Lyme Regis, DT7 3JB
Date opened: Monday 11th October 1937.
Original owner: Donald Hardy.
Architects: William Henry Watkins (1877-1964).
First film shown: “The Limping Man” starring Francis L Sullivan and Hugh Wakefield.
Seating Capacity: 305.
Date closed: Tuesday 22nd March 2016.
Final film: “Hail, Caesar” starring George Clooney.
Demolished. Facade standing.
Built on the site of the Bow House Hotel, this gem of a cinema was the brainchild of local and independent cinema operator, Donald Hardy and his father, Walter. He commissioned the well established Bristol based architect, William Henry Watkins, to draw up plans for a modestly sized cinema befitting of the beautiful Dorset seaside town of Lyme Regis. Watkins was experienced in cinema design being responsible for numerous cinemas in the Bristol and South West areas. It had been decided that this cinema’s layout of 305 seats would be of a stadium plan with a raised stepped block section towards the rear of the auditorium.
The plain rendered facade in subdued classical style, was set back from the line of adjacent buildings, forming a forecourt, (which is still a feature on Broad Street), it is as high as it is wide, topped with a bevelled cornice, the Regent’s name positioned below in large letters. Centre of the frontage are three tall arched windows, small pane glazing in neo-Georgian style, separated by pilasters with Art Deco capitals. Beneath these windows were three sets of double doors of the main entrance that were set to the right, a shop unit was positioned on the left.
Entry was directly into the main foyer at street level. Here the 1930s style is evident with three deeply recessed ceiling bays that were bordered with beveled ribbed plaster design.
A well proportioned and comfortable upper waiting lounge was accessed via a staircase from the entrance foyer. This area was originally used as a cafe.
The streamline Art Deco style design of the auditorium was more than pleasing to the eye, with a restrained decor in which apricot, cool green and gold were the theme colours, certainly nothing garish about this decoration, it looked and felt luxurious. The cinema was a real asset to this small seaside resort, a picture palace in the true sense of the word.
The plainness of the ceiling was relieved with three deep and generously bevelled border features that ran the complete width of the ceiling, extending down the side walls.
The clever wave like bordered design of the proscenium introduced a series of large curves that started mid way from the ceiling on either side, then progressed downwards and towards the stage where they terminated at floor level, creating an effect where the generous plaster work bands surrounding the stage aperture were enveloped with this unique design which helped to disguise the small 35′ width of the stage. The illumination was magical, with the Holophane system that enabled the projectionists to programme the lighting effects in the auditorium, particularly around the proscenium with red, green and blue lights concealed in troughs forming part of the decor. A wide spectrum of ever changing colour could be achieved.
The Regent opened on Monday 11th October 1937. The Mayor and other dignitaries, together with a capacity audience watched the first feature, a Britsh crime drama, “The Limping Man” starring Francis L Sullivan and Hugh Wakefield, and witnessed Donald Hardy promise that “Our policy will be to serve you courteously and well and to provide a consistently high standard of entertainment.”
It is believed that Lyme Regis is the smallest town in England to have had it’s own cinema
Projectionists employed on the opening were Robert Templeman, who had moved across from the Drill Hall and a young trainee, Cyril Wellman.
Enjoying brisk seasonal and local business through the war years and heyday of cinema, the Regent then managed to survive the arrival of television and other forms of competition that plagued many independent cinema operators throughout the years, many because of it’s splendid service and support from loyal locals.
It remained under the ownership of Donald Hardy until the 1973 when a controlling interest was purchased by the late Gordon Vearncome who owned several other cinemas. Later, Charles C W Scott acquired the cinema and it was then within the Scott Cinemas circuit.
At the point of the Regent’s Golden Jubilee in 1987, the local press described the cinema as “The Regent cinema is the jewel in Lyme’s Crown”. Under a photograph of cashier, Mrs Pat Wilton noted: “the Golden Age movie house has survived to celebrate its 50th Anniversary – it is a gilt-edged asset to the town.”
At this time, Peter Hoare, of Scott cinemas noted that the company was resisting altering the building to accommodate more screens in fear that it would change the character of the building. “Something I do not wish to do.” stated Mr Hoare. The majority of customers agreed with him, for other than refurbishments, there had been no structural alterations and the building remained intact just as it was in 1937, retaining it’s quaint and period charm. This was acknowledged by English Heritage who deemed the Regent to be a VERY fine example of a small seaside town Art Deco cinema. In October 2000 it was given a Grade 2 listing.
The Regent went on to become even more popular through the era of the multiplex as the more discerning patrons craved to watch films in this beautifully kept cinema. However, it was decided that the building needed a complete refurbishment which started in 2015. The fortunate people of Lyme Regis were truly delighted when they saw the fabulous and tasteful refurbishment that had taken place over several months.
They flocked back in their thousands to see not only their favourite films, but to admire the marvellous and meticulous refurbishment of this cinema treasure. Technical specification was NEC Digital projection, Dolby 3D and Dolby 5.1 channel Digital Sound providing state of the art picture and sound quality, together with a 35mm Phillips DP70 projector for film. The screen width was 8.8m (29′) when set to CinemaScope.
This adoration was to be a short lived! On Tuesday 22nd March 2016 at 1.20pm, shortly before the cinema was due to open, a fire broke out in the main roof, believed to have been caused by an electrical fault.
Passers-by were frozen in shock horror as they watched the fire crews battle in vain to save the Regent. The main auditorium was lost completely, with just the front of the building left smoke damaged, but intact.
A local press report on 23rd August 2021~ ‘The owners of the Regent cinema destroyed in a fire are selling the building to a local company which intends to rebuild it’.
The owners, WTW-Scott Cinema group, sold the site to local businessman, Seb Walther, who operates a garage business.