We use cookies on this website to improve how it works and how it’s used. For more information on our cookie policy please read our Privacy Policy

Accept & Continue



Joseph Rowntree Theatre History

Founded on chocolate, the Joseph Rowntree Theatre was commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Village Trust for the workers of the Rowntree & Company chocolate factory. Opened in 1935 it is a beautiful Art Deco building, which stands opposite the original factory building.

The aim of the Joseph Rowntree Village Trustees was to build a centre for recreational and educational activities that make for a full and happy life.

The theatre is captioned No. 2 in the old photograph below, on the right of the picture, it was an integral part of the Rowntree community. The theatre is one of only two facilities that are still used for their original purpose, the other being the swimming pool.

Image of the factory site with the Joseph Rowntree Theatre


The theatre was designed by Barry Parker and Peter Rowntree (son of Seebohm Rowntree) worked with the architects to ensure the theatre was as well equipped as leading theatres of the time.

The workers were encouraged to use the theatre for their entertainment, whether watching or actually taking part. The Rowntree Players amateur theatre group, which was formed in 1912, made the theatre its home and is still going strong today; performing productions on the very stage where the original chocolate workers once trod the boards.

The first play staged, “Ambrose Applejohn’s Adventure”, 27 - 30 November 1935

Photo of Ambrose Applejohns Adventures from 1935

The Rowntree family built the theatre to be in the very heart of the community, as a place of affordable entertainment. That tradition continues to this day, it is a much loved and valued theatre for everyone to enjoy.

The theatre operated from 1935 with the support of members of staff employed in the factory.  Early records indicate the person in charge of the theatre was G Proctor who was assisted by J Bendle.

In 2001 a charitable company was formed and the Joseph Rowntree Theatre Limited was incorporated in March 2003, when it gained registered charity status.   With support from Nestle UK and its employees, the board of theatre trustees implemented a series of improvements to enable its continued operation and ensure the theatre’s survival as a community asset.

2003 - Auditorium refurbishment.

2004 - Stage lighting rewiring.

2005 - Sound System replacement.

2006 - Major redecoration.

2008 - Heating system replacement.

2009 & 2010 - Technical Equipment replacement.

2011 - Upgrade of stage lighting control.

The trustees have continued to seek to improve the Joseph Rowntree Theatre for the audience, performers and hiring companies and a further series of changes have been made. 

2016 - Launched an in-house box office facility.

2016 – The York Community Choir Festival launched.

2017 - the board of trustees of the Joseph Rowntree Theatre Ltd bought the premises of the Joseph Rowntree Theatre from York St John University, the then owners.

2018 - Launched own performing company - The Joseph Rowntree Theatre Company.

2018 - Removal of a significant amount of asbestos during the redecoration of the auditorium.

2019 - Upgrade of stage flying system & new curtains.

2021 - Purchase of LED stage lighting.

2023 - Roof replacement and repairs, including installation of roof insulation and twenty solar panels on the fly tower.  Auditorium lighting upgraded to LED.


Find out more about the Joseph Rowntree Theatre