Iron curtain at the Abbeydale

Abbeydale Cinema, Sheffield:  auditorium (1987)

Abbeydale Cinema, Sheffield: auditorium (1987)

While the Adelphi Cinema lay dark Sheffield’s other listed cinema building found a practical use as a performance building.

I’ve a soft spot for the Abbeydale Cinema.  Though I only ever once saw a film there, I repeatedly visited it in the 1980s when it was an office-equipment showroom – an unexpected fate for a superannuated cinema.  The company that bought it, A & F Drake Ltd, sold filing cabinets and office desks in the stalls and balcony, and separately operated the former ballroom and billiard hall in the basement as a snooker club.  The Drakes and their manager, Ian Humphreys, repeatedly allowed me to take adult-education groups to see the place from top to bottom, and on one occasion Ian McMillan and Martyn Wiley broadcast Radio Sheffield’s Saturday morning show live from the Abbeydale auditorium.

Because the Drakes had the imagination to find a productive use for the building – they regarded it as a better customer attraction than an anonymous box on a trading estate – it survived intact long enough to attract the attention of a Friends’ group who are restoring it as a venue for film and amateur dramatics.  Cinemas in the 1920s featured live performance as well as silent movies, and the Abbeydale had an organ – long ago destroyed – and still has a full-scale stage with wings, fly-tower and dressing-rooms.

Even more interesting is the iron safety-curtain, which has remained in situ even after Drakes jacked up the stage-floor six feet to create more space for their wares.  This must date back to the 1920s, but its unique interest is the complete set of painted advertisements that faced audiences between films.  Clifford Shaw, the greatest expert on Sheffield cinemas, has dated the existing adverts to the 1950s.  Ian Humphreys observed to me in the 1980s that all but one of the businesses advertised had by that time folded.  The Cinema Theatre Association reports that, to the best of their knowledge, no other cinema safety-curtain survives with contemporary advertisements, and for this reason is supporting the proposal to upgrade the listing.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Fun Palaces:  the history and architecture of the entertainment industry please click here.


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