The present cinema was originally built as a Mechanic’s Institute in the middle of the 19th Century; this was a place of learning for working people of the area and would have had a library and lecture facilities where people of different trades learnt from each other. This national network gradually disappeared towards the end of the century and in 1912 Walter Power opened ‘The Picture house’ to show the latest silent movies; it became known locally as ‘Powers’. He was a popular personality and showman extraordinaire; he would often accompany the mood of the films himself on the piano.
The original silent movie screen with the T.P.H. crest above it still exists behind our present screen. The ‘talkies’ arrived in 1927 and the cinema capacity was increased to accommodate the ensuing larger audiences by fitting a balcony area. The name was also changed to ‘The Ritz’.
Walter Power died in 1934, aged 47, and the cinema was operated by his wife and daughter until 1938 when they sold out to the Schofield Brothers from Leeds. It was managed for them by Mr Buck. From the late 1920’s to the 1950’s the cinema was in its heyday. The Gaiety cinema opened in Long Street but was mysteriously burnt down in 1930. The fire brigade found the remains of a highly inflammable gramophone record on every seat. The building is now a tyre depot.
The Regent Cinema at the opposite end of Castlegate from The Ritz was opened in 1935. With the influx of aircrew to the area during the Second World War the two cinemas did a very good trade, with two showings a day and ticket prices ranging from 9d to 2s3d for the balcony In 1953 The Ritz was bought by the Star Group who ran amost 100 cincmas. Peter Barr, one of our present projectionists, started work at the cinema as an apprentice in 1951 and worked for them under the management of Mr Kidd until 1962. During this period the name was changed to Studio One and bingo Sessions were introduced to boost falling profits with the advent of television.
By the early 1970’s Thirsk had lost both its cinemas with The Regent converting to a full time bingo hall. In 1974 however another local cinema enthusiast, Ken Cartman, decided on a venture which would eventually lead to the return of the big screen to Thirsk. He leased the dilapidated Town Hall next door, equipped and decorated it and opened up as the Central Cinema. However, after initial success, audiences dwindled and the cinema was lost to Thirsk again. Ken did not give and in 1981, with the help of Geoff Rose, Studio One reopened. In 1983 Peter Barr took over from Ken and, together with his wife, ran the cinema until 1993 when the business was sold to Mr Twiggs. By the end of 1994 it was closed again, but not for long.
The enthusiasm of members of Thirsk Town Council, the help of many able volunteers and the continued support of Peter, Ken and Geoff meant that the cinema reopened on 4th March 1995. Queues formed down the street for showings of ‘The Lion King’ and our friendly, local community cinema — ‘The Ritz’ — was reborn.
After an initial partnership period of 12 months, control was passed into the hands of the Volunteer Management Committee. With the determination of the volunteers and the support of the local townspeople we have managed to carry out many improvements including the installation of a new screen, better seating, Dolby SR surround sound and improved decor.
The Ritz is constantly looking forward and is proud to continue the tradition of cinema in Hambleton District.
The Ritz today combines the period feel of Mr Power’s ‘Picture House’ with modern comfort and the facilities that audiences now expect.
For example, The Ritz has the benefit of Dolby SR surround sound giving the audience the full experience of the modern films.
The film is shown using two Gaumont Kalle projectors. Digital change over is coming to the Ritz very shortly.
The wide cinema screen has an area of 270 square feet. This is being used by local businesses fur advertising.
The cinema has a seating capacity of 194 - 121 downstairs and 73 in the balcony area.
In the auditorium downstairs there are spacious seats giving comfy leg room whereas upstairs the original balcony seating arrangements have been retained.