central cinema

central cinema

Yeovil's first cinema

 

The first public showing of a film in Yeovil was at the Assembly Rooms in Princes Street in 1896 but the Central Auction Rooms in Church Street followed in 1912. It was re-named "Yeovil's Cosy Corner" by 1915 but, as seen in the advertisement below, by 1916 the Manager Alfred Sugden had renamed it the Central Hall Cinema. In his advertisement Sugden gave his cinema the strapline "The Oldest-Established Picture House in the District" omitting to mention that it was the oldest by only one year.

The cinema had wooden benches at the front with more comfortable seats further back and there was one performance each evening, two on Saturdays plus a Saturday afternoon matinée. Mr H Hellias recalled in the 1970s "I well remember going there before the First World War and paying one penny for the Saturday afternoon shows and we were given a bag of sweets." By the 1920s children paid 2d and adults paid 6d for admission. Again in the 1970s, Mrs PR Young recalled "My father was the projectionist for the silent films.... My mother was the cashier and my sister and I went to the Saturday matinées for 2d. The Thring family were the owners." Another remembered "I also recall going to the Central Cinema to see films on Saturday afternoons, as my father took the tickets and kept an eye on the children. Mr Len Bollen ran the films at the back of the hall and the screen was on the front wall. One must not forget the pianist and I believe Mr Archie Thring owned it."

During the night of Saturday 24 / Sunday 25 May 1930 a fire broke out in the cinema. Mr Thring, the proprietor, was found in his office suffering from smoke inhalation and with badly burned hands. He was taken to hospital and later made a full recovery. The now-gutted cinema, however, was not so lucky with the fire causing such extensive damage that a complete rebuild was necessary. Part of the roof of the adjoining St John's schoolrooms was damaged but repairable. The cause of the fire was never discovered.

The rebuilt Central Cinema opened in January 1932. Designed in an art deco neo-Egyptian style by Douglas Langford, an Exeter architect, the new cinema could accommodate 560 patrons. The front elevation was clad in faience tiles and the columns between the top floor windows had lotus bud capitals. An external helical steel staircase on the side of the building provided the only access for the projectionist to get to the projection room. The cinema boasted a lighting system with a 60-colour change and a ventilation and air cooling system capable of changing the air completely three times an hour.

Despite the opulence of the new building this small, independent cinema faced fierce competition during the 1930s from nearby rivals, the Gaumont and the Odeon, both of which were huge in comparison. After the Second World War the central cinema was forced to have continuous screenings on a daily basis from 2:10pm each day and charges were increased to between 9d and 1s 10d. During the 1950s the widespread introduction of television into people's homes bought about a general decline in the cinema industry. The Central Cinema finally closed its doors on 8 August 1964. There was a brief revival when the building was used as a casino, called the 'Yeovil Central Casino' although this didn't last long. The building was then used as a bingo hall, called the 'Yeovil Central Bingo Club', but this venture ceased in 1979. The building was then gutted and remained empty until it was finally demolished, despite protests, in 1988. 

 

gallery


Advertisement for the Central Hall Cinema from Whitby's Yeovil Almanack Advertiser of 1916. The manager, Alfred Sugden, gave it the sobriquet "Yeovil's Cosy Corner".

 

An advertisement in the Western Gazette edition of 3 August 1934, displaying the week's rapidly-changing programme at the Central Cinema, as well as prices.

 

The new Central Cinema, rebuilt after the disastrous fire, and photographed here in the 1930s from Princes Street. 

 

An evocative image of a road sweeper in Church Street, probably photographed in the 1950s, with the Central Cinema at right.

 


Courtesy of Rob Baker

A colour photograph of the Central Cinema, probably dating to the 1960s.

 


Courtesy of Rob Baker

A more frontal view of the Central Cinema, scanned from a newspaper dating to the 1970s.

 


From my collection

A membership card of the short-lived 'Yeovil Central Casino' of the late 1960s.

 


From my collection

Both sides of a book of bingo cards from the 'Yeovil Central Bingo' of the early 1970s.

 


From my collection

Both sides of a 'Kitty Scoop' bingo card from the 'Yeovil Central Bingo Club' of the early 1970s.

 


Courtesy of Rob Baker

.... and seen from the eastern side of Church Street, showing the faience tiles.

 


Courtesy of Rob Baker  -  This photograph features in my book 'Yeovil From Old Photographs'

Detailing of the elaborate neo-Egyptian facade of the upper storey.

 


Courtesy of Rob Baker

The only access for the projectionist to the projection room was via the external steel helical staircase and through the blue door.

 


Courtesy of Rob Baker

The ground floor entrances photographed in 1988. By this time the cinema had been closed for years and was awaiting demolition. Even the 'For Sale' sign in the door window was falling off.

 


Courtesy of Rob Baker

An internal photograph glimpsing the decorative barrel ceiling and the end wall above the screen.

 


Courtesy of Rob Baker

A decorative niche, typical of the lavish, oriental-style interior.

 


Courtesy of Rob Baker

A detail of a stained glass window, again typical of the opulence of the building.

 

A series of Photographs by David Perry

 


Courtesy of David Perry

 


Courtesy of David Perry

 


Courtesy of David Perry

 


Courtesy of David Perry

 

 

.... and then came demolition