''Saturday night at the movies, who cares what picture you see?''
In the 1950's, Blackburn had no fewer than 14 cinemas, or as most people called them, picture houses or indeed just 'the flicks'.
I have tried to gather together here, those 14 cinemas, but as quite a few of them were originally built as music hall and variety theatres, I felt obliged to title this posting 'The Cinemas & Theatres of Blackburn'. It is by no means complete, especially with regards the theatres. But my main aim was to try and get a photo of the ones that were purpose built as cinemas, became cinemas after being live theatres, or were once cinemas, but later used for other purposes.
As you will see below, there were actually 15 that acted as cinemas at some point, if we include The Grand.
They are in no particular order, but as the Rialto was arguably our finest, most luxurious, purpose built cinema, I have put it at the top.
Most of the photos are courtesy of Cottontown.org, a couple are courtesy of the Lancashire Telegraph (via Cottontown) and the rest from other sources.
Information, dates and trivia also came from a variety of sources, far too many to credit. But my thanks to them all and thanks also go to Mr John Stone, scholar of this parish, for his encouraging comments and suggestions whilst I was researching and compiling this post.
An early programme for The Rialto. A work of art in its own right. (image - The CP Collection)
The Rialto on Penny Street. Very Art Deco in appearance and in its day, probably Blackburn's plushest, purpose built cinema. (image - Cottontown.org)
Two tickets from The Rialto, dating back to 1951, kindly supplied by Susan Greenhalgh, who found them among her parents things. Susan suspects they were from a first date or an early date her mum and dad went on, as they weren't married until later. (image - S. Greenhalgh)
The same cinema after it had changed its name to the Odeon. Like thousands of other Blackburn kids throughout the 1960's, I went here on a Saturday morning to the 'Odeon Club' or whatever they called it at the time. My eldest sister Freda (RIP) saw The Rolling Stones play at the Odeon on March 5th 1964, when she was just 12 years old. (image - The CP Collection).
Kings Hall, later to be The Ritz on Bank Top, but known to locals at the time as the 'Scrat'. A reference to its reputation as a flea pit, no doubt. The Ritz closed as a cinema in January 1958. This building now houses a branch of Tesco Express and you can still buy popcorn and soft drinks in there, though you have to bring your own torch these days. (image - Cottontown.org)
The Roxy on King Street, which is now Lomas Office Furniture Supplies. Up until a few years ago, you could still see its original name, The Regent, above the entrance doors. The Roxy closed in May 1961 to become a drapery store, going by the name of John Blundell Ltd. (image - John Eddlestone/John Brown)
The Theatre Royal, which was on the curve of Ainsworth Street. The building pictured was actually a later theatre, which replaced a far earlier theatre, that was known to have been on this same plot since approximately the 1770's. Charlie Chaplin performed at this theatre above in 1903 and again in 1905, when he was a young actor. (image - The CP Collection).
This is the rear of a postcard advertising a 1910 performance of ''Charley's Aunt''
(Image - The CP collection)
A poster from the 1920's (Image - The CP Collection)
A poster giving information about the Christmas pantomime of 1930
(Image - The CP Collection)
An advertisement from 1935 after the theatre had been modernised and turned into a cinema. (image - The CP Collection).
The Cinema Royal in the 1960's, not long before it was closed and then demolished to make way for the new shopping precint. Do you remember the subway that ran under that part of Ainsworth Street? Easy to forget they were ever there nowadays. (image - Lancashire Telegraph)
The Alexandra Picture Palace on Dock Street (off Eanam), previously known as Pendleton's Picture Palace which was abbreviated to 'Penks' by the good folk of Blackburn. (image - Cottontown.org).
Central Hall / New Central Hall on the corner of Mincing Lane & Mill Lane. From approximately 1900, through to 1909, the building was used as a roller skating rink. Roller skating was very popular during the early part of the 20th century. The Central closed as a cinema in 1957. It later became a bingo hall and then a snooker hall, which it still is today. (image - Cottontown.org).
The Empire at Ewood. Once known as The Empire Electric Theatre. In more recent times called The Red Brick Theatre, then Thwaites Red Brick Theatre and now The Thwaites Empire Theatre. (image - The CP Collection).
Advertising glass paperweight for the Empire Theatre (image - The CP Collection)
Most that are old enough to remember The Grand on Jubilee Street, probably remember it better as a live theatre, although it did operate as a cinema temporarily, from early 1930 until approximately autumn 1931 (which qualifies it to be listed here), when it returned once again to live entertainment. It carried on being a live venue until its closure in 1956, before finally being demolished in 1958. In earlier times it had been called The Princes Theatre and The New Princes Theatre. It supposedly had a ghost. The Telephone Exchange was later built on the plot. (image - Lancashire Telegraph).
An old poster from 1935 for The Grand (image - The CP Collection).
A box office advertising card for The Grand - November 6th 1950 (image - The CP collection)
Circus time at The Grand (image - The CP Collection)
Programme for a performance of The Continental Ballet - 1954 (image - The CP Collection)
Three pantomime posters for performances at the Grand. Probably from the early 1950's (images - The CP Collection)
Originally built in the 1860's as the Cotton Exchange on King William Street, but used less and less as such as time marched on, due to the decline of the cotton industry. By 1908 it had become a cinema. It was known back then as The Exchange Picture Hall. It later became The Majestic Cinema in 1924 and then The New Majestic in 1932. The name changed yet again in 1954 to the Essoldo (which it probably was when both these photographs were taken). It then became The Classic in 1967. In 1981, Unit 4 Cinemas had control of it and then finally in 1992, it became The Apollo. Sadly, this lovely old building closed its doors in 2005 and hasn't re-opened, though part of it is still used as a restaurant and bar. (images - The CP Collection).
Advertisement from when the cinema was The Exchange (Picture) Hall (image - Eric Leaver & the Lancashire Evening Telegraph)
In 1895, even the Rovers made use of the Exchange Hall, with a four day bazaar, trying to raise much needed funds, as at the time, the 20 year old club had a £1,400 debt hanging over them (image The CP Collection).
An information card, dating from October 1932 (Image - The CP Collection)
Poster for the cinema when it was The New Majestic. (image - The CP Collection)
A couple of advertising billboards at the top of Town Hall Street, one for the Ewood Empire and the other for the Essoldo (You Can't Have A Night Out With The Telly - Come To The Pictures). The turreted roof you can see above them, is on top of the main entrance to the Essoldo.
(image courtesy of J. Eddleston)
The Olympia Opera House / New Olympia / The Olympia, on St Peter's Street. This building became a dance hall / night club in more recent decades (well, from about 1960, I think). It was then, among other names, The Locarno, The Mecca, The Golden Palms, Jumpin' Jax and is now called something like Liquid & Envy. (image - Cottontown.org).
Like the nearby New Central Hall, in the early part of the 20th century (1900 - 1910), the building had been an ice skating rink, having been converted from the stables that had served The Old Bull Hotel.
A photo taken in 1959, when the Olympia was being converted into a dance hall (the Locarno). Note the addition of the canopy. I stood under there a few times myself, waiting to get in when it was the Mecca. (image - The Blackburn Times)
The Savoy on Bolton Road can boast the screening of the very first 'talkie' in Blackburn, back in 1929. I'm not sure when this ceased to be a cinema, but I personally remember the Savoy as a hall / venue where a variety of bands played in the 70's, 80's and 90's. We had some great nights up there back then. I think it was later used as a gymnasium and then a carpet warehouse, which it possibly still is today. (image - Cottontown.org).
A cutting from a local newspaper, promoting the 1930's film 'The Silent Voice' starring George Arliss, courtesy of Blackburn Reference Library & Richey Pull.
(image - R. Pull)
This is The Star on Plane Street - Little Harwood, which later became a nightclub / cabaret club. It then returned to being a cinema in the 1970's and was known as The Unit Four, so called because it was a multi screen venue. Thinking about it, probably the first multi screen cinema Blackburn had. (image - Cottontown.org).
Another, quite early image of the Star Picture Palace, possibly taken just after it had opened. (image courtesy of the CP Collection)
Two local newspaper clippings about the opening of The Star, courtesy of Blackburn Reference Library & Richey Pull.
(image - R. Pull)
This is The Victoria, which stood at Eanam Bridge (over the canal), on the corner of Higher Barn Street. Sometimes called Charnleys. Again, I think because the proprietor was named Charnley. This cinema collapsed into a huge hole or something, as it had been built over an old brewery well, according to the information on Cottontown. Cracks started appearing in the walls in early 1960 and by March of that year, they were struggling to open some internal doors, due to subsidence. The cinema was closed for inspection soon after and never re-opened. (image - Frederick N. T. Lloyd Jones & Cottontown.org).
Another view of The Victoria, looking from the Higher Eanam / Copy Nook side. (image - John Eddlestone / John Brown).
The Palace on the Boulevard (up for sale in this photo) went from being The Palace of Varieties Theatre to being a cinema, then a bingo hall / cinema, then back to being just a cinema. The Grand was siuated just behind this. (Image - Lancashire Telegraph)
A sepia image of the original architects drawing for the proposed theatre.
(Image the CP collection)
A programme from 1919. Note the plug at the bottom for a local decorating firm. (Image - The CP Collection)
This is the cover of a theatre programme for the palace, from February 1929 (image the CP collection)
The Palace in 1914 (upper image of the three) and a couple of even earlier postcard images, all when it was still a theatre. A few years before the upper photo was taken, William Hope Hodgson the science fiction writer, who ran a 'School of Physical Culture' in Blackburn at the time, chained and bound the famous escapologist Harry Houdini on stage in here during one of his performances. Hodgson, having a scientific knowledge of the human body and muscle structure chained Houdini so well, it took him 2 hours to escape. Because of that incident, Houdini in his biography, spoke of Blackburn as being ''A town full of hoodlums'' or words to that effect. He wasn't a happy chap that night, by all accounts and said he ''had never been so brutally treated in 14 years of performances'' and swore that he would never to return to the town. Soft beggar. (images - The CP Collection).
As you can see from the article which accompanied it, this is a photo (above) of the Palladium at Mill Hill just prior to it being converted into a Co-op store (images & article - Courtesy of Eric Leaver and the Lancashire Eveneing Telegraph). The Palladium, known to some in its time as the 'Pall-Ad' (sometimes pronounced Plad), closed due to dwindling audiences on May 7th 1962 and as it says in the article, it opened as the Co-op in the spring of 1963.
As it looks today - 2011, now a Spar (image - The CP Collection).
I'll also add a photo of The Vue (Now added, please see below) sometime, when I get around to taking a shot of it.
I think then, the list of Blackburn cinemas will be almost complete. Films were no doubt screened at other venues over the decades and perhaps for an admission fee. The Queens Hall, the old YMCA, the community theatre(s), school halls, library theatres and such are known to have projected the odd 'movie'. But the ones pictured above were the ones used as commercial cinemas and fondly remembered as such, by many.
I'm 52 years old (as I type) and I'm surprised at how many of the buildings above I have been inside. Not all of them to see films admittedly, but I did see films in The Odeon, The Royal, The Palace, The Essoldo and The Unit Four. But I have also been inside The Roxy (when it was a furniture store), The Olympia (when it was The Mecca / Golden Palms / Jumpin' Jax), the nearby Central Hall (while it's been a snooker hall), The Savoy (to see bands), Kings Hall (it's a Tesco I use regularly), The Palladium (A Spar shop I've visited) and The Empire (whilst I worked for the college and I also have vague memories of seeing a pantomime in there when I was a kid).
This is the 'Vue' cinema on Lower Audley, adjacent to the railway station. I think it is now Blackburn's only cinema. Photo taken 27th February 2011 (image - The CP Collection).
Above is an extract from the Kinema Directory of 1947 listing details of 11 of Blackburn's cinemas of the time (and one Whalley cinema).
Courtesy of John
PHOTOS COURTESY OF COTTONTOWN MAINLY, BUT ALSO OTHER SOURCES. SEE INDIVIDUAL IMAGES FOR DETAILS.
INFORMATION FROM A VARIETY OF SOURCES.