On visits to Llangollen, my gateway to holidays in North Wales, I’ve several times found my way into a legendary second-hand bookshop that I quickly realised had once been a cinema.
Its history is not typical of small-town picture houses.
The Horspool family had been seedsmen and nurserymen in Chirk and Llangollen since the 1870s and opened the Dorothy Café alongside their confectionery shop on Castle Street, Llangollen in 1918. There is no explanation of where the name Dorothy originated.
By the early 1930s the shop next door to the café was Norman Horspool’s greengrocery.
The Dorothy Cinema building utilised the back land behind two shops within a longer terrace. It opened in 1931 or 1932 (whichever source you believe) as a direct competitor to the Town Hall Cinema across the road.
The building consisted of a café and dance hall on the ground floor with an auditorium above, approached by a wide staircase that still exists.
The cinema seated four hundred: there was no balcony as such, but the back rows were raised, stadium style, facing a sixteen-foot proscenium.
British Acoustic sound was installed at the outset.
The Town Hall cinema across the road closed at the beginning of World War II, and the Dorothy became Llangollen’s only picture house.
As such, it seemed to weather the early decline of cinema attendance in the 1950s, and in 1955 the proscenium was extended to accommodate a wide screen twenty feet by eleven feet.
By the early 1960s, however, the game was up and the last film, Sammy Going South, was shown on October 16th 1963.
An experiment with bingo failed, and while the café and dance hall downstairs continued, the former cinema became a market and then an inimitable second-hand bookshop, Maxine’s Cafe & Books, now trading as Books Llangollen.
The place is piled high with 100,000+ volumes on every subject imaginable, stacked on the steps of the back rows, and clustered round the decorative proscenium frame.
On July 15th 2015 films returned to the Town Hall under a brand-name that pays tribute to the former competitor – the New Dot Cinema.
The dance hall and café is now S&G Bistro.