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Picture Palaces of Heaton (and Byker)

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.

Heaton Electric Cinema

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).

Scala Cinema by night

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.’

lyric cinema by night

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.

Walking distance

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.

March talk

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: / 0191 215 0821 / 07763 985656. FREE to members; £2 to non-members.

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  1. My Grandfather Fisher played violin in the Heaton Electric orchestra for flicks and also for dancing; that’s where he met my Grandmother. Do we know why it was called Temple’s Folly; or if, in fact, it was ever a house? I never went there, or to the Lyric, but I went to the Scala once, to a Saturday mid-day show for kids and saw a very early Batman, along with a forgotten selection of suitable shorts. I never went again as it closed down soon after.

  2. The Imperial! My Gran said you went in with a cardie and came out with a jumper; worth it when it only coast a jam-jar though. I was never away from Black’s Regal, and The Apollo – which had that wonderful ‘Crawling Border’ illuminated sign that always entranced me.

  3. I know, it’d be great to find out more about ‘ Temple’s Folly’. I wonder if Temple was a person and what made it a folly.

  4. Have done a bit of research on Temple’s Folly. The house which originally stood on the site of the Electric Palace was bought with a mortgage, as it was being built, by someone with the surname Temple and his business partner. The business relationship was dissolved and Temple was made bankrupt and seems to have defaulted on the mortgage. The building society took Temple to court but it was a complicated case and the judgement went against the building society. It was given leave to appeal. Haven’t found out what happened next but the house seems to have remained empty for around 30 years and eventually demolished to make way for the Electric Palace.You can understand the nickname!

  5. The story I heard was that Temple died before it was finished and the local council said that the building could not be used as a dwelling ( a house that people cant live in that sounds like a folly to me ). I have worked there now for 15 years and wondered why there were urinals in the top floor quarters. Looking at old pictures it seems to be a commercial center for Heaton with 4 self contained shop fronts and self contained cinema, dance hall upstairs and a billiards room in the basement and what looks like a smaller dance hall and offices up on the top floor.

    • Hi Paul,

      Great to hear from you. That’s interesting what you’ve heard about Temple’s Folly. Do you have / have you seen any pictures of the inside that we could look at and maybe feature on our site? Will you make it to our talk on the 19th?

  6. Sandra McClelland wrote to us: My friends and I went to the Scala every Fri. night in the early 50s and in my memory it was avery nice place. On Saturdays we all trooped to the Lyric cinema which tended to show a lot of M. G. M .musicals. I remember as a 10 yr old being blown away by the fantastic dance sequences of 7 Brides for 7 Brothers and the iconic Singing in the Rain.

    • I lived on the corner of the coast rd roundabout, above Lilburns wet fish shop. Lived ther for over 20 years, and used to go to the Scala Saturday matinee, cost sixpencence, every sat morning. I think I must have seen every Flash Gordon ever shown, and others like it. The days of cliff hanger endings to make you come back. Great fun, great memories.Left around 1969, and sometimes go back, I like the memories.

  7. When the Scala closed, it was used to give dancing lessons for quite some time. I did go inside to see what it was like, and met the people who ran it.

      • If you need any information, especially regarding the roundabout, I would love to help. There wasn’t much passed our windows that we missed, and the factory workers , most from C & A Parsons, would pass in theyre hundreds on every kind of transport you could think of. When Parsons were delivering turbines, the telegraph poles and the stone pillar in the centre of the roundabout, had to be taken out and lain flat. When the pickford units had passed, usually took a few hours, they would be reinstated and reconnected. My entire childhood was spent roaming the streets with friends, or watching the world go past our window. In our teens, we were so good, we could identify almost any make of motorcycle from the sound of the engine. Most of the workers had motorcycles or push bikes. I have very fond memories of the area, had a cracking childhood. George.

  8. Do you happen to remember the ‘Civvie’ on Sackville Road? If you do, would appreciate a description and any memories associated with it.

  9. the civil defence unit on sackville road, I think, was red brick building, just up the road from the police station, and “the hussars” pub. I don’t recall anything but it’s presence. I didn’t really know it’s purpose as a youngster, and can not recall it ever being open. A friend said it was a small, underground unit, with steps leading down. I’m afraid thats all i know, but will ask around and see if I can find out more. George.

    • Thank you – the point about it never being open was something that’s come up before. If you hear any more let us know – and I will tell you if we find out more. Do you still live locally?

    • Was there a police station anywhere near the Hussars or the Civvie in Sackville Rd in the mid 60s do you know? I am asking because I have written a novel in which a ‘crime’ is committed in that area and i need to take into account if there was a police station there at the relevant time! I have not been able to confirm it but George above seems to suggest that it was there … Any info gratefully received!

      • Sorry for taking a while to reply – I’ve been on holiday. I’ll include your query in our next newsletter as well as here on the website and we’ll see what people can remember. Chris (Secretary, Heaton History Group)

      • Hello Yes There was a police station right next door to the Hussars and between the Civvy as you mention. I lived just down the street from there. I was actually looking on here to see if I could find any information out about the Civvy. It was always a mystery building and I would love to know what was inside there ?

  10. I now live in North Wales, but still visit friends, and family occasionally. I do have one friend who lived in benton, and he has a very good memory. Together we both have an interest in the old Newcastle, when I say old, I mean the 50s and 60s. After looking on sites like yours, I find it almost a criminal act when i see what has been destroyed, and just plain furious when i see what has replaced it. What must have been in the minds of the council departments responsible, i can’t imagine. My main interest is in finding pics of the crossroads, when there was seating and grass lawn for us kids to play on. I think they remained when the big roundabout was put in, but completely disappeared when the underpass was created, along with several houses in all directions, I should add. That was when the masonic hall was demolished,on stephenson rd, plus many shops including Taylors bike shop, which stocked just about everything a young kid would be interested in. I have managed to find only one early pic which shows a tramcar pretty much in front of our old house. I would be grateful if you could let me know if any turn up. Please continue to ask for info, I may not be able to help, but I still have friends who can assist. George.

  11. Hi, just found this website in the process of researching George Besford who was the proprietor/manager of a picture hall in the 1911 census – I believe in Buxton road? Does anyone have any information that may explain how he went from being a shipyard riveter to silent film buff in the space of a few years?

  12. HHG member, Barry Andreasen wrote:

    I am aged 71 and was born and brought up in Meldon Tce.
    I remember the Scala cinema well.
    As a boy, I used to go and see the Saturday lunchtime matinee with the supporting Yo-yo man performing all his tricks on stage.

    I also to go with my Mother to see the latest film.We would stop at Polly Rankins sweet shop on the way.It stank of cats and she often had to chase the cat off the sweets before then selling them to us.

    When arriving at the Scala often there would be lots of kids waiting outside as they weren’t allowed in without an adult. My mother usually landed up going in with an extended family. The Cinema people didn’t care.

    Also recollect Teddy Boys loosening the fixings to the seats. Saw one person physically fall on the floor.


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