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WELWYN & DISTRICT HISTORY SOCIETY
The Welwyn Pavilion Cinema
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Change occurs all around us, and the Summer of 2008 saw the clearance of a large site at the top of London Road, in preparation for a new housing development. For many this will just be the loss of the building used by the car dealership Godfrey Davis, since 2001 a subsidiary of CD Bramall. But many older residents will fondly remember times spent at The Pavilion Cinema, which previously occupied the building.
The Pavilion Cinema opened its doors to customers on Friday 29th July 1938 near the beginning of the peak of cinema attendance. Designed by J. Edmund Farrell the cinema was built in less than three months to a design which was originally intended to be built in Cheshunt. With 801 seats on one floor the cinema was rather small compared to many around the county, but large for a village such as Welwyn. However the Pavilion served not only Welwyn, people are recorded as coming from as far as the developing Stevenage to see films which were not shown there.
The curtain lifted on the first night to a showing of Rosalie, a 1936 musical starring Nelson Eddy and Eleanor Powell. These were the days of rising cinema audiences, over 900 million countrywide and the Pavilion flourished. Programmes of later days proudly announce that it was ‘equipped to show films in Vistavision, Cinemascope and Superscope’. The fact that the cinema appealed to many outside Welwyn is proven by the programme announcement ‘Serviced by 303, 303a, 382, 716 and Birch Buses’. That so many bus routes served Welwyn is remarkable by today’s standards.
In 1944 the cinema is listed in the Trade Directory as the ‘Pavilion Cinema (Welwyn) Ltd’, director John Robertson, but later became part of Circuits Management Association (CMA) formed in 1948 by the merger of Gaumont and Rank, including Odeon. This organisation had 500 -
The years from the opening of the Pavilion in 1938 saw cinema attendance soar. Annual countrywide admissions rose from over 980 million in 1938 to a peak of over 1600 million in 1946. But the halcyon days were passing rapidly and
thereafter attendances dropped year upon year. At first slowly and then with increasing rapidity, attendances at cinemas all over the country fell. By the late 1950s, annual admissions were reduced to fewer than 600 million. This sharp decline in the public’s appetite for the silver screen led to the closure of many cinemas, including the Pavilion in Welwyn.
By the time the end came, the Pavilion was showing films continuously from 5 on weekdays and 4.30 on Sundays, with matinees on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Bank holidays. Adults could see two films for the princely sum of 2/-
In June 1961 the site was sold, to be developed into a car distribution centre, a more than controversial proposal. Public protest meetings were held and more than 6,000 people signed a petition objecting to the plan. Then, much as would be now, negotiation surrounded the development plans. The purchasers, P. Tabor, agreed that they would relinquish the site if an alternative site could be found for their centre and it was suggested that the Pavilion’s owners would take a long lease on a new cinema if a suitable building was provided.
This led to a proposal for a new cinema on a site in Prospect Place, but the Welwyn Rural District Council already had plans for a new Civic Centre here and this plan fell by the wayside. The days of the Pavilion were by now numbered and closure was set for January 1st 1962. In fact the cinema closed without warning at the beginning of December 1961. The last film shown was Victim, a bleak drama of blackmail starring Dirk Bogarde and Sylvia Syms.
Shortly thereafter the buildings were converted to a car distribution business owned by Acland and Taylor, and by 1985 it had become part of Godfrey Davis, one of the largest car distributors in the country.
The rule of the motor car had taken over from the rule of the silver screen and the Pavilion’s slogan was transformed in its November 1961 programme – Your week is not complete without a visit to the petrol pumps.
Welwyn’s Pavilion Cinema
The site shortly before demolition
The programme for the final performance
Free admission !!
Welwyn Pavilion -
In light of the current ‘lock-
WFRS has over 50 years of old film footage of the village, which rarely gets seen. Combined with thousands of photographs held in safe keeping by WDHS we find we are in a unique position to put on a show that will take you back in time to the days when our village had its own Cinema.
So, in the hope that this will provide some light entertainment for you while you practice ‘Social Distancing’, we have decided to ‘reopen’ the Pavilion Cinema and have chosen some films that have been posted on our new YouTube channel.
These films will be changed as time goes on but you can watch one or all of them, as many times as you like within the window of time, and we would welcome your comments and feedback on this idea.
To access the films click on the link below, or visit our Facebook page @WelwynFilmRecordSociety
Refreshments will not be available during the interval but smooching during the performances is permitted if it does not upset the person seated alongside you !
Now showing at
‘The Welwyn Pavilion -
Follow the link to the left to access
Welwyn Wailers 2006
Digswell 1969 – 1998
Welwyn Wailers 2011