Breaking ice in toilet pans and trudging miles in mud and rain – it’s amazing what people would do for The Pump House. Now celebrating its 40th year, the venerable building is testament to all the time and effort contributed by willing volunteers striving to maintain Watford’s grass-roots arts centre.

Lee Farman joined the Pump House Children and Youth Theatre in 1986 and his first role was in the chorus for Pippin. Lee has been chair of the centre for more than ten years and is steering a special celebration this month involving all the groups that use the venue.

“We’ve asked each group to do an eight-minute showcase each,“ says Lee. “It’s a sharing event and what we’re trying to achieve with it is to get the groups together and demonstrate the wide variety of activity we do here. It truly is an arts centre and we want to work towards publicising the venue and promoting it as a voice in the community.“

Performing on the night will be Watford Open Mic, Watford Folk Club, The Pump House Jazz Club, the Children and Youth Theatre, Pump House Theatre Company, the Clog and Woodside Morris troupes, Watford Film House, Harrow company Belmont Theatre, and Rickmansworth-based Blag Theatre, who have all found a home at The Pump House. The on-site Art Resource Centre will also be holding a silent auction of paintings.

One of the founder members, Laurie Elvin has been working on collating the history of the centre and Dennis Murphy, who has been on the management committee for the past 25 years will give a talk on the evening. Laurie has been collecting photographs and information from all of the groups and an exhibition or pamphlet is in the pipeline.

“I was the chartered surveyor who measured up the whole building,“ explains Laurie. “It was in a terrible state. There’d been a fire in parts and it was very dilapidated. We had a lot of work parties and fundraising events such as sponsored walks and some local drama groups donated profits from their productions.“

For the history project, Laurie has called on the memories of former members and he found a lot of useful material in an archive donated to Watford Museum.

“It belonged to Neville Marsh who was chair of the trust and very much the power behind getting things off the ground. His archive included early newsletters, publications and photographs of theatre, folk and jazz performances. There were also newspaper cuttings from the Watford Observer and the Echo that he’d collected fairly diligently.“

Laurie recalls the creation of the fledgling arts centre.
“The folk club started in 1973. It was very popular and certainly helped raise funds. I was involved in early productions as a spear carrier mainly but there were some very good actors around who unfortunately are no longer with us. There was core of people who I admired and were the impetus behind getting the Pump House started.

“The Southwest Herts Drama Council was a federation of local drama groups who established the annual festival and they formed the Little Theatre Group in the hope of securing the premises for amateur theatre.

“The Caucasian Chalk Circle was our first full-scale production in the summer of 1974, it had a big cast that brought in people from lots of groups and marked the first real use of the place for its intended purpose." 

By 1974 there were a number of clubs – the jazz club, a children’s group and a music group that became the Octagon Music Society.
“One of the people involved in the music club told me they were given a stick one winter to break the ice in the WC pans – it was primitive in the early days but there was a tremendous atmosphere.“

The 40th Anniversary Celebration takes place at The Pump House Theatre on Saturday, October 27 at 6.30pm. Details: