Pavilion Picture Theatre

Church Street,
Burnley, BB11 2DE

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Pavilion Picture Theatre

A complex tale.

The Palace Skating Rink opened to the public on Wednesday 19th May 1909. It was situated on Church Street and operated by the Burnley Roller Skating Rink Company. At the licence hearing it was described as having been recently erected specially for the purpose of roller skating, and was of corrugated iron lined with wood. The rink was on steel girders overlain with wood. (The image of the newspaper report is poor: rink dimensions were 62 ft wide, on average, and one hundred and something feet long.) There was natural light via a lantern on the 25ft-high roof ridge, with electric arc lights and gas mantles providing illumination when dark. The operators planned to accommodate five to six hundred, though they reckoned the capacity to be seven to eight hundred.

There had been an official opening the previous evening at which the Mayor was chief guest. He commented on the extra leisure time now available to people and the need for activities for them beyond just reading books!

The Palace Rink (as it titled itself in advertising) ran exhibition events, roller-hockey matches, etc to keep the people of Burnley coming. Roller skating was a short-lived craze at that time. On the day that the Palace Rink got its licence, the Olympia Rink, near Manchester Road railway station, got one for their rink of 14,000 sq-ft in a 21,000 sq-ft building.

The Burnley Gazette of Saturday 9th March 1912 reported a licensing magistrates hearing at which the licence for the Palace Rink was to be transferred to Theodore Hill. Since 8th February the venue had been leased to Messrs Moore & Holden who already operated a number of halls and would run the venue as a picture hall. This would require installing a sloping floor and an operating box. It was mentioned that the building had two sides of brick and stone but the rest was wood with a corrugated roof. There was much discussion about fire safety and the state of the roof, during which the cinema hall’s capacity was mentioned as 1,500. The licence transfer was granted but other decisions deferred until final plans could be inspected.

The Burnley Express of 6th April 1912 reported a subsequent licensing meeting. The operators had changed their plan in order to deal with the fire hazard of an operating box in the gallery, for which reason the public were not to use the gallery. The operators would use rear-projection from a room with concrete floor, concrete ceiling/roof and brick walls. This would allow use of the gallery, but for only one row of seats. (In “Life In Victorian Preston” D.J. Hindle reports there being very cheaply-priced seats in an area behind the screen where the film could be watched with left and right swapped! One wonders what happened when the dialogue captions were shown; did patrons take in mirrors?) Around this time the licence transferred again: from Theodore Hill to Dudley Wynton.

The Pavilion Picture Palace, as the cinema was named, is not listed in the Kinematograph Year Book for 1914.

The Burnley News of 9th August 1919 carried a long report of a meeting of the licensing magistrates on 6th August at which the owners of the Pavilion Picture Palace applied to demolish the existing premises and build “one of the finest picture palaces in the town” with a café. The report hints at the origins of the site when referring to the reuse of foundations. One magistrate asked “This was the site of an old mill; are you satisfied with the foundations?” The architect, W. Longbottom of Halifax, replied that he was “perfectly satisfied. The wall was 3 foot wide and had been constructed for a much larger building than the one proposed to be erected.” On 3rd September 1919, a few weeks later, an application was made to amend the plans. No details are reported, but it is likely to have been to include amendments previously requested by the authorities, one of which was for a curved staircase to be straight for safety reasons. The new cinema was never built.

The Burnley Express of 13th August 1927 reported a licensing magistrates meeting of 11th August at which the owners of the Pavilion Picture Palace applied to convert it into a ballroom: to be called the Empress Ballroom. It sounds as though the original, cinema building was largely to be retained: “There was a false floor, but this super-structure was to be removed and the floor proper, which was on the street level, would be used as the dancing floor, and would form a very excellent one". There was to be a new elevation on Church Street, with a café behind at first floor level, and a balcony down one side of the dance floor. When discussing capacity and evacuation routes, the architect, James Pickup, said that “with 1,600 persons present, the cinema, as at present arranged, could be emptied in from one to two minutes”. He was anticipating 660 dancers, given the dance-floor dimensions.

KYB 1927 and 1928 list the Pavilion Picture Theatre and proprietor “J Grimshaw Ltd”. The 1928 listing was for a cinema that no longer existed.

On 17th December 1927 the Burnley Express reported the appointment of Mr A. Henny, a former Burnley Police Sergeant, as the ballroom manager. A week later the paper printed a letter from a reader complaining about ‘jobs for the boys’ in appointing someone without advertising the job.

The Empress Ballroom was destroyed by fire in November 1960. It was being operated by the Mecca organisation, who took up emergency accommodation at the Mechanics Institution.

Nothing of that Church Street area remains, not even a road for a streetview.

Contributed by H J Hill

Recent comments (view all 1 comments)

HJHill on January 24, 2015 at 9:59 am

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.

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