Newbury Nostalgia: The Plaza hall and arcade in the Market Place before it became Dreweatts
A delve into the Newbury Weekly News archives has thrown up some pictures of a popular venue in the centre of Newbury that was demolished to make way for an office building.
The Plaza held centre stage in the Market Place, Newbury and was home to many local community groups.
It was built in 1925 by eccentric Newbury businessman Jimmy Tufnail, originally as a theatre with an arcade of shops.
Newbury Borough Council bought the Plaza a few years later and the hall was used for public events and community groups until the late 70s.
In 1947 the NWN reported that the Plaza had been cleaned and redecorated. The report noted that 'the lowering of the stage, the installation of modern lighting and well equipped kitchens and servery' would provide the town with a much-needed hall for plays, entertainments, dances and 'other gatherings of the kind'.
The report went on to say that the estates committee had been unable to find enough tip-up seats, but the newspaper was hopeful this would be achieved for 'comfortable seats are an absolute essential if one wants to compete with the picture houses'.
In 1977 a group of business men proposed buying it from the council and knocking it down to build a nightclub to be called Carabella.
Local societies reacted strongly to the news that the Plaza was to be demolished.
It was booked on average three days a week all year round at the time and was the home of the New Era Players, now at Wash Common, Newbury Dramatic Society, the Townswomen's Guild and the Caged Bird Society, among others.
A sequence of unfortunate events meant the nightclub project never got off the ground and instead in 1984 the Plaza was sold to a local business for £333,000.
The building was demolished to make way for a new office for what was then called Dreweatt, Watson and Barton. The original plans put forward by the Newbury estate agents were initially turned down as the style was considered too 'modern' for the mainly Georgian-style Market Place, so a more traditional design was submitted.
The closure of the Plaza met with strong criticism as some councillors felt that what was one of the few places available for entertainment in the town was now to be lost. Some accused Berkshire County Council of letting the building go downhill deliberately in order to capitalise on the site's value.
James Tufnail was an eccentric character who arrived in Newbury from Reading in 1887 with '2s in his pocket'.
His first business venture was to rent the billiard's room of The White Hart and his 'empire' soon expanded, with numerous other businesses in the Arcade, the approach to the station and in Cheap Street, as well as the new arcade leading to the Plaza.
He pioneered roller skating in the town, laying down a maple floor in the Plaza to give skaters a smoother ride. Unfortunately, due to a dispute over leasing hours, this venture ended in a law suit.
Undaunted Mr Tufnail opened a cinema and kept pace with the times by introducing 'talkies' in 1930 – the year of his death.
He was elected onto the town council in 1920, but his character did not suit politics and 'Tuffy' only served one three-year term.
The last remaining legacy of Mr Tufnail was the newsagents and tobacconists at 149 Bartholomew Street, which bore his name. The proprietor in 1980 was Joe Buckingham and he closed the shop for good due to increased rents which meant it was no longer viable to trade.