Proudly standing in the heart of Weston-super-Mare’s Grove Village since 1850, the Blakehay Theatre has been a buzzing arts space since 1985. From hosting famous faces from the world of comedy and showbiz, to showcasing the work of emerging and local performers, the Blakehay Theatre boasts a varied and high quality programme for local audiences of all ages.

Some of the more famous names include comedians Romesh Ranganathan, Tom Allen, Tanya-Lee Davies and Seann Walsh,  to musicians of the Welsh National Opera, Ginger Wildheart and the showbiz lights of Anita Harris.

Before the building was converted into a theatre, the building was Wadham Street Baptist Church.

The Early Years

Wadham Street Baptist Church was formed and originally met in the Assembly Rooms in West Street (now Loves Café) in 1847. The first pastor, from 1849 – 1877, was Rev. E. J. Rodway.

In 1849, the Church and congregation began to think about building a house for God so that His worship could be carried out without the inconvenience of hired rooms. Money was raised and at a cost of something less than £1000, the Chapel was built and opened in 1850. It was able to house about 300 worshipers. The original Chapel was, however, increased in size several times due to growing numbers.

Firstly in 1862, the Chapel was found to be too small for the growing congregation. This led to the decision to enlarge the place of worship. During the rebuilding, the Church met again at the Assembly Rooms. Instead of just an enlargement, the present Chapel (as we know it now) was almost entirely a new erection. This new chapel was designed by Hans Price at a cost of £1200 using as far as possible the materials of the old chapel. The capacity was increased to about 700 and opened for worship in 1864.

Then again by 1878, the congregation had increased further so necessitated the enlargement of the church to seat 850. The former Schoolroom and manse were also built at this time.
So although the Chapel as we know it today is not the original erection from 1849 – the rebuild in 1862 used as many materials from it as possible to create the new larger Chapel. Therefore building the history quite literally into the walls.

The War Years

We’ll start with a quote, taken from the 1947 centenary brochure. We feel this captures and illustrates what our building went through during these times:
‘At 9:50pm on Saturday January 4th 1941, a bomb fell near the corner of the caretaker’s house and the corner property; smashed the stained glass windows; tore off all doors; smashed all the schoolroom roof and half the church roof; and wrought widespread damage.

During the next eighteen months repairs to the buildings were gradually done, and by the summer of 1942 the church was once again in good repair and the normal work of the church in full swing.
On Sunday night June 28th 1942, the church premises were totally destroyed by fire bombs.’

Our beautiful building remained destroyed and ruined for several years. After lengthy negotiations with the War Damage Commission, reconstruction of the Church was finally begun in August 1950. The Commission paid for the building but members of the congregation had to provide for seating, electric lighting, organ and communion furniture. Money was raised by the Baptist Women’s League and the church was reopened, free of debt, in October 1951.

Once again, our building was rebuilt several times during the War Years – much like it was in the Early Years, but for very different reasons. However, just as before, the congregation came together to make sure the Church in Wadham Street remained as such.

More Recent Years

In 1985, with dwindling worshipers, the Church closed its doors and the building and the land it stood on was initially sold to a property developer to build a block of flats.
At the very last minute, as contracts were exchanged, the Weston Civic Trust stepped in and offered a higher sum of money to save the building. The offer was accepted.

The church was by now not in a good condition and a series of projects were launched to make remedial repairs. The original plan was to turn it into an Arts and Community centre.
The Friends of the Blakehay (as it was now renamed) hosted many fundraising events to finance the work throughout the late 1980s. Income was also raised by hiring out rooms for local clubs and/or for local bands to rehearse. During this time, plans were drawn up and the building was converted into a Theatre with a raked auditorium being installed. Furthermore, in 1989, the manse (now an accountant’s office) was sold off to raise even more money and pay off outstanding debts.

As you may, or may not know, The Blakehay Theatre is currently owned and run by Weston-super-Mare Town Council.

Here is a brief timeline of what has been achieved in the time under the Town Council:
Weston-super-Mare Town Council Timeline:

2004 – The Blakehay Theatre was bought by the Weston super Mare Town Council.
2010 – The Front of House areas were refurbished and made accessible.
2017 – The logo was changed from blue to our now signature purple.
2017 -The upper floor of the old schoolroom was adapted to become the Studio; a multi-purpose, versatile space.
2019 – Foyer was redecorated.

March 2020 – The theatre closed on 17th March 2020 due to the World-Wide Pandemic of Covid-19 and staff worked from home and went online to keep the theatre alive.

August 2020 – Theatre staff applied for the Central Government ‘Culture Recovery Fund’ and staff worked tirelessly for 4 days to meet the very tight turnaround grant application deadline in August 2020.

September 2020 – With the world starting to open up again – the theatre re-opened its doors to Studio Classes in our controlled environment with 2m distance.

October 2020 – Theatre staff, along with other Town Council Venues, worked to put on a Covid Safe Halloween event at the Old Town Quarry. With a successful first night of safe outdoor cinema of ‘The Shining’ the first day was a success. With a planned family day with covid safe entertainment planned for the next day and a further cinema evening, unfortunately the storms came and the event was cancelled as it was not safe to continue because of the weather.

November 2020 – Unfortunately the country went back into Lock-down and the theatre had to shut again. However, we heard from the Arts Council that we had been successful in our bid for the ‘Culture Recovery Fund’ and had been awarded £354,000.00. The money awarded went to the theatre for;

  • Fresh Air Ventilation System in both the Main House and Studio.
  • Dividing the theatre’s existing two dressing rooms into four and installing a backstage downstairs toilet.
  • Virus Detectors for the Foyer and Theatre Bar
  • Accessibility for the Theatre Bar with a deck and ramp fitted into the theatre courtyard
  • Equipment to make cleaning the theatre Covid Safe and signage and Hand Sanitising Stations.
  • Funds to be able to put on an Outside Event.

May 2021 – When most of the world was re-opening safely again, the builders moved in to create the changes in the building from our successful grant bid. During this time, the theatre also had a complete re-wire, decorated and staff were once again working from home.

June 2021 – The theatre staff organised and executed the amazing ‘Comedy at the Quarry’ an outdoor, socially distanced (bubbles) event at the Old Town Quarry.

September 2021 – Theatre staff were all ready to re-open the theatre and put everything back, when there was a delay in the building work, so back to working from home.

December 2021 – We were back in the building! Still a few issues to sort out, but the staff worked tirelessly putting everything back and get everything cleaned to re-open in January 2022!

January 2022 – Another setback with the new electrics and so the staff pushed the re-opening back!

February 2022 – Finally we re-opened with our Studio Classes starting again at the beginning of the month and then had an open day with the first show at the end of February 2022!

2022/2023 – The theatre caught up on postponed and rescheduled shows from 2020 and welcomed new hirers to the theatre. the covid -safe equipment was removed and we welcomed back patrons old and new with it’s first Christmas Season in December 2023.