Johnson Hall / Octagon Theatre

Johnson Hall

Yeovil's multi-purpose civic hall, now the Octagon Theatre

 

In 1948 a fund for Yeovil's civic hall was started and in 1950 W Stanley Johnson, a freeman of the Borough of Yeovil, donated £40,000 (just under £4.5 million at 2017's value) to the fund on condition that it should be called 'Johnson Hall'.

Johnson Hall was designed by Richard Hare of Salisbury in 1961 but building didn't finally start until 1972 and the Johnson Hall opened in July 1974 as a multi-purpose civic hall at a cost of £150,000 (around £2.75 million at 2017's value - that's deflation for you!).

The hall had a 560-seat auditorium with tiered retractable seating which could be fully retracted for rock and pop concerts in what was called a 900-capacity 'Promenade' style layout. It could also accommodate 450 people in a 'dance layout' - tables and chairs around a central dance floor. I also remember attending a few wrestling matches in the late 1970s when a full-size wrestling ring was constructed in front of the seating.

During the late 1970s the stage was redesigned and fitted with a 'floating' floor finish (I know, I redesigned it and supervised its construction).

In 1984 a competition was held in the local press to find a new name for Johnson Hall (I expect Mr W Stanley Johnson turned in his grave) and in 1985 the hall was re-named as the Octagon Theatre, which it remains today.

In 1988 the retractable seating was replaced by permanent tiered seating thereby ending its multi-use role and converting it to a sole-use theatre. In 2003 the theatre was refurbished, the auditorium was re-seated and a rehearsal studio was created and in 2013 a new bar was built. 

 

gallery

 

A brief article from the 16 February 1950 edition of the Western Daily Press announcing the donation of £40,000 (just under £4.5 million at 2017's value) towards the new hall.

 

A report from the 14 March 1974 edition of 'The Stage' heralding the forthcoming opening of Johnson Hall in July 1974.

 


Courtesy of Butch Bishop

Johnson Hall, today's Octagon Theatre, opened in 1974. Photographed in the late 1970s.

 

.... and seen from the grass bank by the car park around the same time.

 

An advertisement in the 24 April 1975 edition of 'The Stage'.

 

A ticket to a performance at Johnson Hall in 1975. Argent were an English rock band founded in 1969 by keyboardist Rod Argent, formerly of The Zombies. They were best known for their songs "Hold Your Head Up" and "God Gave Rock and Roll to You".

 

An advertisement in the 6 May 1976 edition of 'The Stage' listing forthcoming performances.

 

A ticket to a performance at Johnson Hall in 1976. The Kursaal Flyers were a British pop band, formed in Southend-on-Sea in 1973. They are most famous for their 1976 single "Little Does She Know".

 

Johnson Hall, photographed in 1978.

 

From the programme of the Yeovil Amateur Operatic Society's first production at the Johnson Hall in February 1975.

 


Courtesy of Jack Sweet

A photograph showing the retractable seating of the Johnson Hall. This photograph was taken at the first annual public meeting of South Somerset District Council on 25 May 1988.

 

Seating of the new fixed seating of the Octagon Theatre. Photographed in 1993.

 

The Octagon Theatre's seating seen from the stage.

 

The front of the Octagon Theatre today.