Do you remember the art deco-style Plaza Cinema in Amesbury, which stood on the site of the current St Melor surgery?
Maybe you remember its demolition in 1993, or perhaps you watched films in its tobacco smoke-filled auditorium, long before the smoking ban. But did you know that there were two other cinemas on this site before the Plaza was built?
In 1911, a fire broke out in the picture-perfect Ivydene guest-house. Owned by the Edwards family, the thatched cottage and adjacent malthouse burned to the ground and the site was left in ruins.
Chipperfield’s Travelling Circus used the site over the next few years, setting up their big top and parking their steam wagons in the yard of the former buildings.
It was this circus that first introduced moving pictures to Amesbury, with short films shown on a steam-powered projector inside the big top. The films would be accompanied by acrobats and musicians. In 1913, silent movies were becoming popular and a more permanent building was required to house the projection box and seating.
Canadian troops stationed on Salisbury Plain built a log cabin on the site in 1915. This was grandly called The Cinema and had a show every night at 7pm (2pm and 5pm Saturdays and Sundays). The popularity of the cinema was such that a brick building was commissioned, and the Plaza Cinema was built in 1935.
During construction of the Plaza, the log cabin cinema was temporarily reconstructed on the site of the original Wilts & Dorset Bus Station, roughly where Peacocks and Dominoes now stand.
The Plaza cinema finally closed in 1988 and was demolished in 1993 to make way for the new St Melor surgery. the cinema hosted its own 21st Birthday celebrations in 1956, the souvenir programme suggested that five and a half million people had been to see over 6,552 feature films plus newsreels and short films since the Plaza opened. And what had these customers bought to eat and drink over the 21 years? 18,000 gallons of ice cream, 3,822 gallons of soft drink and four and a half tons of nuts!
The Plaza cinema finally closed in 1988, and was demolished in 1993 to make way for the new St Melor surgery.
With pop up outdoor cinemas growing in popularity, here is hoping this is not the end of the story of cinemas in Amesbury.