You can find many fascinating facts about the old buildings of your home town if you do a little digging.
Such was the case with one of Weymouth’s attractions (well…as I knew it in my time anyway)
This building has had a chequered history.
In 1887 a plot in the centre of town was cleared to build the new Jubilee Hall, this great Victorian edifice was designed to be able to comfortably seat 2,000-3,000 people within its walls.
Problems dogged this beautifully ornate building right from its very beginning.
Ultimately, as a theatre, it didn’t work well.
The space inside was vast, but as for the comfort of their patrons, it was extremely cold and draughty.
Even the sound acoustics left a lot to be desired.
Despite this, the building was well used by the surrounding community over the years, it housed many a boisterous public gathering and closed shop meetings such as the Trades Union Congress.
When the Fleet arrived in town, they too were welcomed within its doors. In February of 1896, St Thomas Street was all abustle 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.”
It’s finely decorated rooms were also used to hold somewhat more grim proceedings, looking into the bodies of men, a place where a jury of local fine upstanding men filed into their seats, put before them many harrowing details of some poor souls sudden demise, a destination for many an inquests into local accidents and death.
September of 1899 and the Halls walls echoed with the gloomy and gory tale of the death of naval stoker John Gibbons, the gruesome facts were laid before the jury.“the whole of the train, with the exception of one wagon, had passed over the deceased’s body.”
In 1909 it became one of the first places in Weymouth to regularly show the new fangled moving pictures, by now its name had been altered to The Royal Jubilee Hall and Picture Palace.
The good, the bad, and the downright bizarre appeared on stage here.
The year 1913 and headlines appeared in papers nationwide, a strange turn of events 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.”
1926, and it was all was changed, the inside of the vast space being altered, it 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 couple of years later, it became the very first picture house in Weymouth to show talking movies.
Just after WWII, in 1951, it was time to change the name again, it became The Gaumont Cinema and Dance Hall. Times and money were hard though, and it didn’t survive long as a business, fairly soon after it’s grand reopening, it firmly closed its doors.
Next came a complete change of use for this grand old dame.
Weyrads, a local radio component manufacturer took over the space to use as their additional work premises.
But by 1959, the inside had undergone another transformation.
The old Victorian plush interior had been modernised, returning to its former use as a cinema, the only thing not changed was its name, it was still trading under the name of The Gaumont.
The year 1968 it became the 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 in the rain!
By 1976 this grand old building took on her final guise, as the New Invicta, a dual purpose space, cinema and bingo hall.
The cinema lasted for barely a year before it was closed down, though the bingo hall remained until the building was finally demolished in 1989.
Even that wasn’t without its problems.
Inside the old derelict building were many of the original Jubilee Hall structures, and a fight was on to save the beautiful and 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.
When work finally started on the demolition, an original Georgian building was discovered tucked 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…and very nicely brings me at last to my Victorian tale.
(renamed yet again…this time The Clipper)
In the start of March of 1871 a new family moved into the town of Weymouth.
Installed into the Rectory building at no 82 St Thomas Street was 50 year-old Rev Thomas Alexander Falkner, he was the new curate for St Mary’s church over in St Mary’s street.
Thomas was no pauper parish priest, he originated 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 played her role in which ever parish they were sent to.
During this time, their family grew in size, until in 1871, they found themselves all settling in the little seaside resort of Weymouth.
Thomas and Elizabeth had been blessed with 6 children in total, Robert Alexander (1854), Mary Grace (1856), John Mead (1858), Annie Louisa (1862), Charles Gaskell( 1864), and William Richardson (1867).
Also moving into the Rectory along side the family were their staff.
There was the all important cook, 28 year-old Harriet Churchill, and an 18 year-old housemaid, Mary Bridle.
However, virtually as soon as the family settled into their new home disaster struck.
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, things get rushed…so it must have been for the Falkners.
Mum Elizabeth became seriously ill, along with her children.
At first the doctors diagnosed a simple case of gastric fever…but it turned out to be far more sinister than that.
Despite the best medical care available, Elizabeth passed away after a few days, and the children remained critically ill.
They weren’t expected to survive,
Not surprisingly, Weymouth was a full of fanciful tittle-tattle, according to the press it had “cast quite a gloom over the town.”
The said ‘town’ became a hive of gossip about this terrible state of affairs. That poor new curate losing his wife…and now more than likely to lose his entire family too.
Thankfully, the children pulled through, and slowly began to regain their health.
At least he was spared the horror of having to bury them as well as his darling wife.
Despite all the rumours that circulated around town, a thorough investigation put paid to any spurious speculations into what had caused the illness, the doctors made startling discoveries within the household itself.
The young housekeeper, being rushed off her feet, had taken water from a tank in the house instead of collecting fresh from the well nearby. She had then used that water to make the tea…in it was part of a rats tail.
After Elizabeth’s death, and when investigations into the origin of the disease were under way, the old water tank in their home became one of the sources under suspicion…in there they found the rotting, putrid body of a rat!
A couple of weeks after the heartbreaking events, Thomas received a stark reminder of his great loss.
To his door came the enumerator, he needed to fill in that years census returns form.
Thomas had to state who would be resident in his home on the night of the 2/3 April.
By then, two new names were added to the household, two new members of staff, 28 year-old Jane Shepherd, and 50 year-old Ann Hatton, both were nurses employed to take care of the slowly recovering children.
For the newly widowed Thomas, the pain must have been very raw still, having to list himself as a widower for the first time.
It was a hard time for all the family, but like most who lost a parent or sibling, despite the grief, life simply went on.
One of those who pulled through the sad times was only 13 when he lost his mother, but despite this unhappy time in 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)
- 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)