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Updated: Aug 28, 2023

This article was written for the owners of Totnes Cinema, Jane Hughes and William Johnson.

Copyright Peter Sissons 2023

The ancient market town of Totnes and its inhabitants are eccentrically unique in every sense – the Totnesians know there is an unconventional and exciting chemistry alive and

clock over the steep Totnes High Street
The bridge clock over the steep Totnes High Street

kicking running through their people and streets: people seem to move there and cast off their usual standard rules of life, following alternative directions in mind, body, lifestyle and especially clothes.

Walk up from the 18th-century Royal Seven Stars Hotel and climb the steep High Street. Stop and chat with street musicians, poetry sellers and the eclectic mix of market stall holders, joining in esoteric conversations about music and ways of life whilst enjoying the rainbow-coloured Tudor Street architecture.

It won’t take long to realise Totnes is the most intriguing, funkiest, and attention-grabbing place you have ever experienced.

Totnes market in the Community Square
Totnes market in the Community Square

And the mysterious and intimate Totnes Cinema is no different.

Born a Temperance Hall in the 1880s and converted to a cinema in 1946, it became Totnes’s main library until recently. Step in entrepreneurs Jane Hughes and William Johnson, who rescued the dilapidated building in 2014 and rebuilt it as an only-one-of-its-kind cinema for the community’s enjoyment.

But what a cinema with wonderful extras; it not only shows the latest films but boasts an unforgettable setting for a wonderful coffee and cake emporium, sparkling cocktail bar and spirited, eclectic mix of stimulating live music.

It is like no other. These were my immediate and puzzled reactions when I arrived at the entrance to the cinema.

unique cinema ally way tunnel films
The entrance to the unique cinema

What? They’re having me on. There’s a cinema down there? I peered down a long and narrow tunnel alleyway penetrating the beautiful ancient Totnes Tudor buildings at the beginning of the famous covered Butterwalk. My disbelieving eyes read again the future film showings on the Totnes cinema pavement A-board sign broadcasting loud and clear that this alleyway was the route to see the latest Bond film. I tentatively gazed down the tunnel once more and only imagined a miniature picture house with seating for one person at the end.

It was too intriguing – I took the plunge. I entered the dark runway to my imagined improbable cinematic establishment, unprepared for the grand surprise that would please every sense of my body.

rose window flicks film stars tom cruise john travolta
Nearly there - turn right

I emerged into a pocket of bright daylight. I saw sunshine lighting a rose window topping an open double doorway that framed an empty skeletal timber reception desk masquerading as a half-finished boat. The space widened, and a naked plastic bust, seemingly christened Monica, her breasts covered by a strategically placed polka-dot scarf, sat waiting for a greeting on the entrance tabletop. I felt I had to say hello to her as I peered round the next corner and saw two hugely thick matt-black acoustic doors open sufficiently to begin what can only be described as a mind-blowing spacial experience. Slowly pulling the doors open, my mind was transported back to the aghast sounds uttered by anyone arriving inside Dr Who’s Tardis time machine.

I was left agog and speechless as I stood unintelligibly muttering a string of superlative adjectives describing what my eyes were trying to relay to my brain.

balcony chess coffee tea cakes
A bird's eye view

The alleyway tunnel had transformed into a mind-boggling large volume of character and typical of the town – outrageously against the grain and thoroughly lovable – totally Totnes.

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