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What most people know about the film Samson & Delilah is Groucho Marx’s comment about Victor Mature’s muscular development.
After the premiere, the director Cecil B. DeMille asked Groucho what he thought of the film. Groucho replied, “Well, there’s just one problem, C.B. No picture can hold my interest where the leading man’s tits are bigger than the leading lady’s.”
DeMille was not amused, but Victor Mature apparently was.
The original licence was granted on 17 November 1909. The applicants were Burnley United Temperance Society (also known as the Burnley Blue Ribbon Union) who described the building as being on part of the site of the former foundry of Messrs Butterworth and Dickinson. It had had reconstructed to the designs of architects Messrs G and S Keighley of Nicholas Street. The designs included a fire-proof “cinematograph chamber . . cut-off from the hall itself” and containing “two cinematographs, electric motors, switches, telephones, etc”. Building had commenced in June and completed in November.
The gallery was described as running along three sides of the hall, with the “cinematograph chamber” at the rear of the central portion.
It is clear the Temperance Society intended it to be a picture theatre; and they requested permission in the licence for matinees on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
This does not show the Leeds Road frontage as built.
A newspaper report on the up-coming re-opening said that the Palace was back in the ownership of Harry Buxton. He gave the newspaper a statement from a resort in the South of France where he was convalescing from an illness. Buxton’s General Manager was a Geoffrey B Henshaw who was 6ft 5in tall, according to the article!
As the screen was the last item to be put in place, it was claimed that technical work would be going on in the Palace on Christmas Day.
I’m wondering if the cheap seats for viewing a reversed picture anecdote in “Life In Victorian Preston” by D.J. Hindle is an erroneous report of the use of rear projection.
A February 1921 magistrates' survey of Burnley cinemas mentions no seats behind the screen. “This building has a ground flood (sic), with a gallery on one side, and is principally a wooden structure, having been formerly a skating rink and converted into a cinema hall in 1912. There are four exits. Seating accommodation is 1,350 ground floor, 150 gallery, total 1,500.”
They go on to comment about the use of rear projection and the consequent lack of projection beam light to lift the darkness in the hall. “This being so, the other ordinary light in use during an exhibition should be carefully attended to, so that the building is sufficiently light to be able to see what is taking place in all parts to which the public are admitted. Attention is particularly called to this point.”
Other recommendations were to install front seats with backs and to re-arrange them so that the rows were not less than 2ft 2inch apart.
A February 1921 magistrates' survey of Burnley cinemas described the Andrews in the Church Institute as: ground floor 843; balcony 108; gallery 140 (total 1091). “It is understood that this hall at times gets very hot during a performance, which is probably owing to the fan not always being used. This should be attended to regularly.”
At the time of the photo, the Empire was still a live theatre. Films came on 19 May 1930.
The Victoria was a live theatre to the end. It was a 2,000 seater and was demolished in 1955. Woolworth’s in the building to the left of it in the photo extended their old building, with architectural sensitivity, and opened it in November 1958.
During WW2 the Victoria was the (evacuated) base for the Old Vic and Sadlers Wells companies from London, from which they toured. Burnley even hosted Lawrence Olivier and Vivienne Leigh for a while.
The first show was Monday 19 May 1930. On Wednesday 21 May there was a letter in the paper from someone pointing out that the prices has been increased since the Empire’s owners had first advertised the opening of the cinema. By Saturday 24 May, the newspaper had several letters on that theme; some pointing out that Burnley’s prices were higher than in other towns.
The theatre re-opened as the New Empire cinema on Monday 19 May 1930 with “Happy Days”.
In “Life In Victorian Preston” by David John Hindle he writes: “The first moving pictures in Burnley were shown in 1908 at the Andrews' Picture House”.
The Alhambra site had become a car wash, not a filling station.
THE EMPRESS OPENED IN 1912: At a licensing magistrates' hearing on Wednesday 11 December 1912 the magistrates considered Joseph Bradley’s application for a “cinematograph licence for the premises, Empress Picture House, in Sandy Gate”. Bradley already had a music licence.
“The cinematograph licence was granted until December 31st.”
THE ENLARGEMENT WAS 1919/20: The first licence application to enlarge the Empress was heard on Wednesday 14 June 1919. The architect for the work was Mr G Keighley. “It was intended to make the balcony circular, and the alterations would, amongst other things, provide two additional exits both from the gallery (note: ‘gallery’) and from the building”. Seating would increase by 150. The decision was postponed two weeks for the architect to submit full plans, not just the alterations. The works had been done by February 1920.
The pointer on the map is on the wrong (i.e. north east) part of what was Sandygate.
Today (2015), Sandygate has a T junction with Trafalgar Street. Previously, this was a cross roads with Sandygate continuing, south west, up the hill past Coal Clough Lane to the junction at the Angel Inn. Most of this stretch of Sandygate has gone; and what remains is now part of Burnham Gate.
Web sites of Burnley people reminiscing have mentions of the Empress being “near the Angel Inn”, “at the junction of Coal Clough Lane and Burnham Gate”, and next to the “Duckett Sanitaryware complex”. In the streetview (2014?), the low, red, industrial unit is on the sanitaryware complex site; the higher, grey industrial shed is more than likely on the site of the Empress.
The ‘sunday-school-like building’ was, in fact, a Wesleyan Chapel.
The Kinematograph Year Book for 1957 has the cinema trading as the Majestic, owned by Albert Bass. The sound system is Gaumont-British Duosonic and there is a CinemaScope screen of 26ft by 16ft in the 27ft wide proscenium.
The old building is referred to as a former “Church of England Mission Hall” in a newspaper report of the opening of the new building in February 1921. The architect of the latter was a “Mr A A Bell of Cannon Street, Burnley”; and its projectors were Kalee Indomitables.
At a licensing magistrates' hearing on Wednesday 11 December 1912 the Alhambra management made application for clause 38 of their music licence to be deleted. This prohibited singing entertainment which they had been providing between films; to the Chief Constable’s disapproval.
Oddly, the Burnley Gazette reported that the bench permitted the deletion until the next renewal at the end of March 1913; the Burnley News reported that the Alhambra’s request was rejected but the matter would be reviewed at licence renewal.
The Tivoli owners had expected to be ready to be given a licence at the licencing magistrates' hearing on 11 December 1912, but the cinema was incomplete (seats had not arrived) and the application was adjourned sine die.
The Tivoli was given the necessary licences from the magistrates on Wednesday 5 February 1913.
“Mr Mossop, in making the application, said that the premises were built, completed and ready for opening. The building was of brick and stone, with cement floors and slated roof, and was an absolutely up-to-date theatre in every possible convenience, well furnished and capable of holding 1050.”
The licence was given until the end of March 1913 when all cinematograph licences in Burnley would be up for renewal.
At the same hearing, the ubiquitous architect William Heap provided plans for an 820 seat cinema to be built in Parliament Street (no name given). The applicant was a Mr N Tomlinson ‘chemist and druggist’ of Gannow Lane. The Bench decided they had no powers to award a licence for premises at only the plan stage; and they expressed the opinion that there were sufficient halls in that area already.
It was Standard Cinema Properties Ltd of Birmingham who ran the cinema under the Regal name, starting around August 1930.
By October 1933, local paper adverts for the cinema had reverted to using the Pentridge name.
In the Kinematograph Year Book 1935 the owners are New Empire (Burnley) Ltd, based at the Empire cinema on St James' Street. It was reported in the local newspaper on 15 November 1933 that New Empire (Burnley) had acquired the Pentridge (by that name), along with 4 other cinemas from Mr J Bradley who was suffering ill-health. The company had also tried to acquire the Savoy, but the owners preferred to lease it to a Liverpool operator, Harry Buxton.
The building behind the stage block/tower IS the former Ruskin Hall.
“Apply Marshall, 164 St James-st, Burnley”: this implies that Marshall owned (or was part-owner of) the Alhambra as well as the Ruskin Hall. He was unable to open the Alhambra as a cinema as he’d leased the Ruskin Hall to “Hayes and Moore” who, effectively, held the cinema licences for that part of Trafalgar Street until late April 1912.
The operating room was at the rear of the stalls. To accommodate the extra equipment for talkies, the room was extended into the foyer.
Front pit patrons entered at a stage-end paybox/lobby in Red Lion Street.
The first Burnley cinema with (regular) talkie equipment was the Pentridge. They installed Electrocord which opened with Bebe Daniels in ‘Hot News’ on 20 May 1929. The Savoy ran a spoiler in the local paper, pointing out that they had tried a sound system about 18 months earlier but found it unsatisfactory so were therefore paying top-price for the WE system. So they were the second (regular) talkie cinema. The Imperial was the third (16 Sept) with BTP equipment.
The tagged-on front contrasts with the auditorium (an original mill building) behind it (see the thickness of the mill wall in that upper opening in the flank).
There is a blue board blocking a side exit, which is at the rear semi-cross-aisle of the stalls. ( The aisle didn’t ‘cross’ the back of the stalls because the projection room sat in the middle.)
I’m speculating: perhaps the original configuration was that the 1910 cinema was at the ground level with the (roller) skating rink on an upper floor. The skating business/fad passed so the cinema was knocked through into the upper floors to facilitate adding a balcony. Adding the extension on the front released extra space in the original building for auditorium use.