"Minack Theatre" Top 5 Page for this destination Cornwall Favorite Tip by iandsmith
Cornwall General: 79 reviews and 110 photos
Favorite thing: It's an extraordinary tale of a passionate woman. Rowena Cade was born in August 1893 in Spondon, Derbyshire where her father owned a cotton mill and her ancestors had lived for 300 years. Joseph Wright, famous painter of the industrial revolution, was her great great grandfather.
The second of four children, Rowena represented the fifth generation of her family to live at "The Homestead" where she spent a happy childhood. As a tomboy of seven she remembered climbing from her bedroom window onto the spreading branches of a cedar tree and thence down to the ground.
In January 1902, aged 8, Rowena took the title role in her mother's production of "Alice Through the Looking Glass". There was a cast of eleven local children. The two performances had audiences of 27 and 43 respectively. None of those present could have guessed at the impact Rowena Cade would later make on the English theatre.
It was no surprise that the Cades moved to Cheltenham when Rowena's father retired in 1906. His brother was headmaster of Cheltenham College Junior School and his wife had grown up in the town. James Cade bought "Ellerslie" an imposing town house previously owned by Sir Walter Scott the novelist. But, just as Rowena came of age, the First World War changed all that. She went to work in the re-mount stables on Sir John Gilbey's estate at Elsenham and lived in an old shepherd's caravan. There she selected and broke horses which were shipped out to the front lines in France and Belgium.
With the war over, her husband dead and the family scattered, Rowena's mother sold their home in Cheltenham.
The two women did not settle permanently for some years; then they rented a house at Lamorna. Nearby Rowena discovered the Minack headland and bought it for ?100. There she built a house for herself and her mother using granite from a St. Levan quarry. It was hurriedly extended to make a home for her sister and family returning from Australia.
Fondest memory: Through the twenties entertainment in West Cornwall was invariably self made. Minack House and its garden provided the setting for many such productions. Rowena found that she had a talent for designing and making the costumes needed by her family and friends. And then in 1929 a more ambitious project was organised. Just a mile or so inland "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was to be staged in the open a
Whilst looking for a site to perform "The Tempest" she countenanced the opposite side of the bay. Then, looking into the gully above the Minack Rock she said "I wonder if we could make a stage here?". It took six months for Rowena and two Cornish craftsmen to build a simple stage and some rough seating.
The first performance in 1932 was lit by batteries, car headlights and the feeble power brought down from Minack House. Then, as the moon shone across the bay, the magic that is The Minack Theatre touched its first audience.
Shakespeare's great poetry complemented by live music in this idyllic setting prompted an article in "The Times". Rowena Cade realised that she had started something that just had to continue.
Rowena Cade was already thirty eight when she undertook to provide a stage for "The Tempest". Until that moment the nearest she had come to manual work was sewing and mucking out horses. During that first winter of 1931-32, she laboured as apprentice to her gardener Billy Rawlings and his mate Charles Thomas Angove.
Using the skills of the two men, granite was cut by hand from a pile of tumbled boulders. Stones were inched into place. All this work took place on the slope above a sheer drop into the Atlantic. With the coming of World War II, it seemed as though all the back-breaking work might have been wasted as Rowena looked out over a ravaged Theatre. The Army, Gainsborough's film unit and prisoners of war sent in to clear the coastal defences had reduced it back to what it had been in 1932.
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