If you do a little digging you can uncover some fantastic history about your local buildings. Such was the case with one of Weymouth’s top attractions (well…as I knew it in my time anyway). This building has endured a somewhat chequered history.
On the 22nd October 1886 a grand scheme was set before the council to erect a large, ornate glass arcade. Weymouth at that time was in the process of trying to revamp herself and all manner of improvement schemes were afoot, but this came at great expense, mainly to the rate payers. It was therefore suggested by councillors
“that any scheme for an arcade be carried out by private enterprise.”
Some of the town’s business men, led by local mayor Sir Richard Howard, took up that baton and ran with it, forming a company to invest in the project.
January 1887 saw work started on its construction.
The building was to be named in honour of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee.
Only a few months later, Saturday 23rd July, and men of the 1st Dorset Battalion Rifles entered the arcades doors which had been ceremoniously “opened for the first time that day.” They were there to attend a very special reception luncheon held in their honour.
Towards the end of that year a report appeared in…
The Stage- Friday 30th September 1887
“THE ROYAL VICTORIA JUBILEE HALL, WEYMOUTH
An event of unusual importance to those interested in music and the drama in Dorsetshire has taken place in the erection and the informal opening of the Royal Victoria Jubilee Hall, which is probably destined to make a new epoch in the theatrical history of the Naples of England. at the outset it should be stated that when the galleries are completed the vast auditorium will accommodate no less than 7,000 persons. En passant it may be of interest to state that the auditorium is larger in superficial area that that of the famed Colston Hall of Bristol; and in fact, no building (other than ecclesiastical) south of Birmingham and London can in any way vie with the Royal Victoria in point of size. […] Sir Richard Howard then referred to details connected with the hall, and passed high eulogiums upon Mr G Crickmay (Crickmay & Son) of Weymouth […] the architect, and Messrs Bull & sons (the builders), of Southampton. The hall is 119 feet long and 96 feet broad, exclusive of teh stage, which is 24 feet deep and 44 feet wide. The height is 65 feet. […]The dressing rooms for ladies and gentlemen are respectively 24 by 16 1/2 feet, and 24 1/2 by 18 1/2 feet, with passage communication, and direct means of exit. There are also three smaller and elegantly fitted retiring rooms. thus the safety, comfort, and convenience of the audience and performers have been thoroughly provided for.[…]When complete the hall will be adapted so as to meet the requirements of large or small gatherings, and will be available for dramatic entertainments and various popular amusements.[…] The building is principally of brick and iron, and it is next to impossible that a fire could take hold.”
Sadly, problems dogged this beautifully ornate building right from its very creation.
Ultimately, as a theatre, it didn’t work well. The space inside might have been vast, but as for the comfort of their patrons? many complained it was cold and decidedly draughty.
Undeterred, it’s not long before it took on its grand title as the Weymouth Royal Jubilee Hall and Opera House, even though its sound acoustics left a lot to be desired. Despite these flaws, the building was well used by the surrounding community over the following years, though maybe not as its creators had envisaged. The imperial hall housed many a boisterous public gathering and high powered meetings such as the closed shop assembly of the Trades Union Congress.
When the Fleet arrived in town, they too were welcomed with open arms. February 1896 and Weymouth streets were awash with Jolly Jack Tars,
“On Sunday the men of the Fleet had the corridor of the Jubilee Hall Weymouth placed at their disposal, through the kindness of the Women’s Temperance Association, and a considerable number took advantage of the privilege. Writing materials, periodicals, & co., were placed at their disposal, and refreshments were supplied.”
Those finely decorated rooms were also used to hold somewhat grim proceedings, literally peering into the decaying bodies of men (women and children). A place where a jury of fine upstanding men filed into their seats to listen to harrowing details of some poor souls sudden demise. The portal for many an inquest. Such was the scene in September 1899 when the theatre’s walls whispered with gory details and gruesome facts on the demise of naval stoker John Gibbons.
“the whole of the train, with the exception of one wagon, had passed over the deceased’s body.”
A more jolly scene inside the Jubilee Hall dated 1905. I wonder what the special event was? Looks like fancy dress of some sort. Note the size of the stage and backdrops at the rear!
At the start of the 20th century a man arrived in Weymouth and set up a company that would drag Weymouth and the Jubilee Hall into the new era. Hannam Edward Albany Ward, later known simply as Albany Ward started his career as an apprentice to one of the pioneer film makers, Birt Acres. Albany worked his way up through this early film industry until 1898 when he started his own company touring the southern counties, not only showing some of the first moving pictures many people in this area had ever seen, but expanding his horizons he also went on to become a well respected as a theatrical manager.
In 1906 Weymouth’s Jubilee Hall was to become Albany Ward’s first permanent theatre from which he ran his burgeoning empire, going on to own 29 cinemas by 1914 and ultimately the owner of the biggest cinema circuit in the country.
His name became synonymous with supplying all round entertainment in many of the local theatres. I love his stipulation that
“Artists booking opposition halls will be barred from the whole circuit and other towns in conjunction.”
The Jubilee Hall was basically an early all round entertainment centre, it offered Weymouth a wide variety of stage acts, films and activities such as roller skating on their “maple floor.” The good, the bad, and the downright bizarre appeared on stage and screen here.
The year 1913 and headlines appeared in national papers, so strange a turn of events that it was reported even as far afield as the Sheffield Evening Telegraph.
“THE LION WAS UNMOVED.
An unrehearsed ‘turn’ of a dramatic character marked the performance at the Jubilee Hall, Weymouth. Towards the end of the entertainment the cage door of a performing lion was opened, and two young ladies, both popular amateur vocalists, The Misses Joan and Veronique Walker, daughters of a Weymouth doctor, entered the cage and sang a duet, ‘Tostie’s Goodbye’ one playing a cello and the other a violin accompaniment. The audience was excited, but the vocalists were perfectly cool, while the lion evinced not the slightest interest in the music. He had completed his part of the show, and just drowsily tolerated the new ‘turn.”
Assuming that the term “drowsily” might just be a clue as to why these two local lasses had no qualms in performing their death defying musical performance.
WWI brought hundreds of wounded AIF troops into the area, of course they made the most of any entertainment on offer. Men of the resident AIF troops stood outside the front of Albany Ward’s Royal Jubilee Hall dated 25th April 1918.
Albany Ward sold his theatre company in 1920 to Provincial Cinematograph Theatre’s Ltd, (P.C.T.) though he remained in a managerial role for the company.
The year 1926, and it was all was change, the inside of this vast space being altered, it then became known as The Regent Theatre and Dance Hall.
The advert above is from a Weymouth guide of 1927, the old Victorian music hall had been rebranded, it was now being hailed as “The Wonder House of the West.”
A theatre promotional postcards for the musical “Lucky Girl.“from early 1930’s.
A couple of years later, it became the very first picture house in Weymouth to show talking movies. An advert below from the early 1930’s.
Just after WWII, in 1951 it was rebranded as The Gaumont Cinema and Dance Hall. Times and money were hard though, fairly soon after it’s reopening, it firmly closed its doors.
At one stage this grand old dame housed Weyrads, a local radio component manufacturer, who took over this vast space to use as additional work premises.
But by 1959, the inside had undergone yet another transformation. The old Victorian plush interior was modernised, returning to its former use as a cinema, the only thing not changed was its name, still trading under The Gaumont.
The year 1968 saw it trading under the title of Odeon cinema, this is what I remember as a child and young adult. It always seemed bizarre that you would have to walk down this strange and very long passageway to actually reach the inner entrance, mind you, when it was raining, it certainly beat queuing outside!
By 1976 this grand old dame took on her final theatrical guise, as the New Invicta, a dual purpose space, cinema and bingo hall. The cinema lasted for barely a year before it closed down, though the bingo hall remained until the building was finally demolished in 1989. Even that wasn’t without its problems.
Inside the derelict carcass were many of the original Jubilee Hall structures, and a fight was on to save this beautiful, historic old building from the wreckers ball. When that failed, the iron work was removed and ‘carefully’ stored, supposedly for future use when it would be reconstructed elsewhere…but those same stunning Victorian iron works are now rusting away in a Portland quarry. Apart from a few that were salvaged and erected inside the 21st century Jubilee Hall on Dorchester’s Poundbury.
But when work started on its demolition, an original Georgian building was discovered still secreted away inside.
The newly revamped building that emerged from the old shell became a public house, duly named The Rectory…..which is the original building that stood on that very spot. Renamed later as The Clipper.
The year 2019 and this elegant Georgian building once again stands empty and forlorn, which brings me very nicely at last to my Victorian tale.
At the start of March 1871 a new family moved into the bustling town of Weymouth. Installed into the Rectory building at no 82 St Thomas Street was 50 year-old Rev Thomas Alexander Falkner, the new curate for St Mary’s church in St Mary’s street.
Thomas was no pauper parish priest, originating from the wealthy landed gentry class. In 1852, Thomas married Elizabeth Grace Mead, and as they dutifully moved from parish to parish, ministering to his flock, Elizabeth also played her vital role. During this period, the Falkner family grew in size.
In 1871, Thomas found himself taking up post in the quaint seaside resort of Weymouth. The couple had been blessed with 6 children, Robert Alexander (1854), Mary Grace (1856), John Mead (1858), Annie Louisa (1862), Charles Gaskell( 1864), and William Richardson (1867). Also settling into the Rectory along side the family were their staff. The all important cook, 28 year-old Harriet Churchill, and 18 year-old housemaid, Mary Bridle. However, virtually as soon as the family settled down disaster struck.
Mum Elizabeth became seriously ill, along with her children. At first doctors diagnosed a simple case of gastric fever…but it turned out to be far more sinister. Despite bringing in the best medical care available, after a few days Elizabeth passed away and her children remained critically ill, they were not expected to survive.
According to local papers it had “cast quite a gloom over the town.” The said ‘town’ became a hive of gossip about this tragic state of affairs. That poor new curate losing his wife…and now likely to lose his entire family too.
Thankfully though, his children pulled through, and slowly began to regain their health. At least Thomas was spared the horror of having to bury them as well as his darling wife. Elizabeth Grace Falkner was laid to rest in Melcombe Regis graveyard on the 17th March 1871.
Despite numerous rumours that circulated around town, a thorough investigation put paid to any spurious speculations into what had caused their illness. The attending doctors made startling discoveries within the household itself.
I’m sure you can remember how disruptive and stressful it is to move house, all your possessions packed in to boxes, a thousand and one things to be done, life topsy turvy …so it must have been for the Falkners and their staff. The young housekeeper, being rushed off her feet, had taken water for the tea from a tank in the house instead of collecting fresh from the nearby well.
When investigations into the origin of the disease were under way, the old water tank in their home became one of the possible sources under suspicion…in there they found the putrid body of a rat!
A couple of weeks after these heartbreaking events, Thomas received a stark reminder of his great loss. At his door arrived the enumerator, needing to fill in that years census returns form. For newly widowed Thomas, the pain must have been very raw, having to list himself as a widower for the first time. By then, two further names had been added to the Falkner household, 28 year-old Jane Shepherd, and 50 year-old Ann Hatton, nurses employed to take care of the recovering children.
One of the Falkner offspring who pulled through was only 13 when he lost his mother, but despite this unhappy time during his childhood, he went on to make a name for himself, John Meade Falkner.
John Meade was enrolled as a pupil at Weymouth College and Weymouth Grammar School. He went on and became a successful businessman and author…one of his most famous novels being Moonfleet.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/68748051@N06/8815147305/ (fascinating old photos of the old Jubilee Hall as it went up through the ages.)
http://www.booksshouldbefree.com/book/moonfleet-by-j-meade-falkner (download free copy of Moonfleet)
http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/a2a/records.aspx?cat=031-dfal&cid=-1#-1 (Falkner family papers and letters in Dorset County Archives.)
http://www.weymouthinoldpostcards.co.uk/st.%20thomas%20st.%201900 (view of St Thomas St early 1900’s)
If you enjoy discovering tales of Weymouth of old why not buy a copy of Nothe Fort and Beyond. Filled with tales of Weymouth’s military residents and what life was really like for the locals with them in town. Marriage, murder, death and disasters…its all in there.
Available from Nothe Fort and Weymouth Museum bookshops or online at Amazon https://www.amazon.co.uk/Nothe-Fort-Beyond-Weymouth-Portland/dp/1977592686/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1512117985&sr=1-1&keywords=nothe+fort+and+beyond
- Weymouth’s harbour area; Brewers Quay (susanhogben.wordpress.com)
- 1824; Weymouth, the Great Storm (susanhogben.wordpress.com)
- 1877; Weymouths shipping trade (susanhogben.wordpress.com)
- Weymouth’s Victorian bandstands. (susanhogben.wordpress.com)
- 1892; Wyke Working Men’s Club. (susanhogben.wordpress.com)
- Why Weymouth and me? (cannasue.wordpress.com)
- 1879; Tragedy at the George Inn, Weymouth. (susanhogben.wordpress.com)
- 1899; Thwarted love…never cross a woman! (susanhogben.wordpress.com)
- 1873; The battle for Greenhill gardens;2013. (susanhogben.wordpress.com)
- 1868; Weymouth, The errant bridegroom. (susanhogben.wordpress.com)