The day the Playhouse was destroyed in worst fire since the war...

PUBLISHED: 08:00 26 August 2014 | UPDATED: 11:04 27 August 2014

Weston Playhouse destroyed in night fire drama. The morning after.

Weston Playhouse destroyed in night fire drama. The morning after.

Archant

"GET out as quickly as you can, don't stop for anything, the Playhouse is on fire," were the words shouted by a policeman in Weston 50 years ago.

Weston Playhouse destroyed in night fire drama. The charred, debris strewn interior of the theatre.Weston Playhouse destroyed in night fire drama. The charred, debris strewn interior of the theatre.

In what was described as the worst fire in the town since World War Two, the High Street theatre was completely destroyed.

In the early hours of August 22, 1964, people living in flats above The Playhouse escaped just as flames burst through and destroyed their homes - and the Mercury can tell the dramatic story that few people in Weston will have heard before, once more.

Speaking at the time, assistant divisional fire officer D Faulkner said: “One moment the flats were intact, the next they were an inferno.”

The heat was described as being so intense the windows in neighbouring buildings cracked.

Weston Playhouse destroyed in night fire drama. The charred, debris strewn interior of the theatre.Weston Playhouse destroyed in night fire drama. The charred, debris strewn interior of the theatre.

The Playhouse was originally called The Market Hall where poultry, fish and bread were all available.

In 1946, it was converted into a theatre using £3,000 from the Government to replace the Grove Park Pavillion which was destroyed during a World War Two air raid.

The theatre was insured for £100,000 and Weston Borough Council was told it could claim £16,500 for catering equipment, £13,750 to cover the cost of food and cigarettes, and £36,000 for a loss of profits.

The Charles Vance Repertory Company, one of many production companies which used the theatre at that time, lost £2,500 in scenery, wardrobe and personal possessions.

A history of Weston’s theatre fires

THERE is a long tradition of Weston’s theatres going up in smoke.

* On January 13, 1930, the Grand Pier Theatre was destroyed by fire and replaced by an amusement arcade.

* Just 11 years later, the Grove Park Pavilion was lost to flames during an air raid and is now the site of the Grove Park car park.

* The Assembly Rooms, built in the 1860s, were at the junction of High Street and West Street. Originally a 600-seat theatre, it was converted for other use before it went up in flames as a result of incendiary bombing during World War Two on June 28, 1942.

* The Tivoli Theatre in the Boulevard was also lost as a result of bombing on the same day, and was never rebuilt. It is now the site of the Tivoli flats.

* And the Playhouse was destroyed in 1964. The fire was so big that military stand-by fire engines called Green Goddesses had to be brought in to

supplement the regular fire engines.

The borough council found temporary accommodation for those who lived in the flats.

One tenant, William Smith, said: “As I was coming out, the flames burst through the glass and the kitchen caught fire.

“We lost everything and all we have got is what we stand in.”

Many of those tenants owed their lives to Police Constable Herbert John Poole who first noticed the smoke.

He said at the time: “I happened to look up towards the theatre and saw smoke curling up. It was not a great volume rather like a garden bonfire. I judged it to be in the Market Lane area.

“There was no glow or any sign of a fire but I had got only half way across the road when the roof at the back caved in and there was one big sheet of flame belching up.”

Despite the loss, the show went on for the Charles Vance Repertory Company when it played to a packed house at the Town Hall Assembly Rooms just four days later.

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