Page updated 3rd March 2011
Mr James Woodrow Matthews gave a gift of £5,000 in 1927 to Topsham, that paid for the building of Matthews Hall. The land was purchased with a £2,000 loan from the Ministry of Health. The architect was Boddy & Dempster, and the builder was Henry Gould & Sons. Mr James Matthews laid the foundation stone on the 26th January 1927. The hall was opened 15th February 1928 by Matthews, using a silver key specially made for the occasion. To celebrate this event, a Grand Concert and Dinner was given in the hall that evening by Mr Matthews for members of the Parish Council. While the hall was under construction, Lionel Gould, the builders son, secretly hid a large Cocoa tin containing photographs of his boyhood, some contemporary coins and newspapers of the day, under the eaves of the hall.
On the balcony of the hall was the Council Chamber, from where the returning officer would declare the results of the Parish and District Council Elections to the waiting crowd belo, and from the same balcony the Carnival Queen would address her subjects. Amateur and traveling professional repertory companies would tread the stage, to the delight of the local audiences. In fact, the hall was used for all the events that any village hall across the country are used for. During the war the hall was the venue for ARP training, First Aid Classes and Gas Mask Practice. Dances were also used for the Royal Marines from Lympstone, and forces from the United States based at the Countess Wear camp.
The builder of the hall, Henry Gould, who had opened Topsham's first cinema, the Cosy, in the 1920s, set his sites on Matthews Hall for a cinema from the start. Gould again set up his projection equipment, this time in a purpose built projection box with twin projectors, allowing multi-reel films to be shown. The cinema proved to be very popular and queues often waited for the front door when a popular feature was shown. The usual cowboys, cartoons and adventure films were shown at the Saturday morning shows for the local children. Sometimes a rowdy youngster had to be removed and banned from the next show, by Gordon Edds who operated the cinema, as he had the Cosy. He made his own custom screen and installed a Morrison sound system in 1931. The first sound film to be shown was Palmy Days, with Edward Cantor. The cinema was named the Rex by 1939, managed by A G Curtis.
After the Second War, Topsham Entertainments was formed, a British Thompson Houston sound system installed, and the cinema was renamed the Tivoli. A 15ft 6in widescreen was even installed by the operator, Wing Commander A R Buere. The cinema closed in 1960.
Matthews Hall still hosts film shows. Topsham Film Society, shows quality, non-mainstream films on the first Friday of each month, September to March.
Sources: Section on the general history of the hall John Willing's book, A River at my Garden's End 1987.
Matthews Hall in 2006.The Hall soon after it opened. The Rex and Tivoli Cinemas were based in Matthews Hall.
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