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Ritz Cinema Tunbridge Wells - Lewes Bonfire Night Celebrations
May 24, 2014 at 6:23 pm by v
This place is now truly trashed but still makes for an interesting explore, below is a little bit of information and history borrowed from Cinematopia. There are going to be loads of homeless pigeons when this place finally gets knocked down!
The 1,600-seat Ritz – “Kent’s most luxurious cinema” and a part of the Union Cinemas circuit – opened on 3rd December 1934: when I took the photographs in early 2006 – just a few weeks prior to the building’s planned demolition – there was still visible, painted on the rear of the building, a faded “Ritz” sign. The first programme, which punters could watch for 3d, was headed by Gracie Fields’ Sing As We Go. It become the Essoldo in 1954.
The inevitable tripling was arranged somewhat unusually. Most Odeon cinemas, for example, were tripled by keeping the original circle as a primary screen (utilising the original projection booth) and fitting two smaller screens into the space occupied by the stalls. Essoldo, on the other hand, initially split the cinema into only two screens. Both the stalls and the circle were kept intact, leading to a surprisingly large Screen 1 in the original stalls, which meant it was a pretty good place to go and see films, notwithstanding the occasional train rumbling by in the railway tunnel beneath.
In 1972, Classic acquired the cinema and added a third screen in the Florida restaurant where, as music folklore has it, David Bowie’s parents met each other. Obviously this was a part of the building not originally intended for film exhibition, leading to an odd arrangement in which films were projected through the ceiling via a periscope contraption.
The Compton organ from The Ritz was removed at the time of the doubling and has been preserved. A picture of it is located at The Cinema Organ Society.Architecturally, the building was nothing particularly special but it did have two unusual features. A glass tower over the entrance was removed (probably for safety reasons) in the 1950s. But the overall layout of the building was out of the ordinary: the foyer was offset at a 45-degree angle (facing into the centre of the crossroads and the Assembly Hall opposite) and almost separate to the auditorium. Parades of shops were attached to each wing of the foyer but with a distinct gap between them and the auditorium itself.
Cannon took it over along with the Classic chain in 1982. Subsequently it became an MGM, briefly a Virgin and finally an ABC in 1996, becoming obsolete in 1999, when Odeon (by then sharing a parent company with ABC) opened their multiplex outside the town. The last film shown was on Sunday 29th October 2000. At that time, the cinema was still financially viable. Unexpectedly for a provincial High Street cinema, it remained pretty cutting-edge until the end. It was the first non-multiplex in the country to have a Pick ‘n’ Mix stall and one of the first to show popular films simultaneously on more than one screen. I took only photos and left only my footprints.
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