Heaton’s first cinema, the Electric Palace, opened on the corner of North View and Heaton Road on 21 November 1910 in what a local newspaper of the time referred to as ‘a large House near to Heaton Station, and known locally as Temple’s Folly’. The building also housed assembly rooms, a billiard hall and a ballroom, which became a roller-skating rink just a couple of years later. It was said to have cost an eye-watering £30,000 to build.
At the beginning, variety shows and wrestling were also a feature of its programming. The cinema also had an unusually large orchestra of 8 players. A cafe had been added by 1921. Prices were considered high though, from 4d to 1s 3d, but there was clearly a market for the programme of comedies and serials in the relatively prosperous suburb of Heaton: the plush tip up seats and boxes seated 925 in total. The cinema was a feature of Heaton life until June 1961 when it converted to a bingo hall that’s still going strong today.
The next cinema to open was the Scala on the Chillingham Road site that Tesco occupies now. It opened on 10 March 1913 and so Heaton History Group will shortly be celebrating its 101st anniversary with a talk entitled A Night at the Pictures on the history of Newcastle’s cinemas. (See below for details).
The Scala had ‘ a spacious tiled entrance, with marble staircases approaching the dress circle’. Its capacity was 1,200 and it cost £7,000 to build. At first it too held variety shows but these were soon abandoned. It eventually closed only a fortnight after the Electric (by now renamed the Heaton) on 1 July 1961.
The Lyric on Stephenson Road was a latecomer. It opened on 6 January 1936 as part of ‘Newcastle’s new corner of entertainment‘ that also included the Corner House, which opened two days later. The cinema was designed by the architects of the new St Gabriel’s estate so that it was in keeping with the neighbourhood. The auditorium ceiling and walls were predominantly pink. A dado rail in the stalls consisted of ‘a series of black and silver bands, giving a realistic effect of relief, as if the walls were completely cushioned all round.’ The front of the circle was ‘picked out in pink, gold bronze and bright vermillion’ and the walls ‘enlivened by perpendicular and horizontal lines in brilliant reds and browns.’
The original plans still survive and it’s hoped to put them on display in the People’s Theatre which now, of course, ensures that the building remains a much loved Heaton institution.
And these were just the cinemas in Heaton itself. There were many more nearby: Byker was even better served than Heaton.
The Sun in Long Row, Byker Hill (1909-34) was a family-run business, established by Carl Albert Aarstad, who came to Newcastle with his brother from Norway when a very young man, became a successful merchant and by 1911 was living on Heaton Grove and running his own cinema with his wife, Annie, and son, John.
The Apollo ( Shields Road, 1933-41 and 1956-83) was bombed in World War 2 but eventually rebuilt to the original plan. And Byker was also home to the Bamborough (Union Road, 1913-59), Black’s Regal (later Odeon, Shields Road, 1914-72), the Brinkburn (1910-60), the Grand (1896-1954), the Minerva (later Imperial, 1910-63), the Picturedrome (1910-60), the Raby (1910-59). Amazing!
Much of the above information comes from Frank Manders’ ‘Cinemas of Newcastle‘ (Tyne Bridge Publishing, 2005) where you’ll find much more fascinating information.
Muriel LaTour (Nee Abernethy) remembers:
There was not a cinema in the area I did not go to on a regular basis. My mother was a movie buff. I did tend to avoid The Imperial on Byker Bank and The Bamboro on Union Road, both of which were known as ‘flea pits’. The Brinkburn was not too far behind them, but as I knew the boy who helped in the projection box and who got me in for free, as they say, beggars can’t be choosers. There was also the Black’s Regal (which became the Odeon). That was a posher one even though it was in Byker! The three main ones actually in Heaton were, The Heaton, known as The Leccy (from The Heaton Electric Palace), The Scala on Chillingham Road and The Lyric on Stephenson Road, all of which I was a frequent patron. My mother’s friend was in the ticket box at The Lyric, so again I would get in for free and sit through the movies twice.
Norman Pretswell remembers:
My grandmother lived on Morley Street. There was an old cinema up there at the top of Shields Road where it curves round towards Walkergate, called, I think, The Sun and you could actually get in there for jam jars. You could take half a dozen with you and you could get in. That was the payment. You’d get cheaper seats… I think it was only a penny or a halfpenny to get in with money… But it was a real what you’d call a flea pit, with wooden floors and not much of a rake to it, so it wasn’t easy to see the screens.
0n 19 March 2014, Freda Thompson will give a talk on the history of Newcastle’s cinemas, entitled ‘A Night at the Pictures’. Afterwards, we’ll have an informal chat about our local picture houses and hope that some audience members will be able to add to our collective knowledge.
The event will take place at the Corner House Hotel on Heaton Road. As usual, please book for the talk to ensure you’re not disappointed and be in your seat by 7.15 so that we can offer any unclaimed places to people on the waiting list or who come on spec. To reserve your place, contact Maria Graham: firstname.lastname@example.org / 0191 215 0821 / 07763 985656. FREE to members; £2 to non-members.