Bradford - Cinemas of Eccleshill

Researched and written by Colin Sutton.
Copyright Colin Sutton, 1980-2004.

Quick links to other sections on this page . . .


The Early Days
The magic lantern preceded the cinematograph projector and it is recorded that such magic lantern shows were held as early as 1904 in the Eccleshill Congregational Church schoolroom in Victoria Road. The introduction of a magic lantern to the early evening Children's Service attracted large throngs of people including those of other denominations.

These Children's Services and their Lantern Shows continued until 1913 by which time the moving image cinematograph was taking off in Bradford and the Eccleshill Picture Palace had opened from late 1911.

The church did resume lantern shows in 1922 as part of the service where the lanternists included John William Myers, Willie Tait, John G. Walton and Alan Martin Bakes.

The lantern was of the lime burning type. All the equipment including lime and slides (often by Balmforth's of Holmfirth) and their accompanying story script were all supplied by Riley Brothers (Herbert and William) from their lantern slide business in The Colonnade, Westgate and later a small shop in John Street which also sold cine accessories. A narrator read from the script to the story depicted in the slides.


Moving Pictures
Eventually the Eccleshill Congregational Church acquired a silent cine projector to run 35mm film but this venture did not last long as the services ceased and it is not known what happened to the projector.

Moving picture shows were also shown at Eccleshill Carnival in a cricket field where the screen was a white sheet suspended between two scaffold poles and with the audience standing or sitting on the grass. Although the films were shown at dusk they were very dim on screen.

The films, like the earlier lantern slides, were also supplied by Riley Brothers of John Street who described them as "Cinematograph Entertainments". Their 1903 handbill detailed some of the gems available comprising two separate half-hour performances . . .

First Half:
"Battleships Leaving the Harbour"
"The Gordon Bennett Motor Race"
"A Day at Blackpool"
"The Hop Pickers"
Second Half:
"Firemen to the Rescue" - the most thrilling
and realistic film ever published.
"Snowball Encounter" (comedy)
"A Kiss in the Tunnel" (comedy)
"Women's Rights" (comedy)
The cost to hire was "Fifty Shillings, together with (say) Five Shillings expenses".

Since those early pioneering days Eccleshill has been well served by two cinemas although three others, the Idle Picture House in Idle village, the Greengates Cinema on New Line and the Oxford Picture Hall at Undercliffe were all within fairly easy reach.


Eccleshill Picture House
Institute Road,

Eccleshill PH
Links to Eccleshill Picture House sections on this page . . .

Location and Building
The imposing Victorian stone façade of the Mechanics Institute built in 1868 still stands on the north side of Institute Road facing the junction with Stone Hall Road and Stoney Lane and at the Eccleshill tram terminus. The upper floor was a commodious lecture hall with around 700 seats. With the advent of silent movies it became the trend around the country to convert similar halls into picture houses.

The Eccleshill Mechanics Institute was converted by Charles Bottomley into a 359-seater picture hall which he called Eccleshill Picture House.


The Opening
Eccleshill Picture House opened on Monday 2nd October 1911 - around the same time as others were springing up across Bradford. The programme was advertised as . . .

"A First-Class Programme of Pictures with Piano Accompaniment."
The screen was really a white sheet which flapped about in the draught. The blackout was provided by large plywood sheets which had to be put up each evening in the tall semi-circular topped windows. Each blackout board had the message "Please do not whistle, stamp or shout". The seating was upholstered long forms offering a small measure of comfort.


Cecil Wray
In the same year of 1911 one Cecil Wray, who had previously worked with the Riley Brothers, opened premises across the road at 6 Institute Road trading as Wray's Film Agency for hiring out films to other picture halls in the region including the Eccleshill Picture House opposite.

At that time Wray's home was at 27 The Bank, Eccleshill, though in 1912 he moved his business to Leeds and made his home in Chapeltown. He was regarded as one of the film pioneers of the era and a very prominent figure on those early days of the film industry in Bradford through his business connection with other entrepreneurs. Cecil Wray also produced his own Kine-Optiscope - a device which enabled short film strips to be shown using an ordinary magic lantern.


Music and Sound Effects
The piano had been the main source of music in those early days with a Mr Barker being the longest serving pianist. To create sound effects a sheet of galvanized steel was swung gently to make realistic thunder - a trick used in the theatre for many decades.

Eccleshill Picture House handbill of 1st September 1913 had the following programme . . .

"Tiny Tim heals the Breach" - B/W Silent
(no details available)
"Alkali Ike's Mother-in-Law" - 1913 USA B/W Silent
This was the start of a series of Alkali Ike comedy films
written by Gilbert M. "Broncho Billy" Anderson.
Starring Augustus Carney and Margaret Joslin.
"Love and War in Mexico" - 1913 USA B/W Silent
Starring Henry King, Dolly Larkin and Carl von Schiller.
A very fine 2-reel drama.
Regular Prices 2d, 4d and 6d.
Nightly at 7.45. Saturdays 2.30, 6.45 and 9.00pm.


Change of Name

Eccleshill Picture Palace circa 1915 and 2003
A postcard photograph of the Mechanics dated 1915 clearly shows that the hall is now called Eccleshill Picture Palace with admission prices of 2d, 4d and 6d for the film . . .
"The Black Mask" - 1913 USA B/W Silent Western
(also known as "Diamond Cut Diamond" in USA)
Starring Francis Ford, Grace Cunard, Harry Schumm.
During the First World War, a projectionists assistant was Alfred Howarth who at 14 years of age was a 'half-timer' with mornings at school, afternoons in the mill and evenings at the Eccleshill Picture Palace. He was later to buy the Clayton Rialto Picture House and eventually became a director of the Theatre Royal in Bradford.

There are stories that the pianist had to be protected by a wire cage from flying apple cores and orange peel from the audience who were prone to show their displeasure at some of the tunes he played.


Stereoscopic Screen
A unique event occurred in November 1920 when D.B. Proctor's Patent Stereoscopic Screen was installed where you could see . . .

"The Man who Forgot" - 1919 UK B/WSilent
Starring James Knight, Marjorie Villis and Bernard Dudley.
Screened on the only Stereoscopic Sheet in the Country.
Other films promoted on this screen were . . .
"A Lass o' the Looms" - 1919 UK B/W Silent
Starring Stella Muir (the English Mary Pickford)
Henry Victor and Douglas Payne.
The first picture house to adopt the new screen.
"The Gray Horizon" - 1919 USA B/W Silent
Starring Sessue Hayakawa, Tsuru Aoki and Eileen Percy.
The film was advertised as Sessue Hayakawa's "great picture" and he appeared in many films spanning over 50 years. Most notably he played Colonel Saito in Bridge on the River Kwai in 1957.

Advertisements of the time said " with excellent minor items and orchestral selections" suggesting there was a small orchestra for a short period.

The Stereoscopic screen and other experiments with stereoscopy were popular at the time as a means of creating the illusion of pictures in 3-dimensions which for some time had been successfully achieved with still photographs but now with moving pictures.


Mechanical Organ
In 1929 when other cinemas were busy installing small pipe organs (based on the church organ), the Eccleshill Picture Palace was the only one in the city to install the "Orchestrion" - a mechanical organ containing pipes supplemented by a few drums and cymbals sounding more like a brass or military band. The Orchestrion music was run from pinned barrels (like a larger form of music box) and capable of up to 25 minutes of continuous music.


Change of Owner
Later proprietors were Arnold Cinemas with Franklin Crowe as manager around 1923 but in 1926 it was owned and managed by a Mrs Bailey.

A typical 1930 programme advertised . . .

"The Wandering Jew" -
Starring Matheson Lang
"His Greatest Battle" -
Starring Kit Carson
"Why Babies Leave Home" -
Starring Ben Turpin
"4th Naval Series - Submarines"
Plus Screen News.


Local Pianists
Eccleshill's Harry Pinchin played the piano accompaniment for silent films at matinées and often projected the films in the evenings. He recalls that the films were sent on the last tram to a Mr Phillips, a photographer with an office behind Dunn's Hat Shop in Ivegate - this turned out to be William Frederick George Phillips, a local master photographer, whose studio premises were actually in Thorpe Chambers in Hustlergate. He specialised in renting out film to local cinemas. Will Phillips himself later became managing director of his new Regent Picture Theatre on Manningham Lane in 1914.

Other Pianists included Jeanie Cariss, Tom Ditchburn and later a Mr Smith who provided special sound effects such as drums, horns and horse's hooves.


Closure and Conversion
The Eccleshill Picture Palace never ran "talkies" and closed in 1931. The upper floor of the premises were then converted into a dance hall. The lower floor was used for a long time as the local public library until that operation was transferred to the new building in Bolton Road in March 1964.

Ecc Cent

Nowadays the old Mechanics Institute and former cinema is used as the Eccleshill Youth & Community Centre with badminton and dancing on the upper floor and meeting rooms on the lower floor. Its solid Victorian structure is still a prominent landmark of present day "old" Eccleshill.
In 1999 a stone was added on the wall near the right-hand entrance and inscribed "To Commemorate the Centenary of Eccleshill" for in 1899 Eccleshill was incorporated into the expanding City of Bradford.


Palladium / Regal
Norman Lane, Eccleshill,

Former Regal Cinema, Eccleshill
Links Palladium/Regal sections on this page . . .

A prime location on the north side of Norman Lane and only a few yards from the busy Five Lane Ends road junction and adjacent to the Cooperative Society parade of shops. It was here that in July 1928 a local builder, Ralph Dickinson of Park Dene (in Harrogate Road at the corner of Park Road) Eccleshill erected a new purpose-built red brick with stone south facing frontage cinema with pitched slate tiled roof. It took six months - a long time for such a simple design - in construction and fitting out. Ralph Dickinson also built the shops in nearby Highfield Road and many private houses in the immediate area.


The Building
The stone frontage had a shop unit on the right-hand side selling sweets, tobacco and soft drinks. The central arched doorway had two pairs of wood and glass doors with a small central paybox.

The small foyer led directly to two doors to the rear stalls and to the extreme left and right were rather narrow staircases leading up to an equally narrow cross-over corridor with two doors entry to the rear of the circle. The left-hand staircase also had a door leading to another steep staircase to the second floor projection room, rewind and storage rooms.


The long rectangular auditorium with a total seating capacity of 1,000 followed the natural slope of the land with seating in three blocks and a cross-over aisle half-way down spanning side exit doors. The back row had the popular double 'love seats'.

The front splay walls accommodated toilets at each side alongside the side exit doors. The proscenium was fitted out with motorised curtains, batten lights and footlights. The arched ceiling with decorative plaster work supported pendant light fittings for main illumination plus wall lights fitted down each side of the stalls. The straight fronted balcony had seven rows of seats in three blocks with two stepped aisles and the back row with double 'love seats'. Although it boasted 1,000 seats, the Council licensing records show 887 seats in 1932 and 861 in 1940 and 17ft 6ins from front row to screen at opening. Confusingly, KYB records show 900 seats in 1950 and 882 in 1962.


The Opening
Ralph Dickinson, who was also the first manager, opened his cinema as the Palladium on Monday 7th January 1929 at 6.30pm for three days with . . .

"Blood Ship" - 1927 USA B/W Silent 7-reels
Starring Hobart Bosworth, Jacqueline Logan and Richard Arlen.
"Her Summer Hero" - 1928 USA B/W Silent
Starring Hugh Trevor, Harold Goodwin and Duane Thompson.
Thereafter it was continuous performances 6.30 to 10,30pm each weekday evening and three separate performances on Saturdays.

For the remainder of that opening week it was . . .

"The Temple of Shadows" - 1927 France B/W Silent.
Starring Camille Bert, Simone D'A-Lal and Félix D'Aps.
"Cinderella" - 1925 USA B/W Silent.
Starring Walter Lantz.
Prices: Circle 1/2d, Stalls 9d, 6d and 4d.
A four-piece band accompanied the films and included Stanley Anderson on drums - he was the son of the Chief Surgeon at the Bradford Hospital.

The following day the Telegraph & Argus reported . . .

"The new picture house, the Palladium at Five Lane Ends, started on its career very successfully last night. Great interest is evidently taken in the new project and a large 'house' assembled. The pictures evidently gave great satisfaction, and the new cinema should prove a great entertainment asset to the district."


Talkies Arrive
The British Thompson Houston (BTH) sound system was installed in1930 in the projection room at the back of the circle. In addition to the two projectors for continuous unbroken showing of multi-reel films there was also a small lanternslide arc projector, wall-mounted vertical slider dimmers for auditorium and stage lighting and a non-sync turntable..

The Palladium screen was installed on a shallow stage with just sufficient room behind for the W.E horn speaker box. The curtains were illuminated by three-coloured footlights with dissolve fading from one colour to another - quite a luxury for a suburban cinema.

The first sound film to be shown at the Palladium in May 1930 was . . .

"Innocents of Paris" - 1929 USA B/W 69mins.
Starring Maurice Chevalier, Sylvia Beecher and Russell Simpson.


New Owner -New Name
Regal  c1931 Ralph Dickinson became its first proprietor, but in 1931 the cinema was taken over by John Lambert trading as Modern Theatres and he changed the name to Regal though for several decades afterwards the faded Palladium name could be seen painted on the red brick rear outside wall of the building. John Lambert also had interests in the Rialto Leeds and formed Leeds and Bolton Cinemas Ltd. Lambert added a rectangular canopy over the front entrance seen under construction in the photograph.

The handbills for early 1931 said . . .

"Under New Management
Prices 4d, 6d and 9d. 1/- in balcony."
From Monday 5th October 1931 it advertised as . . .
Regal (late Palladium)
Stupendous Attraction
"Whoopee!" - 1930 USA Technicolor 94 mins.
Starring Eddie Cantor, Ethel Shutta and Paul Gregory.
Continuous performance from 6.30pm.
Free car park for patrons.
As the Regal, its seating capacity was reduced to 900 and retained the "double seats" at the back of both the stalls and the Circle balcony; such seats (sometimes nicknamed "love seats") were fast becoming popular with courting couples.

During its heyday after the Second World War it was a very popular cinema, a shop unit to the right of the main entrance provided sweets, soft drinks and cigarettes. In the late fifties a rather odd and shortlived "shop" appeared in the upstairs room above the sweetshop accessible only from the Circle staircase. This enterprise selling records and light refreshments as a sort of café but not very well promoted and did not last very long.

Other owners of the cinema were Regal Eccleshill Ltd, Sidney Segalman, one of four brothers trading as JOGS Cinemas who were also involved with the Greengates Cinema and later Star Cinemas - a northern 120-cinema chain with its HQ in Castleford and later in Leeds who were controlled by the Eckhart family of Harrogate.


Star Refurbishment
From Sunday 12th October 1958 the Regal closed for a complete modernisation now under the control of Star Cinemas.

Externally a new neon sign was erected at the apex of the frontage and the front entrance was completely redesigned with a new paybox and large sales kiosk in the foyer.

In the auditorium a new proscenium was constructed in front of the original and level with the front exit doors. The larger proscenium opening of 35 feet allowed a new wide panoramic screen to be installed with adjustable masking for CinemaScope at 33 feet but just with mono sound. The screen had been treated with stripping to give better acoustics. A new set of curtains were fitted and proscenium lighting. Seating capacity was reduced to 882 as seats were removed from the front stalls due to the large screen.

The new decorations were very colourful with the auditorium wall panels in Siamese pink and mushroom with burgundy lined relief. The arched ceiling was claret colour with Wedgwood blue mouldings and the ceiling ribs in mushroom.

The woodwork was in crimson and the new seats in a dark red. Thick pile carpets down the aisles and in the cross aisles completed the decor. All other areas and facilities were brought up to scratch.


Grand Re-opening
On Monday 27th October 1958 the newly refurbished Regal re-opened with . . .

"The Wind Cannot Read" - 1958 UK Eastmancolor 115mins.
Starring Dirk Bogard, Yoko Tani and John Fraser.
The new Regal proudly advertised . . .
"To mark the occasion of the Grand Re-opening
of the Regal - the Star Circuit's 121st cinema -
a 121-Rocket Display will take place at the
cinema commencing 5.00pm.
A super prize rocket will be launched every minute
- one for each cinema in the Star circuit.
Display by Standard Fireworks.
Regal 'elephant' To boost publicity for the re-opening, an "elephant" (based on the pantomime cow idea with two people inside) had been touring the Eccleshill district with a crowd of children following to advertise the opening film "The Wind Cannot Read" which was set in India.

For some time afterwards adverts proclaimed . . .

"Regal - the new Luxury Cinema of Bradford"
and indeed it was - at a cost of over £10,000. Terry Hyde was the new manager for Star.

The Eccleshill Star Junior Club matinées started on Saturday 1st November 1958 with comedian Ken Dodd with his 'tickling stick' invited to open the first matinée performance before a crowded house.

The Regal was always one of the smarter suburban cinemas of Bradford and never fell into the "local flea pit" category.


After a life of 37 years the Regal closed on Wednesday 23rd November 1966 with the final double bill programme . . .

"Hound of the Baskervilles" - 1959 UK Technicolor 86mins.
Starring Peter Cushing, André Morell and Christopher Lee.
"The Steel Bayonet" - 1957 UK B/W Hammerscope widescreen 85mins.
Starring Leo Genn, Kieron Moore and Michael Medwin.


Projectionist's Memories
Geoff Hewitt, a former projectionist at the Regal recalls that originally Kalee No 8 projectors with BTH arcs were fitted. In 1943 Western Electric sound system installed. By 1948 Western Electric Westar (Century) projectors with Westrex sound system and Strong Electric Corporation arcs installed. The 1950s saw a change to Peerless Magnarc arcs and later BTH Xenon arcs.

With the introduction of CinemaScope, the Regal had Wray Optical Works anamorphic lenses of exceptionally high quality. Under Star's ownership these were removed (to another Star cinema) and replaced with lenses of lower quality.

The projectionist recalls the office on the first floor being turned into a small café - an unsuccessful venture which did not last very long.


Later Uses for Building
Later the building re-opened as the Regal Bingo & Social Club which like the cinema before it served the wider communities of Eccleshill, Bolton, Swain House, Wrose and Thorpe Edge.

Following the bingo around 1988, the Regal underwent an internal transformation when the entire proscenium/stage area was removed and the sloping floor of the Stalls was levelled and a low suspended ceiling fitted. This then became the Regal Snooker Club (Snooker Northern Ltd). The upper part of the building including the former Circle remained unused at that time.

During this time the building was owned for a period by John Foster who also owned the garage and filling station (now Winders Carpets & Beds) next door. Ownership then changed in the late 1980's to Austin Moran and more recently to his son Simon Moran of SJM Properties in Leeds.

In 1998 in a major construction exercise involving the use of a massive crane positioned between the Regal building and Winders Carpet showroom, giant steel girders were inserted through holes in the side wall and anchored on the opposite wall - a rather tricky exercise accomplished with precision. The girders were to support a substantial new floor extending from the front Circle the full length of the building to the internal front wall where once the screen had been. The snooker hall closed for about three weeks during this work.

This new entire upper story together with other first floor rooms and the second floor former projection room were to be leased to Abbey Court Leisure for use as a health and fitness centre with structural alterations to accommodate changing rooms and sauna. However the original curved ceiling of the cinema auditorium with its plaster decoration is still visible though the original colours which once highlighted the decoration have been obliterated by the clinical whitewash effect.

Fitness and Snooker Centre 2008

Later the upstairs leisure business was taken over by Martin Flack of MJF Leisure Ltd trading as Flacks Fitness. The whole area was gutted, refurbished and equipped with latest equipment. In 2009 Flacks took over the ground floor following the closure of the snooker hall. Flacks Fitness website acknowledges the previous Regal Cinema origins of the building.

Copyright ©2004, Colin Sutton.
May not be copied or reproduced without permission.


Return to Bradford Cinemas History Index Page.

Web Page design by Colin Sutton ©2004. (Revised & u/d 19/03/10)