Tipton Ladies Group


Stage Costumes and Afternoon Tea at a Devon Fruit Farm

Continuing with our recent theatrical theme we welcomed Dawn Canham to our June meeting who spoke to a packed house about her 35 years in the theatre. Growing up with ration coupons in war torn London, Dawn saw her brothers given an academic education whereas she was steered towards secretarial college, learning Pitman shorthand. Dawn’s first job in London in the mid 50’s was at Durrant’s Hotel in Manchester Square, which is unique being in being privately owned to this day. The Hotel was regularly given promotional free tickets for the latest shows so that the staff could make suitable recommendations to the guests. The proximity to the West End theatres proved to be life changing for Dawn and she remembers seeing one of the early productions of Agatha Christie’s “Mousetrap” starring Tyrone Power. Dawn soon become fascinated with theatre life but eventually left London for Exeter when she married.

Family life took its typical all consuming course for Dawn until 1967 when the Northcott Theatre opened on the university campus. Exeter’s original theatre in the heart of the city, the much loved Theatre Royal, had been demolished five years earlier to make way for an office block. The Northcott became home to the separate Exeter Operatic and Musical Societies and a friend suggested to Dawn that she might like to become involved by helping with the stage costumes. Having been taught sewing as a young girl and with her latent interest in all things theatrical rekindled, Dawn seized the opportunity and worked with the wardrobe mistress as a volunteer until she decided to train, as a mature student, for two years. Having gained her diploma, Dawn returned to work at the Northcott in a professional capacity as well as doing free lance work.

When the Drama department of the university opened, Dawn was approached and asked if she would teach the Stage Costume module of the new Theatre Studies degree course. She jumped at the chance and thus began a 21 year academic career in the department. The 3 year undergraduate course requires each new cohort of students to decide on a particular production and this is then used as a vehicle for teaching all aspects of Theatre Studies until the production is staged in their final year. Dawn clearly loved this work and passed her skills and enthusiasm onto several generations of students. Apparently, the employment rate from such a course is usually very good and a broad education results together with the acquisition of a wide variety of skills.

Dawn then showed us several different costumes that she had made for various productions. We learnt that furnishing fabrics, lined with calico, are used for period dramas as they have more body and move well on stage. Ruffs were worn in Elizabethan times to prevent melting stage makeup, containing arsenic, from running down onto the costumes. For authenticity and to ensure a high quality professional finish, all trimmings are hand sewn. Every button, sequin, piece of braid, button hole and the like represent hours of work behind the scenes.

Answering our questions, Dawn told us that at the end of a production the costumes are sent to specialist dry cleaners in London to be refreshed after many hours under the spotlights. The use of Velcro is generally frowned upon by wardrobe mistresses although one sharp-eyed member did spot a very small piece when we were able to have a closer look at the costumes at the end! Dawn gave us a most memorable insight into a fascinating aspect of theatre life.

On a pleasant afternoon in early July, 21 members went to the Royal Oak Farm at Cotleigh, the other side of Honiton, for a spot of fruit picking and afternoon tea. The fruit was easily accessible as it was grown on raised staging. We were made very welcome by the owners and we all enjoyed our tea and convivial company.

Forthcoming events

Tuesday 12 August – all day

Summer Outing to Arlington Court, North Devon. (National Trust)

Contact Angela or Joyce (01404 815232) for details.

Wednesday 17 September 7.30pm - Small Hall

Meeting – Riding for the Disabled with Helene Hewitt

We are always delighted to welcome more new members to our meetings. If you would like to join us then please do come along to a meeting. (£5 per visit – fully refundable against the annual subscription of £15 if you decide to join.)

Ann Moore (Sec 814392)

                                                       Tipton Ladies Group


Tipton Ladies Group is a friendly ladies group that meets once a month in the small room at the Village Hall. We have an interesting programme of speakers with something of interest for everyone. Our Summer Party is always great fun, and this year we had a 'Red and White Night'. When Christmas time comes around, we spoil ourselves and arrive en mass at a local restaurant for a Christmas Meal.

New members of all ages are always welcome; you don't even have to be a wife! Meetings are normally on the third Wednesday of the month at 7.30pm. Annual subscription is only £12.

 If you are interested in joining please contact:

Treasurer Jackie Williams, Tel:01404 811358, 

email:  williams-robin@btconnect.com

or Chairwoman Ann Holden, Tel:01404 813146, 

email: apeaholden@aol.com