Forgotten flea pits, lost Empires and expired Essolodoes
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
- The Oxford, Dukinfield;
- The Verona/ODEON, Guide Bridge;
- ODEON, Bolton;
- The Scala/Cine City, Withington;
- The Longford/Essoldo, Stretford;
- The Roxy, Hollinwood;
- The Lyceum/Crown Theatre/Crown Cinema, Eccles;
- Unit Four/Apollo Four, Walkden;
- Arena Seven, Manchester;
- 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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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.