Sheffield has only two listed cinema buildings, both coincidentally opened in 1920 – the Abbeydale Picture House, designed as a multi-purpose entertainment venue with a full theatre stage, a ballroom, a billiard saloon and a café, and the Adelphi, Attercliffe, a straightforward silent-movie house which at the time of listing in 1996 was largely intact inside and out.
At present the Abbeydale is in a state of limbo. Problems with the auditorium ceiling have led to a legal stand-off between the landlord and the lessee which needs to be resolved to safeguard the integrity of the building and enable a full restoration to take place.
There has been a flurry of media attention about the Adelphi, which was purchased by Sheffield City Council in March 2023 for refurbishment as a mixed-use cultural space, much needed for the revival and transformation of the local community. The Adelphi is on the market, with a promise of Levelling Up funding to make it once again “occupiable”: Levelling Up: Adelphi Cinema in Attercliffe out to market (sheffnews.com).
A very attractive CGI image shows what the interior might look like after refurbishment, yet nowhere in the media coverage is there any indication that the original 1920 decoration has completely disappeared.
Other images showing the auditorium in its current state are a bleak contrast to how it looked at the time it was surveyed for listing, with “pilasters, segment-arched panelled ceiling and [a] moulded proscenium arch with [a] central crest flanked by torches [and a] U-shaped gallery with [a] latticework plaster front”. The original scheme was delicate and light: Searching Picture Sheffield; Searching Picture Sheffield.
The listing inspector observed that “cinemas dating from this period, between 1918 and the introduction of sound in the early 1930s, are comparatively rare”.
I e-mailed a city councillor who will be in a position to know (or find out) but I’ve so far received no response.
I photographed the interior in 1982 when it was a bingo club and again in 1990 when it was unoccupied. At the time the entire auditorium was bristling with classical plaster decoration designed by the architect William Carter Fenton (1861-1950; Lord Mayor 1922).
A cluster of urban-explorer reports in 2011 suggests that conversion to a night-club was largely respectful of the building’s listed status, despite the need for structural alterations.
The building was sold for storage use in 2013 and at some point the plasterwork was stripped out.
Recent images show a bleak space that looks nothing like a 1920s cinema. The CGI image represents an admirable exercise in making the best of a bad job, apart from the puny chandeliers.
Maybe there was a legitimate reason to take down the plasterwork: perhaps it was unstable and might have injured someone. Maybe the owner at the time discussed the matter with the Council planning authority, but I’ve never heard any public mention of alterations in the years after the listing.
Though the Adelphi deserves to retain its Grade II listing because its fine exterior survives intact, it now bears no comparison with the Abbeydale, and there are other Sheffield cinemas with surviving interior features which haven’t been considered for protection:
- “Sheffield’s perfection cinema” | Mike Higginbottom Interesting Times
- Sheffield’s surviving cinemas 1: Darnall Picture Palace | Mike Higginbottom Interesting Times
- Sheffield’s surviving cinemas 3: Hillsborough Park Cinema | Mike Higginbottom Interesting Times
And if the stripping of the auditorium plasterwork was unauthorised, should there not be consequences for a flagrant disregard of the laws about listed buildings?