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The Ritz - Past and Present


Watchet's Heritage - The Ritz

Watchet's Historical Buildings
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watchet marina from Esplanade
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This is the only true Art Deco building in Watchet and was originally a cinema. It was not the first cinema - that was the Cosy Cinema, occupying what is now the Doctors' surgery and the eye clinic at the old Lime Cross.

This distinctive building that housed the first cinema has a long and fascinating history from its early days as a farm, undergoing many incarnations. The owner of the "Cosy", Mr Thomas Barton Peel, a well-known Watchet businessman, was blessed with an eccentric nature, all too obvious by the remarkable and unique Shanghai Bungalow he built at the top of Goviers Lane - undoubtedly unique in West Somerset and almost certainly in the whole county!

The new cinema opened its doors in March 1938 and had 500 seats in stalls and a circle and was fitted with a British Thomson (BTH) sound system. It incorporated a rather impressive flight of five steps leading to the double-door entrance. The proscenium was 26ft wide!

Tom Peel had named the cinema the 'Conquest' to reflect the problems in getting it built; as the story goes, there was considerable opposition! It was even set back from the Esplanade to avoid people walking on council land!

In the 1953 Kinematograph Year Book, it still retained the original name, so when was it changed? I am going to suggest that it was in the late 1950s when Mr Peel installed CinemaScope with a 20ft by 8ft screen and a reduced capacity of 398. It would seem reasonable that it was at this time it took its new name the 'Ritz', a name that it retained when (after the closure of the cinema in the late 1960s) it became an amusement arcade.

Today, it serves as a chandlery and a café, which offers wonderful ice creams in the season. It is of course also home to the Emporium that amongst other exceptional things is home to the town's very own Lego Land.

For further information about the town as a whole,
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This page is provided by Watchet Conservation Society with the help of Watchet Chamber of Trade
and with funding from Somerset West & Taunton Council's High Street Emergency Fund.
Text and history provided by Nick Cotton