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Film still outside Pavilion
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Thanks to Local History Unit, Weymouth Museum and Weymouth and Dorset Local History Forums for this information.

cover of an old programme

Weymouth Pavilion 1908-1960

Almost one hundred years ago the Pavilion, as is happening now, was a subject much exercising the minds of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis Borough Councillors. It would be more accurate to say that 'a' pavilion was being discussed. Technically a pavilion was a light ornamental building or pleasure house and Weymouth did not have one. By 1900 Weymouth was increasingly popular as a seaside resort for ordinary families, who naturally wanted entertainment. But there was nowhere in the town they could go and be entertained and be sheltered from bad weather. Many people felt that if Weymouth was to be a first-class resort, such a building was urgently required. By 1906 a sufficient head of steam had built up for the decision to be taken.

Plan of the southern end of the Esplanade

The site chosen for this new pavilion was at the southern end of the Esplanade next to what was then known as the Pile Pier. There were objections of course. As one would expect the Ratepayers Association disliked the spending of any public money. More interestingly, perhaps, one councillor thought the location was pretty bad. It was too far from the railway station and in a much too exposed position in bad weather for those who had to walk to it.

plan of Pavilion site in 1864
Plan of Pavilion site in 1864

plan of Pavilion site in 1929
Plan of Pavilion site in 1929

plan of Pavilion site in 1937
Plan of Pavilion site in 1937

The land where the pavilion and ferry terminal stand has now been reclaimed from the sea several times. Though there seems to have been some kind of jetty situated here for a long time. Until the 18th century Melcombe Quay only went as far as the George Inn. It was then extended and Pultney Buildings and Devonshire Buildings were built. The first ferry was the Steam Packet service operating to the Channel Islands, begun in 1794, so I would imagine the Ferry Terminal came into being sometime later.

Despite objections the plan for a new pavilion went ahead. Land was reclaimed from the foreshore and an architectural competition launched in 1907 to find a suitable design. The winning design from an anonymous hand was chosen in October 1907 and a sketch and lengthy description appeared in the 'Southern Times'. This design included an auditorium with stalls and gallery seating, an Oriental café and outside verandas. The frame was of steel with the main fabric of wood. Construction began in early 1908. The total cost, including land reclamation, was £14,150.

Weymouth Pavilion as it might have been. A rejected design of 1907
Weymouth Pavilion as it might have been. A rejected design of 1907

The grand opening of the Pavilion as it was to be called took place on 21 December 1908 in the presence of the Earl and Countess of Shaftesbury. A special train from London was even laid on to bring down metropolitan journalists. They knew all about publicity even then!

Two nights later the first performance took place, a Christmas pantomime, Mother Goose. The mainstay of the Pavilion in its early years was the Pavilion Orchestra under Mr John Howgill. They put on concerts in the theatre and performed in the Tea rooms. Pictures of the first Pavilion Theatre show it to be stuck out on a limb, jutting into the bay.

The outbreak of war in 1914 brought considerable changes to the Pavilion. The Town Council decided that it should not be running it and instead leased it to a Mr Ernest Wheeler. He was a member of a prominent business family in the town. His father Harry had in fact run the new Theatre Royal in St Nicholas Street. Ernest carried on leasing the building for the next 25 years.