Retro: History of cinemas in Barker’s Pool, Sheffield

Interior of the Regent Cinema, Barker's Pool, Sheffield.'Opened December 1927'Later became the Gaumont Cinema
Interior of the Regent Cinema, Barker's Pool, Sheffield.'Opened December 1927'Later became the Gaumont Cinema
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Provincial Cinematic Theatres (PCT) was just one of a number of organisations established in the early 20th century to erect cinema palaces and control cinema circuits.

Largely set up by medical man Dr Ralph T Tupp, along with several other enthusiastic, prominent, businessmen in November 1909, the company opened the doors of its first cinema, in Dublin, on April 9. 1910.

Odeon Cinema Barkers Pool Exterior 1987

Odeon Cinema Barkers Pool Exterior 1987

More picture houses sprang up in a number of English cities and towns and, providing a high standard of comfort, they were aimed at a more affluent patronage.

On January 31, 1921, PCT was running with two subsidiary companies, a different board of directors, recording 20 million admissions a year in its 72 cinemas, and boasting an annual profit of £224,913.

PCT had bought a site for a projected sumptuous cinema in Barker’s Pool, Sheffield during World War One. But progressing the project was risky.

The Cinema House was well established on the opposite side of the road, the Albert Hall existed only yards away, an industrial slump had led to a lack of disposable income and there was a high rate of entertainment tax.

Despite all these considerations, the company decided to go ahead with an expansion programme and appointed W E Trent (1874-1948) as its chief architect.

After producing plans for the reconstruction of Weymouth Jubilee Hall, Trent’s first major project was the massive Regent cinema in Barker’s Pool.

McLaughlin & Harvey Ltd of London were the main contractors and the design features included a simple white faience entrance, a spacious foyer, an Italian Renaissance style interior, a lavishly decorated, colourful lounge and an impressive Georgian-style tearoom.

In the large, double-domed neo-classical style auditorium, lit by ever-changing concealed lighting with 5,000 bulbs, producing 30 colour combinations, seating was for 2,300, 1450 stalls and 850 balcony.

The Regent’s total effect was aimed at transporting the audience from the humdrum of their daily lives into a world of fantasy, make-believe and sheer enjoyment such as they were never likely to attain in their humble homes, devoid then of television and digital entertainment.

Besides initially screening flickering silent films, the building was ably equipped to stage both theatrical and musical entertainment, having seven dressing rooms backstage and an orchestra pit.

Sheffield Lord Mayor, Alderman M Humberstone, officiated at the opening ceremony on December 26, 1927. The first day’s programme embraced three performances, at 2.45pm, 6pm and 9pm, of the silent movie, My Best Girl, starring world sweetheart, Mary Pickford.

Before each screening there was a musical presentation on stage by the orchestra, James Huxley on organ and Mary Huxley, soprano.

Along with the Central Picture House on The Moor, the Regent showed the first sound pictures on June 17, 1929.

Both houses were packed and the Regent presented Show Boat with Laura La Plante, Joseph Schildkraut and Emily Fitzroy.

Allen Eyles in Gaumont British Cinemas (1996) said the Regent was one of the few British cinemas to bear comparison with the best work done in America by Thomas Lamb and others. It also set the style for PCT cinemas that followed, designed by Trent and others.

In its heyday the Regent could boast all its seats full early in the morning to see Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator.

There were times when the cinema employed over 100 staff and there were another 38 cinemas in Sheffield.

In 1929, PCT was absorbed by the Gaumont British Corporation, who in turn were swallowed by the mighty J Arthur Rank in October 1941.

Sheffield’s Regent was renamed Gaumont on July 27, 1946 although photographs exist from 1953 of the building carrying, for a period, both the Gaumont and Regent titles.

Around 1959 the building was revamped in readiness for the many stage shows of the sixties. Among the artists appearing there were Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Cliff Richard, Marty Wilde and, on Wednesday, December 8, 1965, The Beatles caused chaos when playing for the first time at the venue, performing two shows.

With time catching up on the building, it was modernised in 1968 and closed during October 1968. The design work undertaken by architects Gavin Paterson & Son. Trevor and Mavis Stone were responsible for the interior design.

Reopening on July 23,1969, after a £320,000 makeover, the Gaumont comprised 737 seats upstairs in Gaumont One and 1,150 seats downstairs in Gaumont Two.

The opening night featured Rock Hudson in Ice Station Zebra and Barbara Streisand in Funny Girl downstairs in Gaumont Two.

Later, audiences expected more comfort and sophistication in the range of services offered. It was impractical to convert the old Gaumont building so it was decided to demolish it and build a new complex with more compact cinemas on the upper floors above some shops.

Closure came on November 7, 1985 after screening Cocoon, Desperately Seeking Susan and Peter Pan. Within two years the New Odeon cinema rose phoenix-like on the site.

Odeon One, seating 500 and Odeon Two, 324, occupied the major part of the big, bold £6m development which dominated Barker’s Pool.

The bright red steel framework, with its mirrored glass facade reflecting the surrounding buildings, was the work of local architects, Hadfield Cawkwell Davidson & Partners.

Trumpeting the opening night on August 20, 1987, the Star announced all the razzamataz of showbusiness would make the occasion one to remember.

Local celebrities, council officials, Members of Parliament, representatives of the Rank Organisation and film and pop personalities gathered for the gala evening showing of the latest James Bond movie, The Living Daylights.

Buskers, clowns and fire eaters were around the cinema entrance in Burgess Street and in Barker’s Pool to entertain the crowds.

Sadly, the Odeon complex was the target of vigorous, damaging publicity shortly afterwards.

In September 1988 disabled people were calling for a boycott of the building until they were able to use it.

The move came after councillors deferred relicensing the cinema for a month because of no special wheelchair access. A 7,500-name petition was handed in to the city council to oppose its relicensing.

Early in April 1989, Doncaster’s Conisbrough Castle new visitor centre and the new Odeon cinema were voted into the top ten in a national poll of BBC viewers and listeners in a Monstrous Carbuncle competition.

The shameful national awards were announced on BBC Radio One on the Simon Mayo show. Prince Charles even commented that the Sheffield building looked like something from outer space.

It wasn’t all bad news, however – in March 1992 the cinema had the highest attendance figures for any Rank complex in the country with audiences being turned away from the Robert De Niro blockbuster Cape Fear.

Sadly, in January 1994, Odeon bosses announced the complex would close on February 20. They blamed traffic disruption caused by Supertram and competition from out-of-town complexes.

After much local wrangling between entrepreneurs wanting to redevelop the vacant space and existing local business people, the venue became a nightclub, bringing the curtain down on an eventful long cinema history.

Did any readers take pictures of the pop artists who appeared at the Gaumont? If so, please let us know.