Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: February 12, 2016.
Webpage updated: May 17, 2019

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The Devonport Public Hall in use as the YMCA.

The YMCA was previously the Devonport Public Hall.
From Ordnance Survey sheetCXXIII.7 surveyed in 1912.

The Devonport Public Hall was situated at the eastern end of Fore Street, Devonport.

It was decided that there was a need in Devonport for a new hall suitable for public gatherings and concerts when the only building in the Borough capable of housing such functions, the Mechanics' Institute, was about to be turned into a Free Library.

Miss Saint Aubyn laid the corner stone of this prominent building on July 28th 1880.  The architect was a Mr Samuel Knight, FRIBA, of London, while the contractor was Mr James Matcham of Plymouth.  The cost of 12,000 was raised by issuing shares of 5 each.  The Hall was designed to be used as a theatre as well and it was later much used as such.  The Hall could seat 2,500 people and there was a supper room, a card room, cloak room and committee rooms.  On the ground floor were six units adapted as stores and offices let to local merchants and adjoining were the residences of the manager and his staff.

Devonport Public Hall was opened on Wednesday November 9th 1881 with a grand musical concert.  It is believed that an organ was installed as this was later used when the Hall became a cinema.

On November 9th 1888 the Devonport branch of the Young Men's Christian Association took possession of the Public Hall, which they had purchased for the bargain price of 6,000.  Most of the tenants of parts of the building were expected to remain and the committee of management would continue to honour all bookings except those of a theatrical nature, which would have to fall through.  Although the facilities of lecture-rooms, committee-rooms and recreation-rooms was highlighted there was no mention of it being used for accommodation.

It is said that in 1897 or 1898 Messrs Coombes, the opticians, of Fore Street, Devonport, gave demonstrations of 5 inch by 4 inch glass plates using an oscillating lantern.  As the shutter closed on one plate it opened on the other.

"West's Patriotic Entertainment" visited the Hall in May 1900.  For two weeks Messrs G West & Son, of Southsea, presented a series of animated pictures that included the career of a British sailor; scenes of South Africa; and the arrival of Lord Roberts in Cape Town.  The show lasted two hours and and attracted large audiences.

Following the enactment of the Cinematograph Act 1909 Devonport Corporation was quick to issue its first cinematograph licence on January 20thth 1910 to Mr William H Gillman, manager of the Devonport Public Hall.

During the week of March 28th 1910 there was an 'Enormous Easter Programme of Star Pictures' being shown, as the adverts stated, 'at the Electric Theatre at the Public Hall'.  This was during a concert by Charles Clifford, the world famous harpist.  Films shown were: "Miss Kellerman, champion swimmer"; The Cowboy Millionaire"; and the "Field Gun Drill by British Bluejackets".

In December 1910 it was announced that the Hall was now to be known as the Electric Cinema.