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Discovering Preston’s former cinema sites (part three)

Throughout July, I discovered some of Preston’s former cinema sites with the aid of local historian John Cotterall’s book ‘Preston’s Palaces of Pleasure’. It has been wonderful to read about these luxurious places and discover their locations, reading your comments and special memories along the way. If you missed them, click to read part one and part two. In this third and final part, I will be looking at the New Victoria, Plaza, Ritz, ABC and The Carlton, as well as talking a little bit about the person who inspired me to write this series of articles John Cotterall.

The former site of The Plaza, New Hall Lane.

Nothing remains of the Plaza, it was situated behind the 24-hour petrol filling station on New Hall Lane, where new housing has been built. According to John’s book, the cinema opened on 12th December 1932 with a capacity of 930. It had originally been the cotton room and warehouse of Calvert’s India Mill and had a beautifully decorated stage, with shaded lights and rows upon rows of plush seats. Despite the Depression of 1930, people were still able to afford to go to the cinema and it was seen as a place of sanctuary away from the streets. The managers of many of the suburban cinemas got to know their clientele, creating a sense of community, enquiring after a person if they were absent on the evenings that they used to attend.

The New Victoria, later the Gaumont and then the Odeon, Church Street,

John Cotterall’s book talks in great detail about the history of the New Victoria site, which later became the Gaumont and then the Odeon, on Church Street as well as the construction of the building. There was 1450 seats on the ground floor and 670 on the balcony. The upholstery was in rose pink and the cinema was tastefully decorated in shades of soft mauve, green, blue and lemon yellow. There was a chandelier in the vestibule and the staff wore jackets with black lapels, black trousers, black cardboard shirt fronts and dickie bows. The opening night was on 17th September 1928 with 2000 people in attendance. Early films were still silent and the shows also featured performers and a 22 piece orchestra and Wurlitzer organ.

John goes on to describe how in April 1954 Cinemascope was introduced to the New Victoria, which by now was the Gaumont. Further investment followed, in May 1962 the Rank Organisation spent £250,000 in converting the Gaumont to a multi-purpose entertainment centre. A new floor was provided as was a sprung dancefloor. In 1963 the Gaumont became the Odeon, seven years later this was followed by the creation of a further screen or Odeon Two, with a capacity of 112 where the former café was situated. The cinema still exists, albeit in a dilapidated state, behind boarding on Church Street. I have fond memories of queuing up with my friends and going to see films in Odeon One and Odeon Two as a teenager. The queues for the latest film showing on Saturday afternoons stretched around the corner and down the alley.

The former site of The Carlton, Blackpool Road.

The Carlton, on Blackpool Road, opened on 8th August 1932. John Cotterall writes that sadly it was low in the pecking order for receiving new films, so much so the newsreel was three weeks old by the time it reached the Carlton. The building later became a bingo hall, with many of its old cinema features still intact. The distinctive building has now gone, replaced by a block of apartments.

The site of The Ritz cinema, Church Street.

The Ritz cinema building still stands on Church Street, across from where the Palladium would’ve stood, although the front is now unrecognisable. According to John’s book, it opened on 23rd March 1937, with a capacity of 1650. The first film was George Formby’s ‘Keep Fit’. My mum has some lovely memories of working as an usherette at the Ritz in the 1960’s, dying and styling her hair like the stars of the many films running at the popular cinema. She and her friend Anne dressed in a similar style, earning their nickname as ‘the twins’. My mum remembered one of the other usherettes, Molly, who was married to Mr Wilson, who ran the Lido on Marsh Lane. Molly, it was rumoured, had been a showgirl in the theatre and still dressed and looked like her idol, Marilyn Monroe. Many of the staff at the Ritz had previously worked in theatre, but as theatre had declined so did cinema. Eventually, bingo replaced films on the ground floor, with the building subsequently being used as a skating rink and a nightclub thereafter. It isn’t currently in use.

The former site of the ABC, Fishergate.

The old ABC cinema site is close to where Primark now stands. As John wrote, in 1959 the ABC replaced the old Theatre Royal. The projection equipment was the first of its kind in the world and the mood was optimistic, even despite the decline in cinema attendance during the 1950s. Despite major structural changes in 1973, when the Painted Wagon bar was created, the cinema closed in 1982. Special permission was required to demolish it and so it was, due to structural problems with the Fishergate canopy.

I had hoped to interview John Cotterall for this, and the previous, article. However, I was sad to read online that he had passed away. I had kept his publication for over twenty years, referring back to it now and again when feeling nostalgic. After publishing the first in this series of articles, Steve Harrison commented, “John Cotterall, was the District Education Officer in Preston. He was based in the former offices on Guildhall Street which also housed the Register Office. John was from Southport and wrote widely about local history in Lancashire. He also broadcast on Radio Lancashire in the days when Sunday mornings were devoted to programmes about the county. John died in 2019 aged 95. Glad to see his material is still proving of interest.”

Many of Preston’s cinema sites and picture houses hold special memories for the town and later city’s residents. We’ve bought tickets and attended with friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, our families, grandparents and colleagues. We’ve arranged afternoons and nights out at the cinema to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine’s Day and to catch the latest Oscar-winning performance. Some of us even go by ourselves to be transported away into another world for two hours. After closing temporarily due to the pandemic, cinemas are open again in Preston with films currently showing at the Odeon cinema located at Preston docks and the Vue Cinema situated at the Capitol Centre. UCLAN boasts its Mitchell and Kenyon cinema, which before the pandemic was hosting film festivals and there is the Palace Cinema in Longridge, which plans to reopen this September. Film buffs can also catch special screenings of films at Cinema at The Continental, check on Facebook for their listings.  Let’s try, if we can, to support our local cinemas.

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