Fleeces were brought to the wool store in Codford in the 18th Century, where they were graded and stored for distribution in the three storey building and yard. By 1830 the yard had become walled and roofed to keep the fleeces dry, however wool was becoming less important to the local economy so the area was used for other activities up until the First World War, including a furniture repository and a cinema.
After the war the building became the village hall until 1926 when a Colonel Sneyd bought a large property which included the Woolstore. His wife was a keen amateur actress so the Colonel had a stage built onto the village hall and soon after, the Codford Amateurs was formed. The group consisted of the Sneyd family, friends and certain local people including a canon Meyrick and his wife. From their first production in 1928 the Codford Amateurs, as the group styled themselves, flourished to such an extent that in 1938 they came fourth out of more than 200 entries in a national contest. The military again took over the building during World War II and also built a YMCA centre just off the village playing fields. In 1948 the Woolstore was handed back to the Sneyds and the YMCA building became the village hall. The single storey building next to the Woolstore reverted to being a theatre. Although Col Sneyd died the following year and his wife moved away, the Codford Amateurs were allowed to use the theatre until 1955, and continued to produce plays.

‘Mystery at Green Fingers’ – 1938
Featuring Canon Meyrick, his wife
& Stella Sneyd,

In 1948 a new group was formed as more people in the area wanted to learn about “drama”. On the first evening of the Woolstore Country Theatre Club seventy people enrolled including some from the Codford Amateurs. The two groups existed side by side until 1964 when the Theatre Club bought the Woolstore from the chairman of the Codford Amateurs. It was felt that there should only be one group in the village and the Codford Amateurs were disbanded. Fund raising began in earnest and improvements to the theatre were carried through rapidly. By the 1970s television had become much more popular and the enthusiasm for the theatre waned. Also, the theatre became a Grade 2 Listed Building and health and safety rules became far more strict. The theatre continued improving under the guidance of its committed members and attempts to remain true to its stated aims – “that the Woolstore is for the advancement of the amateur theatre to show all that is best in Drama in Wessex”.

A separate organisation, the Woolstore Country Theatre Club, was established by Lionel Crawhall, Wiltshire County Drama Adviser, who lived in Codford, for people interested in learning about all aspects of theatre. The Amateurs and the Theatre Club merged in 1964 after the theatre had been purchased by the Amateurs’ chairman, Harry Cole, and later sold for £400 to four benefactors on behalf of the Theatre Club. The theatre had many influential supporters during the 1950s and 1960s, and offered an imaginative programme of plays and events. By the 1970s, however, enthusiasm had dampened and there were problems with maintaining the building. Its resurgence began in the 1980s when an ambitious series of improvements to the theatre – electric heating, piped water, repairs and redecoration – commenced, and this has continued in a spirit of great enthusiasm with a redesigned foyer and auditorium. In 2000 Karen Johnstone published a short history of the theatre, from which most of these details have been taken. Col Sneyd’s folly, which started it all, is alluded to in the history but is best followed through reports in The Times, via the online Times digital archive.

With thanks to Karen Johnstone

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