The Esplanade, Weymouth, Dorset, DT4 8ED
Box Office 01305 783225
In 1900 Weymouth was becoming increasingly popular as a holiday resort for
ordinary families who naturally wanted entertainment.
Many people felt that if Weymouth was to be a first class resort, this new building was urgently required. Technically a Pavilion was a light ornamental building or
pleasure house and Weymouth did not have one.
For the first time ‘The Pavilion’ as it was to become was exercising the minds of
Weymouth & Melcombe Regis Councillors!
By 1906 the decision was taken and a new site for the new pavilion was chosen at the southern
end of The Esplanade next to what was then known as The Pile Pier.
Then, just as today, there were objections – the Ratepayers Association disliked the spending of Public Money!
The outbreak war in 1914 brought considerable changes to The Pavilion. The Town Council decided they should not be running it and leased it to Mr. Ernest Wheeler, a member of a prominent business family in the town.
His father had run the new theatre, The Theatre Royal, in St. Nicholas Street.
Ernest continued leasing the building for the next 25 years.
In the 1930’s, possibly due to competition from The Alexandra Gardens Theatre (now amusements)
which opened in 1925 the auditorium was adapted to show films.
The Pavilion then became a popular cinema in the town.
The Second World War had an even greater effect than the first. The Pavilion was closed down as it was requisitioned by the military for war purposes. At one point the military authorities wanted to
demolish the building! It escaped this fate only to be damaged during an air raid in
April 1942 and was taken over by the Admiralty.
A competition was launched in 1907 to find a suitable design. Here’s one of the rejections!
The grand opening took place on 21st December 1908 and the first performance
two nights later – a Christmas Pantomime, Mother Goose.
The Original Pavilion from the outside…….
and the inside!
At the end of the war The Town Council did not get the building back until
1947 and then spent the next
two years trying to claim
compensation for the damage
inflicted during its war time use.
Now the Pavilion Theatre was leased to the Buxton Theatre Circuit who in 1949
spent £4000 installing a new cinema projection room.
The Pavilion finally reopened in May 1950 with a new name – THE RITZ.
In September 1951 a new management company,
Melcombe Productions took over and put on
live theatre but it soon became apparent that the
post war repairs to the building had been inadequate.
In January 1954 work began on renewing the roof and redecorating the wooden exterior.
A variety programme reopened the building in March before the repairs were finished.
In the afternoon of 13th April 1954 (Tuesday, not Friday!)
The building caught fire during refurbishment and, being built mainly from wood, the fire soon took hold and much of the
building was destroyed.
The cause of the fire was later found to be the misuse of a
blow lamp used for removing many layers of
paint from the exterior.
The Town Council lost no time claiming on the insurance policy and the site was cleared. The charming Edwardian theatre was no more.
In September 1958, four years after The Ritz burned down construction
began on a new theatre and ballroom.
Notice the construction company sign “Cowlin” in the foreground.
The architect of the new Pavilion was Samuel Beverley who in the 1920’s had joined the famous theatre
architect Frank Verity in partnership.
The firm Verity and Beverley is still going strong today.
Sadly, Samuel Beverley died in May 1959 before completion of the building and his son in law,
Anthony Denny, took over.
The ballroom which is built on the same site as the old Palm Court opened first and was packed to capacity.
The Mayor and Mayoress, Mr. & Mrs. Edgar Wallis were the first couple to dance on the maple dance floor
which cost £7000.
The room today - now known as The Ocean Room - still has the same maple dance floor!
The official opening was delayed until the theatre was complete and formally opened
on 15th July 1960 with the show ‘Let’s Make a Night of It’ starring Benny Hill.
The new Pavilion was described as
“Weymouth’s most ambitious municipal enterprise” and cost £300,000.
Many names were suggested but it was decided to choose the original
name of the first theatre so The Pavilion is was.
In more recent times the future of The Pavilion has been under threat on many occasions.
One of the first ‘Pavilion Fights for Survival’ headlines dates back to March 2001 when Councillors were asked to look for a way forward following cost cutting exercises.
A private theatre company or trust were suggested and by this time the possibility
of closure had already been thrown out!
November 2002 saw suggestions The Pavilion could be scrapped stating that a new building will be required
within 10 years! The current building was deemed too big and too old but it was decided to ‘make do’
for the next 3-5 years and manage it as effectively as possible.
The axe was raised above The Pavilion many times over the subsequent years when redevelopment of the
‘Pavilion Peninsular’ was examined. Ideas for redevelopment included luxury flats, swimming pool, new theatre, casino, 5 star hotel, restaurants and ferry terminal.
In March 2005 8 bids were received by Weymouth & Portland Borough Council to redevelop the peninsular site
and in Summer 2008 Howard Holdings Plan was unveiled. The plan was to refurbish the Pavilion Theatre,
move the ballroom and to encompass the building in the new build and would also include a
5 star hotel, bars, restaurants, marina and ferry terminal.
Following this nothing happened. As far as the Pavilion was concerned things started to be wound up.
The Ocean Room effectively closed and no further Theatre bookings were made.
But still nothing happened.
In December 2008 Weymouth & Portland Borough Council issued an ultimatum to Howard Holdings - do something or the deal would be off. No response, and in February 2009 Howard Holdings went into administration.
The redevelopment failed and The Pavilion limped on.
Lengthy negotiations followed any finally a new lease to a private company was agreed.
Weymouth Pavilion re-opened on Saturday 13th July 2013.
The History of Weymouth Pavilion
There are still two ladders backstage, one of which is shown here, with
“WM Cowlin & Sons - New Ritz Theatre & Ballroom Weymouth” painted on the side.
During construction the name for the new building was still unknown!
Once again the black clouds loomed and future of The Pavilion became uncertain.
The arrival of The Olympic Games bought the Pavilion some extra time but shortly after the Games
at the end of November 2012 that was it.
The axe finally fell; closure and intended demolition was announced.