Northern Neon Lights

Nestled in a fairly nondescript area on the north-westerly drag out of Worcester sits one of the most iconic 1930s buildings in the city: a towering symmetrical red brick monster called Northwick.

Northwicksmall1Appearing from virtually out of nowhere, it can catch the unsuspecting motorist by surprise,   surrounded by a patchwork of different period houses and business’s, one couldn’t say it blends in with its environment. A huge neon lit fin soars into the sky flanked either side by robust angular wings. It’s almost fortress-like appearance is enhanced by narrow outer windows running virtually the full height of the upper storeys  (looking more like arrow slits than anything designed to let light in). Below this there is a more traditional 1930s curved canopy with long wide steps leading up to a row of double doors.

Designed by Charles Edmund Wilford to be used as a theatre, it was quickly converted into a huge 1109 seat cinema. Run by an independent operator that also ran the Scala cinema in town, it opened its doors on 28th November 1938.

As with many cinemas of this era, the increasing popularity of television in the 50s & 60s meant it struggled to continue attracting sustainable numbers to the box office. On September 10th 1966 Northwick closed its doors as a cinema, screening Dean Martin in ‘The Silencers’ and Audie Murphy in ‘Arizona Raiders’ on its final day. By the end of the month it had reopened as a bingo hall, changing hands several times until finally shutting again in 1982.

 Concerned for its future, in January 1984 Historic England gave Northwick grade II listed status. The building then stood empty for almost 10 years until it was resurrected, opening in June 1991 as a venue for live entertainment and the occasional film on a temporary screen. This only lasted until 1996 when once again it was boarded up.

 In August 2003 a planning was made to demolish the building and construct flats on the site, but these were objected to by the Cinema Theatre Association and were thankfully rejected by the local council.

Its current owners, David and Helen Gray purchased Northwick  in 2004 and extensive restoration works began to return the building to its original glory. After 18 months of collaboration with local and national heritage conservation departments, Northwick reopened as Grays of Worcester, a high end interior furnishings showroom.

While you can’t help but be impressed by the exterior, it does nothing to prepare you for what awaits inside. As you stand at the back of the auditorium you are greeted with the last remaining complete work of interior designer John Alexander. Moulded from fibrous plaster, either side of the proscenium arch are trios of over-life-size mythical figures ascending a golden staircase. They point skyward while surrounded by a feast of scrolls and curls, all up-lit from the treads. Standing below them one feels almost intimidated, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the odd visiting child has been concerned by their presence over the years!


Looking up further, the ceiling still features all the original light fittings surrounded by yet more decorative plaster work, painted scroll borders and intricate golden air vents. Exploring around you’ll find original signs for the toilets and stalls, correct doors and handles along with the odd glimpse of period Art Deco carpet.

Wilford designed 10 theatres in England, as of 2016 only 4 including Northwick survive. Cineworld in Chelsea is the only one still operating as a cinema, The Regal in Bridlington is a Gala bingo and the Century cinema in South East London is reportedly derelict and vacant. These facts alone make it a privilege to be able to visit Northwick in 2016 at all, but what’s more astounding is that it’s managed to survive virtually unmolested these last 78 years.

Thanks to the owners David & Helen and all the staff at Grays of Worcester for their permission in letting me photograph the building for my Streamline Worcestershire project.


A Trip to the Talkies

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Families gently file into the auditorium. Some have small toddlers, uneasily making their way into the semi darkness, others stride confidently in armed with popcorn and juice boxes. Groups of friends meet in the adjoining cafe, eagerly awaiting delivery of a hot beverage before finding their seats. It’s just a normal Saturday matinee at Worcestershire’s best loved Art Deco cinema, The Regal in Evesham. But what’s this? A man scampers around in the dark waving a camera about. *Snap snap snap*. Is he photographing the ceiling?! *Snap snap snap*. Now the carpet!  *lens change…snap snap snap*And the door to the toilets?! Who is this mad man? Get him away from our children. SECURITY?!….

It seemed like a good idea at the time. I’ve been trying desperately to kill two birds with one Canon shaped stone. My photographic mission of capturing local 1930s buildings has been gathering steam of late, with an ever growing list of candidates and plenty of great weather, it’s just the time factor that poses a problem. As a result I concocted a genius plan: Combine family days out with photo shoots.

The first of these was an astounding success. Picking one of the hottest days of the year, we all headed up to Droitwich Spa Lido. Designed by Thomas H. Mawson and opened in 1935, this fine modernist building boats the U.K.s only outdoor brine pool. I had arranged pre-opening access to take some snaps before the heaving masses dived in, so capturing its beauty was a piece of cake. Pictures in the bag, we all enjoyed a good splash around before heading home.

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Buoyed by my success I planned the second group adventure. Finding Dory, the latest Pixar effort was showing at my favourite local grade II listed cinema, The Regal. A round of emails once again sorted out pre-show permission and a plan was set. Unfortunately we were running late, and other happy cinema goers were running early, leading to the situation described above.

…….Abandoning the heavily occupied auditorium I took to the foyer. It covers three levels and has a wonderful banister rail snaking its way up the memorabilia laden stairway. Two old projectors sit on upper and lower floors, while the circle bar with classic Deco signage occupies the middle. I would have got some wonderful shots if all the damn people didn’t keep getting in my way!


Never mind, I’ll just pop outside and capture the exterior of the building in all its glory. The main street frontage is framed in stonework, dominated by a cornice rising and becoming fluted over a corner entrance and flanked by piers. Original paired double doors with flèche motif are…. covered in chipboard. It turns out a couple of rotters broke down one pair of the gorgeous original 1932 double doors earlier in the week to steal some collection boxes left out. They’re irreparable I’m told, but recreations will be commissioned once funds have been secured. I could rant for ages about this, but I’ll suppress it and simply say that arrests have been made, and I hope they throw away the key.


On examining the pictures later in the day it became quickly apparent that results weren’t up the scratch. Blurred, underexposed and filled with ‘ghosts’. I guess I’ll have to go back and do it all again, what a chore!

Next weekend.. who fancies a trip to a paint brush factory kids?!!

The Regal is raising funds for a 4th floor extension. If you’d like to contribute please visit their crowd funding page.