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In 1903 former Cornishman, Colorado gold miner, and entrepreneur William J Keast settled in Portsmouth. He opened his first shop in Commercial Road shortly after and continued to expand.

Around 1910 he opened his own cinema. Called the Gaiety Picture Saloon (Keast's Pictures) It was built by Portsmouth builder John Lay and was one of the first in Portsmouth to have a sloping floor. Admission was 1d and it seated 200 on wooden forms. By all accounts the pictures were silent but the projector certainly was not. It was situated in Commercial Road and had closed by the end of the WW1. Known as the Fleapit, it later became David Greigs.

By the early 1930s William had five shops in Commercial Road, one in North End and another in Gosport. All selling mangles, radios, gramophones, baby carriages and push chairs. In the early hours of 16th May 1936 a fire broke out at Barnes and Son paint shop in Commercial Road and quickly spread to the adjoining shops owned by William. In one of the biggest fires seen in the City, the shops were destroyed.

At its height patients at the Royal Hospital opposite were moved. Fifty families living near by woken by the police, overhead wires melted and windows of shops on the opposite side of the road broke with the heat of the fire. William's shops were rebuilt, only for the German bomber raid of 10th January 1941 to destroy them again. They were not rebuilt a 2nd time.


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