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Blue plaque unveiled on Operatic House

Ilkley Civic Society’s 22nd Blue Plaque was unveiled on Operatic House on Leeds Road by Andrew Walbank, who managed the property for Ilkley Amateur Operatic Society (IAOS )for many years.

The building was built in 1899 for All Saints Parish Church as the Church Institute, under the Rev.Howard Kempson. The architect was W G Morley of Bradford. The site for the building, opposite the Church School, was donated by Mr Braybrook. The rooms were used for Sunday afternoon classes and church meetings, bazaars, jumble sales and by other local groups.

Rev H Kempson.

During World War One as food became scarcer it became a communal kitchen in June 1917 to serve families and OAPs. It offered economical dishes such as cottage or fish pie for 3d. Fruit tart and custard was 2d, rice pudding and vanilla mould 1d (2d for larger helping). On the first day nearly 100 people came to be fed.

The building was also used by the school for extra class rooms and as a dining room.

By the late 1960 the Church moved its Church Hall to Church House on Church Street and sold this building to Ilkley Amateur Operatic Society. The Society reopened the building as Operatic House on Sept 1 1970.

The Society first formed in 1923 but ceased activities with the Second World War. It re-formed in 1963 and its first production was “South Pacific” in March 1964. Alan Titchmarsh was a member of IAOS in the 1960s. For several years show rehearsals were held in a variety of premises around the town, including Hollybrook Guest House owned by Eddie Spiers. He was the Society’s chairman and he gave a generous donation towards the funding of the purchase.

Operatic House was an important step for the Society. It provided somewhere to build and store scenery, a place to maintain its own wardrobe department and a car park. The rehearsal space was very similar in size to the King’s Hall stage, the venue for the Society’s performances.

The hall has been hired by a wide range of local activities, notably for a playgroup and dance classes.

For several years the Society has presented two shows in the King’s Hall. Some shows have offered valuable opportunities for its younger members. The society has won awards from the Wharfedale Festival of Performing Arts. Rehearsals are currently in progress for “The Wedding Singer” (16-19 November) for which booking is already open.

If you have pictures or stories to share about the building, please contact Ilkley Local History Hub –

Written by Ilkley Civic Society Local History Hub and IAOS.


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