Since Phil Robins took ownership of the former Abbeydale Cinema, Sheffield, he’s tidied up the interior so that at last it’s possible to see the entire auditorium from the back of the stalls or the back of the balcony. The stage remains a forest of scaffolding until the stage-tower roof is made weather-tight.
When the Sheffield Antiques Quarter Christmas Market took place at the Abbeydale I was asked to show people the auditorium, a privilege that gave me opportunity to learn more about the building.
Insurance restrictions meant that visitors were not allowed on the stage or in the circle, so I provided a PowerPoint sequence showing the angles that weren’t accessible.
Talking to people who visited the cinema regularly from the 1950s to the 1970s suggested that there were at least four colour schemes over the years:
- pale and deep cream and gold from the opening in 1920
- pale green and gold sometime up to the early 1950s when Cinemascope was introduced
- white or cream until at least the end of the 1960s
- the current blue, claret and cream by the beginning of the 1970s
There may have been other colour schemes that only a paint analysis will reveal: planning documents indicate, for instance, that a major refurbishment took place in 1928 and Clifford Shaw, in Sheffield Cinemas (Sheffield Cinema Society/Tempus 2001) p 101, shows a monochrome image of a decorative scheme that dates from August 1949.
I’m told I was introduced on the PA system as the Abbeydale’s “resident historian”, which led a friend to enquire if I had a flat in the projection room.
He’d no reason to know that in the late 1970s there was a flat in the projection suite after A & F Drake Ltd took it over as an office-equipment showroom. Later in the day I met a lady who had lived in the flat for a couple of years.
She said that her dad and his mate had spent a night in the auditorium seeking ghostly presences. The only presence that appeared was her cat.
Oddly, even later in the afternoon a lady asked me about the psychic history of the Abbeydale. I had to say I didn’t know there was one, but I was able to point her towards the only accredited haunted cinema, the Don on West Bar, which still exists.
People were reassured to know that Phil’s plan to use the Abbeydale as a climbing centre won’t damage the listed interior: all the climbing installations will be free-standing. Indeed, one climber, a regular visitor to Phil’s existing centre, The Edge [http://www.sheffieldclimbing.com], said he was looking forward to sitting in the circle with a cup of coffee watching other climbers.
Update: I read in the Sheffield Cinema Society June 2014 newsletter that Phil Robins has changed his plans: the climbing-centre project at the Abbeydale isn’t going ahead – indeed, Phil has closed his other climbing centre, The Edge,– and the snooker club has moved out of the Abbeydale’s former ballroom in the basement. For the first time in its history the entire building is empty.