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Warminster Athenaeum

670

The Athenaeum, a literary institution, was built in 1857/8 to designs by local architect W J Stent. It included a large lecture room, a reading room, classrooms and a librarian’s residence. In 1879 the hall was replaced with a larger one in memory of Dr Charles Bleeck. The architect for these works was T H Wyatt. The building was used for lectures, recitals, concerts and plays.

In 1895 the building was handed over to the Urban District Council. In 1912 Albany Ward took on the lease of the lecture room (the Bleeck Hall) and fitted it with the latest lighting and cinematograph equipment, refurbishing the seating and reopening as the Picture Palace. As well as films, the Palace also presented plays, pantomimes opera and music and productions of the Warminster Operatic Society. Further improvements were made in 1935.

In 1969 the Warminster and District Arts and Civic Society refurbished the building at a cost of £10,000. In 1986 it became the West Wiltshire Arts Centre, serving the local community with theatre, film, music, dance, art and lectures.

The attractive gabled stone front has been well preserved with its iron entrance canopy. The proscenium is plain but attractive, and the auditorium well-maintained. The balcony is iron- fronted and supported on two iron pillars.

Closed in 1997, it reopened in 2000 as the Athenaeum Centre for the Community, once again serving the local community with theatre, film, music and educational classes. A programme of refurbishment, begun in 2000, continues.

Built / Converted
1857
Dates of use
  • 1851 : Warminster Athenaeum begins in Market Place, Warminster as a Scientific and Literary Institution
Current state
Extant
Current use
Arts Centre (Centre for the Community includes: theatre, cinema, gallery, dance studio, meeting rooms, rehearsal rooms)
Address
18-20 High Street, Warminster, Wiltshire, BA12 9AE, England
Further details
Other names
Electric Picture Palace , The Palace, Warminster , Warminster Arts Centre/Athenaeum Arts Centre , Bleeck Memorial Hall , West Wiltshire Arts Centre , Athenaeum Centre for the Community
Events
  • 1851 Use: Warminster Athenaeum begins in Market Place, Warminster as a Scientific and Literary Institution
  • 1857 Owner/Management: Warminster Athenaeum Trust
  • 1857 Design/Construction: Warminster Athenaeum Lecture Hall built. William Jervis Stent – Architect, John Barnden – Builder. Held in Trust
  • 1858 Design/Construction: Warminster Athenaeum Reading Room and Classrooms built. William Jervis Stent – Architect, John Barnden – Builder. Held in Trust
  • 1858 Design/Construction: as Athenaeum Literary Institution
    William J Stent
    - Architect
  • 1879 Alteration: Lecture Hall rebuilt to a larger size as The Bleeck Memorial Hall. T H Wyatt - Architect, Henry Maxfield - Builder
  • 1895 Owner/Management: Athenaeum and Bleeck Memorial Hall trusteeship passes to Warminster Urban District Council.
  • 1895 Alteration: Alterations and extension to Reading Room. Architects and builder unknown.
  • 1901 Alteration: Athenaeum extension built as Warminster County Secondary School. William Henry Hardwick – Architect, John Ponton - Builder.
  • 1912 Alteration: Bleeck Hall and parts of Athenaeum converted to Electric Picture Palace. Cinema. Alterations: Unknown - Architect
  • 1912 Owner/Management: Albany Ward, lessee
  • 1927 Owner/Management: Charles Rowe, lessee
  • 1935 Alteration: reading room removed to make new entrance; lounge converted from billiards room
    Ronald W H Vallis
    - Architect
    Butcher and Sons
    - Builder
  • 1947 - 1948 Owner/Management: Frank H Fortescue Players, resident repertory company
  • 1948 : Lease to Emery Cinema Circuit Ltd (Manchester)
  • 1949 : Lease to Marks Cinema Circuit (Manchester)
  • 1950 : Lease to Alfred White Hall
  • 1964 : Palace cinema closes
  • 1965 Owner/Management: Warminster Arts & Civic Society, lessees
  • 1968 - 1969 Alteration: Alteration to arts centre and refurbishment. Eric G Stevens - Architect
  • 1983 : Alterations and refurbishment. Unknown Architect
  • 1987 - 1997 Owner/Management: Lease to West Wilts Arts and Entertainment Centre Limited. 1997 Centre closes after going into liquidation
  • 1993 Alteration: modified to provide exhibition room etc; redecorated. Chris Waters (West Wilts District Council) - Architect
  • 2000 Owner/Management: Warminster Athenaeum and Bleeck Memorial Hall Trusts combined to form Warminster Athenaeum Trust. Centre run by trustees on behalf of the residents.
  • 2009 Alteration: Lift added and linking atrium. Alan Moon – Architect
  • 2020 Alteration: Amalgamation with former school adjoining. Alan Moon - Architect
Capacities
  • Description
    1994: 226
  • Description
    1965: 244
  • Description
    1879: 400
  • Description
    1857: 500
Listings
  • Listing
    II
Stage type
Proscenium, slight rake, short apron
Building dimensions: 75m long x 25m wide = 1875sq. m
Stage dimensions: Depth: 7.6m Width 7.1m SL: 1.78m SR: 1.78m
Proscenium width: 7.15m x 3.61m
Height to grid: 6.3m
Inside proscenium: Depth: 1.07m
Orchestra pit: Front row in stalls removed when space required