THEATRE Royal Winchester held an event on November 1 to celebrate four decades of being a performance venue.

‘Life Begins at 40’ was an informal gathering of the local community connected to the history of the venue, as well as stakeholders and theatre supporters, to celebrate the past 40 years, allowing old friends and colleagues to be re-united..

The evening welcomed 150 guests to watch performance excerpts, including one from the Winchester Amateur Operatic Society, and a presentation from chief executive Deryck Newland, which looked at the future of the theatre.

Exhibition boards, including articles from archived newspapers, including the Hampshire Chronicle, demonstrating the history of the building, were put up around the venue for the event.

It also featured conversation-style interviews with Phil Yates, David Harding, Richard Steel and Lady Bland (pictured top left), who were key figures in saving the building from demolition and buying it in trust for the community.

The theatre building was originally built as the Market Hotel for the farming community who went to the cattle market in Winchester, sited in the car park around the present Discovery Centre but then the Corn Exchange.

The hotel was converted into a theatre-cum-music hall which opened in 1914.

Odeon then turned it into a cinema, which was taken over by The Star Group.

The Star Group closed the theatre in 1974 and applied for a demolition order with a view to developing it as a supermarket.

A group of theatre enthusiasts then formed an action group to save the building and open it as a live performance venue.

The building was reopened as the Theatre Royal on November 1 1978.

Since then, many memorable performances have taken place at the theatre.

It closed in the late 1990s for several years before securing National Lottery funding and reopening in 2001 having incorporated the two shops next door.