An iconic part of Cheshire has been destroyed today.
Back in 1988, club goers everywhere, well, everywhere in the UK, were treated to a late night music show called ‘The Hit Man and Her’. The Hit Man was Pete Waterman, a third of the song-writing trio Stock Aitken and Waterman, and Her was Michaela Strachan, who has since moved on to presenting wildlife shows. The Hit Man and Her was broadcast live, from slap-bang in the middle of a heaving nightclub, as they tended to be in those days.
The very first show was broadcast from a nightclub in Warrington, Cheshire, named Mr Smiths.
The building was built in 1937 by Union Cinemas, and was called the Ritz Cinema. Associated British Cinemas took over the Union Chain later in 1937, but they kept the name for the Ritz until 1958, when they renamed it the ABC. Folk today still refer to it as the Ritz.
In 1972, the building split into two, housing a bingo hall in the stalls and a cinema in the balcony; and in 1982 the cinema closed its doors for the final time, followed shortly afterwards by the bingo club.
The bingo hall became Mr Smith’s nightclub, and there have also been a few other names for the club in the years since then.
I remember vividly going to the Saturday Morning Club that they held there, back in the 1970s. And I also remember (rather strangely) my nights of frantic dancing and merriment during the 1980s and later. Frantic dancing is probably the best way to describe my moves. They weren’t smooth; and they certainly weren’t pleasant. I ached for a week after doing that, and my ears rang for about the same length of time afterwards also, as the music was so loud. Still, good memories.
This morning, there was a definite smell of burning in the air. I wasn’t aware of what was happening until I approached the site. The building had been alight since before 2am this morning, and fire crews from neighbouring towns had been called in to help fight the blaze.
Most of the roads around the area were closed, but I was able to continue with my journey as my way was clear. Smoke was still rising from what remained of the building as I watched from over the bridge, mouth open.
The building has been empty and unused for a few years, but the owners were in the final stages of talks for the building to become a youth club.
The ironic thing? Seven youths aged 15, 16 and 17 have been arrested in connection with the fire. Can I ask what is wrong with people?
The building is now in the process of being demolished. Fire crews are still damping down other parts of the building, well, they were at 7.30pm, but the bulldozers have already moved in and torn down the worst affected parts. How much will be demolished and therefore how much will remain tomorrow morning remains to be seen… but if the building is gone completely the Warrington skyline will have a completely different look tomorrow morning.
As I drove past the building this evening, and saw the demolished side of it, I felt physically sick. I know it’s ‘only’ a building, and one I haven’t stepped foot in for many a year, but it’s a building that invokes memories all the same… and now, it seems, only those memories are all that is left of it.
A sign that nothing lasts forever, perhaps.
The Union Cinema, 1937:
The ABC (EMI) Cinema in 1978:
Mr Smiths in the 1980s (or thereabouts):
And April 14th 2015: