The origins of the Winchester Amateur Operatic Society (WAOS), which subsequently became the Winchester Operatic Society (WOS) and then as we are now known - Winchester Musicals and Opera Society (WMOS) are intriguing, as there are several photographs in the archive of the society dated 1902, showing children in costume, possibly performing in Gilbert and Sullivan’s 'Iolanthe', and an early newspaper cutting also suggests that our Society was formed as early as 1901.
But apart from these early documents, there is no further evidence of this earlier version of the Society. However, what is certain, is that the first formal meeting of the Society was called by Mr Whitwam and Mr Elsmere on 22 Nov 1912 (possibly seated in the centre of the photograph above), when our Society was given its first official name and a committee appointed to draw up the rules. The objects of the Society were to ‘foster the combined arts of music and drama and encourage their appreciation by an annual operatic production’. Our first show, 'The Pirates of Penzance’, took place in May the following spring, which we performed at what became our regular venue of The Guildhall in The Broadway. This set a trend for mainly putting on G&S operettas, which we have gradually departed from as the years have passed by. There were no productions from 1915-19 and from 1940-46, owing to the First and Second World Wars, but apart from these gaps we have put on a production (or two from 1979) every year since we were founded. And from 1967 we also performed an additional annual concert for several years.
The Society has been fortunate to have had the involvement of many eminent and talented people throughout our history, including the Earl of Northbrook and Lord Ashburton as Presidents, and Muir Mathieson, Sir Dan Godfrey and Robert Irving as Musical Directors. Probably the best known is Sir Malcolm Sargent who worked with us during the 1920s and 1930s. Artistic tastes and indeed the whole way of life have changed drastically over the past century - there are no longer carriages at 10.30pm (as advertised in the program of the 1913 production) or changes to the King Alfred Motor Service timetable to coincide with the end of a performance as in 1920 and 1930. Nevertheless despite the onslaught of progress, our aim remains the same and true to our motto - we will continue to "Aspire towards Perfection". Many of our productions have received excellent reviews over the years and several have received awards and notoriety - all building and developing WMOS to help the make the Society what it is today.
In order to meet a need a Youth Section (WOS Juniors) was formed in 1981 by Ben Wright. In 2000 the name was changed to Encore - WOS Youth Theatre. In June 2009 Encore Youth Theatre took the step of becoming a society in its own right, deciding to break away from WOS entirely, and has since gone on to produce highly acclaimed theatrical works every year since then.
In 1996 the Theatre Royal Winchester closed and underwent an extensive refurbishment, as it expanded into the shops next door to create additional bar and box office space.
WMOS was instrumental in supporting this initiative both financially and artistically with the then Board and fund raising committee chaired by Lady Jennie Bland. The Society was one of the last community groups to play the theatre with Carousel in 1995 and one of the first in the newly reopened facilities with Me and My Girl in 2001.
Donations of many thousands of pounds have been made to a great number of local charities over the years and we continue to perform at The Theatre Royal, which was our home from 1984 to 1995 and has been again since the major restoration work completed in 2001. These various contributions help ensure the continuation of a vibrant theatre in our city.
The Society enjoys a rich diversity of dedicated Annual Members, several honorary Life Members as well as the generous support from the Friends of WMOS. With the Mayor of Winchester as our Honorary Vice President, as well as the citizens of Winchester and the surrounding district keenly supporting us for each show we put on, we are in the fortunate position to be able to look well into the future, safe in the knowledge that we can only thank those who make it possible for our work to continue in this strong and enthusiastic way.