History of the RaTS
The origins of the Rainham Theatrical Society (RaTS) were in the Rainham, Kent branch of Toc-H (see footnote). Calling themselves The Toc-H Players, they performed their first play, 'Husbands Are A Problem', in 1946 followed, in 1947, by 'Quiet Weekend'.
By this time several new members had joined the group who were not Toc-H members, so it was decided to find a new name and the Rainham Amateur Theatrical Society was born. The first production under this new name was "Great Day" by Leslie Storm. It was performed in the Co-operative Hall, Rainham on 1st and 3rd December 1948.
They used to meet in the Toc-H rooms over the bakery that used to be just past the bottom of Church Path. When that closed, they rehearsed in an old barn at Upchurch, a few miles away. This often resulted in a long walk home since, at that time, there was only one bus per hour and it rarely coincided with the end of rehearsals. Scenery was also made and stored in the barn. Wallpaper was unobtainable so they made their own, each member being given a stencil to use.
Plays were performed in a variety of venues in the area including St Margaret's Church Hall, Rainham. Proceeds from plays, after deduction of expenses, were donated to charities - the Rainham Darby and Joan club No. 1 (long since closed) was established as a result of donations.
As a group of actors, however, the dream was to have their own theatre. There was an old forge in Upchurch which members cleaned up and built a stage at one end. They rehearsed there but never put on any productions for the public because it was so out of the way that it would not have been viable. Eventually the barn and forge were demolished and an estate was built on the site.
As the years passed, the original members went their own ways but new members joined the society and it continued putting on plays in different venues. Then, in 1961, one of the original members, May Hopkins, saw an advertisement in a local paper that part of an oasthouse complex was for sale in Rainham - suggested use, "storage space".
The society formed itself into a limited company and obtained a mortgage to purchase the building that was to become their home. Many long hours were spent converting the building and, on 8th November 1963, the Oasthouse Theatre was officially opened by Irene Weller. The first production was "Billy Liar" - the dream had become reality.
Since then many improvements have been made for the benefit of our patrons. In addition to the Licensed Bar, Tea Bar, and Clubroom, the Society has installed air-conditioning, an induction loop for the hard of hearing, and a stair-lift to the first-floor auditorium. 1999 saw the Society refurbish the seats in the auditorium and several projects have been undertaken each year. 1999 also saw the removal of the word 'Amateur' from the Society's name with the intention of averting the public's subconscious interpretation of amateur as sub-standard.
After all, we have a duty to that dedicated band of members who converted the working oasthouse into the first Oasthouse theatre in the world, the intimate and charming Theatre that we have today. We must ensure that their dream remains a reality well into the 21st century.
Toc-H is the army signaller's name for the initials TH.
In 1915, Talbot House was founded by the Reverend P. T. B. Clayton as a club and church in Poperinghe, Belgium for the benefit of soldiers in the Ypres conflict. Talbot House was named after a fallen officer, Gilbert Talbot, son of the Bishop of Winchester. Soon it was universally known as Toc-H and after the war, in 1922, the Toc-H Association was formed by Royal Charter and a fellowship of young men pledged to help one another created.