Hebden Bridge Local History Society Talk on the importance of cinema in the town

Cinema enthusiast and member of Friends of the Picture House Kate Higham told the story of how cinema has always been at the heart of the town.

By Sally Todd, Editorial Assistant
Tuesday, 18th January 2022, 11:49 am
Hebden Bridge Picture House still going strong.
Hebden Bridge Picture House still going strong.

The late 19th century race to master the technology of capturing moving images saw bitter rivalries, but no-one had really grasped the potential of the medium until the Lumiere brothers perfected their Cinematograph. This was both camera and projector, enabling large groups to watch the screen, and portable, so that cinema could travel from town to town. The entertainment of the masses was music hall, and the short films were often shown as a post-script to programme of variety acts, only gradually becoming the main attraction.

Possibly the first travelling cinema to reach Hebden Bridge was in 1898, and films were also shown in the Co-operative Hall, but the turn of the century saw a greater demand for the newest entertainment. In 1911 approval was given for a permanent building, the Royal Electric Theatre and Hippodrome, with a design by local architect William Cockcroft. It opened in November 1911 and was so popular that a year later additions were proposed. There are recollections of ‘the blood red tub’, a wooden building with the most basic of seats, and of the snacks of tripe bits and chips purchased nearby to round off an evening’s entertainment.

Throughout the First World War the Royal Electric thrived and by 1919 there was a demand for a more substantial building, which is the one we know today. The grand opening was on 12th July 1921 and the cinema was given rave reviews.

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Popularity of going to the pictures soon saw Sunday opening, and the Saturday matinees beloved of generations of children. The 1960s were a more challenging time with audience numbers falling, and the cinema closed for several months in 1964. It was rescued by local business man Lloyd Brearley who ran it on a shoestring until he was forced to sell in 1971. It looked as if its fate would be a carpet warehouse, until Hebden Royd Council stepped in to purchase it, with Brearley continuing as manager. Over the next few years its future was precarious but eventually money was invested in refurbishment making the building more suitable for live events. It re-opened in April 1978.

The Picture House remained financially precarious. Again the council considered selling the building, but protests from the Friends of the Picture House secured a temporary reprieve. In a story as nail-biting as any old silent film, a plan to demolish the cinema was defeated by a single vote, and from 2011 Hebden Royd Town Council took on the lease, continuing improvements and re-opening in March 2016. The Picture House, like a true adventure hero, survived to celebrate its Centenary in July 2021 and so the story goes on!

At the next meeting on Wednesday, January 26, 7.30pm, Hebden Royd Methodist Church, Ann Kilbey explores at the History of the House of Thornber.. in search of the perfect egg laying machine. Visitors welcome (£4). Details on the websitewww.hebdenbridgehistory.org.uk and on Facebook.