Horndean Amateur Theatrical Society
Since the early 1950s, Merchistoun Hall has been the home of HATS. It is operated and managed by Horndean Community Association, of which HATS is a Section.
Merchistoun Hall was built in the late 1600s by the Franklin family, who remained it's owners for over 120 years. Originally called Quallet's Grove, it's name was changed in 1836 to Merchistoun Hall, 'Merchistoun' being the Scottish birthplace of the new owner, Admiral Sir Charles Napier. In those days, the building was set in some 83 acres, much of it having since been sold during the twentieth century for development.
In 1940, Merchistoun Hall was requisitioned by the Army as a billet. After the war, it remained unoccupied until being purchased in 1955 by the newly formed Horndean Community Association for the sum of £5000, a sizeable capital that the HCA had to work hard to raise. A great deal of work was required to clean and restore the Hall, but many gave of their free time and on Saturday 31st January 1956, the Horndean Community Centre was officially opened.
Little of this would have been possible without the influence, foresight and determination of Admiral Murray (after whom Murray Road which runs by the side of Merchistoun Hall was named). Admiral Murray had bought Cadlington House (where the first plays of HATS were rehearsed and performed) and is was he who chaired the committee that which established the formation of the Horndean Community Association.
Main hall and stage
Photograph courtesy of HCA
In the Summer of 1997, the Main Hall and stage area received a major overhaul of its facilities following a successful application for National Lottery funding. The stage now benefits from a new lighting rig and control system, much improved audio facilities, and refurbished dressing room and storage facilities. Audience seating was also replaced. This grant was a 'matched grant' which meant that the Horndean Community Association was required to 'match' the sum awarded by the National Lottery. Various fund raising activities by different Sections of the HCA took place to enable this, including a sponsored 24 hour play reading session by members of HATS.
Almost half a century on, Merchistoun Hall can now boast conference facilities, a restaurant and bar, raised stage with apron and curtain, modern lighting and sound equipment, audience seating for over 80 people, car parking and an outside play area. It is used not only by HATS, but a cross section of local residents, both young and old, enjoying a busy diary of home grown activities and services for the community.