The Ritz Cinema
DescriptionThe Ritz cinema in Easthampstead Road was officially opened on Saturday 29th May 1937 by the Mayor of Wokingham, Alderman F. J. Barrett J.P. The cinema was constructed by "Union Cinemas", whose architect was Eric F. Tully and was described as being "imposing" and regarded as one of the finest cinemas in the South of England.. Air conditioning was installed and described as a "most important feature" and dimming lights were new.
During the early years, admission in the afternoon was sixpence in the stalls and one shilling and sixpence in the balcony.
Talent shows were held from time to time and every year the Ritz was the venue for a series of events that culminated in the crowning of the Carnival Queen.
Union Cinemas were taken over by Associated British Cinema(A.B.C.) in 1937 and they operated the Wokingham Ritz until it was sold to Star Cinemas in June 1969.
The first screening was "Girls Dormitory" starring Simone Simon.
The cinema was closed at the start of World War 2, as all were nation wide but reopened on 11th September 1939.
During the Second World War events were held at the Ritz including the presentation by the Mayor of leather wallets embossed with the crest of the borough and the recipient's initials, to those ex service men and women who were fortunate enough to survive the war. On one occasion on 27th October 1946 228 wallets were presented.
After the war the Ritz held a congregation from local churches when the cinema was closed on Good Friday.
It was at the Ritz on 4th May 1947 where an instruction was flashed on the screen for Mr E J Ewington, the Inspector of the Mid-Wessex Water Company to go to Easthampstead Park Manor immediately as its roof was on fire. He arrived within ten minutes and was able to open the “wash out” making available a supply of water to help bring the fire under control.
Star Holdings took over the Ritz on 1st July 1969 and then passed onto Jora Leisure Limited on 1st November 1977, who converted the main auditorium into a bingo hall. 180 cinema seats were retained in the circle area.
Major alterations to the now "Ritz Entertainment Centre" were made in the late seventies with an extension built onto the front of the main building to house a small cinema and the former circle was partitioned off to create a second screen seating 190. The complex included a pool hall with an American style coffee bar and refurbished bingo hall.
The cinema reopened on Good Friday 1981.
The upturn in audience numbers never came and the opening of the 10 big screen complex at Skimped Hill, Bracknell was its death knell.
One of the screens closed in August 1990 and the other on 10th January 1991.
SourceMiss Baker's School and other Wokingham Memories by Jim Bell.
Reading Mercury, 29th May 1937.
“The Ritz Cinema,” Wokingham's Virtual Museum, accessed January 23, 2021, https://www.wokingham-tc.gov.uk/museum/document/WTH0343.