Showing 26 - 41 of 41 comments
In the 1960s the Kenning Hall was one of those cinemas you visited to see obscure horror films and revivals of older pictures. On a visit to this quaint little hall one really cold and snowy winter’s day in the 1960s, I was puzzled to see the handful of patrons huddled in little groups next to the walls. The reason soon became apparent – they were desparately trying to get some warmth from the half dozen radiators, which were totally inadequate to heat a building of even that modest size. I was a fanatical film fan and would travel all over London to catch a rare movie, but the cold defeated me and I had to walk out before contracting frostbite in my toes – the first, and last, time I have ever done such a thing.
The name BEN HUR CINEMA survived painted on the side wall of the building for many years after closure.
For me the highlight of the year was the annual programme of the Olivier Shakespeare trilogy – “Henry V”, “Hamlet” and “Richard III”. “Henry V” on a big screen in sumptuous colour-saturated IB Technicolor never ceased to impress. It was an absolute disgrace that permission was granted to demolish this wonderful theatre.
The current building is a soulless concrete monstrosity of absolutely no architectural merit or interest, unlike the two buildings it replaced.
Not sure if the expression “gave up the ghost” in Ken’s excellent history of the Tolmer is a pun but, according to a letter I received from the manager, the Tolmer was supposedly haunted by a ghost, which was seen on numerous occasions in the balcony. According to locals, the reason why this elegant square was ripe for development is that the landlord, who owned all the properties, allowed it to fall into decay, so that he could sell it off at a vast profit.
According to “Cinema & Theatre Construction” magazine and the architects, who were still in business in the 1970s, all but one wall of the Grand / Pavilion was demolished, so the Florida was a totally new building. The wall was possibly retained to overcome planning regulations, which may have required wider access ways had the building been completely new. Owing to the smallness of the site and the need to have as many seats as possible, the foyer was miniscule.
The Excelsior did not actually close on 13th August 1961. The final films advertised were indeed â€œGreyfriars Bobbyâ€ and â€œTen Who Daredâ€ and the following week full-time bingo was advertised, after which the local paper carried no further adverts. However, the projection equipment remained and the Excelsior later showed Indian films. I went to the cinema some time in 1962, when they had a horror week â€" different films each day – and saw â€œNight of the Blood Beastâ€ on a Wednesday and â€œThe Spiderâ€ and Cat Girlâ€ on a Saturday. I am positive of this because the first â€˜Xâ€™ film I ever saw was â€œThe Pit & the Pendulumâ€ (released in the UK in November 1961) at the Enfield Savoy, then â€œThe Gargon Terrorâ€ and â€œManbeastâ€ at the Tottenham Florida, then those at the Excelsior. (Being only 14, gaining admission to 16 rated films made a big impression.) Further corroborating evidence is that in May 1962 the exact same programme of horror films, even down to the days they were showing, popped up at the Canning Town Essoldo. I can only assume that some time before becoming an Indian cinema, they reverted to English films. As I have discovered from researching other cinemas, local halls did not always advertise.
The Premier Cinema at Enfield was also part of the Davies circuit. I am perpetually indebted to John Davies, who very kindly let me have the projection equipment from the Premier, which was my local cinema.
I visited the building in the early 1970s, well before its conversion to a church. A first floor had been squeezed in and, even then, there was nothing to indicate previous cinematic use.
The Brick Lane Palace was actually located in Osborne Street (now Chicksand Street)a side road off Brick Lane. The auditorium of the Mayfair was built on the site of the old cinema and shops in Brick Lane were demolished to provide a new entrance to it. The Brick Lane Palace was an early work of George Coles, one of Britain’s premier cinema architects, who, I believe, has more listed cinemas to his name than any other architect.
The building stood opposite the Plaza and was just round the corner from the Gaumont.
There is a short article about the opening of the Luxor in an edition of “Cinema & Theatre Construction” magazine from 1934, a couple of years earlier than suggested above. The building was damaged during the blitz – probably in 1940 – and listed as closed in 1941. Owing to its location in an area of businesses and warehouses, it was always a bit of a white elephant, which was probably why it never reopened.
There is a misprint in the main article. The building was faced with Hathernware (not Harthenware), made by the Hathern Station Brick & Terra Cotta Company of Loughborough, who supplied similar tiling to dozens of cinemas up and down the country. The material was actually faience, or glazed terra cotta. In later years the company specialised in restoring terra cotta work on buildings as diverse as Harrods and Hampton Court Palace.
The Trocette formed a horseshoe round a public house, which was still in situ after the cinema was demolished. What amazed most people, to whom I spoke after the Trocette’s demolition, was how small the site appeared to be for such a large cinema – a tribute to the design skill of the architect, George Coles. This was the local cinema of Tommy Steele, one of Britain’s first pop stars and later a film and stage actor. It was featured in a television programme in the early 1970s, in which Tommy Steele reminisced about his childhood.
A couple of further comments. The conversion to a cinema came about because the the floor of the baths was badly cracked and beyond economic repair, at least for Oxford House, the charitable trust, which owned the building. They ran the cinema for a few years then sold it to a commercial concern. I never went in the top balcony, but the intermediate one was far from ideal. The back part was satisfactory, but when sitting at the sides, you had to crane your neck to see the screen and this got worse the nearer you got to it. When sitting in the rear stalls, your head was roughly on a level with the feet of the people sitting at the front of this balcony.
The conversion from swimming baths to cinema was rather quaint. The floor of the pool became the stalls, making use of the slope from shallow to deep end to provide the rake. Access was by the original stone steps leading from the old walkway around the pool to the floor of the pool. The walkway itself became an intermediate balcony on three sides of the stalls. Above this was another balcony, the old cast iron observation balcony from its days as a swimming bath. In 1928 Queen Mary attended a live show and film at the Excelsior, but by 1961 it was in a sorry state with greasy carpets, collapsing seats and a patched screen â€" a real life â€œSmallest Show On Earthâ€. A sad end to a lovely little cinema.