There has always been a Watermill in Bagnor, its existence was first recorded in the Doomsday Book. It has served as a Corn Mill, Paper Mill and Fuller Mill. The original wheel can still be seen in our foyer, but it unfortunately no longer turns. The waterwheel still retains many of its original features, as well as the waterwheel, you may spot some of the original wooden beams and corn chutes.
In the early 1960’s the mill was brought by David Gollins, with the support of his mother Judy Gollins. Originally intended to become a cathedral – David changed his mind and turned it into the beautiful intimate theatre you see today. David built the theatre himself with help from friends in the village, but the seats did come from Winchester Cathedral.
The Watermill’s first professional season opened in 1967, with local actors performing two plays in the summer.
The Watermill Theatre has been blessed with a talented history of Artistic Directors, David Gilmore (1976 – 1978), Jill Fraser (1981 – 2006), Hedda Beeby (2007 – 2015), whose contribution to the Theatre was recognised in the UK Theatre Awards where she was voted Theatre Manager of the year in 2014. The theatre’s current Artistic Director / Chief Executive is Paul Hart. Hart first came across The Watermill while studying as a student. He soon found a way to persuade Edward Hall to work for him by opening Propeller shows at the Watermill. From there, the then Artistic and Executive Director Hedda Beeby invited Paul to direct, Paul directed four shows freelance before taking over as Artistic Director.
One of The Watermill’s legacies is The Propeller Company. The all-male Shakespeare company Propeller started life at The Watermill under the direction of Edward Hall with the support of artistic director Jill Fraser in the mid 1990s. The first Propeller show was Henry V, and was performed in The Watermill Gardens – and on the roof! Propeller productions toured both the UK and abroad, including Australia, Bangladesh, Barbados, the USA and more. Members of Propeller included: Dugald Bruce Lockhart, Bob Barrett, Richard Dempsey, Sam Swainsbury and Richard Clothier. Propeller won several awards, including winner of the 1999 Barclays Theatre Award for Best Director (1999), Best Touring Production (2002) Winner of the 2003 TMA Theatres Best Touring Production, Winner of 2004 Jeff Award for Best Director and Winner of 2007 OBIE Award.
The Save The Watermill appeal
In June 2005, the Save The Watermill appeal was launched to enable the board of trustees to buy the theatre from Jill Fraser & James Sargant and carry out improvements, repairs and development of the buildings.
The theatre was put up for sale by the Sargant family in 2008. A development board was established, chaired by Ralph Bernard, and was successful in raising funds to purchase the building and grounds. In 2008 it was announced that the £3 million fundraising appeal target had been reached. This amazing achievement was thanks to a whole host of people and organisations. Over 4,000 individuals, trusts, foundations, and businesses gave money to the appeal, which was also supported by David Suchet, Dame Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Timothy West CBE, Prunella Scales, Cleo Laine, John Dankworth and David Soul.