“Sheffield’s perfection cinema”

Former Capitol Cinema, Sheffield Lane Top, Sheffield (1985)

Former Capitol Cinema, Sheffield Lane Top, Sheffield (1985)

When my mate Richard and I have our regular weekday evening putting the world to rights in whichever local pub is not having karaoke or a quiz night, towards the end of the night we phone our ETA to Lee or Jamie, fish-friers of distinction, and go to the Norwood Fish Bar, 411 Herries Road (0114-242-4127) for our supper, freshly cooked and timed to perfection.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s Lee or Jamie on duty:  the food is invariably top quality.

The Norwood Fish Bar is a shop-unit in an utterly unremarkable block that has been a Tesco supermarket since the early 1970s.  Before that, the site was the Forum Cinema, Southey Green, one of a series of huge 1930s cinemas built on Sheffield’s then new northern council estates.

(Someone on the council was clearly a lover of literature.  There are roads named after Chaucer, Wordsworth, Keats and so on.  Sheffield folk, as is their habit, choose to pronounce “Southey” to rhyme with “mouthy”, just as when a pub or street is named “Arundel” – after the home of the city’s ground-landlord, the Duke of Norfolk,– it’s always accented on the second, not the first syllable.)

The Forum was built by and for the Sheffield construction company M J Gleeson Ltd, who constructed the surrounding houses and appear to have had some kind of deal to build the adjacent shops as well as the cinema.

The architect was George Coles (1884-1963), a specialist cinema designer best known in London and the south-east for the Gaumont State, Kilburn, and a series of Odeons including the Odeon, Muswell Hill.

The Forum opened on September 17th 1938 and was closed on May 31st 1969.  It’s illustrated at http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/25709.

A couple of miles away, its sister cinema, originally the Capitol, Sheffield Lane Top, also by George Coles and built for M J Gleeson, survives as a carpet showroom.

The Capitol was due to open the week the Second World War broke out, so it stayed closed under the national ban on gatherings for entertainment until September 18th 1939, when it opened with Angels with Dirty Faces, starring James Cagney.

The opening-day description in the Sheffield Star refers to the cream faience dressing highlighting the brick exterior and the tubes of red and green neon on the canopy and the tower fin which inevitably remained switched off until 1945.

The Capitol subsequently became the Essoldo in 1950 and ultimately the Vogue in 1972, by which time it was one of only three remaining suburban cinemas in Sheffield.  It closed on October 4th 1975.

Its interior was understated, neo-classical in style, with alcoves and statues only recently concealed behind timber facing.

Even though the tower fin has been reduced in height, presumably for structural reasons and the marquee dismantled [http://www.mikehigginbottominterestingtimes.co.uk/?p=4786], it’s a more attractive structure than the architecturally illiterate 21st-century block of flats that has been built alongside.

It’s unlisted, and the interior décor that might justify listing is unrecognised.

The Capitol appears still to earn its keep and is for the moment in safe hands.

When it changes hands, however, a new owner might not recognise that they’ve acquired a building of some distinction by a nationally reputed architect.

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