Going to the cinema has been a favourite pastime for many since silent film premiered in front of an audience in 1895. The production was a Lumière brothers enterprise in Paris, and was the first to present moving pictures to a paying audience.
Now cinema is ruled by the multiplex, and the days of intervals and flickering projectors are long over save for a few historical mementos tucked away in bohemian backstreets. But Chorley was once home to an eclectic bunch of picture houses – many of which have since been demolished. From elegant beginnings to fiery ends, we take a look at those best-loved cinemas which were once a staple of the area’s entertainment industry and see what became of them after their cinematic demise.
In 1910, the Empire Electric Theatre on Dole Lane was the first electric cinema in Chorley. It opened in September that year, able to seat around 700 people in its plush seats and modern heating system.
The first silent films to be shown at the Empire were accompanied by lively piano songs, and included the likes of Tilly the Tomboy and Harvesting in Western Canada.
Controversy came to the picture-house in 1956, when the decision was made to show Sam Katzman’s Rock Around the Clock. The film, which focused on contemporary rock band Billl Haley & His Comets, caused quite a stir in the nation’s teenagers and banned in many cinemas for its negative influence. To combat any rowdiness, a hosepipe was connected to a fire hydrant inside the cinema ready to blast cold water over the excited crowd.
The building closed as a cinema in January 1958. The last film to be shown there was Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
The Empire’s original stained glass window can still be seen on the front door of the building today as it exists as Chorley Little Theatre – home to CADOS and the Chorley Youth Theatre.
Chorley’s most popular cinema opened on Market Street in February 1938 with a showing of The Sky’s the Limit. The one-screen cinema could seat over 1,500 patrons, with tiered seating reminiscent of a stadium rather than balcony decks.
The Odeon closed its doors in February 1971. The last film to be shown there was a repeat of the Bond flick On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. The building was taken over in 1973 as a Tudor Bingo club and still exists today as a bingo hall.
Leyland’s Palace Cinema on East Street evokes many good memories for its ex-patrons. Owned by the Bell family and originally opened in 1934, the Palace boasted a British Thomson Houston sound system.
Many Leylanders fondly remember owner Victor Bell driving a bright pink convertible Cadillac in the 1950s and repeatedly banging his walking stick on the stage to maintain order!
The Palace could hold up to 367 people and had closed by 1963. It later operated as a bingo club – as was the fashion – before being eventually demolished.
Located on Salisbury Street in Chorley, the Pavilion Cinema began its life as a military warehouse in 1888. In 1909 it became a rollerskating rink before finally being converted into the Pavilion Picture Palace in 1911.
Along with film showings, the cinema hosted various live acts on its stage, including a variety of musical performances. The Pavilion was the first in Chorley to show a talkie with the installation of an Electrochord sound system in 1929, and the first to be fitted with CinemaScope technology in 1954 to allow for the showing of widescreen movies. The cinema had one screen and could hold up to 800 patrons.
Sadly, it wasn’t to last, and closed for business in 1962. After a ten-year stint as a bingo club, the Pavilion reopened as an incredibly short-lived cinema which closed after just five months of operation. The building was demolished and houses built on the land.
Chorley’s Plaza Cinema on Bolton Street opened its doors in March 1937 with Everybody Dance. The building originally held a café and dance lounge in addition to its cinema screen, and in 1941 enjoyed the installation of a Christie organ – which originally served in Piccadilly Circus – to accompany its silent film showings.
In 1962 the cinema was taken over by Star Cinemas, adding two additional screens. The former café area was later converted into a fourth screen to bring the seating capacity up to around 1,300. The cinema hosted various live events on-stage, including several wrestling matches. Its name was changed to Studios 1-2-3-4 to accompany the expansion.
Studios 1-2-3-4 remained open until 1986, when it was converted into a car showroom and later a gym. In 1997 the building’s remaining levels had become the Astley Centre, hosting flats and retail units, until it was demolished in 2012.
A picture-house with a fiery past, Leyland’s ABC Regent Cinema existed at the junction of School Lane from 1932. Not many records of the ABC exist today, but in 1949 a fire broke out in the building, necessitating the employment of a pump and pump escape from the Lancashire County Fire Brigades’ Leyland station. The film showing at the time was No Orchids for Miss Blandish – a very ‘hot’ flick at the time!
The cinema remained open throughout WWII, leaving some young patrons to hide out from the air raids in the relative safety of the theatre. The building later became Leyland’s Woolworths branch before being converted into a Kwik-Save store. ASDA Leyland now exists on the site.
Tucked away in the village of Brinscall, the Regal was nestled away at the junction of School Lane and Railway Road. A former house and shop unit were converted into a cinema building in 1920 by Jimmy Beaver; the houses were gutted and a balcony erected. The entire process took around two years with Jimmy completing most of the work alone, and eventually the Regal Cinema was born.
The picture-house showed movies like Hopalong Cassidy, The Adventures of Robin Hood starring Errol Flynn, and war flick Back to Bataan, attracting young people from far and wide.
The cinema lived through WWII’s air raids and several storms that brought debris flying from the nearby quarry. The old building was susceptible to flooding and was evacuated on more than one occasion.
Brinscall’s Regal Cinema closed down in the 1950s, when it was demolished to make way for a car park.