ABC Islington

161-169 Essex Road,
London, N1 2SN

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ABC Islington

Located in the north London inner-city district of Islington. The Carlton Cinema opened on 1st September 1930 with Harold Lloyd in “Welcome Danger”. It was built as a cine-variety theatre for the Clavering and Rose circuit.

Architect George Coles excelled himself with this lavish building which has a magnificent Egyptian style facade dressed in multi-coloured Hathernware tiles. Inside the building the style changes to an Empire style with Egyptian touches in the foyer and then into the auditorium which is a delightful French Renaissance style. Seating was provided in stalls and balcony levels and there was a cafe for patrons. It was equipped with a Compton 3Manual/6Rank theatre organ that was opened by Phil French. Full stage facilities were included on the 26 feet deep stage and there were four dressing rooms.

The Carlton Cinema was taken over by Associated British Cinemas Ltd.(ABC) from February 1935. It was re-named ABC in 1962. It closed on 5th August 1972 with Reg Varney in “Mutiny on the Buses”. The building was converted into a bingo hall which continued for almost 35 years as the Mecca Bingo Club, until closing in March 2007.

It was purchased by a church, and there are plans to create two small spaces beneath the circle, while the original circle and front stalls will be used for church services on Sundays. The church also plans to reopen as a cinema, using the circle seating area and converting the former cafe area into a second screen. Church use began in late-summer 2013.

It is a Grade II* Listed building.

Contributed by KenRoe

Recent comments (view all 26 comments)

davepring on December 2, 2009 at 6:13 pm

on the pathe news website there is a short film of a stage show at the Carlton in the early 1930s…the film shows 7 grand pianos being played on stage and the camera pans around the auditorium.In the closing moments you see the original screen tabs and organ,marvelous stuff!

davepring on December 2, 2009 at 6:54 pm in carlton islington in the search bar..details below:


Full titles read: “EIGHT PIANO RHAPSODY – Produced by Phil Finch. Filmed at Carlton Cinema, Islington, London.”

L/S’s of the pianists playing their pianos (it’s quite a spectacle). There are several good C/U’s and M/S’s of the pianists (Unfortunately this cataloguer cannot identify them). L/S’s and M/S’s of the audience watching solemnly from their seats.

Issue Date: 23/10/1933 Sound: Yes
Time in: 01:18:11:00 Time out: 01:21:49:00
Canister: PT 187 Film ID: 1090.12
Sort number: PT 187 Tape: PM1090
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Simon Overton
Simon Overton on January 18, 2010 at 6:29 am

As of this date I am unable to open the

davepring on April 6, 2010 at 6:17 pm

Just checked the site Simon and it does work :)

SMorgan on May 23, 2010 at 2:29 am

The earlier Facebook link wasn’t working for me, this one should:

View link

michaelbrent on October 21, 2014 at 6:14 pm

The venue is open as a church and conference venue

michaelbrent on October 21, 2014 at 6:26 pm

Could anyone confirm if the proscenium and auditorium ceiling have been altered or hidden, looking at some photographs it certainly was the case and being a listed building had to be restored?

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on October 21, 2014 at 6:45 pm

michaelbrent; The auditorium is intact, but only the stalls area is currently being used by the church. The church have built a new ‘proscenium’ in front of the original one. This is a ‘temporary’ structure which can easily be removed. Also, as they are only using the stalls area, a false ceiling made of cloth has been hung across from the front underside of the circle towards the ‘temporary’ proscenium. This too can easily be removed when they bring the circle back into use. It will assist in retaining the heat in the stalls area during winter, and hides the upper levels of the cinema which are still painted in Mecca Bingo colours.

rebno167 on March 22, 2018 at 12:58 pm

I am a new member…Very interested to see Davespring “Eight Piano Rhapsody”. My father, now long deceased, was the head projectionist at the theatre during the time it was filmed and recorded. My father was a friend of Phil Finch who regularly used to play the piano at the Carlton and in between breaks they used to play table tennis on the stage. My mother was the cashier.

I have an original 78rpm recording made at the Carlton made in 1934/5 of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue on 8 piano ensemble. I have put it on YouTube (playing it on my lovely 78rpm machine…in my dressing gown!!)

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