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Northampton Advertiser, 1955, by Wendy Dolman
Wells Theatre
MAGGIE WELLS was a favourite leading lady.
Maggie playing the title role of a melodrama "The Female Detective"
A LINE of wagons trundling into the High Street one morning in the 1880s brought Rushden its first theatre.     

On an open piece of ground, where the Co-operative grocery store stands today, carpenters set to work putting up the portable playhouse of the Wells Pavilion Theatre Company. [between High St and Rectory Rd]

The stage was built on wagons with a supporting pole at the back. It stood in the Rectory garden. In the covered auditorium were plush-lined walls and plush seats, with both stalls and boxes—price 6d. or 1s. And every night for three months, Rushden packed in to enjoy, a repertoire ranging from Shakespearean tragedy to Victorian melodrama.

Several of the players came back to Rushden afterwards and settled down with local families.

Mrs. Jesse Bird (Miss Young in those days) now lives at 19 Robert Street. As a little girl she used to dance in the musical acts and take juvenile parts.

As recently as Coronation Day she and her husband dressed in two of the old costumes of the theatre—and won a first prize as the Pearly King and Queen.

Gipsy wagon   

Mrs. Bird herself has many memories of touring with the 'theatre in caravans—"living wagons'' they called them. She has her own genuine Gipsy wagon at Overstone Park, where she spends weekends and holidays.

Her sister, another of the troupe, also lives at Rushden. She is Mrs. Stevens, of 3 Queen's Terrace. Their aunt, Maggie Wells—the leading lady of the Wells Theatre, married into Rushden's Denton family. To many of her audiences it was "Maggie Wells' theatre." The Wells Pavilion wasn't always a family affair. It grew from one of the "penny gaffs" of the fairground. Joseph Wells, one of the family which formed the Saddlers Wells Company, bought the portable theatre some 75 years ago and took his family—three generations of them—on tour.

Nightly change

'' It was one of the biggest theatres of its kind. In those days of patronage it boasted a list of patrons "too numerous to mention." One of them was Rushden's Canon Barker. There was a different programme for every night of the three-month run. "Hamlet" took its turn with musical comedy and melodramas were the favourites. Lord Lytton's The Lady of Lyons, or Love and Pride," and "Ten Nights in a Bar Room" shown on television recently were typical attractions.

But best of all was "Maria Marten or the Murder in the Red Bam." The story is told by Mrs. Bird that a performance of "Maria" by the Wells Company actually closed down Sangers Circus one night when the two shows were on at the same time. A five-piece orchestra accompanied the entertainment—first and second violin, piano, cornet and piccolo.

Three rivals

Twice the Wells pavilion came back to Rushden. It was set up once in Fitzwilliam Street, opposite Warren's bakehouse, and two years later in Duck Street. Three rival portable theatres also visited Rushden about the same time—Demar, the Whitney Company, and Harry Farris.      

Some fifty years ago, the Wells Company amalgamated with Harry Farris and the old pavilion theatre was sold somewhere in North Wales, where it may survive today.

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