The Frome Memorial Theatre starts it’s history with the cloth industry in Frome in the 14th century, which gave the town an economic foundation. There was a thriving sheep farming community to support the industry as well as mills and workshops along the River Frome.
For tax reasons Frome’s cloth was mostly sold undyed, but there was an increasing demand nationally and internationally for blue cloth. Blue was Frome’s speciality. The dyers in the town used woad (Isatis tinctoria, dyer’s woad, or glastum) to make the cloth blue. Woad was grown locally and was possibly even cultivated in and around the town as maps of the time suggest.
In 1837, Trinity Church was built in a part of Frome known as the New Town. And the land chosen for the church was ‘Oad Grounds’, which refers to the woad plant. This part of town became known as the Trinity area.
Another indicator of woad being used in Frome to dye the cloth, is on a map of 1774. The land where the present-day Memorial Theatre is situated, was shown as the ‘Rack Fields’, which was where the cloth would have been laid out to dry after dying.
World War One
The First World War brought an end to construction in Frome, unless of course they supported the war effort. But, soon after Armistice in 1819, building commenced in the town.
An appeal went out to build a memorial to commemorate the war dead, and enough money was raised to buy a piece of land for this purpose.
The Cockey family home on Christchurch Street West was bought and demolished to make way for an Assembly Hall. Percy Rigg, a Frome architect who had his office in the under croft of Monmouth House, was commissioned to design the new building. But the town could not raise the money needed and so a cheaper plan was put forward and work was begun in 1923.
Percy Rigg was also the business manager of the Frome Amateur Operatic Society, which is why they probably chose to have their productions in the Assembly Hall from 1925. Although they and the Frome British Legion used the building, it was sadly not a commercial success. In 1931 the Trustees decided to lease the building to become a ‘talking picture theatre’. Seating was installed and it was opened as the ‘Grand Cinema’ or just ‘The Grand’.
In the 1970s, the Hexagon Suite was added to the rear of the building when money became available with the sale of the Frome Water Works to Bristol Water.
By the mid-1980s the Memorial Hall was facing tough competition with the cinema in Cork Street in the centre of town and was forced to close and slowly fell into disrepair. The plan was to demolish the building for housing, but the people of Frome were not happy with this decision. A local volunteer group was formed to save the hall and ensure it remained a space the community could use, and the building found a new life as the Frome Memorial Theatre. The Hexagon Suite was renamed the Assembly Rooms, which is available today for private hire.
Today over 100 volunteers keep this lovely building at the heart of the community. There are regular theatre productions by local theatre groups as well as big name acts that tour across the country and ensure the Frome Memorial Theatre is on their itinerary.
On 5th November every year Charlie, the soldier, cast here in Frome at the Singers Foundry of a World War 1 veteran, forms the centre of the Remembrance Day service. Wreaths are laid, flags are raised and the Last Post rings out as Frome remembers and commemorates in the foreground of the Frome Memorial Theatre.