Theatrical costume charity faces final curtain after 46 years

Theatrical costume charity faces final curtain after 46 years

Alex Graham with the Oxfordshire Drama Wardrobe, which is in considerable debt

Carole Johnson, right, with Alex Graham

Alex Graham wearing the tunic of an Honourable Artillery Company soldier outside the storage hangar

First published in News
Last updated
Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter covering Abingdon and Wantage, South Oxford and Kennington. Call me on 01865 425431

Wanted: a new home for 7,000 costumes, accessories and props, 3,000sq ft or more.

Oxfordshire Drama Wardrobe (ODW) has hired costumes to Oxford colleges, private and public schools and am-dram groups across the county since 1968.

But now the charity will be evicted from its aircraft hangar home in Hanney Road, Steventon, on September 30.

The two women who run it, aged 74 and 88, say they have no idea where they will go.

With the rent currently at £890 per month, ODW has been unable to pay the full amount for several years and says it is in “significant” debt.

The friends have been relying on the goodwill of their landlord, MEPC, and hold no grudge against the property company for wanting to make a profit from the warehouse.

Alex Graham, 88, who has run ODW since 1968, said: “We are in dire, dire need. We don’t know what to do.

“We don’t blame MEPC. They have been as accommodating as they can but we have overstayed our welcome.”

Widowed Mrs Graham said she misunderstood the rental arrangement for the hangar, where they have been since 2006. They were served notice three weeks ago, and were asked to pay the money they owe, which they don’t have, as soon as possible.

Renting costumes for £20 a time, last year ODW took in £6,000 – its best year ever, but still not enough.

Carole Johnson, 74, said: “They have bent over backwards to try to help us, but we’re two rather elderly ladies trying to run it on our own.”

For Mrs Graham, seeing the end of the ODW would also be a crushing emotional blow.

She inherited the collection from her Quaker mentor, costume fanatic Beatrice Saxon Shell, of Henley, in the 1960s.

Mrs Shell began making costumes for one of her own productions, and other drama groups were so impressed they asked to rent them from her. She recruited Mrs Graham, then a teacher of horticulture and botany at what is now Oxford & Cherwell Valley College, as an assistant for the growing business.

Mrs Graham, who lives in Chiselhampton, South Oxfordshire, said with tears in her eyes: “This is sort of her legacy.

“She taught me all about making costumes.

“I owe her an immense amount.”

The collection, previously stored in primary schools in Dorchester-on-Thames and Marston, includes valuable antiques which are not rented.

Mrs Graham prizes an 1870s Victorian silk wedding dress, kept in immaculate condition.

Recent clients of the ODW include Oxford’s Magdalen College and Shrewsbury School in Shropshire. Both rented costumes to take to the Edinburgh Fringe.

Peter Hunt, of Chalgrove, used the wardrobe for the first time last week, renting pirate costumes for his seven-piece vocal harmony group Short Drag Rodger.

The 65-year-old said: “I think it is fantastic, I just walked in and thought ‘wow!’ “It would be a tragic loss to amateur dramatic groups.”

MEPC estate manager Chris Sills said: “Unfortunately they have come into a little bit of financial difficulty and we have a waiting list for that unit.

“They are good occupiers, they have given us no problems. I hope they find a more suitable place.”

  • To get in touch with ODW call Mrs Graham on 01865 891379 or Mrs Johnson on 01491 838200.
  • Do you want alerts delivered straight to your phone via our WhatsApp service? Text NEWS or SPORT or NEWS AND SPORT, depending on which services you want, and your full name to 07767 417704. Save our number into your phone's contacts as Oxford Mail WhatsApp and ensure you have WhatsApp installed.

    Send your Letter to the Editor

    11:20am Monday 28th July 2014

    What do you think? We welcome letters from our readers on a wide variety of subjects and you can send us a letter through the blue headline above.


    Our top stories

    Cyclists warned: Don't be dimwits

    Oxford Mail:

    9:00am Saturday 25th October 2014

    BIKE safety campaigners have warned that cyclists are risking their lives, after an Oxford Mail survey found more than half of them were riding without lights.

    Extra hour tonight! Celebrate with top bands at unique Oxford gig

    Oxford Mail:

    1:40pm Saturday 25th October 2014

    With an extra hour to enjoy - or recover with - tonight is the perfect night to celebrate one of Oxford's biggest nights of music

    FOOTBALL: Rose wants to keep Oxford United climbing

    Oxford Mail:

    9:30am Saturday 25th October 2014

    Danny Rose is targeting a move into mid-table today as Oxford United visit Carlisle United in search of a third win in eight days.

    Shhh... silent film is a reel hit with movie buffs

    Oxford Mail:

    9:30am Saturday 25th October 2014

    FILM buffs were given a taste of how movies used to be watched as they turned out for a silent screening in Witney.

    Update: Oxford University student Isobel Priest is found safe and well

    Oxford Mail:

    8:49am Saturday 25th October 2014

    Police have said the 21-year-old Oxford University student who was reported missing has been found safe and well.

    Runaway emu killed after crash with car

    Oxford Mail: Thames Valley Police logo

    8:40am Saturday 25th October 2014

    AN EMU escaped from a garden in Boar’s Hill and died after being hit by a car, Thames Valley Police said yesterday.

Send us your news, pictures and videos

Most read stories

Local Info

Enter your postcode, town or place name

About cookies

We want you to enjoy your visit to our website. That's why we use cookies to enhance your experience. By staying on our website you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more about the cookies we use.

I agree