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The Mechanics' Halls were opened on 19th January 1869. There was a small hall with an entrance on Burton Street, known as the Forge Hall, and later known as the Academy Cinema, which closed in 1920.
However, the main Mechanics' Hall on Milton Street at the corner of Burton Street was an imposing building with Doric columns, and a colonnaded portico on the Burton Street side. It boasted a William Hill organ which was installed in 1877. Seating was provided for up to 2,000. Films were first screened here in January and February 1896. Many famous people appeared at the Mechanics' Hall over the years: Charles Dickens, Oscar Wilde, Jerome K. Jerome, Wilkie Collins, G.K. Chesterton, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Captain Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton.
It became a full-time cinema from 24th January 1910. The silent films were accompanied by music on the William Hill organ. Closed in the early period of World War I, it re-opened on 6th March 1916. It was taken over by the Biocolour circuit in 1919, and they undertook a reconstruction of parts of the building, including the addition of a cafe. The organ was boarded over, never to be played again. It was now known as the Mechanics' New Hall.
In March 1928, the Biocolour circuit was taken over by the Denman/Gaumont chain and the name reverted back to Mechanics' Hall. In the late-1940’s, the redundant organ was removed from the building by an organ builder.
Gaumont British Theatres became CMA in the early-1950’s after they had merged with Odeon Theatres, and then became the Rank Organisation. The Mechanics' Hall was closed on 6th June 1964 with Dirk Bogarde in “Hot Enough For June” and “The Switch”. It was demolished in 1965 as part of a redevelopment of the area. The facade was saved and purchased by an American, who exported the stones to be re-erected as his Californian hunting lodge. An office block named Birkbeck House was built on the site. That was demolished in 2003, and it was replaced by a new Hilton Hotel, retail and housing.
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