Discovering Preston’s former cinema sites (part two)

A couple of months ago, I posted the first part in my quest to locate some of Preston’s former cinema sites. At the height of the cinema boom, Preston boasted 22 cinemas, inspiring local historian and author John Cotterall to write and publish Preston’s Palaces of Pleasure in 1988, a few decades after cinema attendance had started to decline due to the introduction of television.

It was with John’s publication in hand that I started to locate some of Preston’s former cinema sites and provide a photograph and brief overview of each one. Some, such as the Star on the corner of Fylde Road and Corporation Street, were harder to locate than others. Indeed, I have since been told that the cinema, built in an American circular style, was located where UCLan’s new engineering building is located, rather than on the car park site near the Lamb, as I had originally thought.

I hope you enjoy the second part of this journey around Preston’s former cinema sites. Please feel free to share any memories or information about the cinemas in the comments section below.

Approximate site of the Palladium, which was demolished to make way for a service road to the Guild Hall.

The Palladium was a purpose-built cinema on Church Street. According to John’s book, there was an argument about whether or not a licence should be provided when it was ready to open at Christmas in 1915. At the hearing, when the licence application was made Alderman Hamilton was concerned about, “providing establishments that are simply designed for enjoyment and recreation.” He went on to describe the venture as, “an injurious spending of money that was very much needed in other ways.”

The application went through and ironically the first film to be shown was called ‘The Man Who Stayed at Home’, with tickets costing 3d, 6d and 9d. Afternoon performances were at 3pm with a continuous show from 6.30pm to 10.30pm. The cinema was a haven for courting couples and the double seats at The Palladium were very popular. Sundays after the Second World War saw people queuing outside Preston’s cinemas, sometimes for as long as two hours, unaware that the advent of television and bingo halls was just around the corner.

It was the height of luxury when it first opened, however as numbers declined, it became run down and better known as ‘the flea pit’. As John wrote, The Palladium was bought by Preston Council in 1968 for £45,000 so that it could be demolished to make way for a service road to the Guild Hall complex.

The former site of The Queens Cinema and later the Continental, Tunbridge Street.

The Queens was on Tunbridge Street, off New Hall Lane, and as John Cotterall outlined it was owned by the Alderson family. They ran the cinema very efficiently in the 1960s, at one stage including a free orange with a child’s ticket. The name was changed to the Continental in the 1960s when the cinema started to show X rated ‘continental’ films and restricted entry to an adult only audience. It advertised itself as being quiet and comfortable and featured double bills of cult French films such as ‘Breathless’ starring Jean Seberg and ‘Come Dance With Me’ featuring Brigitte Bardot. The building is now a place of worship and community centre.

The former site of The Savoy, a purpose built cinema on Ashton Street.

The Savoy was one of Preston’s purpose-built cinemas and opened with a showing of ‘The Sea Wolf’ starring Jack London on 27th June 1921. It was easy to locate as the distinctive building still stands now and is better known as Savoy Timber. Many thanks to Aiden Turner-Bishop who pointed out that if you go upstairs, you can still see the painted proscenium arch of the original cinema screen. The cinema closed in September 1958 due to attendance falling.

The site of The Empress Cinema on Eldon Street.

The Empress on Eldon Street is remembered fondly by many who frequented it. It opened on 12th October 1929 and fitted with a Western Electric sound system. It was described as the ‘atmospheric cinema’. Guests recall the snack bar, with a swirling milk machine that looked magical to young eyes. It boasted comfortable seats, with ample legroom, at low prices. Thanks to Bob who commented that he enjoyed going on Saturday mornings as a child in the 1960’s to watch cowboy films. The cinema later became a skating rink. The site is still visible from Eldon Street.

The former site of The Lyric cinema, behind the Liverpool Road shops, Penwortham.

In 1931, there was an attempt to provide a cinema for the residents of Penwortham. Situated behind the shops on Liverpool Road is what remains of the cinema which was once called The Lyric, it is now a garage and has been for as long as many remember. Perhaps suggesting that the little cinema had started to decline before many of the others in the town.

I just couldn’t place the site of the Picturedome, on Brackenbury Place. Brian Bell kindly commented on my previous article that he used to like this cinema, which was also called the Bracky. It had previously been a chapel and was owned by Will Onda and specialised in showing Westerns. I also couldn’t locate the Tivoli on Fleetwood Street, which was situated close to Watery Lane. John Cotterall wrote that a man called Bailey was employed at this little cinema to provide commentary for the films with the help of a megaphone.

In the third and final part of Discovering Preston’s former cinema sites, I will be looking at The New Victoria, Ritz, ABC and the Plaza.

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