This page is an addition to At The Flicks and covers the fire and ultimate demolition of the former Mr Smiths Nightclub on Tuesday, 14 April 2015.
The building on 9 March 2012
The Ritz cinema, later the ABC, that became Mr Smiths Nightclub at Bridge Foot was dramatically burned down in the early hours of Tuesday 14 April 2015. The building had been the subject of controversial plans over recent years. More on that later.
The Ritz Cinema was built by the Union Cinemas chain and officially opened on 23 August 1937. The Ritz Cinema also had a restaurant for the convenience of its patrons.
Celebrity visitors include world-famous comedy duo Laurel and Hardy in 1952. They did not perform at the venue, but visited to promote shows in Southport and Liverpool.
The Ritz was taken over, together with all Union Cinemas, by Associated British Cinemas (ABC) in October 1937. It was re-named the ABC in 1958.
The ABC was closed on 19 August 1972 for alterations. The former stalls area downstairs was converted into a bingo club and a 474 seat cinema was created in the former balcony, which opened on 7 December 1972.
In 1980 a second, smaller screen, with video projection and seating for 90 patrons, was opened in the former café area.
The cinemas closed on 23 October 1982, followed soon after by the bingo club closing.
The venue was later converted into Mr Smiths nightclub, which opened in May 1986. Pete Waterman and Michaela Strachen presented the Granada TV music and dance show, The Hitman and Her, from there in the 1980s. Rick Astley performed there, as did Boy George as a DJ. One local told he and his mate had been in the club and were thrown out for misbehaving.
Boy George saw them outside and asked if he coming in. He said they had just been thrown out, to which Boy George told them to pick up some of his DJ gear and help carry it in. The security guys questioned them and Boy George said they were helping him. They were allowed to stay as long as they behaved themselves, which they did. Great story!
Michaela Strachen (co-presenter of The Hit Man and Her) on Mr Smiths:
“It was the first place where we carried out the show and it became synonymous with The Hit Man and Her,” she said.
“We started a show which we thought was going to go on for six weeks but it went on longer and longer.
“I was going to work c a club – in my 20s that was great.
“There’s not really anywhere like that now – it’s so sad.”
Each Hit Man and Her show lasted around two hours, but along with generations across the town, the memories for Michaela will live on for a lot longer.
In June 2004, the local authority requested that due to the redevelopment of the riverfront, the Ritz Cinema should be considered for listing as an historic building. However nothing come out of this.
In the time between Mr Smiths and the opening as Synergy in March 2008, it was opened for one night a week, usually for school discos. It became Halo in November 2009, but closed in 2010.
A group called Theatre 4 Warrington had been campaigning for it to be converted into a theatre.
On 5 Jun 2011, the building was sold for £1 million to Salford Quays-based company LPC Living Ltd. The Warrington Guardian reported that the council had put in a bid at auction in London of £500,000, which was the ‘guide price’, in order to safeguard the building for a proposed canal-side development – possible conversion to a theatre? It re-opened as Mr Smiths on 1 October 2011, but closed sometime later.
In July 2014, plans were submitted to Warrington Borough Council by owners LPC Living Ltd to demolish the building. The borough council says it couldn’t oppose demolition because the building is not listed or protected by law. The council had until 11 August 2014 to approve how work to knock down the building should be carried out. This was decided on 31 July 2014.
The plan to demolish the building encouraged Diane Kerfoot to set up an action group to save the 1930s Art Deco building and to turn it into a community base. Warrington Borough Council took upon themselves to discuss a future plan for the site. An idea to turn the venue into a base for a youth centre was considered, and plans were well advanced for a private drinks company to contribute £5 million to the project, with a further £3 million coming from council funds. However, many people were sceptical about public money being ploughed into a project in an age of austerity. Others had suggested, included myself, that the venue should have been opened up to the whole community, not just the young. Ideas including a theatre and a cinema were put forward but then disaster struck.
The following photos were taken on 10 September 2006
The images below show the building as Synergy nightclub in 2008.
And here are some showing it as Halo nightclub in 2009.
And now as Mr Smiths once again in 2012.
Fire and Demolition
The building was on fire at around 1.50am on the morning of Tuesday, 14 April 2015, resulting in a decision to demolish the building because it was deemed unsafe. A demolition firm from Manchester arrived at around 5am to look at the site.
However, by 9am, they decided, for a reason I was never told, that they didn’t want the job. This resulted in local firm Excavation & Contracting UK Ltd being contacted at 11am on that Tuesday and they agreed to demolish the site, a decision which I can only assume was made after a fire safety report in the early hours condemned the building.
After the fire three people initially were arrested, a 43-year-old man (later released without charge) and two years. By the end of the day there were seven youths in custody, who were later released on police bail.
There were mixed feelings amongst the community as to how the fire
started and why there was such a quick turnaround in those 12 hours to make a decision to demolish the building. As mentioned earlier, it was deemed unsafe, leaving no other option. Allsorts of conspiracies and comments circulated around the town, on social media and in the reader forums of the local press. Those comments are still on those social and media sites and therefore do not need to be reproduced here on mywarrington.
One thing that does need to be sorted out is what happens next. At the time of writing (Sunday 19 April 2015) the council has announced there will be discussions starting this week.
mywarrington will update this page as and when further information is available. I will not speculate on anything – I will simply report the details as they are presented to me.
I was invited onto the demolition site with safety gear by Excavation & Contracting UK Ltd to take photos of the demolition.
Here are some photos of the building after the fire and during demolition.
I am happy for them to be reproduced on social media and in the media, provided you credit the mywarrington website mywarrington.org as the owner of the photos. You can mention my name, Gordon Gandy, if you wish, seeing as I own the website!
The next four photos were kindly supplied by Sara Talbot.
A great piece of art work with two of Karen Dakin’s souvenir bricks from the site.
Thanks Karen for the use of your picture