A History of Barrfields Theatre ::: Researched & Written by Ryan Moir

How it all began
Work on Barrfields began in 1925 when local benefactor Robert Barr donated both the site and £1000 to Largs Town Council to develop a popular attraction.

At that time Largs was an expanding tourist resort, and the Barrfields Pavillion was intended to be used as a place for holiday-makers to shelter on wet days, and for residents and visitors alike to enjoy all day entertainment. Barrfields reputation as a venue for dinner dances, exhibitions and social functions grew, and as a dance hall it was known as one of the best dance floors in Ayrshire!

The theatre was originally set in front of a walled rose garden, and additions included an 18 hole putting green, a children’s play park, and a Barrfields Sports Park.  

The pride and joy of Largs  was officially opened on the 11th April 1930.

The opening events included a ‘traditional opening ceremony,‘ performed by Mrs Barr, the wife of Robert,‘ a dinner in the former Hills Hotel (now Inverclyde Sport Centre Main Building) and a free variety show with stars from radio, theatre and gramophone for ratepayers.  In the two performances that evening over 2000 people attended.

The next show to be performed was ‘Bunty Pulls the Strings’ by the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Players on the Saturday and Monday evenings. Soon, followed by the Largs Choral Society’s ‘Rob Roy’ the following weekend.  It was clear that even in the early days local clubs made good use of the Pavilion as they do to this day. 

We’re playing the Barrfields this summer!   1930 – 1960s
The Theatre’s heyday was during the 1930s –50s, in the main due to promoter  Harry Kemp.  He leased the Pavilion during the Summer season, and brought shows featuring music hall stars like George West, Dave Willis, Pat Kirkwood, Jack Radcliffe and the Tiller Girls.

During the war years, Barrfields also contributed to the national war effort, and remarkably the Theatre was adapted as a base for Catalina RAF seaplanes.
Post war, the shows returned, and its fortunes took an upturn under the leadership of the Bowie family.  During the 1960s   Rikki Fulton and Jack Milroy as ‘Francie and Josie’ proved just as popular in Largs as they were at that time on Scottish Television and in larger theatres all over Scotland. ‘People were literally hanging from the rafters’ quoted Rikki Fulton referring to the audience’ laughter on a particular evening performance in the late sixties.

Other popular regulars included Johnny Beattie (referred to in the Largs and Millport Weekly news as the ‘king of comedy’), Andy Stewart, Calum Kennedy, Una McLean, the Alexander Brothers and Clark and Murray. ‘We’re playing the Barrfields this summer!’ was the excited reaction from many performers booked to fill the summer seasons.

But by the late 1960s the popularity of Barrfields variety shows was devasted by the demise in the Scottish seaside holiday, and the power of television.   The popular summer show all but vanished. 

A new era 1970s-1990s 
In 1970 the foundation stone for the Largs Swimming Pool was laid on the site of the former rose garden and swing park. It  was opened in March 1971.

After the departure of the summer show, the Pavilion still entertained through a varied programme of concerts and films.  Largs Players, and Largs Amateur Operatic Society provided plays, pantomimes and concerts, and  touring professional companies gave one night performances, such as the memorable concerts given by stars like Dorothy Paul, ‘the big yin’ Billy Connolly and local boys Gallagher and Lyle.

In 1993 Cunninghame District Council embarked on a major refurbishment of the Barrfields Theatre and swimming pool.   The two buildings were to be joined in a new multi-purpose complex known as Vikingar! and brought it into the 21st century.

A year long entertainment programme of local productions and touring shows continues to bring in audiences today, and as they pass the original Barrfields Pavillion Theatre Box Office in the theatre foyer, it is a lasting reminder of the origins of the theatre and the memories it holds.

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