Historical Timeline

Timeline: the 51-year journey from a playhouse on wheels to Theatre by the Lake


  1. 1948
    Idealists with expertise in engineering and drama collaborate in Hinckley, Leicestershire, to create a mobile theatre with 225 seats that will take plays to theatre-starved towns in post-war austerity Britain.
  2. 1952
    Century Theatre, dubbed the Blue Box because of the colour of its donated gloss paint, takes to the road for the first time with a production of Othello. The theatre company works as a collective: each member earns £2 and is provided with his or her own bedsit in a wagon that forms part of a trailer convoy that also includes dressing rooms, scenery stores and dining room, all of them on wheels and towed by ex-military trucks.The Manchester Guardian hails "an audacious venture” that is taking plays to the people and the Times Educational Supplement salutes the "stubbornly courageous conviction” of the enterprise.
  3. 1961
    The Blue Box visits Keswick for the first time.
  4. 1964
    First mention of a permanent building to replace the Blue Box.
  5. 1975
    No longer fit to tour, the Blue Box becomes a permanent resident on the Lakeside car park in Keswick. Various schemes for a new building come and go: one is for a theatre at Keswick’s redundant railway station; another is for a £2.6m new building in Bowness. Passionate supporters of a new theatre for Keswick refuse to give up..
  6. 1991
    Lake District Special Planning Board grants outline planning permission for a theatre on the Lakeside site in Keswick.
  7. 1993
    Cumbria Theatre Trust set up to manage the new theatre project. The Foundation for Sport and the Arts offers a grant for £100,000, the first major financial contribution. Theatre Futures appointed as consultants.
  8. 1994
    Lord Gowrie, then chairman of the Arts Council, drops in to Keswick by helicopter to report that the council will support an application for funds to the new National Lottery; Keswick Town Council contributes £50,000.
  9. 1996
    Lottery application approved; fundraising begins to find the remaining £400,000. The Blue Box goes into retirement at Snibston Discovery Museum in Coalville, Leicestershire, a few miles from where it was built. Designs for the new theatre are submitted to the Lake District Special Planning Board and the National Lottery’s architecture panel.
  10. 1997
    Application to the Lake District Special Planning Board withdrawn in the face of certain rejection. Revised scheme later wins planning approval; second National Lottery application to meet revised cost of £6.5m approved.
  11. 1997
    Summer season staged at Rawnsley Hall in Keswick.
  12. 1998
    Summer season staged at Rawnsley Hall in Keswick.
  13. 1998
    Work begins on the new theatre; Dame Judi Dench celebrates by taking a ride in a JCB digger. After public consultation, the building is officially named Theatre by the Lake. Executive director Patric Gilchrist arrives to join Artistic Director Ian Forrest.
  14. 1999
    Theatre by the Lake opens on 19 August with a performance of Charley’s Aunt by Brandon Thomas.