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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

Plymouth Photo Walk 2 - 15 09 2022

This part of the walk takes me into Stonehouse along Union Street from Western Approach.

These first two shots, below, are taken from an area that not so long ago was a major rail route into the city to Millbay. All of this was removed in the latter half of the twentieth century for the new road network. In addition the massive Western Approach car park and retail building seen in part 1 was built here. Part of the development was this Pavilions building an entertainment complex with ice rink, which I have not yet explored. On this occasion I am going to walk down Union Street.

The first building on Union Street headed west is the old Gaumont Palace cinema, built in the Art Deco style, in 1931. It replaced the earlier New Picture Palace on the same site which only stood for twenty years.

The impressive and imposing brick building has a central white stone feature tower. This truly was a picture palace for the golden age of the cinema. The auditorium had seating for over 2200 people.

The Gaumont shut in 1961 when it was converted into a dance hall downstairs and a smaller scale cinema in the upstairs area. This opened as The Odeon in 1962. This operated until 1980 when it was converted into a roller disco. From 1987 it became a nightclub and rock music venue called The Boulevard. In 2013 it was converted into a religious broadcast studio.

The really surprising fact is that it is not protected by English Heritage listing and is on The Buildings at Risk list. One positive thing is it's placement within a Conservation Area which offers some safeguard. In 2021 it was taken over by new owners and renovations were due to start in May 2022. There was no sign of renovation when I took these photos so it may have been delayed.

Allen Pollock said his first memory of visiting the cinema was when he was just four years old.

"My mother wasn't a cinema goer," explained Mr Pollock, "but she would walk me along the queue to the cinema until she found somebody she knew, and would leave me with them."

"She knew all these people well, but I didn't! And when I was about nine or 10 I would wait outside and ask strangers to take me in."

"That definitely wouldn't happen in this day and age."

This area is part of a massive redevelopment plan for the city and is undergoing huge change already. Union Street in Plymouth, Devon, is a long straight street connecting the city centre to Devonport, the site of Plymouth's naval base and docks. Originally the home of wealthy people, it later became an infamous red-light district and the location of most of the city's night-life.

Designed by John Foulston, it was laid out between 1812 and 1820 as a grand boulevard to connect the three towns of Plymouth, East Stonehouse and Devonport. Today Union Street forms part of the A374.

For some years after its construction, Union Street was the home of the wealthy. According to a guidebook of 1823:

It was the continuing development along and around Union Street that led to the merger of the Three Towns in 1914, and the granting of Plymouth's city status in 1928.

Frequented by sailors from all over the world, it was once known as one of the West Country's most infamous streets and red-light districts. Much of the area was destroyed by German bombing in World War II, and more by widening and slum clearance work.

The environment of Union Street - although designated as a local conservation area is now considerably dilapidated following the closure of the majority of the night leisure businesses in an attempt to control the associated problems of late-night violence and drunkenness. The broken and collapsed historic frontage has fallen into considerable disrepair and many of the businesses associated with servicing the nighttime economy are now vacant.

This section of Union Street seems. at the moment. to be in a period of stasis, neither one thing or the other, but waiting for something to happen. It is partly why I wanted to make a photographic record of it now as it certainly has the feel of somewhere that is going to undergo a lot of change pretty soon. The streets immediately north and south of it have already seen restoration and new development as has the western end of Union Street itself.

The residential area north of Union Street will feature in a later post and my next post will start with a focus on one of the most important buildings in the street, the Art Nouveau masterpiece and English Heritage listed, Great Western Hotel and New Palace Theatre.

This is The Great Western Hotel and New Palace Theatre. At this distance it doesn't look much, but I assure you the details are worth a much closer look. This where my next post will start. Part 3 here.

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David Nurse
David Nurse
Sep 30, 2022

Nice post. The Gaumont Palace cinema looks magnificent, too many of these fall into a derelict state. Let's hope the restoration starts soon.

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Sep 30, 2022
Replying to

I suppose it's been luckier than some in having been repurposed several times already so I think it has already been weather proofed. It's when the rain gets in that they are doomed.


Unknown member
Sep 26, 2022

Love the mural, both the close up and the distant photos. Some of the areas could easily been taken in Chicago. I guess that's the "beauty" of a large city?

Gethin Thomas
Gethin Thomas
Oct 02, 2022
Replying to

There's something about that mural I like too, it's very different. Normally not a fan of graffitti because most is visually so poor in quality.

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