The following article appeared in the Advent 1995 Edition of St. Jude's Journal. It was written by Joan Culshaw, wife of Tom Culshaw. Sadly, the couple, who were both prominent members of our Parish Family, are now deceased. (See St. Jude's Archive: "Parish Stalwarts")




Joan Culshaw revives some of the pleasures and successes of being part of St. Joseph's Operatic Society . . .


It was over seventy years ago, in 1925, that St. Joseph's Operatic Society was started. From that time, until 1938, some very popular musical shows were produced each year. With the wealth of musical talent in the Wigan area at that time, many fine 'voices' were eager to take part, and it goes without saying that people with other theatre talents were also attracted.


Each production was a masterpiece of co-operation of all the groups involved, from the producer, the performers, costume-makers, scene-shifters, instrumentalists and painters to the stage-cleaners and ticket-sellers. Each one filled a very important role and was valuable in his or her own right.


Sadly, the onset of World War II in 1939 put paid to all such gatherings and it took some time after the hostilities for people to settle into a more peaceful existence. So, it was not until 1950 that the subject of re-forming the Society was raised. When Margaret Cox and Frank Regan approached the Parish Priest, Father Shee, about the matter, he agreed on condition that the Society had a chaplain. The person he suggested for that role was Father Cronin, who willingly accepted, and so began a happy and successful association.


Once begun, as more people in the town heard about it, the Society grew. Meetings were held each week in the school and it was around this time that my sister and I became members. A committee was formed and preparation for the first show, which was to be "Our Miss Gibbs", was set in motion. St. Joseph's Operatic Society was back on the road again!


Rehearsals took place every Tuesday evening from 7.45 pm to 9.45 pm in St. Joseph's Hall, but as the opening date drew near, more and more time was taken up with off-stage preparations.


1955 - The Cast of "Quaker Girl" (Lead players - Mary Allard and Eddie Everett)


Under the eye of Wardrobe Mistress, Miss M. Hough, the sewers would continue the work of costume-making in their own home, whilst T. Finney and M. Lynskey, who were in charge of the scenery at the time, spent many hours constructing and painting sets. Everything was planned to perfection and everyone pulled their weight, aiming for the very best that they could do.


Local professional people also donated their services: Norah Webster, who had a fashionable town-centre salon, was the hair stylist to the Society, and Miss Peet, whose skills as a dancing teacher were in great demand, coached us in our dance routines. With our Musical Director, Mr. Johnson, and our Producer, Albert Mullins, together with much practice, we grew in confidence on stage. However, another very basic thing had to be done before the show could go on - that was to clean the hall and stage until they sparkled! We all buckled to and managed to do that as well, and had a lot of fun in the process.


At last, on Monday 1st October. 1951, "Our Miss Gibbs" opened in the presence of the Mayor and Mayoress of Wigan, Councillor and Mrs. J. T. Lynch. Marie Worthington and Gerard Baldwin were in the leading roles and it was a great success. For the six nights of its run, it was a sell out!


In the following year two more shows were put on: "Runaway Girl", in April, with Helen Moore and Frank Regan, and later came "Marriage Market" with Helen Miller and Matthew Dunne. Both productions were, again, very successful.


In 1953 I think we excelled ourselves with "The Vagabond King", which will always be my favourite. Joe Cunningham, Father Chris Cunningham's father, took a leading role on this occasion, along with Margaret Cox and Eileen Dunne.


We all literally threw ourselves into the rehearsals with many of the girls making their own costumes as well as performing. Norah Ashurst was always there to help us out with any problems in that area, and we took everything in our stride. The show, produced  by Joe Lee with Musical Director, J. Robinson, was wonderful! The chorus was excellent - we raised the roof - and every seat was taken every single night!


As time went by and our success continued, the Society became bigger and better. The quality and standard of the varied repertoire always drew large audiences, but that was not all! Such was the skill and expertise of the people involved that at one stage I had to ask myself: "Are we really amateurs?"


In 1954, with Mary Varley and Harry Belcher in "Rose Marie" as our musical, we also put on a straight play, "Death Takes a Holiday".


By 1957 the Society was acknowledged as a top class amateur group. That was the year that we staged "The Student Prince", and Mr. Robinson, our Musical Director, conducted a thirteen-piece orchestra. A comparative new-comer, Dennis Boardman, and Mary Varley, played the leading roles, supported by an excellent cast.


This show brought a change of venue for us. With the large numbers of people involved and the amount of sophisticated equipment we were now using, it was decided to use the larger hall at St. Thomas More Secondary School in the future. So, in 1958, when Juanita Griffiths, who had been responsible for many of our past shows, produced "The Countess Maritza", our audience, too, was larger.

It was during that same year that our Parish Priest and Society President, Father Shee, died. Throughout his 34 years at St. Joseph's, he had taken an active interest in the Society, and we were all deeply saddened by his loss.
When Father Heffernan became Father Shee's worthy successor, he also became our President, but, unfortunately, in 1959, the Society was disbanded, so "The Countess Maritza" proved to be our final show.
St. Joseph's Operatic Society created many friendships and fulfilled a lot of dreams. For some, the experience sparked off a deeper interest in music or the stage, which led to greater achievements in those fields. Others acquired the skills and confidence to venture into different areas. We all worked so hard and willingly as a team for the success of the shows, that we gained strength from each other.
It was a truly co-operative effort but, in my mind, the person who inspired us all is Father Cronin, who was our Chaplain and the Chairman of our committees. He knew about everything that went on and played a very active role in keeping us all on our toes. He never missed one rehearsal, but if we did, he always knew, and we had to have a good excuse. He loved the Society and all the shows and he still keeps in touch with members today.
If you are reading this, Father Cronin, I do hope you are feeling better. We will never forget you.







Cast in order of appearance


* *
JULIE                                            Maureen Reevey   M.Blinston B. Aspinall
MONSIEUR BEAUNOIR                         Tom Pope   M. Chambers E. Ball
CAPTAIN GEORGES DUVAL            Jack Baldwin   G. Darwin C. Cox
VICOMTE RIBAUD                        Anthony Allard   J. Doherty R. Dowd
FOUCHET                                            W. Morgan   E. Everett E. Gibbons
ROBERT                                          Harry Belcher   P. Holland D. Harrison
ALEXANDER                                        Joe Molloy   T. Horrocks A. Hayes
BESAC                                            Stanley Barton   J. Hough T. Haggerty
JACQUES                                       Brian Halliwell   J. Hilton A. Halliwell
MARIANNE                                         Mary Varley   J. Hyland M. Joynt
PHILLIPE                                         D. Boardman   B. Halliwell M. Kennedy
DOORMAN OF TAVERN                        J. Hyland   J. Pey R. Lester
A FLOWER GIRL                               Agnes Hayes   W. Rogers J. Matthews
CLOTHILDE LOMBASTE                  Eileen Dunn   T. Varley K. Sheridan
CAPTAIN DE JEAN                             T. Horrocks   B. Gannon Mgt. Unsworth
EMILE                                                    J. Hough   * Mary Unsworth
    Scenery: K. Gormally
ORCHESTRA   Mr. J. Harrison assisted by *
Conductor : MR. J. ROBINSON (Musical Director)   J. Sharples & A. Tennant Wardrobe Mistresses:
        * Mrs. Kane & Mrs. Ashurst

1st Violin-


Hon. Pianist-

  Joiner: assisted by Miss Gormally
Mr. H Taberner Mr. E. Friar G. Halliwell   F. Ball *
Mrs. K Thomas



  * Scenic Artists:

2nd Violin-

Mr. F, Livesey Mr. E. Latham   Electrician: Mrs. & Miss Skilling

Mr. A Unsworth



  Mr. Finney and Mrs. Alstead


Mr. E. Robinson Mr. F. Livesey      

Mr. B Taberner


  Mr. H. Gregory        
C. Cox, E. Ball, M. Joynt,      
M. Kennedy, J. Matthews, K. Gormally      
Unfortunately, in November 1956, Tom Pope had a family bereavement and his role in "New Moon" was taken over by Brian Halliwell, who gave an excellent performance.



St. Joseph's Archive