We’re already brought you news of the new £3.5 million four-screen White River cinema that is at the heart of the heart of St Austell’s regeneration. But because this marks such a historic occasion, we thought we’d bring you some of the background to the development. Some may call it context, some may say its social history. We just call it interesting.
History of cinematography and WTW Cinemas in St Austell
The origins of the Williams family involvement in the Cinema Industry and St Austell in particular goes back to 1945 when together with the Chapman family, WTW Cinemas purchased the Capitol Theatre in Alexandra Road, St Austell. The current managing director David Williams’ grandfather and father were original directors of the company, which operated the Capitol as a live theatre, cinema, ballroom and café.
David Williams joined the company in 1966 as a trainee projectionist before becoming a director of the company in the 1970’s.
As well as operating the Capitol in St Austell, in 1967 the company acquired The Regal, Wadebridge having previously purchased the Capitol Cinema in Padstow. The group title of ‘WTW Cinemas’ originated at this time, the title referring to the family construction business of WTW Williams which had commenced its operations in Wadebridge in 1878.
The success of the Capitol enabled WTW to acquire their opposition cinema in St Austell. It was in late 1977 that the purchase of the Classic/former Odeon in the town centre was confirmed. In 1980 plans were announced for significant alterations to the building to make it Cornwall’s first multi-screen complex, and it was closed later that year for work to begin. It was renamed the St Austell FilmCentre and taken from a single screen cinema to a three-screen cinema. It re-opened in April 1981 – the old circle had been extended forward and two extra screens made. In the old stalls area was formed a 605 seat cinema, the others held 125 and 139 respectively. It was then the first and only three-screen cinema in Cornwall.
The Capitol was sold by the company in 1986, and still remains a full time Bingo Hall.
In July 1986, the St Austell FilmCentre celebrated its 50th anniversary and in May 1991 it became a five-screen cinema with extra screens being fitted in spare areas left in the original conversion work.
David’s sons Mark and Robert started working for WTW at the company’s Wadebridge cinema in the 1990’s, Mark becoming Manager of the St Austell FilmCentre in 2002 and Robert holding a similar position at the Wadebridge and Padstow cinemas.
The company acquired the closed Plaza at Truro in 1997 from the receivers and undertook a complete re-construction of the building opening as a modern four screen complex in July 1998. The Plaza is recognised as Cornwall’s leading cinema and has hosted several premieres. In 2006 the Plaza was voted Best UK Independent Cinema at the RAAM International Cinema Conference in Glasgow.
The St Austell FilmCentre was finally closed for good in August 2007 for work to begin on the £75 million town centre redevelopment and new White River Cinema on Trinity Street. White River Cinema, once completed in December 2008, will be the third cinema to be built in St Austell over a period of 63 years.
• The White River Cinema will open in St Austell on Friday December 19. There’s an opportunity to look around on two open days on Wednesday and Thursday December 17 and 18.
Posted by Cptn