home | about | news | diary | history | photos | memories | links | contact us
top banner image

photo of the old Ritz
Add your memory of Weymouth Pavilion

 

Film still outside Pavilion
Watch the Pavilion Past film

 

Thanks to Local History Unit, Weymouth Museum and Weymouth and Dorset Local History Forums for this information.

cover of an old programme

Weymouth Pavilion 1940s - 50s

soldiers getting ready to get on boats outside Pavilion

The Second World War had an even greater effect on the Pavilion than the First. The Pavilion closed down during WW2 as it was requisitioned by the military for war purposes. In 1940 it was apparently used to house 800 Moroccans from the French army and then later as a medical centre during the evacuation of the Channel Islands. At one point the military authorities wanted to demolish the building under defence regulations. It escaped this fate only to be damaged in an air raid in April 1942 and was then taken over by the Admiralty. Even after the end of the war in 1945 the building was not handed back to the town but remained in use as a sorting office for naval post. In fact the Town Council did not get the building back until 1947 and then had to spend two more years trying to get compensation for the damage to the building during its war-time use.

By now the Pavilion had been leased to the Buxton Theatre Circuit who in 1949 spent 4000 installing a new cinema projection room. The Pavilion finally re-opened to the public in May 1950 under a new name, The Ritz Theatre. Presumably this was thought to be more glamorous. The first film shown to the public was The Forsyte Saga. We are told that the foyer was graced with a full size cardboard cut-out figure of Vivien Leigh!

In September 1951 a new management company, Melcombe Productions, took over and put on live theatre, particularly during the Summer Season, as well as pantomime at Christmas.

front cover of the Echo April 1954

It soon became apparent that the immediate post-war repairs to the building had been inadequate and in January 1954 work began on renewing the roof and redecorating the wooden exterior. A variety programme re-opened the building in March before the repairs had been finished. On the afternoon of the 13th of April 1954 disaster struck, with the building catching fire during refurbishment and being mainly built from wood this fire soon took hold and much of the building was destroyed. The foyer and Palm Court being all that remained. The wooden Edwardian theatre took little more than an hour to burn despite the efforts of ten fire pumps from around the county. Practically the whole of Weymouth turned out to watch the Pavilion burn down.

Ritz on fire across the bay

It was discovered subsequently that the fire was caused by the misuse of a blow-lamp removing the many layers of paint on the wooden exterior. Although members of the Fire Brigade felt they had saved enough of the building for it to be reconstructed, the Town Council lost no time in claiming on the fire insurance policy and clearing the site. The charming Edwardian theatre was no more and it was replaced by the present building, although reverting to the original name.

Ritz on fire awith large crowd outside