A brief history

  • The society was formed in 1932 by the Vicar, Norman Braham, who lived in Ecclesfield Priory, hence our name Ecclesfield Priory Players.
  • Early performances were held in the Gatty Hall on Priory Road, Ecclesfield, until 1962.
  • The venue then moved to the Colley School Assembly Hall in Parson Cross until 1966.
  • In 1967 the venue changed again, this time to the hall in Ecclesfield Junior School off High Street Ecclesfield.
  • Rehearsals at this time were held at the old Methodist Chapel, then the Labour Hall, in Townhead Road, where we also stored our scenery and props. In 1974-5 we purchased the building for our Headquarters. Members affectionately referred to the building as “The Dungeon”.
  • It had long been a dream to have our own theatre. During the late 1970s, rising production costs, in particular the cost of hiring Education Authority property, led the Committee to consider converting The Dungeon into a theatre, but it soon proved unsuitable on a number of counts.
  • In 1977/78 we heard that the Trinity Methodist Sunday Schoolroom on Well Lane (formerly the Trinity Methodist Chapel) was to be sold. We conducted a feasibility study around the possibility of converting the building into a fully functional small theatre and applied to the Local Authority for change of use. Following numerous meetings and consultations it was decided that conversion into a Theatre was possible and we entered a period of bids and counter bids for its purchase.
  • In 1979 we finally sold “The Dungeon” and managed to purchase Trinity Schoolroom.
  • Major alterations were required to create the Theatre we now call the “EPPiC” a name chosen to represent Ecclesfield Priory Players in the Community because the building was hoped to be a resource for the surrounding area.
  • In 1980 preliminary designs were drawn up and the architect’s plans and calculations were submitted to the Planning Office. During the long period we were waiting for consent, fund-raising became our main effort.
  • The society continued to stage plays at Ecclesfield Town Junior School in order to meet the criteria of our Constitution. At the same time we designed and launched major fund-raising projects, and made appeals to local authorities, companies, charities and to individuals for funding to allow the project to move forward.
  • We knew we were in for a long haul on the conversion. We had decided to execute most of the work ourselves as the fund-raising progressed, using limited specialist help as necessary.
  • Also whilst we waited for planning permission, the balcony fronts, columns, glazed screen, stone steps and the cast iron stove were removed and sold to an architectural reclamation firm. 
  • Work started in September 1980 and the first skip was ordered. November saw the pulling down of the old balcony and in December we finally got the rubber stamp on the Planning Consent Document. During 1980 a sponsored 24 hour play reading was held in the theatre.
  • January 1981 saw the floor removed at what is now the stage end of the theatre and digging was started to create the basement dressing room. The Chapel balcony and the internal walls were completely removed and the plaster stripped from the ground floor walls. By March we had secured the services of Community Industries who helped with the rebuilding and pointing of the boundary walls. The undergrowth was cleared from around the building and in November, trenches were dug for the surface water and sewage drains and new gutters and fall pipes were added.
  • In the winter of 1981, to our dismay, the basement digging flooded.  
  • Pumping out the water and digging continued throughout 1982 when we were seriously hampered by flooding.  The wall to the vestry was knocked down to make the auditorium a suitable size. In May, the concrete blinding went down for the base of the dressing room. By this time we had spent £1300 on skip hire to dispose of the soil. The rear stairs and the staircase wall were removed. In June, the walls were underpinned around the basement. We worked through the evening of July 15th until 3am, fixing the Bituthene membrane and water bar because the steel fixer was due the next day to install the reinforcing steelwork for the basement. The base slab was cast in September and is 12” thick. The basement wall reinforcing steelwork and the fixed shuttering followed in October. In November the steel girders, columns and beams were delivered to Singleton’s yard and the fire escape positioned.
  • 1983 – This was I suppose the best year. Things started to speed up and we could see at last the theatre we envisaged beginning to take shape. Digging out the column bases to support the upstairs lounge, the footings for the rear staircase wall, the shuttering-out of the basement and the subsequent casting in concrete of its walls and floor were completed before spanning the stage area with pre-stressed concrete beams. The steel columns seated on the concrete bases and the first floor beams were fixed, the rear wall built, the staircase fixed and the rear floor laid then the proscenium arch walls were built. The toilet and washroom were built into the basement to serve the dressing room.  The spiral staircase was positioned and built in. During this year we purchased the stage lighting dimmer racks and some floodlights at auction. The heaviest work was to install the structural steel work required to support the upstairs floor, the proscenium arch and the stage lighting rig.
  • In 1984, all the plaster was removed from the inner walls with the exception of the stage area. These were then re-plastered by a ladies plastering co-operative. Rewiring of the whole building began. The pre-stressed concrete beams were positioned over the basement to form the stage area and upstairs, over the steel work, to form the first floor lounge area.  The external fire escape and steel fire door were erected at the same time. The toilets were sited and built in and the domestic plumbing was completed.  All the windows were re-glazed with Georgian wired glass.
  • 1985 was a very productive year. The Probation Service agreed to provide the labour for all the painting while the central heating system was designed, gas was laid on, the kitchen finished, the staircases positioned and the rewiring was completed.  The steel beams and columns were clad with fireproof material and the internal brickwork was completed. 
  • The central heating was installed in 1986.  Shirecliffe College students re-plastered the remaining interior walls.  This year also saw the regular coffee mornings brought into the Theatre.
  • Also in this year, the conversion project won the William Stones Brewery Community Award.
  • 1987 saw many small works completed; the internal doors were fitted, the auditorium seating was laid out, the stage lighting/sound control room fitted out and the Probation Service lads came in again to paper and paint the Theatre throughout.
  • 1988 saw the Theatre ready to open, with the completion of the stage wiring, the positioning of the stage lighting rigs, the installation of the sound system with hearing loop, and the fitting of an air extraction system, emergency lighting and fire alarms.
  • The opening play in the EPPiC Theatre in 1988 was Alan Cullen’s “The Stirrings in Sheffield on Saturday Night” which received much critical acclaim, as did the newly opened EPPiC Theatre itself.
  • At about the same time, the society was devastated to find that the under-floor timber joists had succumbed to the dreaded dry rot, apparently due to the heating pipes running below floor level reactivating the long dormant dry rot spores.  Yet another major fund raising effort had to be launched.  The whole of the ground floor had to be removed and burned and the plaster once more stripped off the walls. Improved ventilation was then provided, the walls and ground treated with fungicide, and then the flooring and walls had to be reinstated, seating refitted, etc.  All of this took an additional year and a great deal of funding.
  • Thus the only play produced in 1989 was Alan Ayckbourn’s  “Round and Round the Garden” which, coincidentally, was the 89th full-length play to be presented by the Society.
  • During the years 1983-1986, eight plays were produced, four in St Mary’s Church and four in other venues.
  • Since the initial conversion, continuing efforts have been made to upgrade the theatre.
  • The upstairs lounge, auditorium, and foyer have all been refurbished several times, with new carpeting laid on the stairs and on all levels of the lounge. The kitchen has also been upgraded and refitted several times, and the toilets re-organised to meet modern standards.
  • Extra storage has been built above the stage, to accommodate set building materials and painting and decorating materials, etc.
  • The sound system has been upgraded and a new hearing loop installed.
  • An initial upgrading of the lighting system took place and has since been entirely replaced to meet current regulations, a major project completed in 2015.
  • A new lighting control system has been installed which has increased the lighting capacity
  • The seating in the auditorium was replaced in 2015, thanks to a generous grant from Veolia.
  • The auditorium, foyer and outside the downstairs toilets were all re-carpeted in 2016.
  • New windows were fitted in November 2016, and further improvements eg to the lounge are planned – when we have any spare cash!