Ritz – ABC Cinema

(16 of 18)

Barbauld Street, Warrington, WA1 1HN.

Opened Aug 1937. Closed 23 October 1982. Building destroyed by fire on 14 April 2015 and demolished…

2 screens. 1,928 seats.

Located on Barbauld Street near Bridge Foot, the Ritz Cinema was built by the Union Cinemas chain and officially opened on 23 August 1937 by the mayor, John Turner Cooper. The first films shown featured Robert Armstrong in “Without Orders” and Chester Morris in “I Promise to Pay”. Admission prices were threepence for children and sixpence for adults. On stage was Macari and His Dutch Accordion Serenaders. Also entertaining was Alex Taylor who played the Compton 3Manual/6Rank organ. This organ had a Melotone attached and its illuminated console was on a lift. The Ritz Cinema also had a cafe 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 cafe area.

The cinemas closed on 23 October 1982, followed soon after by the bingo club closing.

The former bingo club became a nightclub named Mr Smiths. As Mr Smiths, Pete Waterman and Michaela Strachen presented the Granada TV music and dance show, The Hitman and Her, from there in the 1980s.

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 seems to have 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. There were further discussions in Warrington Borough Council to create a riverside leisure area alongside the Mersey close to the building. There was no direct connection between the two schemes.

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 cannot 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.

One objection to the demolition in the planning application notes is as follows:

I am appalled to hear of plans to demolish the former cinema at Bridge Foot. This is an architectural gem which should be preserved as Stockport has done with the Plaza. Please place a preservation order on this building. Tina Russell-Cruise.

Contributed by Ken Roe. Additional information by Gordon Gandy.

See also the complementary section Mr Smiths (later or now)