The town of Axbridge had staged at least three large scale pageants in the Square celebrating its history when the year 2000 approached. Mayor Edith Channon was keen to keep the tradition of the large scale drama alive and approached John Bailey to take on the role of artistic director for the production.
In the late 1960s the former railway line (better known as the Strawberry Line) that ran along the northern edge of the town had been converted into a bypass thus ending years of traffic jams in Axbridge. The result was a much quieter town centre with the Square relieved of congestion and long queues of cars and lorries backing up the High Street and along St Mary Street. To celebrate a group of drama enthusiasts put together the first Axbridge Pageant using the Square as its stage. A procession of Ancient Britons, Romans, Saxons, Normans, Tudors and Victorians acted out scenes from the town’s history in front of an enthusiastic audience. The event was a huge success and led to further productions in 1970, 1980 and 1990.
With only months to go before 2000 the town needed fresh blood. The previous director Anne Griffith had stepped down and planned to move from the town leaving a creative void. Step forward John Bailey, a qualified drama teacher and perhaps just as important, someone who would not be at work during the month of August due to the school holidays.
In 1996 I had moved to the town with my family from Bristol and enthusiastically joined in with the town’s social life organising a pantomime in two successive years and taking an interest in the plans for the pageant. My contribution was to write a short promotional play called the House on the Square which would be performed one evening at the Town Hall in order to enthuse the residents with the forthcoming pageant. More importantly it was to highlight the need for volunteers and actors to take part.
Based on an idea that there had been homes located on the Square since Saxon times the story featured a young couple planning to set up home in the town. Each scene moved them on in time beginning with a wattle and daub home and a thatched roof all the way up to the dubious activity of gazumping and buying homes through the offices of estate agents. Jeff Hill and Jackie Turner played the young couple with a cast largely made up from the previous actors from the recent pantomimes. The play was directed by Caroline Johnson and co-directed by John Bailey. It goes without saying the play went very well with a new generation coming forward to support the pageant a few months later. As the curtain went up on the evening it is fair to say that the seed of Axbridge Community Theatre had been sown.