As I drove around the park area of Cheltenham today I noticed a road called Rowena Cade Avenue. I wondered how many residents of our lovely town know who she was, so I thought I would blog about her connection with the town and her amazing legacy. As this year is the centenary of the start of WW1 I thought this was appropriate. Rowena spent her formative years living in Cheltenham where her uncle was Head of the Junior school at Cheltenham College. Rowena herself went to Cheltenham Ladies College for a while. Rowena lived with her father James, and her mother, in a house called Ellerslie, which backed onto Pittville Pump Rooms. When the First World War started she was given the heartbreaking job of selecting and breaking in horses to be sent to the front. Readers may have seen the play or film of Michael Morpurgo’s book, War Horse. This perfectly illustrates the horrors those poor horses were sent to.
After the war Rowena’s father had died and the rest of her family had dispersed, so she moved to Cornwall. It was here she developed her talent for designing and making costume, putting on shows, and ultimately developing the unique and iconic Minack Theatre. The theatre was entirely planned and financed in the 1920s and 30s by this inspirational woman, Rowena Cade. The Minack was her passion and she literally worked on it until she died at almost 90 years of age.
We visited the Minack Theatre while we were on holiday in Cornwall. The weather was spectacularly good which made the setting all the more wondrous. The stage is made of stone set against a backdrop of the cliffs and sea. There is a stone balcony, stone pillars, stone boxes and all the terraced seating is tiered into the cliff face and made of stone. Many of the seats have the year carved into them as well as the title of plays performed in that year. The first play to be performed there was The Tempest in 1932. There is a seat with 1939 carved into it and the next one says “Break for the war”! Some of the stone seats have huge cockle shells carved into them.
Around the theatre is a spectacular garden with plants from all around the globe. The plants were chosen by Rowena to withstand the salty winds coming off the sea, as well as the very wet winters and often hot, dry summers.
Minack theatre is open all year round to visitors. If you are lucky and you visit between in spring or summer months you may see a play, concert or opera. You would be advised to take a cushion and have something warm to wear as the seats are solid stone and it can get very cold.
While we were there, the performance was the Marriage of Figaro. This year there is surely something for everyone, including:
Pygmalion, Tosca, Far From the Madding Crowd, The Producers, Oh What A Lovely War, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The full programme can be found on the website http://www.minack.com/
I took lots of photos as the weather was so good. I hope they give you an insight into the wonderful achievements of Rowena Cade.