Category Archives: Fun Palaces

Under the radar

Former Scala, later Galaxy Cinema, Long Eaton, Derbyshire (1993);  detail

Former Scala, later Galaxy Cinema, Long Eaton, Derbyshire (1993); detail

I’ve only once ever visited the former Galaxy Cinema, Long Eaton, in 1993, the very first time I went on a Cinema Theatre Association outing.

What was then the Silverline Bingo Club, Long Eaton, was – to be polite – not splendid.  It had had a chequered history as the St James Theatre (opened in 1907), then Vint’s Picturedrome (from 1910), then the Coliseum (from 1916), then the Scala (in 1923).

After a fire in 1934 it was refurbished in an up-to-date Art Deco style.  It operated as a cinema until 1964 and then as a bingo club until 1993.

In 1991 a suspended ceiling had been installed from the edge of the balcony to the proscenium, horizontally cutting in half not only the stage aperture but also the elaborate plaster decoration to each side.  The effect was faintly claustrophobic.

Its decorative scheme was pale grey and pink, and its lighting bare fluorescent.  Outside the Ladies was a sign which read “Beware Paint Still Tacky”.

We shinned up a ladder in the foyer to what looked like a cupboard door but turned out to be the truncated steps to the balcony.  There, dimly lit and devoid of seating, slumbered the upper half of the auditorium, a dark, silent, expectant space.

The bingo operation seems to have closed down soon after our visit, and there was a fire during the years that it was dark.

It reopened in 2007 as the tripled Galaxy Cinema, which operated until 2012.

In October 2012 the Derby Evening Telegraph reported that local reports of a possible burglary led the police to discover the place was in use as a “professional” cannabis factory, and they removed some 1,500 thriving plants:  http://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/Huge-cannabis-factory-Long-Eaton-s-Galaxy-cinema/story-17198019-detail/story.html.

The building was sold again in 2014 [http://www.nottinghampost.com/stage-cinema-s-history/story-19821693-detail/story.html] but apparently remained unused until a significant fire in January 2017 probably sealed its fate:  http://www.nottinghampost.com/fire-breaks-out-at-former-galaxy-cinema-in-long-eaton/story-30084788-detail/story.html.  A young man was quickly arrested on suspicion of arson:  http://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/long-eaton-galaxy-cinema-fire-being-treated-as-arson/story-30084875-detail/story.html.

I write repeatedly about interesting, potentially valuable buildings that are below the Heritage England radar for listing, but depend for their future on the imagination and business acumen of an owner with vision.

Making money with the Galaxy building was a challenge, not least because Long Eaton is a small market town equidistant between two major cities, Nottingham and Derby, and it was never likely that the building would be put to economic use that would give it a long-term future.

Nevertheless, the images that someone took in 2008 show how much remained of the historic interior [https://www.flickr.com/photos/gpainter/2587069688/sizes/l and https://www.flickr.com/photos/gpainter/2587069678/sizes/l], and it seems a pity to lose it.

Clad in complete steel

Former Don Cinema, West Bar, Sheffield (2015)

Former Don Cinema, West Bar, Sheffield (2015)

Former Don Cinema, West Bar, Sheffield (January 12th 2017)

Former Don Cinema, West Bar, Sheffield (January 12th 2017)

Steel cladding is an admirable and relatively inexpensive way of modernising the façade of a building.  It conceals the original usually without obliterating it.  I’d far rather see a historic frontage, such as the Capitol Cinema, Sheffield Lane Top, clad than stripped of its aesthetic value.

The Bijou Cinema, Derby, lost its elaborate faience façade when it became a furniture showroom in the early 1960s.  The interior, at balcony level at least, survived to become a particularly beautiful curry house, which would have been even more eye-catching if the original cinema frontage had remained intact.

There’s hardly anything left of the auditorium of the former Don Cinema, West Bar, Sheffield, which after it closed in 1958 also became a furniture showroom, and latterly a self-storage unit, yet the rich façade in brick and brown faience survives largely intact behind steel cladding that was installed as late as the 1980s.

Indeed, part of the façade became visible when a gale brought down the corner of the cladding on January 11th 2017.

Though at present barely recognisable , the Don has a particular place in the history of the city’s cinemas.

Sales people working at the furniture showroom were perturbed by manifestations that they couldn’t explain – whirring noises, voices and a figure in an overall wearing cycle clips.

The late Bernard Dore, who had managed the Don Cinema in the 1950s, pointed out that the chief operator, Mr Potter, invariably cycled to West Bar from his home in Ecclesall rather than take the tram, and stored his bike in the projection room.

Furthermore, he habitually wore plus-fours and a tweed jacket covered by an overall.

He had a habit of creeping up behind his junior colleagues and whispering their names to make them jump.

Dan, the manager of Armadillo Storage, showed me what’s left of the cinema structure – an intact staircase and the space that was once the projection room.  He and his colleagues say they haven’t experienced manifestations.

I hope that when the steel cladding has eventually to come down, the façade behind it will be retained.

After all, the Don Picture House is, as far as I know, Sheffield’s only documented haunted cinema.

We never closed

Former Capitol Cinema, Sheffield Lane Top, Sheffield (2016)

Former Capitol Cinema, Sheffield Lane Top, Sheffield (2016)

I passed the former Capitol Cinema, Sheffield Lane Top, twice a day for nearly thirty years on my way to work without ever taking much notice of it, from a time when it was still a cinema, through years as a bingo club, until eventually it became a carpet showroom.

I wrote a blog article about it and illustrated it with an image dated 1985, when the exterior was largely as designed by the London architect, George Coles.

A couple of years ago the carpet showroom advertised what became the longest-running closing-down sale I can remember.

I got to know the staff, who were unclear about when and indeed whether the closure would take place.

They’re still there, and in the autumn of 2016 the cinema marquee was dismantled and the entire façade covered with elegant steel cladding.

It’s reassuring to know that the owners are investing in the building, so it’s unlikely to be threatened in the near future, which is as well because it’s unlisted and unrecognised as a building of merit.

It was Sheffield’s last pre-war cinema, opening shortly after the start of the Second World War, on September 18th 1939.

George Coles was a highly regarded architect who built numerous cinemas for Oscar Deutsch’s Odeon circuit, such as the Odeons at Muswell Hill and Woolwich.

In Sheffield he was commissioned by the building contractor M J Gleeson to build the Forum, Southey (1938, demolished) and shortly afterwards began work on the Capitol.

Indeed, Coles’ plans for the proposed cinema show that Gleesons intended to name it another Forum, until they thought better of having two cinemas with the same name a little more than a mile apart.

The exterior is an impeccable, restrained version of the Art Deco manner that Odeon favoured, but the interior in contrast is elegant neo-Georgian, with alcoves and statuary and a 36-foot proscenium, much of which remains, apparently, behind immaculate white cladding.

The street-level foyer has been swept away to open up the showroom area, but the upstairs crush lobby (inaccessible to the public) remains as it was in the days of bingo, and the operating box and rewind room are intact though empty of equipment.

Although the building has a secure future for the moment, some day it will change hands, and its considerable architectural merit may not be recognised as a largely intact late-1930s moderne cinema by an architect with a national reputation.

Lacking the protection of listing, the long-term future of the Capitol depends on the vigilance of local observers and the support of national conservation organisations.

It would be all too easy to dismiss the building as worth less than the site, when in fact its historic integrity could be a selling point sometime in years to come.

Bronte Cinema

Bronte Cinema, Haworth, West Yorkshire:  proscenium

Bronte Cinema, Haworth, West Yorkshire: proscenium

I came across the Bronte Cinema, Haworth, by accident on my way down the hill to the steam-railway station last summer.  It stands on the side of the Worth Valley that doesn’t celebrate the Brontë sisters and so doesn’t attract visitors.

A helpful local contact put me in touch with the owner, Mr Robert Snowden, who welcomed me and allowed me to photograph the remarkably intact interior.

There is very little information online about the building, and what little there is turns out to be inaccurate.

The exterior has a curved balustrade decorated with stone balls, built in the dour local stone.  The corner to the north of the entrance was a shop, for many years selling sweets, later Miss Betty Dawson’s hairdresser’s and then Mr Pickles’ shoe-repairer’s.

Because the site is steeply graded the proscenium is at the front of the building, and the operating box is located beneath the balcony.  Inside, the balcony and proscenium remain intact.

Eddie Kelly, an assiduous local historian, generously provided me with material from his research, and another historian, Steven Wood, pointed out that the original plans are preserved at Keighley Local Studies Library.

The Bronte Cinema opened on April 21st 1923 with a concert by the Bocking Male Voice Choir and the Haworth Public Prize Band in aid of local hospitals.

Neither the Bronte nor the rival Hippodrome cinema bothered much with press advertising so information about film performance is patchy, but the Bronte’s opening-week advertisement for Mr Wu with Matheson Lang (1919) describes the place as “the cinema of distinction – the finest appointed cinema in the West Riding”.

From the outset the Bronte served as a cultural centre for the town:  two hundred people were turned away from a concert by the amateur LEO Orchestra & Society because the 778-seat auditorium was full half an hour before the start-time.  For years it was the venue for six-day productions by the Haworth Operatic Society.

In later years the Bronte provided three different films each week, Monday-Tuesday, Wednesday-Thursday and Friday-Saturday.  My friend Marjorie remembers as a teenager clutching her mates’ hands on the balcony during a particularly horrific horror film, sometime towards the end of the War.

There’s no record of when the Bronte converted to sound movies, and the cinema historian Ken Roe has found no evidence that it was ever adapted to show wide-screen films.

It closed on July 28th 1956, with Danny Kaye’s On the Riviera, apparently because of competition from television and also “the bad condition of Victoria Road”.

In November 1957 the building and contents were put up for auction, but the building was withdrawn when the highest offer was £1,000.

Mr Snowden told me he bought it in 1961 for £3,000 and ever since has operated his non-ferrous scrap business there.

He has now wound down his business in preparation for his imminent retirement and the building is up for sale.

Mr Snowden is adamant that he doesn’t want to see it demolished:  he says it’s a substantial, weather-tight structure that has needed very little maintenance over the past fifty-odd years.

The most radical alteration has been the removal of the entrance steps to create vehicle access to the raked floor of the stalls.

Schemes to convert the Bronte Cinema to residential use date back to 1993, but Mr Snowden says he’d prefer to see it put to some kind of heritage purpose.  Understandably, he needs to find the best possible price for his asset.

It’s one of the unlisted, largely unaltered historic buildings that could easily disappear, yet the elaborate plasterwork and woodwork of the 1923 design survive beneath a patina of thirty years of nicotine and over fifty years of industrial dust.

While Friends groups work to revive such places as the Derby Hippodrome Theatre, where an unkind previous owner removed much of the roof, and the Doncaster Grand Theatre, where the owner and the borough council are alike unsympathetic to restoration efforts, a delightful but unkempt building like the Bronte Cinema deserves the chance of a future.

Timbertop

Timbertop public house, Shirecliffe, Sheffield (west aspect)

Timbertop public house, Shirecliffe, Sheffield (west aspect)

Timbertop public house, Shirecliffe, Sheffield (east aspect)

Timbertop public house, Shirecliffe, Sheffield (east aspect)

When I came to live in north Sheffield in 1973, the pleasantest place to go for a couple of pints in the evening was Timbertop on Shirecliffe Road at the top of a hill looking out across the Lower Don Valley, then still an expanse of smoking steelworks.

Timbertop was the most exciting and innovative of three 1960s public-house designs by the versatile Sheffield practice, Hadfield, Cawkwell & Davidson.  The others were the Jack in a box, Silkstone Road, Frecheville (1966) and The Domino, Egerton Street (1967, demolished).

Timbertop was commissioned by Bass Charrington (North) Ltd, built in 1969 and opened early in 1970.  It was an adventurous design, taking advantage of its sloping site five hundred feet above sea level.

The load-bearing brick walls support a timber structure, with a roof that presents as a valley on the entrance front and as a pyramid when seen from downhill.

All the service facilities were located in the basement, along with the tenant’s bedrooms;  the tenant’s living accommodation was, unusually, on the ground floor rather than above the public areas.

Customers had a choice of social areas spread over an open-plan split-level space, with a snug at ground level leading to a sunken lounge with a 16ft natural stone fireplace and a chimney breast reaching to the roof, and an upper-level gallery floor with a bar and snack-preparation room.

In harmony with the timber structure, the internal walls were lined with pine, and the ceilings were of cedar wood.

Another interior feature, unusual in Sheffield pubs at the time, was a waterfall.

The building was completed in nine and a half weeks.

The pub was opened by Alderman J W Sterland, who drew the first pint.  As chairman of the city licensing committee, he’d visited a few hostelries in his time and declared it “one of the finest pubs I have seen”.

In later years Timbertop gained an unsavoury reputation and was not the sort of place you’d go for a quiet pint.

There were repeated reports in the local press of “a significant number of incidents on the premises” involving “reports of assaults and drug usage and dealing”.

On one occasion the premises supervisor was attacked when he confronted a customer attempting to serve himself.  Further incidents included a stabbing, paramedics attending a customer who was comatose, assaults involving bottles and “a damaged vehicle with a ‘strong smell of cannabis’”.  The final straw must have come shortly after a shooting that led to a court case in September 2015.

Now the place stands empty, and the chances of it reopening as licensed premises are probably nil.

It’s an exceptional building, in a part of Sheffield that has already lost – or may lose – some of the few landmark structures it ever had – such as the Ritz Cinema (Hadfield & Cawkwell 1937;  demolished 2013) and St Cecilia’s Parish Church (Kenneth B Mackenzie, 1939;  redundant).

Bridlington’s hidden Art Deco gem

Regal Cinema, Bridlington

Regal Cinema, Bridlington

The Cinema Theatre Association is understandably unhappy that Historic England has dismissed the proposal to list the Regal Cinema, Bridlington, for its fine and almost intact Art Deco interior:  http://cinema-theatre.org.uk/our-campaigns/cinemas-at-risk/regal-bridlington-1.  Bingo has kept the place going since films ended in 1971.

Opened on July 28th 1938, the building was designed by Charles Edmund Wilford (1895-1988).  Though the exteriors were different, the interior of the Bridlington Regal was identical to the demolished Regal Cinema, Walton-on-Thames, built at the same date by the same architect for the same owner, Lou Morris.

The façade is dominated by a long, horizontal window which lighted the first-floor café, above four shop units on the ground floor.

The café and the auditorium, which originally seated 1,500 (or 1,489, or 1,355, depending on the source), are distinguished by the ornate Art Deco plasterwork of Eugene Mollo and Michael Egan.

The splay walls on either side of the proscenium figure a filigree pattern of foliage, originally illuminated by concealed lighting, and the geometric shapes at the end of the splays and on the ceiling are decorated with stylised foliage.  The original decorative scheme in silver and gilt was more subtle than the present livelier palette of the bingo club.

The stage is 43 feet wide and deep, with a suite of four dressing rooms, and there was a 3-manual, 6-rank Compton organ which was removed c1968.

The CTA’s Bulletin (January/February 2015) bristles with indignation over the “unclear and unreliable… subjective standard used to adjudge this building” and the “factual errors” in the Historic England rejection of the listing proposal.

Bridlington Borough Council has made a magnificent job of the Spa complex down the road from the Regal.  Let’s hope that imagination, diplomacy and judicious financial management will keep the Regal intact if and when bingo becomes unprofitable.

There is footage of Florence de Jong playing the Regal Compton organ at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3Dg3LNYGyw.

Café for film-lovers

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Abbeydale Picture House, Sheffield:  March 26th 2016

Abbeydale Picture House, Sheffield: March 26th 2016

Photos:  Scott Hukins [www.scotthukins.co.uk]

The latest improvement to the Abbeydale Picture House was revealed at the most recent film-revival night on Saturday March 26th.

The back of the stalls has been converted to a superb café-bar with a flat timber floor and dado panelling in keeping with the architecture, and painted in a relaxing cream and beige scheme which highlights the plasterwork and echoes the original 1920 decoration.

It’s an unobtrusive addition to the auditorium and a welcome asset to help the building once more earn its keep.

The film-night showed comedy programmes by two of the greatest figures in silent cinema, Buster Keaton in One Week (1920) and The Goat (1921) and the most famous of Harold Lloyd’s many films, Safety Last! (1923), with a live piano accompaniment by the immensely talented Darius Battiwalla [http://www.dariusbattiwalla.com/Darius_Battiwalla/Home.html].

More power to the Abbeydale’s owner, Phil Robins, and the team that runs the film nights, Rob Hughes, Louise Snape and Ismar Badzic.  They’re bringing the Abbeydale back to life and filling it with an appreciative clientele that’s clearly growing by word of mouth.

And now you can wake up and smell the coffee at the Abbeydale, where the café is open on Fridays and Saturdays, 10.00am-5.00pm:  http://picturehouserevival.tumblr.com.

The last bomb site

Former Swan Inn, National Picture Theatre and Jubb’s furniture store, Beverley Road, Hull

Former Swan Inn, National Picture Theatre and Jubb’s furniture store, Beverley Road, Hull

Hull’s Beverley Road is rich in architectural interest, and includes an unprepossessing but astonishing survival:  sandwiched between the former furniture shop of E C Jubb and the former Swan Hotel is the gaunt façade of the former National Picture Theatre, built in 1914 and bombed in an air-raid on the night of March 17th-18th 1941.

The film that night was, ironically, Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.  When the sirens sounded the audience of 150 left the auditorium and gathered in the foyer but couldn’t leave the building because of the intensity of the raid.

A direct hit destroyed the screen end of the cinema and brought down the roof, but the front of the building survived and no-one was injured.

The rubble was subsequently cleared away, leaving the façade and the standing remains of the foyer, staircases and the rear of the balcony.  Somehow, the ruins were left untouched from 1941 to the present day.

This shell, “as hit”, is now the only surviving civilian bomb-site remaining from the Second World War:  http://ncww2mt.freewebspace.com/cgi-bin/i/images/hdm-fb-26.7.05.jpg.  Of the other fourteen bomb-sites, twelve are ecclesiastical and one lies within a naval dockyard.

When local people, particularly the customers of the Swan Hotel next door, began to appreciate its rarity they formed the National Civilian WW2 Memorial Trust, and persuaded English Heritage to award the ruin Grade II listing.

With support from English Heritage, Hull City Council is considering making a Compulsory Purchase Order to retain the National Picture Theatre as an intact memento of the nightmare of enemy action, not only in Hull but across Britain:  http://ncww2mt.freewebspace.com/index.html.

Entertaining Chesterfield: the Winding Wheel

Winding Wheel (former Picture House), Chesterfield, Derbyshire

Winding Wheel (former Picture House), Chesterfield, Derbyshire

Across the road from the Pomegranate Theatre, Chesterfield Borough Council maintains another auditorium, the Winding Wheel, based on the former Picture House, to provide an even wider range of events – everything from classical music to beer festivals, Russell Watson to Ken Dodd – alongside the film and drama of the long-established civic theatre.

The Chesterfield Picture House, designed by the Sheffield architect Harold J Shepherd, opened on September 10th 1923. Its façade, which incorporates shops on each side of the entrance, is in the mock-Tudor style that the Borough Surveyor, Major Vincent Smith, encouraged in the town centre.

The auditorium is in a faintly grotesque Renaissance manner, with a rather more refined T-shaped restaurant looking out over the street. The foyer and the restaurant still retain elegant fireplaces, that must have provided a welcome as well as welcome heat in a town that gained its livelihood from coal.

There was originally an organ, for which Reginald Dixon, then in his late teens, was employed as deputy organist at £5 a week, a significant advance on his first £3-a-week engagement at the Stocksbridge Picture Palace north of his native Sheffield.

The Picture House did well enough for the owners to invite Harold Shepherd back in 1930 to build a ballroom on an adjacent plot, and in 1936 they sold out to Oscar Deutsch, who rebranded it as an Odeon the following year.

Films lasted until 1981, and a nightclub, Jingles, carried on in the ballroom and café areas until 1987 when the Borough Council bought it and converted it to a multipurpose entertainment venue.

In the cinema auditorium the renovations involved stripping out the stalls seating, installing a flat floor which hides the bottom part of the proscenium, and installing a flexible lighting and sound rig suspended from the barrel ceiling.

The Winding Wheel Exhibition, Entertainment and Conference Centre opened in 1987 and was listed Grade II in 2000. Its capacities are now 600 seated theatre-style in the stalls, with 300 in the fixed balcony seating, or 1,000 standing in the stalls area.

For a town with a population of around 100,000, Chesterfield is fortunate in the quality of its auditoria and the range of entertainment that the Winding Wheel and the Pomegranate Theatre between them provide.

What’s on at the Winding Wheel is online at http://www.windingwheel.co.uk/whats-on/winding-wheel.aspx.

Entertaining Chesterfield: the Pomegranate Theatre

Pomegranate Theatre, Chesterfield, Derbyshire

Pomegranate Theatre, Chesterfield, Derbyshire

The Borough of Chesterfield has a proud record of supporting civic theatre.

The Stephenson Memorial Hall, an adult-education institute with a large meeting hall, was built in 1879 to commemorate the railway engineer George Stephenson (1781-1848) who spent the last years of his life in the town and is buried there.

Chesterfield Corporation bought the hall in 1889 and subsequently enlarged it to create a theatre stage and proscenium, but it was leased to a cinema company until 1946.

When the lease expired the borough council established a civic repertory theatre company, which opened in February 1949 with a production of Philip King’s See How They Run (1945).

Weekly repertory theatre, in which a cast on contract rehearse next week’s play in the daytimes while performing each evening and some matinées, became fortnightly in 1965, and continued until as late as March 1981.  The final show, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat broke the house record, playing for three weeks at 98% capacity.

This hard-working little theatre, serving a local population of around 90,000, claimed illustrious alumni.  Nigel Davenport and David McCallum were in the cast of Hobson’s Choice, the 200th production (1954), and Diana Rigg made her stage debut while assistant stage manager in The Passing of the Third Floor Back (1958).

The council set up a new production company, Chesterfield Theatre Ltd, operated the theatre as a touring house from February 1982, and adopted the name Pomegranate Theatre in June of that year.  The pomegranate tree “leaved and eradicated proper flowered and fructed Or” appears on the ancient seal of the borough and in the modern borough coat of arms.

The Pomegranate is an intimate, welcoming venue with a rich diet of drama, music, film and other events. It is supported by the Chesterfield Theatre Friends, a group which promotes events, raises funds and looks after the theatre’s archive: http://www.chesterfieldtheatrefriends.co.uk/about-us.aspx.

There is also a separate Pomegranate Theatre Friends Membership Scheme [http://www.chesterfieldtheatres.co.uk/our-theatres/membership.aspx which offers discounts, advance booking opportunities and free parking to regular patrons.