Archive centreWhitehaven
ReferenceYDSO 121
TitleRosehill Theatre, Whitehaven
DescriptionManagement and committee meetings; memoranda; records relating to finance, appeals, Rosehill Trust, patrons, Friends, theatre's history; performance programmes and brochures; constructions files and plans; correspondence relating to administration, artists and Sekers family; photographs.
Extent64 boxes, 3 rolls plans
Context ‘Theatre at Rosehill’ became ‘ The Sir Nicholas Sekers Theatre at Rosehill’ in 1972 , and from 1991 became Rosehill Theatre. Rosehill theatre is used throughout the catalogue for consistency.
Rosehill Theatre was the creation of Sir Nicholas Sekers, co-founder of the West Cumberland Silk Mills (later Sekers Fabrics Ltd.). He was a founder-trustee of the Glyndebourne Arts Trust and set up Rosehill Arts Trust Ltd to convert a barn in the grounds of Rosehill into a theatre. He had bought the interior of the Royal Standard Music Hall in Whitehaven before it was demolished. Plans to incorporate these into the new building which was built did not prove possible. An accident early in the alterations led to a revision of the plans and design. Sekers contacted Oliver Messel, one of the country’s leading theatrical and interior designers, to produce a design for the interior. He included stylistic features from the Royal Standard in particular the griffon emblem which is still the theatre’s emblem. Some panels were also saved and placed along the front of the circle.
The theatre was not the property of Sir Nicholas Sekers or of Sekers Ltd but of a charitable Trust. At the first meeting of the Board of Trustees it was resolved to purchase the piece of ground on which the theatre stood from Sekers Ltd. The building and operation of the theatre was the result of fundraising from businesses and individuals.
3 September 1959 was the opening night of the theatre at Rosehill. Its opening leaflet stated “thanks for financial support in the form of covenants and donations from – Courtaulds; Cumberland Curled Hair; British Nylon Spinners Pontypool; D S Plugs Workington; Ferguson Brothers Carlisle; W&A Gilbey London; High Duty Alloys; Lansil Ltd Lancaster; Marchon; Kangol; W H Moss & Sons Whitehaven; Quaker Oats; Smith Bros; Dr M A Steiner Workington; United Steel Cos Workington; Ernest Hillman New York;” but pointed out that further covenants up to £5000 were needed. It was owned by Rosehill Arts Trust Ltd, a charity created on 8 May 1959 whose articles of association were signed 9 June 1959 and was incorporated as a limited company on 17 Jun 1959. The Trust bought the land on which the theatre was built from the Sekers Ltd. The contractors were listed as -
Theatre Architects – Gavin Paterson & Co; Glasgow under direction Alaistair A Taylor
Building Contractor – James Laidlaw & Sons; Glasgow under direction R V Andrews
Electrical & Plumbing Contractors – James Walker St Bees
Painting and decorating – R Westray Pearson & Sons, Cleator Moor
Soft Furnishings, Carpets and Decorative Lighting – John Lewis Partnership
Fabrics – West Cumberland Silk Mills
Theatre Seating – W W Turner Ltd Whitehaven;
Stage lighting – The Strand Electric & Engineering Co Ltd, London & Manchester
Stage Curtains – Watts & Corry, Manchester
Thanks were paid to Oliver Messel for his contribution to the design and advice of the interior, with the execution of Mr Messel’s designs carried out by Harry Kellard assisted by Miss Priscilla Bagot, and John Claridge who executed and co-ordinated all the work connected with the interior.
In 1999 the theatre was listed with the schedule explaining “The interior design of Rosehill is the only permanent theatre work by Oliver Messel, whose work in theatre opera, and cinema from the 1920s to the 1960s for Diaghilev, Charles B Cochran, Glyndebourne and elsewhere established a highly regarded, much imitated and very British style of set design that dominated these years. The interior style of Rosehill is a translation of two-dimensional set design into permanent building which has been well preserved”.
The first Chairman of the Board of Trustees was Major General Sir John Kennedy (who continued in the role until his death in 1970). Meetings of Trustees were called each year usually in London, with an Annual General Meeting of Trust held in Whitehaven usually after the Management Committee meeting as this was a formality and a full complement of Trustees was not needed to attend.
A smaller Management Committee met more regularly (four times a year) in Whitehaven to manage the day-to-day operation. A Finance (or Finance and General Purposes Committee) also met regularly. This arrangement was formalised when the Articles of Association were amended in 1972 to allow the delegation of the running of the theatre to the Management Committee. Since Trustees often could not attend regular meetings, the Management Committee were not required to be Trustees. The first members of Management Committee were Nicholas T Sekers, Chairman; Robin Bagot; Tomi L de Gara; and Major-General Sir John Kennedy. David Collins and Derek Ockenden became Trustees in 1967. They were actively involved in SASRA [Sellafield Area Sports and Recreation Association] and the examples of the’ young nuclear scientists’ that Sekers felt would appreciate the improvement in cultural life Rosehill was created to provide.
In 1981 the constitution of the Trust was further amended so that the business should all be transacted by a company – Rosehill Arts Trust Ltd – and registered for VAT. In 1981 Rosehill Arts Trust Ltd was registered under the Companies Act with no shares or capital with members’ liability limited to £1 per member as a registered charity. From 1981 its Directors had to be directly involved attending at least one meeting per quarter, so Trustees who were not members of the Management Committee and could not be actively involved; they would now be designated Patrons (a more honorific role with no financial commitment), and needed to formally resign as Trustees. Members of the Management Committee who were not Directors were subsequently appointed so and were elected every three years. From 1982 Trustees were those elected at Annual General Meeting, and included members nominated by grant awarding bodies and three officers of Friends of Rosehill.
An anomaly of the charitable status of the theatre was that it could not undertake commercial activities. The Rosehill Society was created with an annual subscription which gave members priority booking of tickets but was also officially responsible for the commercial activities – selling tickets and running the bar sales – so as not to infringe the charity status of the Trust until 1981. Therefore accounts were separated into Society and Trust. From 1 Jan 1982 the Rosehill Society ceased to exist: its remaining balance funds were transferred to Rosehill Arts Trust which accounts for creation of unified accounts from 1982. To promote drama provision a Rosehill Playgoers Society was created in 1962 and this was merged with the Rosehill Society into a single audience society open to anyone but with own constitution.
The Friends of Rosehill was established in 1982 and its Chairman, Deputy Chairman and Secretary of Committee are ex-officio members of Rosehill Arts Trust and sit on the Board of Management. A further 12 members elected at the Annual General Meeting become members of the Arts Trust with power to vote at the company’s AGM.
The theatre has been used for amateur dramatics from 1960. The Whitehaven Operatic Society moved to the Whitehaven Civic Hall as their base in 1968/69. The Rosehill Drama society ended during 1974/75, being replaced by the Whitehaven Theatre Group from the 1976/77 season. The Rosehill Players were affiliated to the theatre in 2003 and the theatre also hosts Rosehill Youth Theatre.
Once the theatre was open and operating it was clear that fundraising would be necessary to keep it working. Attempts to attract outside funding began from the second year of operation. The Arts Council was approached in late 1960 without success but the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation gave the theatre its first major grant in 1961. The Arts Council gave a grant from the 1961/2 season but this was specifically to subsidise visits of local members of music societies and arts clubs – up to £250. Another basis of early funding was the taking out of Covenants from companies and individuals usually for seven year periods. These had tax benefits and gave some certainty as to income. Between 1965 and 1967 raffles were held with prizes donated by Cecil Beaton, Harrods, Hardy Amies, Yves St Laurent, Sekers, Trust House Hotels, Vogue magazine subscription and the Hotel Meurice, Paris, amongst others.
In 1967 it was decided that an appeal should be launched. Its purpose being to cover the annual deficiency in running the theatre, to raise money to build a restaurant and a car park, deepen the stage and extend backstage accommodation and modernise the stage lighting and central heating. A meeting was held with local businesses to encourage support. Covenants were taken out by firms and individuals.
The illness of Sir Nicholas led to his early resignation from the firm in 1970 but when he regained his health and tried to return to work in the textile world this led to a breakdown in relations between him and the company. This was followed by a change in the relationship between the company and the theatre, the former having long provided assistance in kind (particularly with office space, staff and transport) as well as an ongoing financial commitment which was reduced from 1971. This meant that the theatre office moved from the Mill to a caravan on the theatre site. By the end of 1973 its office was in Whitehaven town centre, first in Scotch Street and then in Roper Street. During 1976/77 the administration was moved permanently to the theatre.
The accounts and legal work of the Trust used the same companies as the company until the breakdown of relations between Sir Nicholas and the company in the late 1960s. The Secretary of the Trust was also a member of the Silk Mills Board and a solicitor for the Mill and Trust, the auditor Lyon Wyllie was also Director of the Mill and Chairman of the Board of Trustees. When the Trust was in negotiations about the purchase of Rosehill House it became necessary for there to be clearly separate solicitors and auditors. Ian Sutcliffe and Lyon Wyllie continued as Trustees but new auditors and a new secretary were appointed.
Rosehill House belonged to the company and was lived in by Sir Nicholas and his family, his hospitality to the artists he tempted to perform at the theatre being renowned. Fleatham House (owned by Marchon) and Moresby Hall (owned by High Duty Alloys) were also used to provide accommodation for visiting artists. When the between Sir Nicholas and the company broke down the Trust was given the option in 1971 to buy Rosehill House as the company would not sell to Sir Nicholas. The sale was completed in January 1973. The Trust then made the decision to sell the House to Dr Blackburn but retained some of the land to provide car parking to make up for the loss of access to the drive. Car parking had long been an issue and attempts to buy a field right at the beginning proved unsuccessful. The drive to Rosehill House was used instead. In 1967 the sale of a field from the company to the Trust for car parking eased the problem for a while. Rosehill House sold by Blackburn’s in 1983 to John Hunter and subsequently became a ‘Retirement Home for the Elderly’.
Without the involvement of Sir Nicholas and his hospitality at Rosehill House artists of international renown, whilst still attracted by the reputation of the theatre, would no longer perform at reduced fees and it became inevitable that Rosehill would need to change to survive. Its large overdraft was replaced by a local authority mortgage and it ran numerous public appeals for grants and donations. The ongoing problem has been to achieve reliable long-term sources of income to support its day-to-day running.
The 1972-1973 Appeal was professionally organised by J H McGuiness for Hooker Craigmyle (Scotland) Ltd. It was to build a link road behind theatre and a car park, and for the installation new stage lighting system. It was also hoped to develop a buttery, stage extension, piano store and barn conversion to provide artists’ accommodation but this was not achieved. . It also funded a new bungalow built for the caretaker (subsequently sold in 1986) and with alterations to the old accommodation a Buttery was opened in December 1975. Leases were granted to operate a restaurant on this site with varying degrees of success.
The Arts Council 'Housing the Arts' scheme was also approached for funding. A new ticket system was applied in 1976 with the introduction of season tickets for the classical music concerts.
The 1980 Appeal was also professionally organised by Ronald Todd of Richard Maurice Ltd. It funded the completion of the auditorium heating, but an artist’s rest room and piano store which were originally part of the plans could not be attempted. Arts in Education was created by Cumbria County Council in 1985 based at Rosehill which did not fund but worked closely with them.
A restaurant had first been mooted in the early days of the theatre with Lord Schon from Marchon being approached for help in alterations to a stable block for the purpose. These plans never came to pass and the stables became known as the Barn. It had years of use as a store and then became the basis of plans in 1985 for an alternate venue with additional facilities. The 1986-1987 Appeal was organised by Piers Jackson and Janet Kennedy from an office in Tangier Street, Whitehaven. Funds were slow to come in, work did not begin until 1990 and continued through the 1990s. As a result, phases 1 and 2 of the Barn conversion were completed and the ground floor officially opened in 1996. A room was named the Albright Room in recognition of the assistance the Albright and Wilson (formerly Marchon) Company had given over the years.
A report by David Pratley in July 1987 for Northern Arts proposed setting up an Arts Development Agency for West Cumbria and welcomed the Barn development seeing it as a future centre and base for the Arts in Education work. Discussions into the provision of arts and entertainment in West Cumbria in 1988 led to the proposal for a West Cumbria Arts Trust which would amalgamate provision in Copeland and Allerdale with funding from a number of bodies and the creation of a local Arts Agency. It was mooted that Rosehill would be the lead but instead of a Theatre Director a new role of Arts Development Officer with a wider remit underwritten by Northern Arts would be needed. In March 1989 Anne Marie Quigg left as Director and Andrew Rothwell was initially appointed in June 1989 as Arts Development Officer on this basis. However negotiations between Northern Arts, Copeland Borough Council, Allerdale District Council, Rosehill and the funding bodies never reached a successful conclusion and a year later Rothwell left. The Theatre Director’s post returned to its previous pattern but to reflect the presumed enhanced role Rosehill Arts Trust Ltd legally changed its name to West Cumbria Arts Trust from 1989 until 1993 when it reverted back to its previous form.
Since the death of Keith Walker in 1989 secretarial work for Trust been carried out by Theatre Director but in 1996 it was decided that the role should be carried out by a Board member and Joe Blackadder became Company Secretary
In 1994 a ten year period began during which major improvements to the main buildings were funded by the Lottery and the Barn development was completed. Cumbria County Council and Copeland Borough Council were by now making regular grants along with the Arts Council through Northern Arts.
A National Lottery application was subsequently made for assistance in the installation of a modern heating and ventilation system for the theatre, improved disabled access, completion of the barn conversion, replacement of the lighting and sound systems, refurbishment of the Bistro and installation of film and marketing equipment. A grant was made (Ref: 95-900) and work was started. All the planned improvements could not be completed within this funding and a stage 2 study was undertaken to complete the work. Matching funding as with all Lottery bids was needed so fundraising was ongoing.
The 1997 Appeal was organised in-house, its purpose being revenue support. The theatre has rarely covered its operating costs but grants were rarely available for revenue rather than capital projects .It was carried out by means of a mail shot and a 'Name-a-Seat' scheme. Similarly the 2000 Appeal was again organised in-house and aimed exclusively at revenue support. The covenant scheme was replaced by Gift Aid. Rather than a general public appeal the theatre’s mailing list was used to approach frequent attenders. As a result of a restructure in 1999, the Finance Committee became the Executive Committee.
The period 2004-2009 was one of turbulence with continual staff changes at all levels and financial difficulties. There are no management accounts from the end of 2005/2006 because of this disruption in staffing. In summer 2006 the Rosehill Board approached the Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, for assistance in compiling its accounts. 2006-2007 saw a rapid turnover in staff resulting in lost information, no continuity of systems and leaving inexperienced people in charge . A new Theatre Director was appointed in April 2007 and with the assistance of the Theatre by the Lake staff work was done to create some accounts for the year 2006-2007 from the incomplete records and an Accounts Assistant was appointed to work at Rosehill to manage the accounts for 2007-2008.
In 2007 a consultant Gordon Bates was hired to produce a new four year grant-funded business plan. Much discussion over governance led to the governing body being confirmed as the Board of Trustees rather than the Management Committee as not all grant-awarding organisations had agreed to representatives becoming Trustees. The role of non-Trustee representatives were revised to that of Advisers in attendance at board meetings. A Regeneration Committee was established in September 2007 to plan for the 50th Anniversary. It made recommendations for programming and examined the possibilities for improvements, repairs renewals, backstage improvements and extensions to public areas. Johnston and Wright were appointed to prepare plans and created a provisional design in 2008. ‘Rosehill Reimagined’ a major redevelopment of the site included Lottery and matching funding grants, the first stage commencing in 2015.

Dramatis Personae
Nicholas Sekers born in Hungary as Nicholas Szekeres in 1910 arrived in Britain in 1937 .In 1962 Duke Edinburgh award. 1963 MBE, honorary degree Manchester Uni1963, Founder-trustee Glyndebourne since 1954, chairman London Mozart Players, and London Philharmonic Orchestra Council, member Council Royal Opera House Covent Garden Shakespeare Theatre trust governor Yehudi Menuhin School, knighthood Mar 1965, 60th birthday concert Dec 1970- funds to be used for replacement piano in 1971. On his retirement due to ill-health the company granted him a pension and allowed him to live Rosehill House and be active in managing theatre. By Spring 1971 he had recovered and began new career working with Lister group of Bradford and as a freelance consultant. By April 1971 because of his work for the Lister Group the Silk Mills cancelled his pension leading a decline in their relationship. He died suddenly in Jun 1972
Chairman of Trustees -Lord Rochdale succeeded1970-1983, Sir Charles Carter resigned1983- 1998 Colin Fleming of Camtex Fibres 1988-2008 next Chairman he had been member of Board since 1974 and Chairman of Finance Committee since 1977, he resigned in 2008 since then he became a Patron. David Mason was next Chairman of Board but resigned 2009. Mike Fossey who had been a Trustee since 1994, and Deputy Chairman 2004 became Chairman 2009
Major-General Sir John Kennedy GCMG KCVO KBE CB MC 1893-1970 Chairman Trust 1959-1970 Royal Navy 1911 transferred Royal Artillery during World War 1, served War Office 1938-139, Asst Chief Imperial General Staff 1943-1945, Governor Southern Rhodesia 1947-1953 Col Commandant Royal Artillary 1948-1958, Chairman National Convention Southern Rhodesia 1960. Archives in Kings College London Liddell Hart Military Archives
Viscount Rochdale 1906-1993 of Lingholm, Keswick. John Kemp, Hon John Kemp, Rt Hon Lord Rochdale 1945-1960, RT Hon Lord Rochdale OBE, RT Hon Viscount Rochdale 1960-1993 Family firm Kelsall and Kemp – textile company in Lancashire. Educated at Eton and Trinity College Cambridge Natural Science Tripos before joined Kelsall and Kemp 1928. World War Two was temporary Brigadier .Chairman family firm 1945, Chairman Cotton Board 1957, Director Consett Iron Company, and Deacon’s bank, Governor BBC 1954-1957. Member of Western Hemisphere Exports Council, Chairman National Ports Council until 1967, then Board Trade report on shipping, President Economic League.Created Viscount 1960,Chairman Harland and Wolff 1971-1975. Chairman Rosehill 1970- 1983 Christian Scientist, Conservative
Sir Charles Carter (15/8/1919-27/6/2002) Chairman of Board of trustees 1983-1998, Member of Board 1982-1999 and Patron.
Born Rugby, day boy Rugby School, St John’s College Cambridge 1st in Mathematics and Economics Quaker, Conscientious objector and served prison sentence 3months in Strangeways Second World War, 1941-1945 served Friends’ Relief Service. Married Janet Shea 1944 [dies 2000] Lectureship in Statistics Cambridge 1945-1951, Professor of Applied Economics Queen’s University Belfast 1952-1959, Stanley Jevons Chair Political Economy Manchester University 1958- 1963,Founding Vice- Chancellor University of Lancaster 1963-1979. Retired to Seascale.. Knighted 1978. Editor Economic Journal 1961-1970, Member Northern Ireland Economic Council 1977-1987, Joint President Policy Studies Institute 1991-1997,Trustee Joseph Rowntree memorial trust 28 years, Governor Wyndham School 1980,Died Glasgow. Obituaries Guardian 2/8/2002, Whitehaven News 22/8/202, further details in letter Whitehaven News 29/8/2002

Colin Fleming, (d 2017) Managing Director small subsidiary of ICI [Camtex Fibres] Composer of operettas, author of plays and verse. 1974-2008 Rosehill Board member, member of Finance Committee before Chairman of Trust 1998-2008. Founding member of Cumbria Theatre Trust which built and runs Theatre by the Lake in Keswick.
John Todd (1934-2009) moved to St Bees 1966, Solicitor with John G Tyson and Todd and later partner in Brockbank Tyson and Co. until retirement in 1996, Fellow of Royal Historical Society.
Keith Walker -1987
Joe Blackadder (d 2010) Teacher and Deputy Head at Wyndham School from 1967-1989, member of Whitehaven Theatre Group, Rosehill Company Secretary 1996-,and Chairman of Friends of Rosehill. Author of 50th anniversary history of the theatre

Position called Theatre Secretary 1960-1964 became General Manager 1964-1974 since 1974 the position became Director]
Muriel Large 1959 Secretary
[1960-1963 Neil Dalrymple
1963-1967 Anthony Phillips
1967-1968 Thomas Petzal
1968-1971 Christopher Pike
1971-1972 Jonathan James-Moore
1972-1974 Nicolas Jones
1974-1980 Martin Manasse
1980-1982 Catherine Robins
1982-1989 Anne-Marie Quigg
1989-1990 Andrew Rothwell
1989-1990 Jim Melvin (previously Administrator)
1990-1994 Ken Cameron
1994-[2003]Chris Lloyd
Kate Whitmarsh 2004-2006
Cara Anderson 2006-2007
Karen Thompson 2007-2008
Richard Elder 2008-

Publication detailsRosehill - the story of a theatre 1959-2009 by Joe Blackadder (Bookcase, 2009).
Catalogue levelFonds
Subject termsTheatre

Show related name indexes

Show related place indexes

CodePerson/Corporate namesDates
NA819Sekers; Sir; Nicholas Thomas (d 1972); Knight; fabric manufacturer; patron of the artsd 1972
CodePlace names
NA1373Rosehill Theatre/Moresby/Cumberland
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