Remembering the Fallen – Pre-War ODEONs Continued

 

In my last post, I celebrated the surviving pre-war ODEONs that still operate as cinemas. It therefore seems appropriate, to follow it up with a short tribute to those less fortunate examples of the chain’s rapid 1930s expansion. As mentioned, over 80 of the 140 buildings, commissioned by the ODEON chain have since seen demolition. It would perhaps come as no surprise that many would close, given the onslaught of challenges all early cinemas faced in the second half of the century. The rise of television, video and other forms of home entertainment, combined with new technically superior multiplexes, rendered many pre-war cinemas obsolete by the 1970s. In addition to this, ODEON’s rapid, and at times apparently haphazard expansion, created unnecessary challenges from the word go. The visionary founder Oscar Deutsch was clearly a very astute and unbelievably driven businessman, but appeared to have a weakness for acquiring ‘bargain’ sites for construction. This ultimately led to a raft of ‘super cinemas’ opening in areas, either with an insufficient population to sustain such large enterprises, or where there was a saturation of cinemas already (in a handful of cases, even competing directly with his own!).

Nevertheless, many have been lost, and in the absence of a comprehensive series of blue plaques commemorating their sites (are there any?), it seems fitting to single out a few examples (I’ve chosen 8 personal favourites), give a brief overview, and show you what was built in their place.

Worthing

On opening in March 1934, the Worthing ODEON was one of the largest and most expensive builds the chain had commissioned to date, costing double that of the smaller venues. Its appearance (like South Harrow the previous year), was a leap forward in British cinema design, pairing a prominent modernist tower with a curved streamline café wing, features, that would become regular elements of the ODEON circuit style going forward. The tower itself boasted an illuminated clock, 8ft across, spelling ODEON THEATRE.

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Worthing ODEON (1934) by Whinney, Son & Austin Hall. Image Historic England

Despite stiff competition from three earlier town centre theatres, in addition to the recently opened Plaza, and the nearby Lancing ODEON, Worthing was a huge success for many years. The 1970s saw multiplexing of the auditorium, splitting it into three. Despite sustained popularity, it was closed in 1986 for redevelopment, but was swiftly given grade II listed status by Historic England. A legal battle followed, with the developers eventually claiming victory. The building was demolished in late 1987 and Montague Shopping Centre erected on the site.

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Montague Shopping Centre (1987), Worthing. Image Google Street View

Tolworth

Tolworth was one of several early small venues (or village hall ODEONs as I like to call them), built to modest plans. Designed by Yates, Cook & Darbyshire, the cinema was built on a greenfield site, with no obvious demand for such a development. Allen Eyles’ book on the chain reports that, in these early years there were numerous jokes in circulation, ridiculing Oscar for throwing up cinemas in the most unconventional rural locations.

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Tolworth ODEON (1934) by Yates, Cook & Darbyshire. Image Historic England. 

It only lasted until 1961, when it was demolished and replaced with Tolworth Tower, a 22 storey mixed use tower designed by Richard Seifert (completed in 1964). The area was clearly not so rural by this point!

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Tolworth Tower (1964) by Richard Seifert. Image Google Street View.

Surbiton

The Surbiton ODEON, another example from 1934, was unlike anything else in the chain, and was almost certainly a ‘take over’ project. Built as a theatre, it featured a 12ft deep stage, several dressing rooms, a band room, and lift in the orchestra pit, none of which were standard cinema fare! Both architect, Joseph Hall, and interior designers Mollo & Egan, also had no previous connection with the chain, although they would go on to do further work for Oscar. It was a striking building, both externally and internally, with a curious blend of geometric patterns and semi-abstract vine murals in the foyer. In addition to the tall angular corner windows on either flank of the façade, the canopy sported a huge ODEON sign in a significantly different typeface to the usual octagonal lettering.

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Surbiton ODEON (1934) by Joseph Hall. Image Historic England

Built less than a mile from the Kingston ODEON (1933, also now gone), Surbiton was always going to prove challenging to remain viable in the long-term. Nevertheless, it stayed open until 1975, when it was reborn as a carpet showroom. B&Q took over custodianship in 1977, giving DIYers a dose of Art Deco style with every visit for 20 years. Sadly, in 1998 it was demolished and replaced with a Waitrose supermarket, built in a cinema-esque style. The flats either side, contemporary to the cinema, remain.

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Waitrose Surbiton (1998). Image Google Street View

Chingford

Of the many designs realised in this fruitful period, Andrew Mather’s concept for Chingford is surely one of the most unique. The almost cathedral-like exterior possessed a dramatic vertical emphasis, clad in grey & cream terracotta with stylised detailing. Two carved figures adorned the top of the tower, which for my money, looks to be heavily influenced by the Manhattan architecture of the period. Unfortunately, the interior was less inspiring, and far more ‘old fashioned’ than many of Mather’s other examples for the chain.

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Chingford ODEON (1935) by Andrew Mather. Image Historic England

After being sold to Classic cinemas in 1967, it was ultimately closed in 1972 and demolished to make way for a mixed retail and residential block. Poundstretcher & PetHut currently occupy the site.

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6-8 Cherrydown Avenue, Chingford. Image Google Streetview

Bury

Opening on November 16th 1936, Bury ODEON was the only modern cinema in the Lancashire town, and was the chain’s first entirely new cinema in the Manchester area. Its boxy faience clad exterior may not have had the finesse of examples like Chingford, but its striking minimal nature must have caused quite a stir in this traditional industrial town.

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Bury ODEON (1936) by Harry Weedon & P. J. Price. Image Historic England

After closing in 1981, the building was used as a nightclub for many years, before being left empty. It was eventually demolished in 2013. As of June 2016, the site was still undeveloped, but directly opposite is a new (2010) VUE multiplex and shopping centre, the exterior of which was clearly influenced by its grandparent.

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VUE Multiplex, Bury (2010). Image Google Street View

Penge

Opening on 31st July 1937, just five days after, and 1 ½ miles from South Norwood ODEON, Penge was one of a number in the year to feature large quantities of opaque glass on the frontage. Two illuminated towers capped with flag poles stood at either end, adding a considerable dramatic effect.

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Penge ODEON (1937) by Andrew Mather. Image Historic England

Closing in 1976, it saw out the remainder of the 70s and 80s as a bingo hall before shutting for good in 1990. 1994 saw a Wetherspoon’s pub, ‘The Moon & Stars’ constructed on the site. It’s worth noting that whatever opinions you have of them, the J. D. Wetherspoon group have converted a number of former cinemas into public houses in recent years, serving as welcome custodians to these old hulks. It’s only a shame that this wasn’t the mind-set when Penge met the demolition ball.

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The Moon & Stars Pub, Penge (1994). Image Google Street View 

Canning Town

The Canning Town ODEON has the dubious accolade of having the shortest lifespan of any of the chain’s pre-war constructions. Opening behind schedule in May 1939, Keith P. Roberts’ huge 2240 seater made excellent use of an awkwardly shaped island site, with a curved single height entrance leading to a huge foyer bathed in natural light. The exterior was clad predominantly in cream faience, with a tall ventilation fin capped with a flag pole, towering above the main structure.

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Canning Town ODEON (1939) by Keith P. Roberts. Image Historic England

Situated near the docks, as it was, Canning Town was subjected to a barrage of bombings during the Blitz. The cinema was no exception, being struck on May 11th 1941, and never reopening. The site wasn’t actually fully cleared until 1970, with a block of flats named ODEON Court going up in its place.

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ODEON COURT, Canning Town (1970). Image Google Street View

Hendon

Opening just four days before the country went to war, Hendon was the last new ODEON to be completed until 1950. Designed by Robert Bullivant, the facing was done entirely in brick, a medium put to successful use in Chester & York, but still an unusual choice for the chain (in this case, it was to keep costs down). Smaller than most of the period, featuring a slab tower, curved entrance with splayed fins, and a streamline corner punctured with porthole windows, it was an undeniably pretty building. Unfortunately, the timing of launch was dreadful, with only a fraction of capacity attending the gala launch, buffet and speeches. Five days later, the government approved emergency measures to close every cinema in the country on safety grounds (although this was lifted a short time later).

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Hendon (1939) by Robert Bullivant. Image Historic England

Hendon survived unmodified and un-multiplexed until it closed in 1979. It was demolished in 1981 to make way for sheltered accommodation.

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Hendon, apartments built 1981. Image Google Street View

The information used to write this post was compiled using a combination of sources including Allen Eyles’ indispensable book ‘ODEON Cinemas 1: Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation’, the excellent Cinema Treasures website, and as always, Google.

If you appreciate this architecture of this period (and are familiar with Worcestershire & the West Midlands), you might well enjoy my new book ‘Streamline Worcestershire’. More information at www.streamlineworcestershire.com

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Survivors – The Remaining Pre-War ODEON Cinemas.

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WESTON-SUPER-MARE (1935) by Thomas Cecil Howett. Photo: Philip Butler 2017

Amongst the wealth of ground-breaking architecture that saw construction across these isles during the 1930s, the cinema must surely be considered to have had the greatest impact. No other type of building could have managed to get away with imposing such outlandish, extravagant and radical exteriors on the average British high street. Whether it was the appeal of the escapism they offered, the allure of the gorgeous charismatic stars projected on the screen, or the fashionable kudos these places bestowed on the locality, they won over both town planners and punters a-like, springing up in their 100s throughout the decade.

Of all the operators, and there were many, ODEON is undoubtedly the chain whose legacy is most enviable. A chain that not only managed to tick all the technical boxes required for a great cinema, but whose founder commissioned some of the most unbelievably modern, daring, and unusual structures ever seen in this country.

The first ODEON opened in 1930 in the Perry Barr area of Birmingham. Designed by Stanley A. Griffiths & Horace G. Bradley, it had a fashionable bright white exterior in a Moorish style, with an elaborate slightly unorthodox interior. Further openings in subsequent years, showed no obvious house style, and arguably little genuine flair, until construction of South Harrow in 1933.

 

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South Harrow (1933) by A. P. Starkey. Demolished 1972. Image Historic England

 

This bold  multipurpose block clad in buff faience tiles, featured integrated retail units and a recessed front wall, up-lit from the entrance canopy. It perhaps doesn’t look that spectacular in light of later designs, but South Harrow set a new benchmark in British cinema design, and paved the way for the ODEON chain’s modern house style.

Despite this early promise,  it would take the appointment of the Birmingham based Harry Weedon Partnership in 1934 to achieve a more consistent approach to the design of the rapidly expanding circuit. For the remainder of the decade, all designs would go through Weedon in one form or another, ultimately yielding a whole estate of masterpieces.

I’ve become somewhat obsessed with the brand of late, and decided to investigate and catalogue a few statistics covering what was built, and what remains in 2017. Below follows a summary of the findings.

Between 1930 & 1939, ODEON opened 258 cinemas (a few early ones didn’t bear the brand name at first, but later adopted it). Of these, 140 were new, purpose built venues, whilst the others consisted of older cinemas and theatres, benefitting from a revamp. From the 140, 83 have been demolished, and a further 7 only have elements remaining; façade, foyer or adjoining café still present, whilst the rest is lost.

That leaves 50 surviving buildings, only 19 of which are still open as cinemas in one capacity or another, the remainder being used as bingo halls, churches, nightclubs, conference centres and retail outlets. It’s also worth noting a further 4 were built, but not opened until after the war (2 survive, 1 as a cinema).

So where are these miraculous survivors I hear you ask? Cue the Led Zeppelin sound bed, here’s the countdown in chronological order, complete with grainy period shots, of all those still functioning as cinemas (images copyright Historic England, but via the excellent Cinema Treasures website).…

Barnet
BARNET (1935) by Edgar J Simmons
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WESTON SUPER MARE (1935) by Thomas Cecil Howett
favesham
FAVERSHAM (1936) by Andrew Mather
scarborough
SCARBOROUGH (1936) by Bullivant, Weedon, Clavering
sutton colefield
SUTTON COLDFIELD (1936) by Harry Weedon & W. Calder Robson
bridgwater
BRIDGWATER (1936) by Thomas Cecil Howett
muswellhill
MUSWELL HILL (1936) by George Coles
bromley
BROMLEY (1936) by George Coles
harrogate
HARROGATE (1936) by Harry Weedon & W. Calder Robson – yes, it’s the same design as Sutton Coldfield
chester
CHESTER (1936) Harry Weedon & Robert Bullivant
stafford
STAFFORD (1936) Roland Satchwell
sittingbourne
SITTINGBOURNE (1937) by F. C. Mitchell
Odeon, Blossom Street, York, Yorkshire
YORK (1937) by Harry Weedon & Robert Bullivant
exeter
 by Harry Weedon & Robert Bullivant
swiss cottage
SWISS COTTAGE (1937) by Basil Herring & Harry Weedon
leicester square
LEICESTER SQUARE (1937) by Andrew Mather & Harry Weedon
bristol
BRISTOL (1938) by Thomas Cecil Howett
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AYR (1938) by Andrew Mather

east ham
East Ham (1938) by Andrew Mather

Bonus ODEON

 

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WORCESTER (1939, but didn’t open until 1950) by Robert Bullivant

Use them or lose them folks. Support your local original ODEON cinemas (not all are still run by the chain, but all still show films) while you can. Even if the movie is naff, you can sit back and soak up the history!

The statistics used in this post were compiled using a combination of information from Allen Eyles excellent book ‘Odeon Cinemas 1: Oscar Deutsch Entertains Our Nation’, the Cinema Treasures website, and Google.

If you appreciate this era of architecture (and live in or are familiar with Worcestershire & the West Midlands), you might well enjoy my new book ‘Streamline Worcestershire’. More information at www.streamlineworcestershire.com

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Assets or Eyesores? Plymouth’s Art Deco Survivors

 

Old Town Street and Spooner's Corner after the Blitz in 1941.
Plymouth 1941 via cornwall24.net

 

The historic naval city of Plymouth is said to have been one of, if not THE worst, victims of bombing in this country during WWII. In an attempt to obliterate the Royal Docklands at HMRN Davenport, the Luftwaffe relentlessly targeted the area between 1940 and 1944, reducing large areas of Britain’s ‘Ocean City’ to rubble, and taking the lives of 1172 civilians.

Plans for redevelopment were drawn up even before the conflict had concluded, with a bold vision of low density suburban accommodation, paired with a modern zonal city centre. Much of what hadn’t been destroyed by the raids, was cleared to deliver a blank canvas to build from. The result was a coordinated, proportioned, and well laid out city centre fit for the optimistic post-war era, and it still stacks up pretty well to this day.

But what of those pieces of architecture that escaped the explosives and bulldozers? When examples of Plymouth’s pre-war architecture come under threat from development, should their remarkable escape be taken into account, or should sentimentality be put to one side in the name of progress? Personally speaking, I’m too romantically involved with nostalgia to give a sensible unbiased answer, but finding myself in the city with some time to spare, I decided to hunt down some examples of Plymouths Art Deco survivors, several of which are currently under threat.

The Royal Cinema

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Opening in July 1938, the Royal Cinema was one of eight city picture houses operating at the outbreak of war, and is the only one still showing films today. Built by the ABC chain, and designed by their in-house architect William Riddle Glen, it possesses a rather odd appearance from certain angles. Approach from the east and the slab-like reconstituted stone façade smoothly dovetails into a curved corner wing (currently painted sky blue), wrapping around the side of the building. Approach from the west however, and the impression is given of said façade, being simply stuck on to the front of the foyer, overhanging the edges in a rather awkward fashion. Since the ‘90’s, a bingo hall has been present in the stalls area, it’s shabby separate entrance lurks off to one side, while the remaining multiplexed circle continues functioning as a cinema (run by the independent REEL chain). Love it or loathe it, the ensemble is an unmistakable slice of Art Deco architecture, and is adored by passionate local film-goers and nostalgic dreamers alike.

Despite this, last year the owners of the site unveiled plans to demolish the building, replacing it with student accommodation. A hard-fought campaign ensued, including a petition with over 5000 signatures supporting retention of the venue. Several attempts have been made to list the cinema over the years, but its interior is too heavily altered to warrant sufficient merit with Historic England. The most recent development in the saga involved the local council listing the building as a community asset, ensuring the public are awarded the right to buy, if the freehold is put on the market. I’ll be following developments closely….

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Gaumont Palace

A mere shuffle from The Royal, is the former Gaumont Palace, a much grander structure, also currently in a state of limbo.  Opening in 1931 on the site of an earlier theatre, the Gaumont was the creation of West Country architects Percy Bartlett and William Henry Watkins. Taken over by the ODEON chain in the early 1960s, it was subdivided to include a dance hall, before morphing into a roller disco in 1980 (now there’s a phrase I wish I got to type more often!), seeing out its final days as a nightclub (closing in 2013).

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While standing in front of its impressive brick and stone façade, a couple scurried up to me, grinning like Cheshire cats. “Are you from GOD TV”? they asked. When my nonsensical bumbling reply concluded with a “no”, they proceeded to fill me in. Both, it seemed, had ‘wasted’ much of their youth within the building, indulging in one euphoric drug addled rave after another, only later to be saved by the grace of our good lord. God then shone his yellow face upon the tired old Gaumont, forseeing a £multi-million restoration to transform the site into a state of the art prayer centre and studio for the aforementioned Christian channel. Now this all sounds very promising indeed, a number of old cinemas nationwide have been reborn as churches, many receiving a full restoration in the process, but dig a little deeper and concerns start to arise. The initial completion date was set for 2014, then postponed until 2015, before the married directors of GOD TV got themselves caught up in an infidelity scandal. Following a resignation of one, due to “moral failure”, the project is reported to continue with a 2020 launch date. God himself is apparently funding the work, estimated to be between £5-7 million, but donations are, of course, always welcome. Rather worryingly though, no work has apparently taken place to date, not a jot, and the building looks in a rough state. I would be delighted if the scheme came to fruition, but I’m not holding my breath.




Colin Campbell House
Colin Campbell Court, adjacent to the main city shopping area, is a sizable parking lot, surround by a series of run down 1960’s retail and office units. Slap bang in the middle, at a rather awkward angle, stands a potential stunner: Colin Campbell House. Built by E. G. Catchpole, this streamline beauty was constructed in 1938 as a garage and showroom for the Austin Motor Company. They must have been planning on shifting a fair few vehicles, as this four storey complex far outweighs any similar dealerships I’ve encountered from the period. Information is sketchy, and I’ve not been able to uncover how long it fulfilled its original purpose, but in recent years it has served as a Mothercare, Habitat, Chinese supermarket, and now, a discount furniture outlet.

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In 2001, an unsuccessful attempt was made to list the building by C20th society, but there are rumblings of second application being put together. The present external condition is utterly depressing, peeling paint, crumbling render, rusting windows, and naff adverts all insult the heritage of the place. A faded Habitat sign (closed in 2011 I believe) protrudes from the pavement, like some aged sentry trying to trick the unsuspecting shopper. Currently open as CFS (not D), only the first two floors are accessible to the public (so I’m told, I didn’t have enough time to explore), and all original internal features have either been covered up or removed.

Having originally signaled it was to be demolished as part of a redevelopment of the whole site, the local council later bowed to public pressure, calling for the building to be retained in the plans. This has subsequently been modified from a requirement, to a merely a suggestion, and the site remains available, should a suitable developer be willing to take it on.

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Tinside Lido

Having plumbed the depths of Plymouth’s neglected inter-war structures, I was keen to leave the place on a high by calling in on Ocean City’s crowing jewel, the grade II* listed Tinside Lido. Designed by borough engineer J Wibberly in 1935, Tinside was built in the dream situation for any outdoor pool: on the coast. The large circular pool is literally built into the sea, a swimmable pier if you like. Closed in 1992 due to falling numbers, it remained empty for a decade, before being fully restored, reopening in 2005.

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Plans for a swim were put on hold due to the unseasonably cold, windy and wet conditions, but the team were kind enough to let me look around and take some photos.

Entering from the cliff top level, one walks down a sloping covered parade overlooking the pool. A spiral staircase takes you down one storey to the entrance (unless you take the lift from the coast road, it’s a fully accessible pool). After negotiating your way in by purchasing a keyring and post card, you’re met with the most gorgeous stairwell. Lit from above, and in front, by glass bricks, one is transported into the 1930’s by an abundance of period features including azure tiles with red hgihlights, stylised signage, and a sleek bronze banister with geometric railings. I wasn’t allowed into the changing rooms with my camera (why ever not?), but I hear they’re equally special. 




Emerging on the ground floor to the sound of roaring waves, you’re met with a sizable area for sun lounging, a raised walkway, where one might pause, gazing out to the ocean liners yonder, and a glorious fountain in the centre of the pool. The head life guard insisted on cranking said fountain up to maximum, before I commenced shooting, a move that rather perplexed the one swimmer present, who was confined to a lane running right past the darn thing! I just chuckled and adjusted my camera.
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Despite the obvious limitation of appeal thanks to the unpredictable British weather, Tinside remains one of Plymouth’s key tourist attractions, drawing in huge numbers each year. With the potential possessed by the other survivors, a real possibility of a 30’s heritage trail, or Art Deco quarter, presents itself. As always though, the small issues of funding and feasibility will probably be the deal breakers. The appetite amongst the community for retention, restoration, and reuse certainly appears to be ravenous though, and god’ll presumably lend a hand with painting a few walls too. Ocean City might well relive the Jazz Age once again!

Plymouth Harbour, Devon. Vintage BR(WR) Travel poster by Harry R

 

For further information and updates, please visit the following links:

70 images of Plymouth during the Blitz with editorial: http://www.plymouthherald.co.uk/plymouth-blitz/story-28762897-detail/story.html

Royal/Reel Cinema: https://www.change.org/p/plymouth-city-council-save-the-reel-cinema-in-plymouth

Gaumount Palace: no dedicated site on the refurbishment, but if desperate… https://www.god.tv

Colin Cambell House: https://www.facebook.com/SAVE-Colin-Campbell-House-589415457874302/

Tinside Lido: https://www.everyoneactive.com/centre/tinside-lido/

 

Saving Tenbury Wells Regal – A Community Success Story

img_0930bwCommunity run projects staffed by volunteers seem to be becoming more and more common. Trust owned public houses, post offices, village shops and rural shuttle buses all appear to be on the rise as it becomes less financially viable to run them for profit. My dear old mother donates large chunks of her time to a little shop, set up when the village post office and convenience store closed its doors a few years back. It’s truly commendable, and I take my hat off to those willing to spend half a day or more sat behind the till on the off chance Mrs Kendle from Ivy Cottage unexpectedly runs out of Sheba. I’m not sure when I retire I’d be quite so keen to while away the hours in this fashion, but what if the community project wasn’t a little village shop? What if perhaps it involved re-commissioning and running a 1930’s cinema? I like to think I’d be first in the queue  to help, and thankfully I’m not alone, as that’s exactly what the good folk in Tenbury Wells have been doing.

advertOn July 29th 1937 this riverside town would see the opening of a brand new cinema; The Regal. Operated by local firm ‘The Craven Cinema Group’, who owned two other picture houses and managed a further three, Tenbury Regal was a costly project for the small company. Rather than purpose build a new venue, Craven chose to commission established theatre designer Ernest S. Roberts to convert an existing Victorian structure. Positioned in the centre of the town, the building originally housed a couple of shops with living accommodation upstairs. Alterations were made to the houses to create the projection room and foyer, while the 300 seat auditorium was built on land directly behind.

While it may be more common, not all cinemas built in this period had auditoriums decorated with modernist geometric designs and heavy plaster reliefs. Some, particularly smaller ones like The Regal used murals to enhance the escapism of a night at the flicks. Scenic artist George Legge of Bryan’s Adamanta was responsible for several cinema interiors across the Midlands, and Craven chose him for their trio of picture houses. The rear and side walls of the auditorium show Italian rural scenes with lakes, flowers, trees and mountains in the distance. Traditional buildings sprout up, the ventilation system neatly disguised in their arched windows. The odd monkey can even be seen perched on the dado that ascends the space in three horizontal waves.

Craven Group ran Tenbury Wells Regal until 1966 when it simultaneously closed it along with their Craven Arms cinema (below). The latter would become derelict 5 years later and be demolished in 1977. Following unsuccessful attempts to revive Tenbury’s Regal, it was put up for sale in 1970. On the brink of demolition Tenbury Town Council stepped in and bought the stricken building for £12,500 and adapted it to meet the needs of the community. The stage was extended to allow for theatrical performance, and a community centre with kitchen and toilet was built behind. For the next 30 or so years various groups used the two spaces to meet their needs, while film enthusiasts still continued to show movies in the main cinema.

Situated between two rivers, Tenbury is prone to the odd flood during heavy rainfall, but in 2007 the town (like much of the county) experienced catastrophic flooding and the Regal found itself partly underwater. The ingress was so bad that it completely covered some of the lower seats in the auditorium and caused serious damage to the flooring and walls. Rather than try to simply make good the damaged areas for a quick return to use, it was decided that the rather tired old cinema needed a complete restoration.

The funding, which came from a number of sources including a substantial Heritage Lottery Grant took four years to put in place before work began. This included completely restoring the mural, terrazzo flooring, artex wall coverings and reinstating the iconic neon signage outside. Vital structural works were carried out while a new roof was fitted to the auditorium.

Up until this point the cinema was still under council management, but ultimately limited resources resulted in the venue being closed more often than open. To coincide with the post refurbishment grand opening in 2012 The Regal Trust was founded. A not for profit organisation run entirely by volunteers aiming to bring the cinema back into regular use. The Regal is now open daily, with films or live events every evening with community and private use during the day.

I recently visited to take some photos for my Streamline Worcestershire project and was instantly won over by this charming little cinema. In addition to the wonderful auditorium, the foyer is an Art Deco delight, with its original curved glass paybox and gold banding spanning the space. Original light fittings, doors, illuminated signage, balustrades and poster frames are all present and correct, just as they were 80 years ago.

The delightfully friendly lady in the booking office also pointed out their free museum upstairs. Full of old film reels, interactive displays, artefacts and framed prints it’s a wonderful addition to the venue. In a small back room you can see the old 35mm ‘Peerless’ projector on display (it’s now all digital) and there’s even a wall of fame for all the projectionists who have served since it opened.

With a mixture of live and celluloid events, many of which I’m told are sell outs, it looks like this little 1937 venue is going to be the beating heart of the town for many years to come. Well done Tenbury Wells, you’re doing both the community and us Art Deco obsessives proud, I salute you!

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 A huge thanks to Ian and the trust for giving their permission to photograph the building and for being so accommodating. For further information please visit their website www.regaltenbury.co.uk

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!

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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!

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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.

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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.