Tredegar Workmen's Hall Cinema

Morgan Street,
Tredegar, NP22 3ND

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Workmen's Hall - Morgan Street, Tredegar

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The impressive Workmen’s Hall was built in 1861 and was one of the first to be built in the industrial valleys of South Eastern Wales. All major towns and villages in the South Wales Coal Field would follow suit. Building of these halls and the ongoing operating costs were paid for through the weekly subscription donated by miners, steel workers and those in other trades in Wales.

The original concept was that these halls would be used to educate and entertain the workers and their families. These Working Men’s Halls, Miners Institutes and Workmen’s Clubs would include a library, snooker room, bar, reading rooms, small meeting rooms, a public room or hall for live performances and in some cases a swimming pool and ablutions {during the early days of coal mining facilities for showering or bathing were not provided by the employers and many homes did not have baths, let along hot or cold water}. A Committee would be elected to operate and manage these venues, recruited from the membership.

Within the Workmen’s Hall was the spacious Lesser Hall, a public auditorium that was used for music concerts, amateur theatre productions and community shows as well as political speeches by many Worldwide Socialist politicians including the local MP, Aneurin Beaven who was the towns' MP and to become the ‘Father of the British National Health Service’.
Using the facilities offered World Champions Ray Reardon and Cliff Wilson crafted their snooker skills here.

As cinema became a popular and affordable pastime in Britain and Wales the Lesser Hall exhibited films in the very early days of film exhibition, the hall was leased to a local exhibitor, at this time the hall provided film entertainment, usually silent, projected on 16mm. The hall was granted a full Cinematograph License by the local authority in 1909.
Realising how popular cinema was becoming the committee decided that it should benefit from the revenue that could be generated from film exhibition and in 1936 extensive and costly alterations were made to the venue remodelling the Lesser Hall into a full size cinema. A dedicated lobby/foyer area was constructed while allowing a separate entrance to the remaining facilities of the hall. With exotic staircases in an Art Deco style lobby decorated in steel, glass and marble the lobby was a showpiece unlike any other Workmen’s or Miners Institute Cinema. During the 1930’s & 1940’s, 47 other Workmen’s or Miners Cinemas were built, few as lavish as the Tredegar venue.

The remodelled hall seated 800 with 300 in the newly constructed balcony and 500 in the newly designed stalls; plush, comfortable cinema seating was installed, impressing cinemagoers that were more used to less luxurious seating at cinemas in the surrounding towns. Professional 35mm projection equipment was purchased through a grant as well as the best sound system that money could buy, later Cinemascope was also introduced.

The facade of the cinema dominated the street and dwarfed the Olympia Cinema just along the road. Either side of the modernistic entrance doors were large poster displays advertising the current or forthcoming attractions with stills from the films in display cases either side of the entrance. Above these entrance doors was a canopy lighting the stairs to the doorway while along the canopy was coloured neon lighting. Additional neon lighting decorated the facade that also featured a large neon sign spelling out ‘WORKMEN’S HALL’.

Throughout the 1960’s the collieries of South Eastern Wales started to close, those that survived eventually suffered from the mass closure of all coalmines in the South Eastern Valleys, without the ongoing contributions to finance the venues those halls that had survived struggled and eventually were put up for sale as private clubs and bars. Some efforts were made to continue their use however it was no longer viable, the region was entering decades of turbulence and change that would result in mass unemployment and poverty.

During the 1990’s, the venue roof was blown away following a number of years disrepair. Sadly, in 1995 it was decided to demolish the Workmen’s Hall and the site of this former landmark is now a make do car park and remains a scar on the entertainment and retail area of the town.

*NOTE: most venues of this nature have suffered the same fate with the exception of a handful that was able to secure community funding for restoration by the local authority and the Welsh Assembly. If this had all happened today it is unlikely that this loss would have been allowed.

Contributed by JMBRIGHTON

Recent comments (view all 3 comments)

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on April 30, 2010 at 9:23 am

A vintage photograph of the Workmen’s Hall in 1951:
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Ken Roe
Ken Roe on April 30, 2010 at 9:37 am

A photograph of the auditorium, viewed from the stage:
View link

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