Folkestone-Hythe Operatic & Dramatic Society was formed in 1902 as the Folkestone Dramatic & Music Club, making it one of the country’s oldest amateur dramatic societies. Shows were originally put on at the Woodward Institute, with operatic productions staged at the Pleasure Gardens Theatre, a fabulous venue off Bouverie Road West which first opened in 1851.
The Society quickly grew in strength, only closing down for the durations of the First and Second World Wars, and in 1947, Hythe was added to the name of the society. Operatic productions continued at the Pleasure Gardens Theatre, with dramatic productions being staged at the Leas Pavilion Theatre, the Town Hall and the Chichester Hall in Sandgate.
After staging shows in most of Folkestone and Hythe’s performance venues, the Society decided to own its own performance venue for dramatic productions. In 1952, after arranging to rent part of the Queen’s Hotel annexe in Church Street, we established the 57-seater Ham Yard theatre, and an incredible 114 productions were put on during the twelve years the Society was at Ham Yard.
Then, in 1965, the Society decided to lease a former church in Sandgate and this building was turned into The Little Theatre, a delightful 104-seater venue which would become a welcome home for FHODS for the next 40 years.
In 1963, the Pleasure Gardens Theatre had to be closed down due to excessive renovation costs, and was sadly demolished in 1964, so the Society had to find an alternative venue for our large-scale operatic productions. Some were staged at the Town Hall, some at the Odeon Cinema, and some at the Ritz Cinema at Hythe.
When, in 1975, the Society started to present its popular annual pantomime, the Leas Pavilion Theatre was used, but when this was closed in 1985, we moved across the Leas to the Leas Cliff Hall, where we presented pantomimes and other musicals for the next 20 years.
At the turn of the century, the society began to think about owning a venue which could not just host all of our dramatic shows, but all of our musicals and pantomimes. And so, in 2001, FHODS became the proud owner of the Garrison Church at Shorncliffe Camp Barracks, the largest garrison church in the United Kingdom.
We named it the Tower Theatre, and work has been going on since then to adapt the premises into a professional venue. The first FHODS production at the Tower Theatre was Oliver! in 2007, and in 2017 we staged a new version of the classic musical to celebrate our first decade.
FHODS are incredibly proud to be one of the comparatively few amateur societies in the UK to have its own theatre, and to have such a fantastic venue to continue putting on ambitious and challenging shows.