Former cinema and Mecca Bingo is being demolished in Norwich city centre
The number is finally up for a former bingo hall, after its owners started work to demolish a building which has been a part of Norwich city centre for more than 80 years.
But uncertainty surrounds what will happen once Mecca Bingo in All Saints Green is reduced to rubble, with the owners yet to submit any plans for the site it currently stands on.
The building survived a bomb drop during the Second World War, but is not going to escape the bulldozers.
Landowner Telereal Trillium has put up metal barriers around the building, which dates back to the 1930s, to pave the way for it to be knocked down.
More than just a bingo hall
With bulldozers set to move in on the former Mecca Bingo in All Saints Green, the city is set to lose more than just an old bingo hall.
The building opened as the Carlton in 1932, holding just over 900 people.
A year later, it reopened as a 2,000-seater cinema, complete with stalls, which could also be used as a theatre for live entertainment.
Perhaps one of its most dramatic episodes came during the Second World War, during an intensive air raid of April 29, 1942, when an unexploded bomb smashed through the Carlton’s canopy and burrowed under the outer wall.
It gets a bit confusing because the Gaumont also used to be in Haymarket (where Topshop is now). The cinema there was called The Picture House, although everyone called it the Haymarket, and it become the Gaumont, above right, in 1954 before closing in 1959. When that shut, the name transferred to the All Saints Green venue and it remained a cinema until the start of 1973.
During this time it played host to some big names – most memorably The Rolling Stones who played a concert there in 1964. The cinema broke Norfolk records for its 27-week run of the Sound of Music and a quarter of a million people were estimated to have seen it at the Gaumont by the end of its run.
It was in the 1970s that it was turned into a bingo hall, trading as Top Rank, and then becoming Mecca Bingo – giving a whole new generation of people happy memories and associations.
But the London-based company has yet to reveal what the future holds for the site, which is estimated to be worth about half a million pounds.
While the company secured planning permission to knock down the building from Norwich City Council two years ago, City Hall has received no application for what will replace the former cinema and theatre, which once played host to The Rolling Stones and Morecambe and Wise.
A spokeswoman for Telereal Trillium said: “We have no immediate plans for a planning application, but we will be looking at future viable uses for the site within next year.”
When planning permission was granted in May 2012, Gary Howe, a city council planning officer, said: “It will leave a significant gap in the street frontage once removed.
“There are no plans for the short or medium-term redevelopment of the site - due in part to the need to take the building down for structural reasons.
“It would, therefore, be prudent to condition some form of temporary landscaping of the site or the hoarding off the site to prevent it becoming an eyesore or blank frontage within the conservation area.”
Mecca Bingo closed after investigations found major structural problems and the repair bill was considered to be too high.
Heritage watchdog the Norwich Society said at the time the demolition was approved that it was not against the building being knocked down, but would not wish the site to become an “eyesore long-term”.
Vicky Manthorpe, a spokesman for the society, said: “If it were to come down, we rather hoped that it would become an open space. We had understood that many years ago there had been some kind of talk of that, even a gentleman’s agreement that it would happen, but that was a long time ago. It could be quite lovely there, if such a thing were to happen, as it’s a splendid area. We shall wait to see what does happen.”
The council has asked for photographs showing any historic features of the venue to be taken throughout the demolition.
Mr Howe’s planning report concluded: “Whilst the loss of the building is regrettable, it is clear that the structural deficiencies of the building make this proposal necessary.
“The proposed demolition is considered to be acceptable as the building contributes little to the character and appearance of the conservation area.”
Norwich South MP Simon Wright said: “It’s really important that the owners of the site make sure it’s kept in a good condition, and not allowed to become a run-down eyesore, and a blot on the city. I hope the owners are planning a productive use for the site, whether housing or commercial, and that it can be progressed fairly soon.”
• What would you like to see happen to the site after the demolition? Write, giving full contact details, to Letters Editor, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich NR1 1RE.