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Gyles Brandreth salutes The Witham and the fantastic line up of live music, family fun, film, screenings and more this summer!

From June to August 2018 


Friday, 08 June 2018 00:00

Gyles Brandreth salutes The Witham

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“Give The Witham a gong” says Gyles Brandreth, who will be back at one of his favourite venues on 28 July with his new one-man show Break a leg!

I first heard about The Witham from one of my boyhood heroes, the great (if diminutive) ‘Wee’ Georgie Wood. ‘Wee’ Georgie was born in Jarrow in 1894 and at the height of his fame (when he was all of 4ft 9ins tall) he was known throughout the British Isles (and in America, too) as a music hall comedian and entertainer, radio star and film actor, who, even as an adult, appeared as a child – and a cheeky one at that. He went onto the stage at the age of five and went on working until he died, in his 85th year, in 1979. My father got to know him in the 1950s. I met him in the 1960s and found his stories about ‘the good old days’ of British theatre, variety and music hall completely compelling. 

He was prone to exaggeration and from his story of his visit to the Witham Hall you might be forgiven for thinking it was the tale of how ‘Wee’ George Wood won the war. It happened just after the start of the Second World War – on 14th September 1939 – when ‘Wee’ Georgie Wood and his stage partner Dolly Harmer appeared as the star turns in a morale-boosting fund-raising concert in aid of 'Boots and Clothing for Evacuee Children'. ‘Wee’ Georgie remembered because it was the first of many such shows he undertook during the war and more than 500 people crammed into the hall that night. Prepared for the worst, every member of the audience was required to bring their gas mask or they would be refused entry.

‘Wee’ Georgie Wood did a lot of good work over his long lifetime and richly deserved the OBE he received from King George VI in 1946 for his services to entertainment and the war effort. In my view, The Witham deserves a knighthood, if not the Garter, for its services to entertainment and the community over the years.

The Witham Hall has had many guises – from a dispensary of medicines for the poor to the Mechanics’ Institute and Library where everyone could access books. The Music Hall at The Witham has seen Victorian bazaars and shows of every kind, as well as dances in the wars where local children were handed prunes or sweets by soldiers. It was reported in the press that the official opening of the New Hall on 6 December 1860 lasted all day. The shops in the town closed at noon, and between 600 and 800 people were served refreshments. The evening concert was marred by the crush of people and the resulting excessive heat, which affected both performers and audience, but, all in all, it was considered to have been a great success.

The Witham went on to host countless events, among them balls, concerts, theatre and magic lantern shows, for the enjoyment of local people and the increasing numbers of visitors brought to Barnard Castle by road and rail. In 1948, it became Barnard Castle’s first public lending library and continued to provide space for public lectures, meetings, education and welfare. It has been calculated that, based on the Listed Buildings Register for England, 11 Mechanics’ Institutes survive today and continue to function as originally intended for the benefit of the community. Barnard Castle has one of them.

And Barnard Castle is blessed in The Witham. And those of us, like me, who are privileged to follow in the footsteps of the likes of ‘Wee’ Georgie Wood are blessed, too. It’s a privilege to come to Barney and perform in The Witham – a hall with a glorious heritage, a special atmosphere, a lovely audience, and, I hope, a future that’s as packed with variety and surprises as it’s fascinating past been. Give the Witham a gong. It deserves it.

Gyles Brandreth
Twitter: @GylesB1


Thanks to your generosity and that of others, supporters of The Witham have kindly raised just under £8000 with a view to improving our piano and for that we are very grateful. At present, the current instrument in the music hall is worth about the same amount. It is on long-term loan to The Witham and we are very cautious about the wisdom of replacing it just now.

This is because, since the fund was started, the situation at The Witham has changed radically. The overall funding sources on which we rely to operate as an arts centre have become harder and harder to secure. As a result, The Board of Trustees has requested all staff to put their energy into supporting the generation of core funding over the next 12 months. This will be essential to ensure the arts centre itself stays open.

For the time-being, we request that you to bear with us. Audience sizes suggest that we can realistically sustain about 3 piano concerts a year. We are already seeking funding to develop our classical programme and bring great performers. We will also work on increasing the reach of our classical audiences.

To help us to focus on fundraising for The Witham itself,  the Trustees have instructed us to use the existing piano for forthcoming concerts unless a performer specifically asks to hire something different as part of their contract. We will re-visit what to do with the money in the piano fund once we have confidence that the immediate future of the Witham is more secure. Meantime, the money supporters have contributed towards the cost of a better piano has been ring-fenced and will not be used for other purposes.

We will keep you informed of our progress. Our heartfelt thanks once more again for supporting The Witham piano fund.


The Witham arts centre are recruiting a new Executive Director for this community and cultural venue in the heart of Barnard Castle, Teesdale.  Our current Director, Katy Taylor is moving to head up a larger venue.

Ms Taylor’s contribution to the arts sector in County Durham has been significant over the last five years, supporting The Witham through the challenging refurbishment project and then taking the helm in 2014.

During that time, The Witham’s reputation regionally has grown significantly as a go-to arts centre for a wide range of genres, to both enjoy and participant in excellent experiences and a centre for nurturing emerging musicians and artists, pioneering innovative projects and working with the community to engage new audiences in the arts.

As Katy Taylor comments, ‘I want to take this opportunity to thank all The Witham staff, board and volunteers for their hard work and support throughout my time at The Witham - it has been a rollercoaster ride taking this small, vibrant venue from a building site to the popular arts centre it is today.

‘The Witham requires a dynamic Executive Director, with a passion to deliver great experiences, to lead our team of staff and volunteers to the next stage in its development. I’m excited to see who comes to help realise the potential of this venue and take The Witham to the next stage of its development.’

The Witham is seeking an inspirational leader and also a highly adaptable and efficient organisational manager used to dealing with the challenges of a busy venue. The post requires a strong record in managing relationships, financial management and fundraising.

The role profile is available on The Witham website here

The completed application form together with a CV and covering letter should be sent to

Closing date is midday 16th May and interviews will be held in Barnard Castle on 23rd  May 2018.


The Witham are delighted to announce their successful application for a Catalyst Small Grant from Arts Council England. These funds will ignite the campaign to fundraise for Barnard Castle’s vibrant arts centre, ensuring its viability and long-term future.

The Catalyst Small Grants programme supports organisations to build fundraising capacity to enable them to attract more private giving to arts and culture. Having secured the Catalyst grant of £30,000, The Witham will invest this in systems and training to support and develop staff, volunteers and the board to increase sustainability of the arts centre.

With over 12,500 tickets sold and a footfall of over twenty-two thousand in 2017 alone, The Witham has developed a strong reputation for a high quality artistic programme, with networking and partnerships in the sector, fulfilling an important civic role in Barnard Castle. 

As Katy Taylor, The Witham’s CEO states:

‘We are delighted to have been successful in our bid for a Catalyst grant and thank Arts Council England for their support.
This funding will enable us to build on this reputation and to raise the funds required to continue to provide both visitors and our local community access to the arts centre into the future.

Over the coming months, we will be calling on individuals, groups and organisations to support The Witham with donations, sponsorship and patronage – we know The Witham attracts people to Barnard Castle, whilst providing enriching experiences for our local community as well. We are now at the stage where we can think more strategically in terms of long-term funding, to ensure that Barnard Castle has a vibrant arts centre for many years to come.’

The Witham board of Trustees are working closely with the staff team to reduce the arts centre’s financial risk and enable The Witham to become increasingly resilient.

Jane Tarr, Director North, Arts Council England said ‘The Witham’s artistic programme has been attracting visitors and local audiences for some years now. Our Catalyst funding will enable the Witham to develop its fundraising activity and encourage local private giving support to help the organisation plan for the future and to continue bringing people to Barnard Castle.’

The Witham is a registered charity dedicated to enabling cultural, community and commercial events and activities to take place in Barnard Castle for the benefit of residents and visitors.  

Seeking space for your business? Head to The Witham!

The Witham has a ground floor studio on Hall Street in Barnard Castle, with its own sink and 431 square foot, with a very large shop front style window.

Monthly hire includes electricity, gas, water, broadband, cleaning of common areas, alarm system and maintenance. Toilet facilities are shared between the six studios. Hire of a Witham Studio comes with membership of The Witham’s Creative Professional scheme, which gives you 10% discount in The Witham’s Café, 10% discount from room bookings and invites to Gallery previews.

Within walking distance of Barnard Castle high street, we recommend coming to view this space if you're seeking a base.

With reasonable rates, please contact or call 01833 631107 for a tour, rates and to explore possibilities.

The Witham team invite you to the launch for the exciting new programme of events for spring 2018.

On Thursday 11th January from 18:00 to 19:30, The Witham staff team are presenting the seasonal launch for all the exciting events spring 2018 and everyone is invited!For the first time, Barnard Castle's vibrant arts centre invites you to attend this launch event to learn more about the new programme of events coming up from January to May 2018.

With a wonderful range of live dance, theatre, music, film screenings and discussion events, at Barnard Castle arts centre, the team are grabbing the opportunity to showcase the highlights and give you an indepth understanding of what's coming up.... direct from the people who boked them!

If you would like to attend, please contact Sarah Gent, Marketing Manager at The Witham by emailing  




The Witham are delighted to be part of the Barnard Castle Christmas Festival

A magical five-day Christmas Festival involving cultural venues in picturesque Barnard Castle in County Durham is taking place from 13 - 17 December 2017.

This historic market town - home to The Bowes Museum, The Witham arts centre and a Norman castle - will offer visitors an exciting festive mix of exhibitions, film screenings, performances and music alongside a traditional Christmas market featuring a wide selection of independent retailers as well as winter warming food and drink – the perfect combination in which to relax and soak up the joyful atmosphere.

There is also a pop-up light installation event, #boweslight which is a collection of contemporary installations at Bowes Museum and park as well as at The Witham. Photographed here is Heart of Starts by artist Stephen Newby. The large scale suspended heart has a surface made up of 11,000 mirror tiles to create a mirrored heart that reflects thousands of spots of light in fantastical, swirling and changing patterns to create a stunning, magical lighting effect cast over the surrounding landscape that dances and dapples through trees and plants.

Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without the opportunity to enjoy a classic film, and The Witham sets the seasonal scene beautifully with a screening of the family favourite Miracle on 34th Street on 14th December. Further festive offerings include the comedian Chris Ramsey – Work in Progress 2, whose 15th December performance is a sell out; a warming supper coupled with another sold out performance of A Christmas Carol presented by the acclaimed Castle Players, and Teesdale Christmas Art Fair.

The Christmas Festival launches on Wednesday 13 December with a Traditional Fair in The Bowes Museum grounds, featuring delicious food chalets, time-honoured fairground amusements, rides, side-shows, games and entertaining family activities.

The Bowes Museum’s annual Christmas Market has been extended this year, opening on the afternoon of 15th December and running all day on 16th and 17th December, with over 100 hand-picked stallholders. Live music, seasonal entertainment, prize draws from Smooth Radio and the popular park & ride ‘Santa’ buses ensure this feel-good family event is not to be missed.

Completing the picture will be fantastic musical performances at the TCR Hub on 16th December, featuring local performers and regional talent. While aimed at families, the event will continue late into the night, complemented by seasonal refreshments in the café, the ensure you leave in the festive mood.

To learn more about all the Christmas Festival events, dates and timings visit the Barnard Castle Christmas Festival website

At the Heart Of Stars – Bowes Light


To celebrate the 125th Anniversary of The Bowes Museum, a collection of contemporary installations in the Museum, park and town.





The Witham's spring programme launches this week with an arts-packed five months of activities from January to May 2018, including world-class live music, dance, visual arts and a new Pay What You Decide Scheme to support all in accessing wonderful theatre. 

Take a look through the new programme here.

There is a rich variety of live music in the season ahead, with the folk season including the rich vocal harmonies of Emily Smith and Jamie McClennan (Sat 10 Feb), traditional fiddle music from the Nordic Fiddles Bloc (Sat 10 March) and the return of the award-winning, Dublin-born singer and bouzouki player, Daoiri Farrell (Thursday 10 May), winner of two BBC Folk Awards 2017.

One of the most promising young artists at the International Mozarteum, pianist Chiyan Wong (Wednesday 14 March) will perform Bach’s Goldberg variations, Beethoven’s Six Bagatelles, Busoni’s Sonatina Seconda and Liszt’s Don Juan. An ensemble of players from the Northern Sinfonia bring Brahm’s String Quintet No. 1 in F (Wednesday 11 April). The Witham are welcoming the Reg Vardy Brass Band (Sat 24 March), North of England Brass Band Champions 35 times and ranked in the top 20 of the Worlds’ Brass Bands and also have a valentine’s treat in store with The Glory of Love, the good and the bad, a fundraising concert of favourite popular songs from Musicals and Operetta with Simon and Philippa Dearsley and Penny Randell-Davies.

The live theatre season kicks off with the Castle Player’s Oliver Twist (Saturday 6 January) and the Northern Stage’s vivid and dynamic production of H.G. Well’s iconic novel, War of the Worlds  (Friday 16 February).  Little Mighty theatre company present the dramam, If I Say Jump (Friday 23 March) and Luke Wright presents the deft verse performance of Frankie Vah, (cover image for the programme,  which deals with love, loss and belief against a backdrop of scuzzy indie venues and 80s politics.

For the first time, The Witham has joined the REACH project, a strategic touring project funded by Arts Council England with a number of arts organisations, including the ARC Stockton. It is designed to increase both the quantity and the quality of contemporary theatre in the North East. As part of this, The Witham is trialling ‘Pay What You Decide’ for Testosterone, a high-energy production exploring masculinity presented by Rhum and Clay theatre company (Friday 4th May).

British Mountaineering legend Alan Hinkes OBE will present a film screening of the critically-acclaimed biopic of his life as the first and only British mountaineer to summit all 14 of the world’s highest mountains. He will introduce the film and speak both during and after about his amazing experiences.

The Witham team are delighted to have the professional tap dance performance at Barnard Castle’s vibrant arts centre, Fall Out presented by Old Kent Road (Wednesday 30 May) led by a live musical force with quintessential jazz. Pushing through boundaries of strength and intensity through the bare sounds of music and dance, this is a spectacularly technical performance

Comedy continue to go form strength to strength, thanks to the efforts of the Funny Way To Be Comedy Club. Highlights include the return of Lucy Porter with Choose Your Battles (Friday 6 April), Phill Jupitus’ Juplicity (Saturday 21 April) and Richard Herring’s show, Oh Frig, I’m 50! (Saturday 19 May).


The Family programme includes four wonderful live theatre experiences with enchanting music and puppetry in A Heart at Sea presented by Half a String (Friday 6 April) and the space race drama for 3 – 7 year olds, Tin Foil Astronaut (Friday 14 April). There is the internationally-acclaimed dance production, Chalk About presented by Curious Seed (Friday 11 May) for 8 – 14 years and a wonderful production of  the much-loved classic children’s book, The Giant Jam Sandwich presented by New Perspectives (Thursday 31 May).


The Witham are working with Suitcase Studio’s artist, Gemma McColl to deliver some fantastically creative and fun workshops for families to really get the imaginations flowing including the engineering challenge, Hengineers (Wednesday 14 February) and the Puppet Imaginaruim (Wednesday 4 April)!


Live Screenings continue to bring the world’s finest live performances to the screen at The Witham from the Royal Opera House including Tosca (Wednesday 7 February), Carmen (Tuesday 6 March) and Macbeth (Wednesday 4 April), and Ballets’ The Winters’ Tale (Wednesday 28 February) and Manon (Thursday 3 May). The Royal Shakespeare Company present Twelfth night (Wednesday 14 February) and Macbeth (Wednesday 9 May), and National Theatre Live performances include Tennessee William’s classic Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Thursday 22 February), and Julius Caesar (Thursday 22 March).  


Tap into Film Thursdays at The Witham where you can see the latest releases for only £5 a ticket from 7.30pm for Dunkirk (Thursday 25 January), God’s Own Country (Thursday 8 February), Loving Vincent (Thyursday 15 March), Victoria and Abdul (Thursday 26 April).


The Visual Arts season builds on the growing success of the second Teesdale Christmas Art Fair with four exciting and engaging fine art exhibitions, with Barnard Castle Art Society: A Year of Art (12 Jan – 10 Feb), Latest Edition (15 Feb to 17 March) featuring six regional artists as part of the Navigator North project. The exhibition Northern Shores (22 March to Sat 21 April) will be curiated from artists who apply to represent their works inspired by our wonderful coastline. TeesdaleArtNet are showcasing their stunning works in spring (26 April – 26 May).


The Witham have four brilliant arts workshops, the perfect Christmas gift for the arts and crafts people in your life. These include winter landscapes: Acrylic painting with local artist Anne Mason (Saturday 27 January), Patterns in Nature Relief: Print workshop with Karen Babayan, formerly Cumbrian Artist of the year (Saturday 3 March), Leather tooling workshop with Mark Rowney (Saturday 24 March) and Felt Art with Debria Esterhuizen (Saturday 12 May).


The Witham is open from 10am to 4pm Tuesday to Saturday and tickets are available from the Box Office or over the phone on 018733 631107. The Witham will be closed for Christmas from the end of Wednesday 20th December until the doors re-open on Friday 5th January 2018, apart from the New Year’s Eve Bash on 31st December.



WE ARE THE LIONS, MR MANAGER! By Neil Gore, will premiere at The Witham on 29th November.

On the 20th August 1976 a group of workers in a film processing factory in Willesden walked out in protest at their unfair working conditions, low pay and the 'bullying tactics' used by management.

Led by mostly East African Asian women, the Grunwick strike became one of the longest and most important industrial disputes in British history, and changed the way trade unions thought about race and new immigrant communities coming to Britain in the 1970s.

The women became known as the “strikers in saris” and their fight for fair treatment was supported by thousands of trade unionists and campaigners, as more than 20,000 people joined them at the picket lines on one of the mass pickets.

But the story of the Grunwick dispute is not just a story about ground-breaking solidarity. It is also the story of a remarkable woman, Jayaben Desai.

The four foot ten inches tall, mother-of-two defiantly led the first walk-out in protest against the humiliation she and other women employees felt at the Grunwick factory.
As she left, the manager shouted at Jayaben and her colleagues to “stop chattering like monkeys in a zoo", and Jayaben replied: "What you are running here is not a factory, it is a zoo. But in a zoo there are many types of animals. Some are monkeys who dance on your finger-tips, others are lions who can bite your head off. We are the lions, Mr. Manager!”

Jayaben became the leader of the Grunwick Strike and not only stood up for workers’ rights with selfless dedication, but with her steadfast resolve, she turned the dispute into a national movement for human rights, inspiring future generations and challenging the way people perceived Asian women.

Now, Jayaben's story is being brought to life for the very first time by Townsend Theatre Productions seeking to relive the strikers' inspirational fight for freedom, equality and human dignity.
Written by Neil Gore, the play will tell the story of the Grunwick dispute through a mixture of stirring song, poetry, movement and dance, and the play will utilise Townsend Production's trademark cast of two characters playing multiple roles.
 “In our work we aim to focus on the lives and contributions of inspirational and vital figures from our social history, often forgotten, who campaigned vigorously to improve the quality of life for everyone. Jayaben Desai is one such figure. She tirelessly fought on behalf of immigrant workers against exploitative employment practice; fearlessly faced all the elements of establishment authority; alerted many in the trade union movement to the issues of vulnerability of immigrant workers; and highlighted the fight to maintain basic trade union rights. Her resolve and courage should be remembered and celebrated. Also, Grunwick raised many wide-ranging questions about trade unionism, rights in the workplace and dignity at work, themes that still resonate and are relevant today.”  Neil Gore

We Are The Lions Mr Manager is directed by Louise Townsend & Musical Director John Kirkpatrick and will feature in it’s cast Medhavi Patel and Neil Gore.

We Are Lions, Mr Manager! is supported by Arts Council England and Unite the Union.
Tickets for We Are The Lions Mr Manager are priced at £10 (£8 Concs) and you can buy them here.


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