This article was written by Robert Brown and published in the Gazette on June 25, 2004.

FIFTY years ago this month, the Plaza Cinema at the top of Sarum Hill closed down.

The Plaza stood on a site which is now an office block almost next to the Winton public house. It was not built originally as a cinema but as a drill hall for the K Company of the First Voluntary Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, which was formed in 1875.

With the structure of brick and corrugated iron, and with a depth of 100 feet and a frontage of 50 feet, it was built for the purpose of public entertainment.

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Basingstoke Gazette: The Plaza cinema just before it closed in June 1954The Plaza cinema just before it closed in June 1954 (Image: Contributed)

Inside, it had a large stage with fittings and dressing rooms, while the floor was highly sprung for dancing on, and the envy of most North Hampshire dance halls.

Next to the drill hall was a masonic hall, and both these buildings were constructed in 1884/5 and paid for by Lt Col John May at a cost of £3,000.

The drill hall was used as a venue for a variety of social activities, plays, shows, speeches and dances. 

But when John May, whose profession was the owner of Brook Street Brewery, left the town to live in Southsea the hall lost its military use and began to fall into debt. Various functions were held to keep it in good condition in the future.

Then, in 1913, Edwin George Casey arrived in Basingstoke, from Ramsgate, Kent, to establish a cinema here, and he found that the Electric Cinema was already in operation at the bottom of Wote Street, having opened in 1910.

Nevertheless, he made a bid for the Victorian-built Corn Exchange in upper Wote Street and converted it into a theatre and cinema. He also purchased a house in Bounty Road and moved in with his wife and daughter. He later called his theatre the Grand Exchange.

In April 1925, Mr Casey took over the Sarum Hill Drill Hall and opened it as the “Pavilion” as a dance hall with music by the Coney Island Band every Thursday and Saturday from 7.30pm to 11.30pm.

Entry cost two shillings and sixpence (now 12½p). But this enterprise only lasted a month for, on May 16 that year, a destructive fire swept through the Grand Exchange, and with no cinema business to run, he quickly converted the Pavilion dance hall into the Plaza Cinema.

Soon after sound films were introduced in 1927, Mr Casey set about fitting it into the Plaza, and by 1931 the building was refitted completely with the loss of the dance floor.

Meanwhile, the Grand Exchange Theatre had been rebuilt and was used for plays and musical shows (in 1950 it was renamed the Haymarket Theatre and, over the years, has been altered several times both inside and out.)

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Basingstoke Gazette: The Corn Exchange in 1865The Corn Exchange in 1865 (Image: Contributed)

In 1934, George Casey formed the Casey’s Theatres Ltd Co, which included both the Grand and the Plaza. Then he decided to acquire land from the canal wharf at the bottom of Wote Street (opposite the Electric Cinema) and had the Waldorf Cinema built on the site.

It opened in October 1935, with 850 seats, and his business, assisted by his wife, daughter, and, later, his son-in-law, seemed to be going well. But later that year Mr Casey became ill and in January 1937 he died from pneumonia aged 63.

Over the following year, Mrs Casey, with her son-in-law, Mr Christmas, managed to keep the two cinemas and theatres in operation, but they eventually decided to hand them over to other companies.

The two cinemas were acquired by ABC. Mrs Casey and the Christmas’ moved to Horsham in Sussex by 1939.

By 1953 the Plaza was having problems with its projectors, and the introduction of television in people’s homes brought a decline in audiences at cinemas all over the country.

On June 27, 1954, the Plaza closed down, with the film The Sword and the Rose being its last performance.

In 1955, the Basingstoke Co-operative Society acquired the building as a furnisher's as the interior was just suitable for large items of furniture.

Although parts of the building were altered, including a new frontage, the stage and screen area was left in its original state.

In 1981, the shop closed down and the building was later demolished for an office block to be built on the site. After nearly 100 years of service to the public, the old building was no more.