Retro: Rotherham cinemas’ former glories

Rotherham Electric Pavilion
Rotherham Electric Pavilion
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Experiments in producing films were made during the late 19th century by several inventors including Thomas Edison and the Lumiere brothers.

Eddison’s early invention, patented in 1891, was a peep show or Kintoscope usually seen in fairgrounds. The Lumiere brothers are credited to be history’s first film-makers.

Patenting of the Cinematograph allowed viewing by multiple parties at once, similar to the current cinema. The Lumieres’ first public screening of films was held on December 28, 1895 in Paris.

Stuart Smith, in an excellent booklet called Rotherham’s Film Pioneers 1898-1911, mentions that the earliest recorded Cinematograph shows came to Rotherham via the fairground, “in fact on October 28, 1898 at the Annual Statute Fair”.

After that animated features were shown at the Statute Fair of 1899 and others afterwards, then at Harry and Fred Poole’s circus in 1900 and at the Drill Hall from the same year and at the Town Hall Assembly Rooms from 1902.

As the 20th century progressed and films became an immensely popular, Rotherham theatres were converted or other buildings erected to cater for the cinema craze gripping the country.

Below is a chronological list of Rotherham cinema openings, along with other details.

The Rotherham Hippodrome Theatre in Henry Street opened on August 3, 1908 as a variety theatre and animated pictures were part of the programme.

On July 2, 1932 the premises closed as a theatre and reopened on October 17 as a cinema with Maurice Chevalier in Playboy of Paris and Clara Bow in No Limit.

The seating capacity was reduced from 2,500 to 1,800 and the cinema operated under the Rotherham Hippodrome Ltd.

The Hippodrome had 1,200 seats in 1950 and CinemaScope was installed in 1955.

Four years later, Rotherham Council acquired the building, needing the site for inclusion in a new civic centre.

Closure came on December 19, 1959 with a double-bill of When The Devil Came and Runaway Daughters. It was demolished the following year.

The Electric Pavilion, Effingham Street was housed in a former Zion Chapel dating from 1860 and, with seating for about 600, began screening films on July 15, 1911.

Initially leased to Rotherham Theatre Ltd, the cinema passed to the Electric Theatre Company Ltd in 1916 and in the 1920s the proprietor was Cinema (Rotherham) and Electra Ltd.

During this period the cinema’s name was changed to Electra Picture Palace. The final film before closure on April 26, 1930 was Free Lips and the building was eventually demolished.

The Premier Picture Palace, at the corner of Kimberworth Road and Fernham Park Avenue, started showing films on December 9, 1912 and had 1,100 seats.

Initially the premises were leased by GE & GW Smith of the Rotherham Hippodrome.

The first talkie film shown was Whoopee on July 8, 1931. By 1956 the Premier Cinema, as it became known, was taken over by Star Cinemas and underwent alterations including the installation of CinemaScope.

During 1960 films fought a losing battle with bingo and this continued up to October 30, 1961 when they were only shown on a Saturday afternoon for the Star Junior Club but this was abandoned on September 4 1962.

Bingo continued for another two years when the cinema became the Premier Casino, then it was converted into a snooker club.

At the High Street/West Gate corner, the Empire Theatre, boasting a white faience frontage, welcomed patrons from December 15, 1913.

Incorporated from the outset was a projection room and short films were shown regularly before the full-time conversion to silent cinema.

The building opening on May 2, 1921 as the Empire Picture House. Later in the decade, it became known as the Empire Super Kinema and sound was installed by November 23, 1929.

In 1951 the cinema became part of the Essoldo Circuit (Control) Ltd and two years later CinemaScope opened at the Empire.

The cinema, named Essoldo in 1955, was sold to the Classic Cinemas Group, being named Classic in 1972. Twinning of the cinema occurred in 1978 and ten years later it was sold to Cannon Cinemas Ltd.

The premises closed on February 22, 1990. The last films were Shirley Valentine and Sea of Love. The building survives and is part split as a nightclub and a snooker club.

The Cinema House, Doncaster Gate began trading on March 9, 1914. It was designed in the Moorish Revival style complete with four Russian-style domes, two octagonal and two square ones.

Seating 900 in the stalls and small balcony, the cinema was taken over by Cinema (Rotherham) & Electra Ltd in 1931 and sound was installed by the end of August of the same year.

Star Cinemas took control in 1939 and closure came on June 1, 1963; the last films were Just My Luck and War Arrow. Reopening as a bingo club, its exterior features were subsequently lost in a modernisation scheme and after serious damage by fire in 2004 the premises were demolished in 2009.

Following a short closure between July 7 and September 6, 1915 the Theatre Royal, at the Howard Street/Nottingham Street junction, reopened as a cine-variety theatre and was renamed the Royal Picture House.

By December 15, 1930 a new projection room was added and Western Electric ‘talkie’ apparatus installed.

The building reopened as the Regent Theatre with The Grand Parade. The seating capacity was 1,250 and the owners were Cinema (Rotherham) & Electra Ltd.

In 1935 the Regent reverted back to live shows, becoming known as the Regent Palace Of Varieties. The building was demolished in October 1957.

In Corporation Street, the Regal Cinema opened on December 22, 1934 with Sidney Howard in Girls Please.

The premises were designed by Blackmore & Sykes and built by owners Thomas Wade & Sons Ltd, who then leased it to Lou Morris Theatres of London.

During the 1940s the building was leased to the Odeon circuit and in 1946 was renamed the Odeon. CinemaScope was installed in 1954 and in 1975 it was sold to an independent operator who changed the name to Scala Cinema.

For a short period it was leased to Axholme Cinema Services but closed on September 23, 1983 with the film Porky’s. In time the building became a bingo hall, initially named the Ritz but now a Mecca.

The Tivoli Picture House opened in April 1913 in a three-storey Masborough Street building formerly occupied by Henry Bray & Co. Ltd.

The interior was remodelled under the direction of architect JE Knight. CH Lord of Bradford was the owner, trading as Tivoli Pictures Ltd, and the premises seated 630 – 500 in the stalls and 130 in the balcony.

In 1931 the cinema was redesigned by Scarborough-based architect Frank A Tugwell. The seating was increased to around 1,100 and the first talkie shown was The Gay Nineties. On December 1, 1955 The Purple Mask was the first CinemaScope film seen there.

Closure came on January 31, 1959 and the final films were The Proud Rebel and Handle With Care.

The building housed a furnishing warehouse and showroom called the Tivoli Furnishing Stores until the early 1970s. It was demolished in July 1989.