Local film-makers the Anoraks, who are part of Crewkerne & District U3A, showed the film they made several years ago on the Lost Cinemas Of South Somerset to the U3A’s Local History group, in a trip down memory lane. In the heyday of their successes in the 1930s, every town had at least one cinema. There was one in Crewkerne, Ilminster and Martock while Chard had two and Yeovil had three. Within a couple of generations they were gone and the buildings became furniture showrooms and office blocks.
The U3A’s history group heard how the glory days of cinemas in south Somerset turned into a x certificate story of closure. With the growing popularity of TV, the once thriving Palaces and Gaumonts became obsolete. Twice as many people as usual turned up for the film show at the Henhayes Community Centre. Eileen Mills, leader of the local history group said: “They came because it brought back so many happy memories. Many of us who were there, remembered going to the Saturday Club at the cinema and seeing the weekly serial.”
Lost Cinemas Of South Somerset was presented by Alan Keene and Brian Lawrence of the Anoraks. It revived memories of the Palace at Crewkerne, which was an independent and not part of the national chain and originally had a capacity of 600. For a time it became a nightclub, where acts such as the Three Degrees and Freddie and the Dreamers performed. The site in West Street is now a small housing development.
The Cerdic in Chard opened in 1937 with a showing of Shirley Temple in Dimples. Although the art deco building closed as a cinema in 1962, it lives on as a converted Wetherspoon pub in Fore Street. One cinema goer remembered that the youngsters always envied the fact that the back rows of the Cerdic had double seats, unlike the Palace in Crewkerne. The other cinema in Chard, the Regent, was destroyed by fire in 1947 during a showing of the Incendiary Blonde starring Betty Hutton. It was rebuilt and opened again a year later. The building subsequently became a snooker club and a furniture storeroom.
Ilminster’s Plaza cinema, which was opposite the parish church, was converted from an existing building in Church Bank. It closed in the late 1950s and became a furniture showroom. Alan Keene of Anoraks said: “We’re delighted that everyone enjoyed the film and the chance to reminisce about the good old days of cinemas in south Somerset. We look forward to coming back again next year.”