from the Epping Forest area. This was yet another example of the society’s work in returning something to the local community which has supported it now for 108 years, and in raising funds for many local charities.
Loughton Operatic Society has always had a reputation as a warm, friendly and welcoming organisation. This may be partly due to its relatively small size; the size of the stage at Lopping Hall imposes a limit to the number who can actually appear in a production and the total of performing members has rarely exceeded 40. There is a strong family tradition within LOS; several local families have seen successive generations tread the boards or take posts on the committee. Vacancies in the office of Musical Director have been very rare indeed. Two holders of that office spanned the period from 1894 to 1957; More recently the tradition was continued when Gill Astley succeeded her father, Brian Astley, in 1998 after he had completed 17 years as MD following 34 years as an acting member.