A Brief History of CAOS
It is imperative to emphasise how the history of the College Amateur Operatic Society (CAOS) has been closely entwined with the history of Waltham Forest College (WFC).
South West Essex Technical College & School of Art was officially opened on Tuesday, 28th April, 1939 by the President of the Board of Education, Earl de la Warr. The original building was to cover two and a quarter acres, four storeys high in Neo-Georgian style. The College was to be built on Chestnuts Farm's playing fields, fronting Forest Road. The final cost of buildings and furnishings £240,000.
College classes had commenced the previous September and CAOS, as an evening class, gave its first performance of 'Patience' on Thursday, 25th April, 1939.
With a cast of 48, 32 women and 16 men, one wonders how they managed on such a small stage. A note in the programme (cost 2d) states 'ladies are requested to remove their hats during the performance'. How times have changed!
World War II disrupted full-scale productions although several concerts were given to service personnel, who under the auspices of the War Office, were trained at the College: to the Royal Navy, it was known as H.M.S. Shrapnel.
In 1954, a performance of 'The Quaker Girl'occasioned a very different experience for our audience. The first act was coming towards the end when a fire was discovered - the front curtains were alight! Fire extinguishers were able to control the flames but the hall was full of smoke and when the final curtain came down it had holes in it. The cast and audience carried on manfully - a hang over from the war - perhaps? As a direct result of the creation of the London Borough of Waltham Forest (LBWF), in 1965, South West Essex Technical College was renamed as Waltham Forest College and LBWF took over the responsibility of its running.
From 1970 to 1982, the North East London Polytechnic (NELP), now the University of East London, shared the premises with the College but space was at a premium. The space crisis was such that NELP moved out of the College premises and LBWF took back the west block buildings for offices and this situation remains to the present day
Since 1976, the Society has also presented ad hoc performances of Old Tyme Music Hall and themed revues and concerts. These have been first presented at the College and then taken to other venues at the request of different organisations. The majority of these performance are for charities and, as costs are forever rising for our own main productions, we are more than pleased to be able to offer our time rather than money to good causes.