The Bottesford Amateur Operatic Society

A brief history

Neil Fortey and Susan Middleton


From 1921 until 1929, Bottesford had an Amateur Operatic Society, which put on an annual performance around Easter. Amateur opera and other musical performances were popular in Edwardian times. Grantham had an operatic society up until the outbreak of the First Word War. The Grantham Journal reported that “Ali Ba-Ba and Forty Black Sheep” was performed in the Theatre Royal by children of the Grantham National Schools in April 1911, then in April 1913 the Grantham Amateur Operatic Society performed “The Mikado” in the Theatre Royal. In 1914, the musical director of the Society, Mr Haydn K. Hardwick, was training the Bottesford Choral Society. After the First World War, the revival of music theatre in the 1920s reached out to many small communities and found expression in Bottesford through the energy and enthusiasm of its operatic society.

The birth of the Bottesford society had had a false start. In 1918, as the war drew to its end, a company was assembled in Bottesford put on a performance of “Sherwood’s Queen”. Key to this was Isaac Henry Bonshor, who was working at Mr G. Donger’s farm in Muston. Isaac, a Muston lad, had trained as a teacher and worked in the East End of London as well as giving evening lectures on vocal music. He and Edith Castle were married in Poplar in 1913. He enlisted in 1917 and served in the Royal Garrison Artillery at the shore battery at Goodmayes, Essex, before being transferred to the Labour Corps which gave him a posting near his family home at “Ladysmith”, Belvoir Road. Tragically, he became a victim of the influenza epidemic and died on December 11th, 1918. A performance of the operetta planned for that month was cancelled.

However, the enthusiasm for singing remained. The company was re-formed and prepared the operetta “Sherwood’s Queen” for performance early in 1921, an evident success. On the 12th March 1921 the Grantham Journal reported:

At a meeting of members to arrange the winding up of the Sherwood’s Queen production it was agreed that an effort be made to form a permanent Amateur Operatic Society, and the following were elected with a view to necessary arrangements being made for the Society to make an early start next autumn:- Chairman Mr T Gent, vice-chairman Mr G Firth, secretary Mr F R Bend, treasurer Mr W Hart, conductor Mr L Abbott, pianist Miss A Miller, stage-manager Mrs Burgoine, prompter Mrs Gent, committee Messrs Hackett, F Miller, G Torry, J Asher, Miss E Ford, Miss E May and Mrs Firth.”

The great majority if the society’s members were from Bottesford and nearby villages, though there was support from Grantham and further afield. The society staged annual performances from 1921 to 1929, which included four of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most popular operas. The first three were performed in the British Legion hut on Albert Street (now the Scouts and Guides hut). Later productions were all in the village school. Now known as the Old School, host to the parish council and the community library, this must have been a inconvenient setting, being a long but rather narrow building, but it was the best they could do. There was no village hall at that time, as lamented by a correspondent to the Journal, January 27th, 1923:

Oh for a Village Hall!    

Sir,—I noticed an advertisement in the “Journal” last week that the Amateur Operatic Society, have decided to present the operetta, ‘Phillida* in the British Legion Hut, owing to being unable to use the School for two consecutive nights. Now, Mr. Editor, I do not for a moment question the decision of the School Manager relative to this matter —this is no business of mine. The point I wish to emphasise is, why have we not a Village Hall, where all such social functions could be held, available at all times for use whenever required. When one comes to look round and see such villages as Long Bennington, Denton, and Barkston-le-Willows have possession of a hall, surely a village the size of Bottesford, boasting a population of approximately twelve hundred, is sadly lacking in this respect. I would like to suggest that some influential gentleman here, preferably the Chairman of the Parish Council, should call a public meeting to discuss the matter. Personally, I have no misgivings that if the question was tackled in a good spirit, with the cooperation of all parties, irrespective of creed or politics, ways and means could be found whereby the necessary capital would be forthcoming. 

Thanking you. 

Yours truly, 


In fact, Bottesford did not finally secure a village hall until 1947, when a ‘temporary’ wooden building, previously used by the Elton Women’s Institute, was transported and erected on the Belvoir Road site. Refurbished and improved over the next 56 years it was finally demolished and the new Victory Commemorative Hall was built and opened in 2003.

1921 to 1924

The performances from 1921 to 1924 were:

1921 “Sherwood’s Queen”

It is proving difficult to find information about this work, though it is clear that there was a vogue in the Victorian era for musical works about Robin Hood and his adventures, as discussed in an article ‘Robin Hood in Music‘ by Philip L. Scowcroft in Musicweb International. There is a record in the Australian Government Archives of the performance of a work by this name in June 1910 at the Dandenong Cricket Club, described at the time in the South Bourke and Mornington Journal. The tale of Robin Hood, Maid Marian and other well known characters was performed to acclaim by a full cast and orchestra. Another record is that of a performance in April, 1924, of the cantata “Sherwood’s Queen” at the Tivoli in Fielding, North Island, New Zealand, as recorded by the National Library of New Zealand. This article gives a neat summary of the plot of the work.

1922 “Pearl the Fisher Maiden”

Again, there are few records of this work, but two articles were found in the Australian Goverment Archives. One was of a performance of “Pearl, the Fish Maiden” in November 1912 described in The Examiner. It was performed by convent school pupils at the Albert Hall (in Brisbane most probably). The second, also from New South Wales, November 1914, in The Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate, Novermber 1914, was again performed by convent school children. There was also a performance at Great Houghton in Yorkshire, recorded by the Mexborough and Swinton Times in April 1939. Needless to say, this should not be confused with George Bizet’s famous opera The Pe atarl Fishers.

1923 “Phillida or Love in the Prairie”

This was the last show to be performed by the Society in the village’s British Legion hut. The conductor was Mr F Whillock, stage-manager Miss Muriel Richardson, the title role of Phillida performed by Miss Doris Whitmore. After the performance a closing speech was made by Mr Arthur Richardson JP. We have few details, but other performances of the operetta include one at Castlethorpe, Buckinghamshire, in 1925 (the article about this performance includes a charming picture of the cast in costume). The performance in 1932 by the Buckley Methodists Tabernacle Young People’s Operetta Society at Buckley, Flintshire, has been recorded by The Buckley Society in an article which provides a summary of the plot and cast.

1924 “The Mikado”

The first opera performed by the society in the Bottesford school rooms, this was the first of two productions of the well-loved Gilbert & Sullivan opera by the society, the second being five years later in 1929.

1925   Iolanthe

“Iolanthe” was performed in the school rooms on the 15-18th April, 1925. The Journal provided a detailed account which makes plain the complexity and success of the undertaking.

Grantham Journal, April 25th 1925:

‘Iolanthe’ at Bottesford, splendid performances by amateurs.

The Amateur Operatic Society for some years, has devoted its energies and abilities to the production of lighter operas, until last season, stimulated by their successes, they embarked upon a more ambitious path, and gave a performance of the renowned Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera, “The Mikado,” and won a considerable reputation. This year the choice fell on “Iolanthe, or “The Peer and the Peri”, probably not one of the most popular, but one of the most difficult of these operas, and no doubt was felt as to the ability of the Society, under the tutelage of its musical director and conductor, Mr F Whillock, giving as fine a rendering of it as the others. Its presentation took place last week in the large School-Room, on Wednesday and the three following evenings, the audiences thoroughly enjoying the many quips and situations with which the opera abounds, and demonstratively appreciating the delightful singing of the familiar airs and choruses.

All concerned did well, revelling alike in Gilbert’s humour and the fancy and brightness of Sullivan’s music. In “lolanthe” there is plenty of opportunity for the display of almost extravagant fun, and those whose lot it was to make it, did not fail.

The personnel of the Society has changed but very little, and was good and vigorous as ever. The production was, to a very great extent, due to the careful coaching of the stage manager, Mr. W. Quaife of Grantham, who has been very enthusiastic throughout the whole of the practice. He was ably assisted by Miss P. Barnes as assistant stage-manager. The arrangements generally were as admirable ever, the various officers of the society working hard to ensure success.

The duties of the hon. secretaries were as last year, most efficiently carried out by Mr. H. Taylor and Mr. W. F. Hart, two members of the company. To Mrs. R. H. Cole, a special tribute of praise is due for her discharge of the duties of hon. accompanist.

Mrs. F. Whillock filled the role of prompter.

The members of Committee were Messrs. W. Home. F. R. Bend, ‘C.’ Higginson, Sutton, H. Tinkler, Mrs. A. Allcorn, Mrs. Jack Taylor, and Miss Iris Taylor.

A number of enthusiastic local gentlemen very kindly acted as hall stewards. The splendid scenery was the artistic work of Mr. F. Whillock, Bottesford, while the dresses, wigs, and make-up were supplied by Messrs. B. J. Simmonds & Co.. London.

The dramatis personae was follows : The Lord Chancellor, Mr. C. B. HIgginsoh; Earl of Montararat, Mr. P. Stratton: Earl Tolloller, Mr Lane; Private Willis, Mr. W. Sutton; Strephon, Mr. F. R. Bend; Queen of the Fairies, Mrs. Jack Taylor; lolanthe, Miss Barnes; Celia, Miss Iris Taylor; Leila, Miss M. Wright; Fleta, Miss I. Ogdon; Phyllis, Miss Doris Whitmore;  Page, Master F. Higginson.

Chorus of Dukes, Earls, Barons, and Fairies:  Mesdames Allcorn, Bend, Phillips, Misses F. Barnes, E. Coy. E. Dunsmore, S. Firth, M. Kennington, E. Ogdon, M. Samuel, F. Standley, M. Taylor, P. Taylor, M, Wilkinson, and Messrs. Dunsmore G. Edwards, W. W. Home, T. Robinson, H. Skinner, G. S. Standley, A. H. Tinkler. E. B. and W. Sutton.

The orchestra consisted of the following: Ist violins, Messrs. E. H. G. H. Batty, G. W. Geeson, Morley, and S. Holmes; 2nd violins, Messrs. W. S. Evans and R. Kensington; viola. Mr. A. Woods; ‘cello, Mr. A. Austin; flute and piccolo, Mr. S. J. Hammond; clarinet, Mr. G. MacMicken; cornets, Messrs. H. Clayton and Bonsor; trombones, Messrs. J. Strang and S J Grant.

Miss Barnes, in title role, was quite successful, both in singing and acting; in fact, her rendering of “My Lord, Suppliant Your Feet” was reallv splendid. Mrs. Jack Taylor, “Queen the Fairies,” was remarkably clever, end her varied part was by no means an easy one. Her by-play, along with her companion fairies, was well expressed throughout, and her rendering, together with a chorus of fairies of “Fare Thee Well, Attractive Stranger” was exceptionally well done. Miss Iris Taylor, Miss M. Wright and Miss I. Ogdon played their respective parts very effectively. As “Phyllis”, Miss Doris Whitmore was an outstanding success. She acted splendidly, whilst her singing was full of refinement and point. She and Strephon sang “None shall Part” and “If we’re weak enough tarry”, both being enthusiastically received. “The Lord Chancellor” was one of the best characters, and Mr. C. B Higginson as “Lord High Everything” certainly looked it. He imported to the role that imposing presence and manner, combined with full resource speech and song, so necessary to its fulfilment. His songs, “Said I myself, said I” and “Love Unrequited Robs me of Rest” were enthusiastically received. Another important character was that of Strephona, Arcadian shepherd and son of Iolanthe, who was played by Mr. F. R. Bend. His varied part was anything but easy, but his interpretation was remarkably clever throughout. His argument with the Lord Chancellor over the laws of Nature was extremely interesting, and his bi-play and the duets in which he took part evoked much applause. Mr. P. Stratton and Mr. Lawson Lane as “Earl Mountararat” and “Earl Tollolier”, two noble Lords, played with due dignity, whilst Mr. Stratton’s rendering of “When Britain Really Ruled the Waves” was particularly good. Mr. Sutton quite looked the part of “Private Willis” and the sentry song, “When all night long chap remains” was excellently rendered. The page boy, Master F. Higginson, suitably played his small part.

A distinctive feature of each of the principals was their remarkably good enunciation, both in song and speech, practically every word being audible all over the room. The chorus work was splendid, the singing being quite up that of previous occasions, and their acting. considering the stage restrictions was all that could be desired. The orchestra! work was really splendid, and there is not the least doubt helped very materially towards the success of the production. The audience on Wednesday was not too good, but the following nights the attendance was satisfactory. Most of the vocal items were encored, some more than once. On Saturday evening, great enthusiasm prevailed, and quite a number of the artistes received bouquets and other gifts.

1926    Pirates of Penzance

“The Pirates of Penzance” was performed on the 8-10th April, 1926. This may in fact have been their second choice, after initially an initial decision to perform The Gondoliers was abandoned.



In the Grantham Journal:


Under the distinguished patronage of His Grace the Duke of Rutland and Her Grace the Duchess of Rutland, will perform the Comic Opera, in Two Acts, “’THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE’ or ‘The Duty’” (W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan), by permission of R. D’Oyly Carte, Esq., in the SCHOOL-ROOMS, BOTTESFORD, on THURSDAY, FRIDAY, And SATURDAY, APRIL 8th, 9th and 10th, 1926, commencing 7.30 p.m. In aid of the Bottesford Sick Room Appliances Fund. 

The photograph of the cast in costume was taken by the Grantham Journal in the yard at the rear of the Bottesford school building.



1927    Trial by Jury

The performance in 1927 is believed to have been “Trial by Jury”, though we have found no mention in the Grantham Journal to confirm it.  What we do have is a copy of a Journal photograph of the cast assembled in costume in the school playground, as they had been for the Pirates of Penzance and would be again to mark The Mikado in the following year. However, we cannot be certain that it was actually performed.



1928      Concerts

This year there was no opera production owing to unavailability of many of the singers and musicians. Instead, there was a successful concert of favourite songs.

Grantham Journal, April 21st 1928

A SUCCESSFUL CONCERT  The inaugural performances of the Bottesford Amateur Operatic Society were in 1921 when the production was ’Sherwood’s Queen’, and in succeeding years we have had “Pearl, the Fisher Maiden,” “Phillida,”, ’‘The Mikado”, “lolanthe” and “The Pirates of Penzance.” However, this year a diversion from operetta had to be made, owing to the removal from Bottesford of the old favourites, whose places it has been found difficult fill, and the members chose two concert performances, which took place in the school-room on Friday and Saturday. The concerts were most successful. Crowded houses greeted the artistes with rounds of applause, and fully appreciated their efforts. Mr. F. Whillock, joint secretary, at the outset made an apology for the orchestra, whose unavoidable absence was a disappointment felt by all. However, the accompaniments were most ably played by Mrs. R. H. Cole. The curtain rose on some twenty-five artistes, all dressed in Pierrot and Pierrette costumes. They are listed as follows:

Messrs. E. Culpin, R. Jackson, E. Lunn, F. Sellers, H. Tinkler, H. Dunsmore, C. Jallands, J. Norris, Q. S. Standley, and F. Whillock. Misses C. Cooper, E. Dunsmore, M. Robinson, I. Taylor, P. Taylor, E. Tinkler, M. Bullimore, H. M. Down, F. Standley, M.Taylor and D. Whitmore, Mrs. B. Briggs L.R.A.M. A.L.C.M., Mrs. Phillips, and Mrs. Jack Taylor. The scenery was specially painted. 

Miss Iris Taylor possesses a very fine stage presence and her voice quite suited The Second Minuet.

A second article in the same issue of the paper set out the concert programme is detail, as follows:-

The Programme opened with the chorus. “Wake! Wake! Wake!” (G. A. Veazie), the combined voices doing great credit to this work, and later in the programme they were heard to good advantage in “The Tickling Chorus” (Martini) and “We Sing a Song of the Sea” (G. A. Veazie). 

Miss Doris Whitmore’s soprano voice gave suitable expression to the two songs, ‘‘Carnival’’ (Molloy) and ‘‘Tell Me, Gipsy” (Maude Craske Day), the latter bringing an encore. 

Mr. G. S Standley very effectively sang ‘If I Might Come to You” (H. Squire), and later brought back to life a chorus of many years ago, “Three hundred and Sixty-five days,” from the musical play ‘‘Theodore & Co.” He was assisted by the chorus, and this was one of the most enjoyable items of the evening.

The Society are indeed fortunate having a member Miss N.E. Moor. L.G.S.M. (Eloc. B). Her contributions, rendered with exceptional ability, were “Foolish Questions” and “Baby Ribbons.” 

Iris Taylor possesses very fine stage presence, and her voice quite suited ”The Second Minuet”, a popular number which is frequently broadcast. In Mrs. Jack Taylor the Society have a clever artiste, and rounds of applause were accorded her two numbers, “Ain’t it Cold?’’ and “The Trained Servant.” 

Two more excellent singers also contributed enjoyable items, Mrs. Beckie Briggs L.R.A.M.. A.L.C.M., sweetly singing “My Dear Soul” (W. Sanderson) and “June” (Roger Quilter), and Miss Elsie Dunsmore, a vocalist of great promise, delightfully interpreted “Love’s Garden of Roses” (Haydn Wood) and ‘The Swallows” (Cowan). 

A very neatly executed dance, “Pas-de-Seul,” was given by Miss Peggie Taylor, who was enthusiastically encored, and Mr. F. Whillock gave “Good Night, Number One” (Murphy) in fine style. He also gave a number of jokes and stories between turns. Two sketches, ‘The Matrimonial Agent.” J B Trenwith and ‘‘Under New Management” by Miss C. A. Jessop were produced by Mrs. Jack Taylor. 

The artistes were well chosen and nothing better could have been wished for. The cast for the first mentioned was: Dick Harrison, Mr. F. Sellers; Obadiah Buncher, Mr. R. Jackson; Dugald Mactavish, Mr. C. Jallands; Selina Smithers, Miss M. Builimore; Mrs. Mudge, Miss E. Dunsmore; Alice Everton, Miss E. Tinkler; Maria, Miss Iris Taylor.

The cast for “Under New Management’ was: Mrs. Watkins, Mrs. Jack Taylor; Watkins, Mr. G. S. Standlev: Miss Dora Dale, Mrs Madge Taylor; Harry Layton, Mr. John Norris; Mrs. Poll, Miss Doris Whitmore; Miss Wagstaff, Mrs. Phillips; Mrs. Lawson, Miss F. Standley; Harriet Maud, Miss Cooper.

Incidental music was provided by Mrs. R. H. Cole, and a selection from Gounod’s opera. “Faust” was played as a duet in conjunction with Mrs. Jennings. The secretarial duties were jointly under-taken by Mr. H. Taylor and Mr. F. Whillock, both of whom devoted much time and energy to their work. The proceeds of the two will be given to the Bottesford Church Bells’ Fund.

Earlier in 1928 there was a concert by a group from Bottesford Primitive Methodist Church called the Institute Players. We have few if any records of the Institute and what premises it occupied, something we would be grateful to receive. The concert, described by the Grantham Journal on the 18th February 1928, evidently enjoyed a repeat performance at Redmile vllage school.

BOTTESFORD – A Successful Entertainment

Under the auspices of the Primitive Methodist Church, the Institute Players again made themselves responsible for an exceptionally good programme, in the Institute, on Tuesday evening. 

The first part took the form of a concert, consisting of part-songs, solos, duets, monologues, and violin solos. In the programme were a part-song, “Little Tommy Went a Fishing,” 

Choir; songs “Know Valley,” sung by Miss Elsie Dunsmore, and ”Little Boy” sung by Miss Sybil Firth; the duet ” May Morning” sung by Miss Dunsmore and Mrs. Alfred Briggs; a monologue “The Old Soldier” performed by Rev. J. E. Laking; part-song “Good-night, Beloved” sung by the choir; song “For You Alone,” Mrs. Briggs; and violin solos by Mr. Batty (Grantham). Miss Dorothv Richardson was the accompanist, and Miss Muriel Richardson was the stage manager.

A humorous sketch, entitled “Women Will Gossip,” occupied the whole of the second half, and caused roars of laughter. The scene of the sketch was the waiting-room of a village railway station. The principal part of James Frettall, the tottering old man who arrived half-an-hour before the train was due to leave, and then misses it because he had forgotten a parcel, was played with skill by the Rev. J. E. Laking. Matilda, his much-abused daughter, was well undertaken by Miss M. Webster. Alfred, whose conversation chiefly concerned the affairs others, was acted by Mr. Alfred Spensley, in his usual good style, while Samuel Smiles, who was most emphatic when stating the obvious, was well played by Henry Dunsmore. 

In the character of the railway porter, Mr. Fred Bend, who has delighted many Bottesford audiences in the principal parts of plays given by the Amateur Operatic Society, worthily maintained his reputation. The parts of the silent women whose quietness intensified the gossipiness of the men, were played by Miss Elsie Dunsmore and Miss Ethel Tinkler. It was arranged to repeat the entire programme at the National School, Redmile, last (Friday) evening. 

1929   The Mikado

The society’s 1925 production of “The Mikado” was revived on the 13th April 1929 in the school rooms, another “sparkling performance” but sadly the last time the society would take the stage. The cast were photographed in costume by the Grantham Journal. In the centre at the front was young Frederick (Freddy) Bend in the part of the sword-bearer – he would later lose his life in 1942 at the Battle of El Alamein.

Programme cover from 1929

Freddy Bend in The Mikado, 1929.




















We have found no mention of any Bottesford Amateur Operatic Society production or performance in this or subsequent years, so it seems that it ceased to function after 1929’s successful production.


A footnote

Frederick Whillock , conductor and leading light of the Bottesford Amateur Operatic Society, died in August 1938, aged 57. Born in Newark in 1881, he was a painter and decorator. His wife Henrietta also came from Newark. Frederick served in the First World War as a private in the infantry (either in the Northamptonshires or in the Durham Light Infantry: we are unsure which). After the war, the Whillock family moved to Bottesford where Fred set up his decorating business.

This page was added on 31/01/2023.

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