The original site of Front Street Baptist Church

Church Drive School

The Cinemas and Theatres of Arnold

 

The Baptist 'Cinema'!

Arnold's Centre of Entertainment

The Old Bonington Theatre

Ye Ancient Royaltye of Varieties Theatre 

 

The Baptist 'Cinema' 

When the new year of 1907 dawned it proved decisive for the cinema in Arnold. At this time it moved from forming part of the occasional visiting sideshow in to a permanent building for the first time. The Kinematograph Year Book of that year records that there was now a resident cinema in Arnold.

Frederick Hartshorne was granted the first licence in 1907 to show films in Arnold. Not much is known about him but he is thought to have been a 47 year-old greengrocer with premises on Front Street in Arnold.

The building being chosen for the project was the Baptist Church School Rooms, then on Front Street opposite the end of Worrall Avenue.

It may seem that a church was an unusual place for a cinema, but church buildings were the main centres of social life at the time. They were already having magic lantern slide shows on a regular basis and cinema was therefore a natural progression.

It is not known for certain what films were shown but these would have all been of an educational or spiritually uplifting nature, probably with a moral. Many films of this type were made during this era and very often they were filmed versions of the lantern shows regularly performed up to this time. A very popular film, typical of this type, was The Little Match Girl made in 1902. It was the earliest film adaptation of a story by Hans Christian Anderson/

The match girl in question was a poor little girl who was hungry and freezing, as she had not sold any matchsticks. She tried to warm herself by lighting her matches. By the light of the last match she saw her grandmother, who then lifted her in her arms and they flew up to heaven. The next morning her frozen body was found with a smile upon its lips, and with a burned out bunch of matches.

This film, which has survived to this day, would have definitely been one of the films shown at the new Baptist Cinema.   .

The Baptist Church did not renew its licence however; as it is not recorded in the next edition of the year book, the reason for this is unknown. Arnold was again without regular films until 1912 when the first purpose-built cinema came to town.

The Baptist Church on Front Street has now also gone, pulled down and replaced with a new Co op Store which has since become a branch of Boyes. This church was not lost to the town however as the congregation moved to the newly built Beacon Baptist Church on the Killisick Estate where no doubt films and slide shows are still shown.

 

Arnold's Centre of Entertainment

Church Drive School was one of the oldest schools in Arnold being built in 1899. As well as being a school it was a popular place of entertainment before the First World War. It had a large hall with a stage area and local concerts were very much in favour and were well reported in the local press.

On Tuesday the 3rd of January, 1911 a children’s operetta called The Three Bears was performed to a crowded audience in the school hall , the proceeds being devoted to Daybrook Church choir. Leading parts were taken by Misses E. Dring, F. Hopkinson, M. Smalley and A. Pedley. The show was arranged by Miss Annie Potter of Daybrook House. After the operetta, humorous songs were sung by Mr Charles Harrison including Foolish Questions and Down Lovers Lane and an amusing dialogue entitled A Show of Hands was given by Miss Mallet and Mr Hubble. The show finished with an exhibition of conjuring by Mr Harry Beaumont.

On Saturday 11th April, 1911, the Arnold Orchestral Band performed its concert to a crowded school hall. The entertainment started with the overture Chevalier de Briton by the band under the direction of Mr Marriott of St Albans Road. The other pieces consisted of Shuffling Sam, The Shamrock, Popular Songs by Warwick Williams and March from Tannhauser. Miss Beatrice Johnson followed, singing The Swallows, The Watchman and Killarney. Mr W Attenborough recited The Eve of Quatre Bras, The Devil May Care and Betsy and I. The humorist, Mr Ernest Cox delighted his audience with I Might, Shirts, and The Beastly Eyeglass. Then followed Mr George Hodgett with the songs My Friend, Take a Pair of Rosy Lips ,and The Vikings Love Song . A cornet solo The Lost Chord by Mr Thomas Extall concluded the evening

Ten days later on the 21st of April 1911 another concert, in aid of Mr Charles Crosby, was performed to over 500 people.  The artists performing consisting of the Miss Warten with Mandolin selections, Mrs Hartshorne with songs The Three Fishers and In Old Madrid, Messrs Percy Bramley and Edmund Pitt who sang  A True Tar and The Windmill. Mr T Woodward who rendered the song Thora  followed by Miss Lottie Allsop with Times Roses. An amusing sketch entitled, New Laid Eggs then followed performed by Miss L Cooper, Messrs J Owen, H Straw, S Cawthorn, W Cawthorn and W Hall, all to the accompanist of Mr Herbert Gosling.

These shows were typical of the time, all being home grown and very well attended. There was no theatre, cinema or television. The only professional entertainment was either in Nottingham some four miles walk away or the September visit of the Arnold Wakes Fair.

 

The Old Bonington Theatre

The present theatre in Arnold is named the Bonington Theatre and is the second to carry the name. Until the 1960s there was another Bonington; a cine/variety theatre dominating the Arnold skyline on the corner of Nottingham Road. This older building was born out of an even earlier structure, the St Albans Picturdrome. By 1929, the Picturedrome had been operating for some seventeen years and the demand of the cinema going public was growing. Joe Wardle who owned the cinema decided to build a new and bigger theatre to replace the Picturedrome but did not want to close the existing building longer than necessary. He appointed the architect, George Grimwood  to carry out the design. Grimwood was an architect with offices off Friar Lane, Nottingham and at Front Street in Arnold. The original Picturedrome had been designed by fellow Councillor and architect William Higginbottom but he was unable to take on the work as he was very ill at the time.

The new building was to be built so that it could be  constructed around the existing arrangement, while this was still in use. The main contractors were to be Henry Jew and Sons, a local Arnold company. In fact as many as possible local companies were employed in the work.

Erection of the new cinema began with the construction of an outer shell around the existing building which changed its whole appearance. The front was now adorned by two 29 foot-high Greek-style columns made of Portland stone provided by Trent Concrete.  

A new  balcony was to be installed supported by a very large single steel girder designed and constructed by George Sands and Sons.

This girder was transported by train to Daybrook Station and then by a special tram  to the theatre.

The building then closed while this beam and the new balcony were fitted. The installation of the girder over a weekend, proved more difficult than first imagined. It had to be left hanging half in and half out of the building over night, which blocked the adjacent roads while the problem was solved.

The stage area was redesigned to give full stage production facilities with a fly tower to hang scenery and lighting and proper dressing rooms.

The building closure lasted for only ten weeks while the balcony was finished and the new building decorated and equipped. Lewsleys provided the seating and lighting consisting of padded seats and special star shaped lighting fittings, that changed colour with flicker flame effects in the walls. The whole of the auditorium being finished with mauve on the walls, which were picked out in red, green and gold. The ceiling was in dark blue with a stars motif.

The 23rd of December, 1929 was a great event for Arnold, not just the start of Christmas but on this date the brand new Bonington Theatre opened. The first night presented the film Butterflies staring Lila Lee and Jobyna Ralston, two of the well known stars of the silent screen. Being a silent film it was accompanied not just by the usual piano but a quartet including a violin and drums. This quartet also accompanied a live stage show which starred the Musical Dawsons and the Iris Olga Four. The Musical Dawsons were an unusual act as they had a choir of canaries that sang along to the music. They were very popular and produced several records, two of which I have in my collection. This opening show was packed out and attended by local dignitaries, the architect, builder and contractors and their families, a thousand people in all.

After the official opening the films continued for the general public throughout the  Christmas period. Trelawney of the Wells staring Norma Shearer was screened on Christmas Day showing just how important and novel films were at this time.

Silent films continued along with live acts for the rest of December, 1929 but then, with the new year, a new invention came to the Bonington, the 'talkies'.

Joe Wardle, the owner of the Bonington decided to invest in this new technology  and install one of the first sets of equipment in the area. The first film was shown on Friday January the 3rd, 1930 and was Al Jolson in The Singing Fool. This was the second talking picture ever made and the first one to have sound all the way through. The first talkie, The Jazz Singer only had part of the film featuring sound.

The equipment at the time was very primitive consisting of a film and the sound on a record that was geared to the film mechanically. It was subject to breaking down and being affected badly by vibrations which made the needle jump and put the sound out of sync. With the trams passing right by the theatre and next to the control room, this must have been a nightmare for the operator.

This opening sound filming also had the attraction of live performances which were very much the norm at the time. This part of the show that night was headed by The Hengler Brothers Circus act and by the Comedian Jimmy James who was later to become one of television's first comedians.

Larger stage shows were now possible in this new building, as the stage allowed for full-scale productions. Pantomime came to Arnold for the first time, on a permanent stage, with the production of Jack and the Beanstalk and had over thirty performers. This was staged during the latter half of January, 1930 with the first performance to a packed house on the 13th.

The Bonington was off to a great start, live entertainment and the latest in film technology had all come to Arnold in a big way. After the Bonington had been converted to talking pictures in 1930, silent films were still in vogue for some time. In 1935, the last silent film was shown at the Bonington, White Hell of Pitz Palu made in 1929. This film was interesting as it was German in origin and starred, as well as being directed by, Helene Bertha Amalie 'Leni' Riefenstahl. Riefenstahl was to become famous or rather infamous as Hitler's favorite  film maker, recording much of the everyday activities of the German Third Reich . The Film also starred  Ernst Udet, who played himself and flying in the film . Udet  was the second highest scoring fighter ace of World War One and became Hitler's expert on dive bombers. The other film of the programme was a talkie called Hide Out, a gangster thriller starring Robert Montgomery and Maureen O'Sullivan. A very mixed programme indeed. During the remaining years of the 1930s the Bonington Theatre played to packed houses.

All theatres however, including the Bonington, were closed on September the 3rd, 1939 with the start of World War Two as it was feared that there would be large loss of life if bombing started. The Bonington though, along with a few other cinemas, was allowed to re-open on the 16th of that month. The picture chosen for the re-opening was the aptly titled The Most Dangerous Game and starred Leslie Banks, Joel McCrea and former silent film star, Fay Wray.

During this period, the Bonington still hosted live shows alongside its film programme. Local artists, sing songs and competitions all helped to keep people's spirits up during the war years.

One of the more interesting events was the visit of Al Wright’s Comedy Circus who performed on the theatre's stage. The act incorporated three elephants who were transported to Daybrook Railway Station and from there walked through Daybrook via Nottingham Road to the theatre. There was concern that the stage at the Bonington would not take their weight but it had been well built and there were no problems. After their performance they were housed overnight in a stable. This was situated behind a butchers shop next to the Robin Hood and Little John on Church Street. These buildings still exist and are at present used as a carpet shop and warehouse. Other professional live acts performing on stage at this time included the magician The Great Cingalee, who was to become the president of the Nottingham Guild of Magicians, and a comedy double act called the Rego Twins.

During the 1950s, cinema going all over the country declined. The growth of television ownership and new forms of amusement hit the industry hard. The cinema tax was also hitting hard as profits dwindled. The cinema hit back with new inventions and gimmicks and the Bonington was no exception. In 1948/49 some seating was replaced and the building redecorated. In the  middle 1950s they upgraded the cinema facilities by changing to a simple form of Cinemascope. This change enabled the new films like The King and I to be shown but it was a case of 'too little too late' and attendances continued to fall. By 1957, the cinema had been losing money for two years and it was decided to close the business. The last film was Nowhere to Go with the future Dame Maggie Smith and the Bonington closed its doors for the last time on Saturday 30th March, 1957. The seats and projection equipment were purchased by the Co-operative Film Society and installed in their premises on Broad Street. Their building is now the Broadway Cinema.

The Bonington was then left empty for a while and used by a number of companies for business or storage.

In April, 1963 the building was finally sold and work to demolish the cinema commenced. This however, was not to be an easy task as at the time it was the largest building in Arnold. It was also constructed of Portland Stone on the outside with two 29-foot (8.83m ) pillars on the corner of Nottingham Road next to a bus stop.

Scaffolding was erected around the building and the bus stop moved but there was nowhere for a crane. Demolition work was mainly carried out by hand, using sledge hammers.

On the 17th May, 1963, during the demolition, one of the pillars suddenly fell into the road narrowly missing cars and shoppers. The three-ton segments scattered making a 12-inch (300mm) trench in the road but the only casualty was one of the workmen who fractured his ankle. The accident brought about a review in Arnold Urban District Council safety regulations as this was the first time work on this scale had been carried out in the town.

As parts were cleared, some of the sections of the columns were, for a time, left in Arnot Hill Park as they were to be used as a feature, which never materialised. The only remaining item from the theatre, still in existence, is the clock that used to reside in the main auditorium. It went to the old Co-op Film Society. The seats and projection equipment they bought have now long gone. The clock however can be seen above the exit door of studio 1 of the Broadway Cinema to this day, the last reminder of a great cinema.

The present site of the Bonington Theatre is now occupied by shops a restaurant and a gym. Built on the old foundations, this collection of buildings shows just how big was the old cinema.

I would very much like to know more about the live entertainment at the theatre during this period. The films are well recorded but there is very little information on live performances. Hand bills, posters and photographs existed at the time and photographs must have been taken of the acts, what happened to them I wonder? Can anyone assist with this request please?

 

Ye Ancient Royaltye of Varieties Theatre 

Before the First World War Arnold was a thriving community with many amateur shows and concerts. These were the only form of live entertainment which the population of Arnold had available. There were no theatres or music halls locally so travelling the four or five miles in to Nottingham was the only opportunity most people had of seeing a 'professional' live show. The Arnold Wakes provided a more local entertainment once a year and the cinema came for a short stay in 1906. Two more permanent cinemas were built in 1912, but live entertainment was still home-grown when Ye Ancient Royaltye of Varieties Theatre came to town in 1913. It set up on the Croft, an area of then open ground, behind the Horse and Jockey public house on Front Street.

The South Notts. Echo on Saturday 8th February, 1913 announced that it was 'one of the finest Theatres travelling offering only the best dramas and sketches'. It would appear that the show had in fact been in operation for at least one week by this time. There had been none of the usual adverts in the earlier papers, however, to announce its arrival.

The performance of the previous Thursday was also reviewed on the 8th February, stating that 'some capital dramas had been performed during this week'. The performance at 7.45pm on the Thursday evening 'had a good attendance to witness the well staged and well dressed drama entitled Siberia' No other details of the shows were given.

The Saturday evening show that week was defined as 'a fine drama entitled The Life of Nelson' again, no further details were forthcoming. It is assumed that this was an educational dramatisation, popular at that time.,

The Saturday afternoon show was the children’s time when they could expect 'several laughable sketches'. There was also a competition for boys with a 'handsome watch' as the prize, but nothing it seems for the girls!

The following week offered much of the same with a 'number of first class dramas of a thrilling character' but what these were has not been documented. The reviewer, however, was suitably impressed as he stated that 'the artists were thoroughly capable'. He also commented that 'the seating accommodation is most comfortable' but not what form it took; he must have been given a good seat!

No further adverts or reviews appeared in the local papers so it can be assumed that this show had a short stay, or that at least the advert and review had done the trick! Whatever the result of this publicity, the Varieties Theatre appears not to have returned to Arnold.

I have not been able, so far, to trace where the show came from or where it went to after its visit to Arnold!

All articles © Bob Massey

The original Bonington Theatre