Saltaire Picture House/Gaumont

Saltaire Picture House/Gaumont
Bingley Road, Saltaire.

Saltaire Picture House

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This building enjoyed a prominent position at the busy junction of Bingley Road and Saltaire Road and opposite the former tram depot. Technically it was not actually in the village of Saltaire but just outside its boundary in Shipley. The Saltaire Picture House Ltd with a capital of 20,000GBP and directors H. Cottam and J. Read (though another source states these to be Cottom, Riley and Illingworth) purchased land to build their new cinema.

The Building
Designed by a local Bradford Architect and City Alderman, William Illingworth FRIBA, FSA, LRLA of Sunbridge Road, who was also responsible for the design of the Prince's Hall in Shipley and his most notable design of the fabulous New Victoria (later Gaumont/Odeon 123) in Bradford city centre.

For Saltaire Illingworth designed an imposing Ashlar stone-built three-storey frontage with square columns supporting a distinctive apex above the projection room. A wrought iron and glass canopy extended the full width of the frontage with a sign proclaiming "Most up to date pictures and best music". The main entrance to the left of the building had a floor and staircase laid with marble terrazzo. The structure was topped by a golden dome, albeit a rather small one atop the central ventilation tower but it could be seen from some distance.

Its splendid interior with 1500 seats was in Renaissance style with a balcony and a large 30 feet diameter circular dome in the roof setting a new trend for suburban cinema design. Several years later Illingworth was to include the Italian Renaissance style and an even larger dome in his design for the New Victoria in Bradford.

This spacious interior had Neo-Greco style fibrous plaster decorative elements and a proscenium arch with Ionic style columns at each side artistically decorated in a pale green with cream and gold. The balcony seating introduced a new standard of luxury and elegance with beautiful mole cushioned tip-up arm chairs to which were attached a patent rubber device to ensure the comfort of the patrons. the first five rows were fitted with comfortable "tub chairs" which was thought to be the first time they had been used in the Provinces. The remainder of the seats in the auditorium were of good roomy upholstered tip-up chairs fitted with springs and special care had been given for "a good margin to be allowed between each row". The auditorium was carpeted in a royal blue and gold Wilton special weave to harmonize with the entire decorative scheme.

Considerable care and attention had been devoted to the heating and ventilation of the new building with "the whole of the air in the spacious hall being changed every two minutes, thus rendering the place very cool in summer and warm in winter". Pre-publicity went on to stress that the whole of the building was fireproof with ample provision of fire appliances and extinguishers along with convenient exits.


Local Contractors
The major part of the construction work had been entrusted to local firms with only the marble mosaic and heating/ventilation work provided by out-of-district specialists:

  • Iron & Steel work - Henry Barrett & Sons, Bradford.
  • Masonry - Harry Pitts, Shipley.
  • Joinery - E. Fearnley & Sons, Bradford.
  • Plumbers - Thomas Hill & Sons, Shipley.
  • Electrical - W.D Wilson, Bradford.
  • Plastering - A.C Marsden, Shipley.
  • Fibrous work - Leeds Fibrous Plaster Co.
  • Decorations - F Holdsworth, Shipley.


Delayed Opening
Originally it was scheduled to open at Whitsuntide 1922 but a surprise announcement appeared in the newspaper as follows:

"The Directors regret that owing to certain formalities
not having been complied with they found it impossible
to open as advertised.
The official opening of the Hall will now take place
on Saturday 17th June, 1922 at 2.30pm with a Matinée
of latest and finest up-to-date pictures and full star programme."

The Saltaire Picture House was known locally "the cinema with the golden dome". Its grand opening on the afternoon of Saturday 17th June 1922 by Lord Mayor of Bradford, Councillor J. Blyth, JP accompanied by Lieutenant-Colonel Anthony Gadie (later Sir Anthony Gadie) and F. Fearnley Rhodes, Chairman of Shipley Urban District Council followed by the film:

"A Virtuous Vamp" - 1919 USA B/W Silent
A novel and original story by Constance Talmadge.
Starring Constance Talmadge, Belle Daube and Jack Kane.
The Directors intend inviting a number of old-aged
people of Shipley to this performance and the rest of
the proceeds will be given to local charities.

Whilst the evening public performance was:

"Our Mutual Friend" - B/W Silent
A superb Nordisk masterpiece shown for the first
time and an all-star Programme.
Together with comedy, interest and travel pictures.
"Come and see the most Magnificent and comfortable
Picture House in the country."
The Grand Orchestra will play under the Direction of
John W. Brayshaw forms a special attraction.
Prices 8d, 1s and 1/6d.

This film continued from the following Monday 19th June 1922 when it was then open to the public.

The proceeds from the opening event were donated to the new Princess Mary's Hospital Wing at Salt's Hospital, a quarter of a mile away in Victoria Road, Saltaire.

For musical accompaniment for those early silent films was a 8-piece orchestra complete with a "full concert grand piano" directed by Sidney Jones and John W. Brayshaw (who previously played the Andrews pipe organ at the Prince's Hall in Shipley) with George France playing a reed organ. The reed organ (as opposed to a pipe organ) was one of only three installed in cinemas in the Bradford/Shipley area - the others being at the Regent in Manningham Lane and the Carlton in Manchester Road. In October 1929 the Saltaire PH advertised "Knight & his Orchestra - Free Motor Park". The following year in 1930 the British Acoustic Sound system was installed and the musicians phased out as more "talkie" films became available.

The manager at the opening was Reginald H. Adams reputed to be in his 70's and the oldest manager in the trade. Four months later on 22nd October 1922 he was replaced by William Edgar ("Ted") Holland who came to Saltaire PH from the Pavilion de Luxe down the road in Shipley. Ted Holland stayed five years before moving on. Later he had the unique distinction of being the manager for Oscar Deutsch of the very first Odeon Cinema at Perry Bar in Birmingham. Harry Heath followed as Manager at Saltaire but he too was to move on in 1929 to Hull's new Cecil theatre/cinema. Later managers of the Saltaire PH/Gaumont include George Hutchinson, Francis N. Botha, Arthur Watson, R.C Cockburn and J.H. Weedall.

Bradford Daily Telegraph adverts for the cinema in 1923 described it as . . .

The Magnificent Saltaire Picture House
Full Orchestra and Effects at every Performance.

In 1930 the British Acoustic (BA) sound system was installed and the first talkie film to be shown here was:

"The Romance of the Rio Grande" - 1929 USA B/W 95mins.
Starring Warner Baxter, Mona Harris and Mary Duncan.

The original owners were Saltaire Picture House (Saltaire) Ltd and later taken over by Denman Picture Houses Ltd, but in 1941 it was absorbed into the Gaumont British Picture Corporation although its name was not changed until after the war in 1945 when it became the Gaumont, but the local folk still tended to call it Saltaire Picture House probably because the huge embossed stone name was an integral part of the frontage design.

CinemaScope was installed in 1955 and the seating capacity reduced to 1400 due to the larger screen.


Sudden Closure
Less than a year after the Rank Organisation had considerably modernized the Saltaire Picture House/Gaumont it closed on Saturday 19th October 1957 with the last film:

"Lust for Life" - 1956 USA Metrocolor Drama 122 mins.
Starring Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn and Pamela Brown.

The owners Circuit Management Association (CMA) said the building would be stripped and sold, but a clause in the lease said it could not be turned back into a cinema. The reason for closure (six months after the closure of the Pavilion de Luxe) was reported to be the high entertainment tax, falling attendances, high overheads and competition from television.

It was the largest of the Shipley cinemas with 1289 seats at its closure. Chief Projectionist W.A. "Bill" Procter (aka "t'Chief") had been at the Saltaire PH/Gaumont for 19 years and moved back to where he started in 1932 at the New Victoria/Gaumont in Bradford.

The premises remained boarded up for another nine years (although a 'Sold' notice had been posted since 1961!) until June 1966 when it was finally demolished and the site cleared to make way for a garage/petrol filling station which, though modernized, still remains.

Copyright ©2003, Colin Sutton.
Not to be copied or reproduced without permission.


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