Lost Cinemas of Greater Manchester: The Not So Perfect Ten

Forgotten flea pits, lost Empires and expired Essolodoes

Tameside Hippodrome, 29 March 2008: Last Night
Tameside Hippodrome, formerly the Empire and ABC Empire before becoming Tameside Theatre in 1975. In its recently renamed guise, it closed on the 31 March 2008. At present, remedial work is under way to ensure its reopening this spring.

Elsewhere on the blog and Stalybridge Town’s Facebook page, there has been much talk about restoring cinematic entertainment in Stalybridge. Today, only a minority of cinemas are situated in pre-1980s purpose built facilities thanks to the multiplex’s popularity. In Greater Manchester, the Regent in Marple is alone in that category.

Today’s cinemas may have state of the art sound and vision but in some cases they can be charmless and anonymous boxes, often part of a retail park. Though this offers the cinemagoer wider choice, their locations discriminate against non-car-owning film fanatics (which is why I prefer to see my films in Manchester). Even if I drove, I would still insist on seeing my films in a town or city centre location. If you’re waiting for your film to start in Manchester, pubs and shops are close enough to the cinema. Try walking from the new Marks and Spencer in Ashton Moss to Cineworld: hardly has the same joy of flitting from the Arndale Centre or the Hare and Hounds to the Print Works’ ODEON.

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Lost Empires, Pavilions and ODEONs

  1. The Oxford, Dukinfield;
  2. The Verona/ODEON, Guide Bridge;
  3. ODEON, Bolton;
  4. The Scala/Cine City, Withington;
  5. The Longford/Essoldo, Stretford;
  6. The Roxy, Hollinwood;
  7. The Lyceum/Crown Theatre/Crown Cinema, Eccles;
  8. Unit Four/Apollo Four, Walkden;
  9. Arena Seven, Manchester;
  10. Majestic/Gaumont/ODEON/Metro, Ashton-under-Lyne.

1. The Oxford, Oxford Street, Dukinfield: The Oxford opened in 1921, conveniently placed for SHMD’s tram terminus. On opening, it was close to the Dukinfield and Queen Mills and converted to exhibit talkies in 1930. In the 1950s, it was converted to offer Cinemascope films. The cinema closed in 1960, becoming the Oxford Social Club. It reopened as a cinema in 1965, only to close a year after with its last film being Les Liaisons Dangereuses. By 1969, it became The Moon discotheque, then Hiccups and Drifters before closure in 1985. The building was demolished in February 1989 and Morrisons’ petrol station stands on the site.

2. The Verona/ODEON, Stockport Road, Guide Bridge: Ashton-under-Lyne’s original ODEON opened in 1936. At odds with most of Oscar Deutsch’s other cinemas, its design wasn’t by T. Cecil Howitt or Harry Weedon, nor matched the ODEON house style. It was designed by Drury and Gomersall, and would originally open as the Verona Cinema. In the end, its owners sold the Verona to ODEON, and concentrated on the Roxy in nearby Hollinwood. It closed in 1960 becoming St. Paul’s Catholic Church, before closing in 2010. Today, it remains vacant.

3. ODEON, Ashburner Street, Bolton: whereas Guide Bridge’s ODEON was acquired via the future owners of the Roxy in Hollinwood, Bolton’s ODEON was a purpose built one – and a most striking one handy for the main shopping centre. It opened in 1937 with Dark Journey, boasted 2,534 seats and a Compton organ. Prior to Bradford’s and Blackpool’s ODEONs, it was its biggest cinema. From 1972 to 1983, it was split into three screens (two under balcony and a big third screen). Till 2004, it became a Top Rank bingo club (later Mecca) before demolition in 2007.

4. The Scala/Cine City, Wilmslow Road, Withington: originally the Scala, it opened in 1912 – the UK’s third purpose built cinema. As Cine City, it was subdivided into three screens (two ground level, one on balcony) and a popular haunt among residential pupils at the nearby Ewing School (where boarders would be taken to the cinema on odd occasions). On closure in July 2001, it was the UK’s third longest running cinema. After falling into disrepair, it was demolished in 2008. Its stone pillars remain.

5. The Longford/Essoldo, Chester Road, Stretford: an iconic building adjacent to the Stretford Arndale centre, its main entrance was designed to resemble a cash register. Fences on the left and right of the doorways were flanked by an illuminated gateway. It opened in 1936 with its first film being Tudor Rose. In 1950, Sol Sheckman’s Essoldo Group bought the Longford and turned it into Essoldo Stretford. 1965 saw conversion to a Bingo Hall and social club, and assumed that guise till 1995. The building lies empty, though most of the Art Deco look remains in the former auditorium. Part of its distinctive gateway was demolished in 1979 to allow the widening of Chester Road.

6. The Roxy, Hollinwood: from 1986 to 2005, Oldham’s only cinema was the Roxy in Hollinwood. Opening in December 1937, its first film was Fire Over England and it was independently owned till the very end. 1978 and 1981 saw the cinema subdivided into two screens, then three. In later years, it was subdivided to six screens, then seven by 1998. Though after a £100,000 refurbishment in 2002, its owner retired in September 2005, leading to its closure. Empty till early 2007 – after being purchased by Oldham Council – it was demolished.

7. The Lyceum/Crown Theatre/Crown Cinema, Eccles: between its town centre and Patricroft was the Crown Theatre. It opened in 1899 with four levels as The Lyceum, before being renamed The Crown Theatre. 1932 saw conversion to cinema, assuming this purpose till 1963, when it became a bingo hall. It has lain empty for several years, though attempts have been made to convert the façade to flats.

8. Unit Four/Apollo Four, Bolton Road, Walkden: the mid to late 1960s saw redevelopment of Walkden’s main shopping centre. The St. Ouen Centre (so called after its twin town) meant the demolition of the Palace cinema, and a modern replacement opening in 1967. The cinema was split into four smaller screens (hence its name). Taken over by Apollo Leisure, it was known as the Apollo Four and closed in November 1999.

9. Arena Seven, Victoria Station, Hunts Bank, Manchester: the Arena 7 multiplex in Manchester had the unfortunate distinction of being the city’s shortest lived cinema. Opened on the 6 December 1996, access was gained via steps to the MEN Arena from Manchester Victoria railway station (right hand side of McDonalds and the arena itself). Its awkward position and competition from rivals nearby meant closure on the 19 October 2000. Today, it is a call centre for J.D. Williams’ catalogue brands.

10. Majestic/Gaumont/ODEON/Metro, Old Street, Ashton-under-Lyne: I shall claim a vested interest with my final entry: my late Nana was an usherette there when it was the Majestic. Opening in 1920 as the Majestic, it was set in the then modern Art Deco style. Change of ownership in 1946 saw the Majestic become a Gaumont cinema, before Gaumont joined the Rank Organisation in 1962. By then – following the loss of Guide Bridge’s ODEON, the Gaumont became the ODEON. Falling receipts saw the cinema close as an ODEON in 1981.

The November of that year saw the cinema renamed as the Metro. Taken over by John Stuart Downs (whose other interests included the Palace Cinema and Cosmo Bingo Hall in Stalybridge), it reopened with Escape from New York. Luxury seats were introduced: a stage and changing rooms were added, with live acts using the Metro (Bryan Adams and Fat Larry’s Band among them). An amusement arcade was also added. It went from strength to strength till increased competition with multiplexes in Manchester and Stockport saw its demise in 2003. The last film at the Metro cinema was The Man Who Sued God, but part of the building was in use till 2010 as the Slotworld amusement arcade.

Today it lies empty, though the building still has potential for continued cinema use or live entertainment. In recent times, it has survived demolition with plans to build a car park on in its place scrapped.

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Your Memories

Did you ever work or frequent any of the above ten cinemas? Feel free to reminisce, praise its architecture, recall any films you may have seen. Did you see Bryan Adams or Fat Larry’s Band at the Metro? Comment away!

S.V., 20 January 2013.

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14 thoughts on “Lost Cinemas of Greater Manchester: The Not So Perfect Ten

  1. Went to the Metro in Ashton as a boy. I think i’m right in saying I saw the first Harry Potter film in there (a world away from the red carpet theatricals of recent years in London!) Definitely saw Bean there. But then again I was only a boy. I seem to also remember the old style lever operated ticket dispenser, queueing outside relentlessly and the fantastic little sweet shop that was there. I bet even that was more reasonably priced than multiplex mansion prices.

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    1. Hi Ady,

      Your visits to the Metro must have been between 1997 and 2000. I went to see ‘Chicken Run’ once and sat in the circle. The old ticket dispenser was a similar model to the one used at the Palace [Stalybridge] and Cine City [Withington].

      I never buy sweets at a multiplex cinema nor pay next to millions for a bucket of Coca Cola. Sometimes I buy the odd tea or coffee before seeing the film (or some dinner if at the Cornerhouse). Yesterday, I went to the ODEON at Manchester Print Works to see Les Miserables (IMAX version), and surprised to find the Costa Coffee concession charged the normal – rather than inflated cinema type – prices.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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      1. Oh i’d never buy anything at today’s prices, particularly not now my local is in central London, but the Cornerhouse is one of the only places that I do.

        Gave up on the Printworks after two films; one of which included a chase around the isles of the staff who worked there and a bunch of very rowdy teenagers, the second when the cinema was so hot one of the bath sized fizzy drinks was supremely tempting!

        Hope you enjoyed Les Mis, i’ve heard some very mixed reviews.

        Ady.

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      2. Hi Ady,

        The Cornerhouse would usually be my first choice if I wanted to see a film in Manchester, but it was the IMAX version of Les Miserables which drew me to the Print Works on Sunday.

        It is a fantastic film; the 70mm format does the film more justice than on a conventional cinema screen (and on that note, it would look pretty weedy on a 42″ flat screen television, should the DVD be released this Easter). I would – though I doubt they would do – like to see it in Cinemascope or Cinerama!

        Luckily for me, I had no rowdy teenagers in the audience, nor some Benny Hill/Keystone Cops style chasing of numpties by cinema staff.

        Bye for now,

        Stuart.

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  2. I remember the Gaumont and it later the Odeon.
    There was once when I was collecting for the ‘St John Ambulance’ Sadly, the fil was Gerry Andersons ‘Thunderbirds’ and attendance could be counted on one hand! 1968

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    1. Hi Ian,

      My word! If you’re familiar with Philip Martin Williams’ and David Williams’ excellent ‘Flickering Memories’ book, you would have been aware of how lean times were among Ashton’s cinemas. In 1968, there was also the ABC Empire, and owing to how tight budgets were, the ODEON and ABC cinemas shared the same newsreel.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

      P.S. For anyone who doesn’t have a copy of ‘Flickering Memories’ at home, it is an excellent read. The book is priced £3.00 and available from Portland Basin Museum, any public library throughout Tameside, or from the Tameside MBC website.

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  3. Really amazing to hear about the JD Williams cinema – had no idea that was there!!! I seldom visited Manchester in those days, one memorable occasion when I probably would have noticed it but have forgotten is whilst was seeing Steps at the arena in 1999. Wonder if there are any remnants inside??? Going to try and wander up and nosey without arousing suspicion!

    Great you mentioned Walkden too, ace that the Ellesmere was called St. Ouen! Wish there were pictures of it or other Walkden cinemas online – can never find any. I’ve heard rumours a cinema chain was approached for the new Ellesmere, it is such a tragedy the centre is so empty, I think Walkden must have the lowest occupancy rate in the UK! I think there may be dodgy dealings involved with the owners, only thing that makes sense! Sorry to go OT there!

    Really miss seeing the Roxy when I go to Oldham, unbelievable it had to go and the large town has been left film-less. At least there are the town hall plans which look great.

    Interesting points about Cine City too. Incredible considering it was so old it went, mind you Salford Cinema on Chapel St is from 1912, makes me sad passing that daily to see it a bit unloved. Interesting there is scaffolding on the façade at the moment, I hope it’s good news! At least as the church it currently is, it’s not derelict. I went in it once to see some films being screened for an event in about 2007/8, but can;t remember if there was any interior left.

    I still love seeing the remnants of Bolton Odeon, whilst it is very sad it’s gone and the strewn rusty framework is showing, it’s nice for everyone to get a reminder of a great building. I never went in but did go in the ABC on the “Lido” site in 1997 for Speed 2!

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    1. Hi David,

      Unless you were familiar with the northern part of Manchester city centre, the Arena Seven wasn’t an easy cinema to find. I went with my sister twice to see ‘Sleepy Hollow’ and ‘Angela’s Ashes’. For the latter film, there was only six in, including my sister and I. Yet, few people have problems finding the MEN Arena.

      The Apollo Four was one cinema on my list as a ‘must visit’, and I remember how vibrant the Ellesmere Centre was in Walkden. It was at odds with most people’s stereotyped image of the Salford area; it was well positioned for motorways and the affluent Worsley village nearby. In recent years, the centre was been mismanaged, with a fair amount of lost trade through its uncertainty and the loss of its indoor market hall (which on my last visit in May 1999 was doing all right). There used to be a public hall there, the Pembroke Suite.

      The Roxy was ideally placed for the M60 – better placed for that motorway than Cineworld [Ashton-under-Lyne] is today. I hope the Oldham Town Hall cinema project is successful, given that Oldham MBC is the only Greater Manchester borough without a mainstream cinema screen to its name. The only exceptions are occasional film showings at the Millgate Arts Centre in Delph, and the Playhouse 2 in Shaw. There was also a pop-up cinema occupying a unit in Tommyfield Market Hall.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  4. I remember the old Unit 4 cinema in Walkden, we used to go there a lot as kids in the late 80s/ early 90s. It was great, we used to buy sweets from the old Tesco store and sneak them in, instead of paying a fortune for them in the cinema itself. I moved away from Manchester years ago, and I believe the whole of the shopping centre has been redeveloped into mainly a much bigger Tesco store (the old one was massive). By the way, I am surprised that the Princess Theatre in Monton hasn’t been listed, I have two older siblings who remember going there to watch E T.

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    1. Hi Mulder,

      Cinema food has always been a ‘must avoid’ in my book, so I don’t blame you for nipping in to the TESCO store near Unit Four. I always try to see my films after dinner or tea, so that Mr Cineworld or Mr ODEON doesn’t see of my dosh going on overpriced popcorn.

      Apart from the Trafford Centre and Salford Quays, the Salford City Council boundary has few cinemas. For Broughtonians, their nearest cinemas are in Manchester city centre or the Cineworld in Bury. Irlamians have the joys of a trip to the Trafford Centre, Leigh or Warrington. At least Eccles film lovers have a convenient tram to Salford Quays/MediaCityUK, or a bus to the Trafford Centre.

      As for The Ellesmere Centre, they’ve got a swish website with floor plans of the centre (link: http://www.theellesmerecentre.co.uk). Sadly no new cinema.

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

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  5. Those familiar with the Majestic/Gaumont/Odeon/Metro on Old Street, Ashton-u-Lyne may be interested to know it is currently up for sale (Agents;Savile’s). The asking price is £1,000,000!

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  6. I use to work in areana severn cinemas as projectionist think i still have the book that lists all the films we showed from opening to closing it belonged to a good friend of mine who was chief the but sadley he has passed away its a shme the place closed it was a good cinemas plus i loved the jod

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  7. I’ve just re-read the top part. Marple’s Regent Cinema is alone in Greater Manchester? Ted at the Plaza, Stockport might disagree! Purpose-built “super luxury” cinema opened in 1932 and now restored to its former glory, complete with cinema organ on a lift.

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    1. Hi Keith,

      I would say the Marple Regent is alone in the sense it offers a programme of contemporary cinematic releases, whereas the Plaza has occasional film showings as well as its theatrical productions. It is definitely one of two in Greater Manchester still in the same use as it was in the early 1930s.

      The Plaza is alone in being the only purpose built 1930s style super luxury cinema in Greater Manchester to offer cinematic releases. The Regent was originally The Union Rooms, a Christian meeting rooms with a coffee tavern.

      Both the Plaza and the Regent have had a cinematic hiatus in the 1960s: the latter for a short period in 1968 – 1969, whereas the former we know, was a Mecca Bingo Hall.

      Many thanks for the clarification. :-)

      Bye for now,

      Stuart.

      Like

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