What Happened To Them?
An article about the history of Bingley, by Alan Cattell
Read the timeline of the History of Bingley and it’s lost cinemas.
The first regular cinema recorded in Bingley was in a building behind the market in Main Street and later (circa 1907) came shows in the Victoria Hall and in the Co-operative Assembly Rooms.
Between 1911 and 1922 Picture Palaces as they were originally known opened in Bingley, Baildon, Keighley, Shipley and Saltaire and were to provide entertainment to all age groups over the next 50 years.
In this article, local historian Alan Cattell traces the history of the two main cinemas in Bingley from opening to closure to establish what happened to them.
A couple of weeks ago I took my youngest son and a friend to “the movies” or as I used to know them….the pictures. Our trip involved a car journey, a train journey and a walk to see one “movie”, a lot of advertisements and a visit to the bank manager to finance the popcorn!
At one time Bingley, like other towns and cities had two main local cinemas serviced by local sweet shops and fish and chip shops. Each was frequented regularly by a local population eager to catch up with the films of the day, sometimes two or three times per week for a minimal charge for circle or stall seats…no mortgage involved!!
The main venues in Bingley were:
The Hippodrome Cinema
This was the first main cinema to be built in Bingley which was opened in 1913 on the demolished site of Longbottom Brothers Blacksmiths situated on the right of Main Street past the Old Queens Head Hotel. The photograph heading this article shows the Smithy prior to demolition with a sign announcing “Site for Picture Palace – Bingley Hippodrome Ltd”.
The cinema was opened by Michael P Cryer with a seating capacity of 739 and was eventually the first in Bingley to introduce “talking” films. In its heyday it had two shows nightly and two changes of film per week.
Did the Music Match the Action?
Fred Hoyle (later Sir Fred Hoyle,) a famous academic, astronomer, author and broadcaster from Bingley recounted in his 1986 book The Small World of Fred Hoyle that his mother was a cinema pianist in Bingley circa 1916. Her job was to accompany the silent films. As a Royal Academy trained musician she preferred to play classical pieces which did not always fit well with the action and storyline of some of the films of the period. Consequently her musical tastes did not match those of the cinema manager and she left. A week later the manager asked her to go back to her job because of a decline in attendances. When cinemagoers were asked why? they told the manager “ We didn’t come to see your films, we came to hear Mrs Hoyle play!”
The Hippodrome continued to show silent films until February 1930. During that month the cinema featured two of the first “talkies” namely Al Jolson’s Sonny Boy and There’s A Rainbow Round My Shoulder.
Heyday then Closure
The 1930’s and 1940’s saw the establishing of the Hollywood era of film making and film stars followed by the development of post war musicals and action films. The early 50’s are remembered by many as a period when cowboy films featuring the likes of Alan Ladd and John Wayne came to the fore, particularly for children. Margaret Flaherty who worked at the Hippodrome as an usherette in the 1950’s remembers that the cinema was still very busy, especially on Saturday nights. With this being the case, she and other staff could not understand why the Hippodrome closed down, showing its last film in 1953.
The site was converted into a Woolworth’s store which closed in 1984. Nowadays it is a car park.
The Myrtle Cinema
Was built on Main Street in 1921 on the site of the ancient Hoyle Croft, a grass covered square overlooked by the back of houses on Chapel Lane and Main Street. It had a seating capacity of 900. The cinema provided films twice nightly and also had a matinee.
The first film shown there was “Alf’s Button” a comedy. In it Leslie Hensen played Alf Higgins, a World War 1 soldier who discovers that a button on his jacket has unusual magical powers. The late Winifred Harrison in her 1997 book Days Awake – Childhood Memories of Bingley captures the atmosphere of that opening film night and the magic of later silent film matinees featuring Lillian Gish and her sister. Lucy Barrett was the local pianist accompanying silent films in the early days.
Top and Bottom
The Myrtle was considered by many Bingley residents to be a little more “posh” than the Hippodrome as it was at the “top” of the town whereas the Hippodrome was at the “bottom”.
At the start of films at both the Myrtle and the Hippodrome a news reel would be played which was shared by both cinemas. This involved “runners” from the Hippodrome running up the hill to get the news reel, returning down the hill for the reel to be played and then running back up the hill to return it. Timings at both cinemas had to take account of this requirement.
Bingley College Staff
In Bingleys’ Fabulous Fifties – Featuring The Basement Girls by Joyce Snow (2009), Val Crabtree and Molly Brooke (Sebo), amongst others, recount their adventures as domestic staff working at Bingley College. Bingley and area was their playground as teenagers and as young single women they took full advantage of the Princess and Co-op Halls for dancing and the two cinemas for film going.
Val recalls that after the Coronation (see Coronation Day photograph), all the schoolchildren in Bingley went to the Myrtle to see the Coronation in colour and later to see a film capturing the first ascent of Everest.
Rock and Roll
Molly Brooke recounts that she worked as an usherette at the Myrtle in the 1950’s, her cinema pedigree was enhanced by the fact that her Grandmother was Manager at the Hippodrome and her father was Manager at the Myrtle.
She remembers the lights going up in the interval and her father playing Rock Around the Clock to let teenagers bop to the music in the aisles, one of the few locally to tolerate this. Similar to Mrs Hoyle’s musical experience at the Hippodrome forty years earlier the boppers said that they were not really interested in the films…..just being able to bop!
The Myrtle was eventually closed on 26 November 1960, the last film shown starring the singer Pat Boone in April Love. It then became a Supermarket and nowadays still serves the public as The Myrtle Grove, a J D Weatherspoons pub. As a building it still retains much of its original shape as an ex cinema.
End of an Era
The advent of television and other forms of entertainment heralded the demise of local cinema before the transition towards multiplex cinemas located in the centre of cities or on shopping complexes on the outskirts of towns. Perhaps those of us who can remember how cinema once was did not at the time fully appreciate the atmosphere, character and excitement of our visits t’pictures!
Read more interesting Bingley History articles by Alan Cattell
First published 2011 ©Alan Cattell, 2011
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