The Old Cinema, Coombend, Radstock

A landmark building with over 200 years of history


Its hard to imagine that this old building’s date stone was carved in 1810.  At the time Britain was involved in three major wars - The Napoleonic Wars, The Peninsula War and The Anglo-Russian War, the last battle of which inspired the wonderful 1812 Overture by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. King George III, who later became known as “the mad Monarch”, was on the throne – he was also to be the longest ruling monarch of the United Kingdom up to that time.

The first coal mine in Radstock, Old Pit, was sunk in 1763 at the Clandown end of Coombend when this area was still very rural, and neither the railways nor the Bath Road existed.  In 1779 Middle Pit was sunk and the small cottage that had been used to house the Methodist Congregation was no longer adequate to accommodate the growing congregation.  So this building replaced that cottage and opened its doors in 1816, two hundred and two years ago, right next door to the Middle Pit so that its worshippers had little excuse not to attend.  In 1840 the building was enlarged, and in 1902 the congregation moved to a new Church.

In 1916 it reopened as a Variety Palace, and subsequently became a cinema, owned by the pioneering theatre proprietor and cinema developer Albany Ward.  The son of a surgeon, and originally from Hackney in London, he owned theatres and cinemas all over the South West.  In the 1920s, Albany Ward sold his theatres and, in late 1930, The Picture Palace in Radstock was taken over by the E Truman Dicken Circuit.  In its early days the front rows were still the old Methodist chapel seats and it had a 21-foot-wide proscenium arch.  The failure of the proprietors, however, to convert to screening CinemaScope films eventually led to its closure in 1956.  

Many local people have the fondest memories of going to watch a film followed by a Cowboy serial on a Saturday morning.  Barry Kendall, of Carlingcott, recalls his parents giving him a sixpence (about 2p in todays’ money) every Saturday and he and his mates heading off down to Radstock from Peasedown.  To save the bus fare they went on foot – walking between one set of lamp posts and running between the next set all the way down, and again on the way back home uphill.  They would pop into the market (now The Radstock Museum) and buy sweets with half the sixpence and the other half paid the entrance fee to see the film.  Other people tell of learning how to cook in what is now the storage area of the carpet shop on the ground floor.

It is not clear, and perhaps readers can let us know, what happened to the building after the cinema closed and before the carpet shop opened in the 1970’s – we would love to hear your memories.  

With grateful thanks to the staff of The Radstock Museum and to Five Arches Magazine