Bradford - Regent / Essoldo Cinema

Regent / Essoldo Cinema
Manningham Lane,

Essoldo, Bradford, c1951.
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A purpose-built brick building to the design of local architect H.W Rogerson MSA of Cheapside. Work commenced early in 1914 to build this theatre/cinema sandwiched between older shop and office properties. Located on the (even then) busy west side of Manningham Lane between Fountain Street and Drewton Street; the latter both lined with terraced houses.


Enter Will Phillips
William Frederick George Phillips (1870-1940) a master photographer with a business in Bradford for providing a film hire and transport service to picture houses which were opening up across the city. His enterprise was the Imperial Animated Film Company with premises in Thorpe Chambers, Hustlergate in the city centre. Phillips had seized this business opportunity after Cecil Wray's Film Service of Eccleshill had moved its operations to Leeds.

Will Phillips had another motive for setting up this business as he was also managing director and prime mover of the company behind the new Regent project and the importance of Phillips and his Imperial Film Company will be seen later in the Regent's history. It was 1st September 1913 that the new company was registered as Regent Picture House (Bradford) Ltd with £20,000 in £1 shares.


Building Exterior
Regent, 1914 The frontage facing east on Manningham Lane was described as "a handsome elevation in the French Classic style" with white terracotta and a central section with four part-fluted decorated pillars supporting a Greek Ionic capital and architrave and central cyma with the whole topped by an octagonal tower and similarly octagon faced dome with flagpole.

Either side of the central section, the white terracotta frontage continued over shop units and upwards two floors to an ornate balustrade at roof level. The first and second floor windows each carried additional ornate decoration.

The central entrance was a large highly ornate rectangular structure into which a half-moon entrance led up five white marble steps to the central paybox with heavy oak and glass double doors either side.


Ornate Interior
Inside the entrance, the white marble steps continued upwards to a wide and grand lofty foyer with thick Wilton carpet and a central ornate fireplace and double doors either side to the stalls area. At each end of the foyer white marble staircases leading to a similar sized circle foyer with stepped entrances into the rear circle.

The stepped balcony (circle) with parquette floor and carpeted aisles offered perfect sight lines to the stage and screen. (However, this balcony was supported by two round pillars which interrupted sight lines in the rear stalls.) The Winter Garden on the balcony floor included a Tea Room, Gentlemen's Smoke Room, writing and retiring rooms and cloak rooms. A feature was its artistic decoration with wooden trellis work, flowers, climbing vines and handsome electroliers (pendant light fittings) and all with hot water heating radiators - all quite a luxury for 1914.

The rectangular projection room at 15 feet wide and 10 feet deep was built out into the circle foyer. The projection room was split into two levels with rewind and storage rooms at circle foyer level and projection room above. Equipment consisted of two projectors and later the RCA sound system.


The Auditorium
Regent Interior 1914 A long rectangular hall approximately 60 feet wide and 110 feet long with a vaulted ceiling in two levels and a curved fronted balcony. The side walls relieved with ornate pilasters and decorative panels.

The stalls had a raked (sloping) floor with seating in both stalls and circle in three blocks across the width with two aisles and a cross-over aisle spanning two side exit doors. Seating capacity was 1377. The seating throughout was upholstered in dark blue velvet and matching Wilton carpet to contrast with the decorations of white and gold.

The Regent was equipped from the start with a stage 35 feet wide and 30 feet deep and two dressing rooms and orchestra pit. The rectangular proscenium with an opening 30 feet wide was topped by splendid plaster figures in a 'coat of arms' style design.


Civic Opening
The First World War had started in August 1914 and was escalating but Will Phillips invited the Lord Mayor of Bradford, Alderman John Arnold JP supported by Sir William E.B Priestley MP, to open his Regent Picture Theatre on Wednesday 30 September 1914 at 5.00pm followed in the evening at 7.30 by . . .

"A Grand Patriotic Concert"
in aid of the Lord Mayor's Relief Fund and the Belgian Relief Fund
under the distinguished patronage of
The Lord Mayor, Alderman John Arnold JP, and Lady Mayoress
Sir William E.B. Priestley, MP
Sir Arthur and Lady Godwin
J. James Oddy, Esq
Henry E. Gerhartz (Belgian Consul)
Concert Programme included . . .
The Bradford Musical Union
(40 members conducted by Henry Coates)
The Yorkshire Military Band
(conducted by J. Weston Nicholl)
Master F.D Power - Xylophone solo
Bradford Bohemian Dramatic Club
Lewis Booth at the Piano
Admission 6d, 1/- and 2/-.
The Café and Winter Garden may be visited
independently of the theatre.
The Lord Mayor said ". . . another evidence of Bradford enterprise . . . there would be general agreement that in respect of originality of design, splendour of decorative work and variety of comforts afforded, the Regent quite surpassed even what the city already boasted. Such buildings as that had quite transformed the appearance of the city's beauty would be quickened by such novel architecture".

Sir William Priestley spoke of the War and he "trusted that when better times came that place (the Regent) would continue to be a real home of culture". Captain Burton moved the vote of thanks.

W.E Stevens, the manager of the new cinema had received congratulatory telegrams from the directors, staff and orchestra of the London Hippodrome from which he came to take charge of the new Regent.

Regent 1914

The first film shown to the public on Friday 2nd October 1914 . . .

The Sensation of the Picture World
"The Opera Singers Triumph" - Italy B/W Silent
(aka "La rivincita")
Exclusive to the Regent.
Grand Circle 1s. Stalls 6d.
An orchestra provides musical accompaniment.
The following week Monday 5th October 1914 the public could see . . .
Special and Exceptional Programme
"Lily of the Valley" - 1914 USA B/W Silent
Starring Edward Kimball, Kate Price and Grace Stevens.
An exclusive dramatic production
and from Thursday 8th October 1914 it was . . .
"Isle of Abandoned Hope" - 1914 USA B/W Silent
Starring William Clifford, Marie Walcamp and Val Paul.


Local News Films
Will Phillips had the ingenious idea of creating a glass-roofed studio at the top of his Imperial Animated Film Company offices in Hustlergate. Here he produced and processed short films. In 1920 he produced a series of "The Bradford Weekly News" - local newsreels of events, weddings, sports etc. Naturally these newsreels were shown here at his Regent Picture Theatre along with the other 'shorts' which Phillips had shot locally.


1920's Dances
Also in the 1920's ballroom dancing was tried in the Regent Café to the strict tempo music of saxophonist Dan Downey and the Café Orchestra. Surprisingly it did not gather sufficient support and so abandoned in favour of serving afternoon teas again.


Royal Visit
The enterprising Will Phillips secured a royal visit to his aptly named Regent in 1920. The Duke of York (this was before he married Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon and later becoming King George VI) had opened a Naval Exhibition at the Belle Vue Barracks about half a mile away along Manningham Lane. Afterwards the Duke and his party were driven to the Regent for a Gala Show advertised as . . .

Monday 29th November 1920 at 2.45pm.
A Matinée performance under the Royal Patronage
of HRH Duke of York.
Artists performing on stage were . . .
Nellie Judson - soprano, Margaret Allison - contralto,
Percy Allatt - tenor and Harry Horner - bass.
The Merry Arcadians directed by Ernest Binns
D'Albert, boy ventriloquist
Harry Sanctuary's 'Ensemble Party' & Charles Stott at the piano.
The Regent Grand Orchestra, Musical Director Whitby Norton.
Tickets for this special matinée were 2/6d, 5/- in the stalls and 10/6d in the royal balcony with proceeds donated to Naval charities. Whitby Norton's 8-piece Grand Orchestra played regularly at the Regent with Norton leading on violin; they were also available for concerts, receptions and dances. (Norton was also in charge of the Bradford Symphony Orchestra before being disbanded in 1925.)

Following the Matinée, the Duke of York along with civic dignitaries and Phillips' fellow directors (including Robert Richardson of West Bradford Picture Theatres) retired to the Regent Café for afternoon tea and speeches during which Will Phillips presented the Duke with two glass lantern slides taken some years earlier showing the Duke as a Midshipman. In the evening the Duke and his entourage then visited the Alhambra Theatre.


Change to Theatre
The Regent continued showing films with occasional stage shows. Will Phillips made the Regent available to a Miss Lena Ashwell for her 'Bradford Industrial Theatre' in 1925 but this was not popular. During her short tenancy it was known as the Regent Theatre. A new canopy had been built outside the front entrance. Meanwhile, W.F.G Phillips Imperial Animated Film Company had come to an end in 1926 as a result of the General Strike.


New Owners
Following the failure of the 'Bradford Industrial Theatre' idea, the Regent closed for a week from 2nd March 1925 for renovation and reopened as the New Regent on Monday 9th March 1925 "Under Entirely New Management" with the spectacle . . .

"Coinciding with monthly faith-healing services at a Bradford church . . .
"The Miracle of Lourdes" - 1925 France B/W Silent.
First time pilgrimage has been filmed thanks to the authorisation of the Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes.
The first public presentation in Yorkshire.
Orchestral and Vocal setting.
Admission 1/3d, 1/-d and 6d.
 ABC Advert A new name had come to Bradford from Huddersfield in 1925 - a former tailor, Mark Freedman, who on taking over the Regent reinstated films only and he later leased the cinema to Regent Circuit Ltd part of the growing national ABC Circuit (and incorporating the Savoy Cinemas circuit).
In 1929 the RCA Sound System was installed and the films shown at the Regent were run in conjunction with the ABC controlled Savoy in Darley Street. Resident manager was now J.H.Royston. By the mid-1930s it called itself Regent Theatre in KYB records.

By December 1938 the Regent had another new owner in the form of Manchester based Emery Cinema Circuit Ltd and was advertised as being "An Emery Theatre" which meant very little to local people. Meanwhile the cinema had steadily gone downhill and become second rate by comparison with other and newer city centre cinemas. During a three week closure Emery redecorated the cinema and boasted the installation Western Electric's Mirrophonic Sound System - more details on the Mirrophonic system can be found on the Empire cinema page where it had been installed the previous year. Seating capacity was now listed as 1384 in KYB.

J.F. Emery hailed from Salford where he started his cinema business in 1919. He was a councillor, alderman and in 1932-33 Mayor of Salford and became MP for Salford West. By 1950 his Emery Circuit comprised over 30 cinemas scattered across the country.

Emery re-opened the Regent on Monday 26th December 1938 with . . .

A Grand Re-opening Attraction
"Were Going to be Rich" - 1938 USA B/W 78 mins.
Starring Gracie Fields, Victor McLaglen Jnr. and Brian Donlevy
"One Wild Night" - 1938 USA B/W 72 mins.
Starring June Lang, Lyle Talbot and Dick Baldwin.
Popular Prices 6d, 9d, 1/- and 1/6d.


Essoldo to the Rescue
Essoldo logo In August 1947 the Regent had been taken over by Sol Sheckman's expanding Essoldo Circuit based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and the cinema renamed to Essoldo in December 1949.

Essoldo added a huge vertical illuminated fin-like name sign above the canopy and rising to the top of the building and completely out of character with everything else around.

By this time it was looking rather seedy and neglected with an auditorium smelling of Jeyes Fluid sprayed regularly "For Your Comfort" said the screen advert. At some point (date unknown) the octagonal tower, dome and flagpole had been removed.


Refurbishment and CinemaScope
CinemaScope At last in 1954 the cinema closed for extensive renovation in which Sheckman's Essoldo company invested heavily by completely redecorating, reseating and recarpeting with a warm red theme and much more. New lighting included a huge chandelier (like an inverted 3-tier wedding cake) suspended centrally above the front stalls.

Essoldo 1954

The most significant alteration was the installation of CinemaScope with full stereophonic sound, ie. 3 channels (left, centre, right) from the screen plus an 'ambient' channel with speakers around the auditorium to the required specification of 20th Century Fox the film producers. The Essoldo was the third city centre cinema (after the Gaumont and Odeon) to install CinemaScope but the only one to have the full ambient surround stereo system. The ageing Simplex projectors and Peerless arc were now fitted with costly anamorphic lenses and magnetic sound heads.

The new screen was built out in front of the proscenium opening and was fronted by a festoon curtain which rose and fell across the wide screen. The new screen with its motorized masking was used to good and professional effect for when the curtain rose on CinemaScope films during their famous 20th Century Fox Fanfare (by Alfred Newman) intro, the side masking would slowly open to its full width thus enhancing the visual experience of this new widescreen wonder - a tidy bit of good showmanship.

The luxurious new Essoldo reopened on Monday 7th June 1954 with . . .

"Flight of the White Heron" - 1954 USA Eastmancolor 96mins.
with Leslie Mitchell as the narrator.
The full story of the Queen's Royal Tour 50,000 Royal miles in
CinemaScope with 4-track magnetic Stereo sound.
Within days of the film opening, the Bradford Secondary Education Sub-Committee turned down a suggestion that schoolchildren might see the film of the Queen's tour in school time. The manager had made an offer that arrangements could be made to show the film on mornings during its second week. The Committee replied "it is not prepared to make arrangements for pupils to attend in school hours" - not a popular decision!

Many 20th Century Fox CinemaScope spectaculars were to follow, some for extended runs as long queues regularly formed outside the cinema - a sight not seen since its early Regent days.

Sales Ad.

In August 1957 the police investigated the Great Cigarette Robbery at the Essoldo. A thief had scaled the 7-feet high wall in an exit alleyway in Fountain Street to steel 10,000 cigarettes. The cinema manager, Arnold Fletcher, said "the safe had been moved but no attempt had been made to open it". (Source: T&A 11 Aug 1957.)


Provincial Premier
To have a premier showing was always good for publicity and one such was . . .

At this Theatre, Thursday 5th March 1959 at 11.00pm
Provincial Premier Performance
(in aid of Donisthorpe Hall)
Under the Patronage of the Lord Mayor & Lady Mayoress
(Alderman Norbert W. Durrant & Mrs Durrant)
By Kind Permission of Sol Sheckman Esq.
"Rally Round The Flag, Boys" - 1958 USA Color de Luxe 106 mins.
Starring Joan Collins, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward.
CinemaScope and full Stereophonic Sound
(By arrangement with Twentieth Century Fox Films Ltd.)
Circle 20/-, 30/-. Stalls 2/6d, 5/-.
Late buses to all parts at 1.00pm.


Origin of the 'Essoldo' Name
Solomon (aka 'Sol' or 'Solly') Sheckman, a former boxing promoter at the Tudor Hippodrome in Blyth, started his cinema circuit in 1930 as SS Blyth Kinemas later known as Sheckman Circuit and in 1939 included North East Coast Cinemas Ltd.

During the Second World War (1939-45) Sheckman proclaimed "great faith in the future of the cinema" and bought up cheaply cinemas scattered all over the country and formed Essoldo Circuit (Control) Ltd with Sol Sheckman as Chairman operating from offices in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The southern counties part of the business was controlled by his brother Capt. Mark Sheckman from London offices. Mark Sheckman took control after Sol Scheckman's death in the late1960's.

The Essoldo Circuit was very much a family concern and the name Essoldo is made up from the first names of Esther (his wife), Soloman and Dorothy (his daughter). Quite simple really but it has puzzled a lot of people for many years.


The End
The Essoldo closed on Saturday 30th October 1965 with the final films . . .

"Duel at Rio Bravo" - 1965 Spain Technicolor
Starring Guy Madison, Fernando Sancho and Madeline LeBeau.
"Monster from an Unknown World" - 1961 Italy Eastmancolor 100min
Starring Gordon Mitchell, Chelo Alonso and Vira Silenti.


A Later Life
The building was later reopened as the Lucky Seven Bingo Club and Casino offering Roulette and Blackjack for a short period.

From 1968 it reopened as an Asian cinema run by the Pakistan National Film Club and Munir Ahmed Khan and was a hit with the Asian community by showing their favourite films plus Indian, Hong Kong and Western epics as well.
Mahfuz Khan recalled in 2005 . . .

"My late father, Munir Ahmed Khan, was the last person to run the (former) Essoldo.
The Pakistan Film Club was the main aspect when it was reopened but I do remeber finding many western films in the basement too including my father's favourite 'Ben Hur'. It was a hit with Asians who like to see their favourite films over and over again. They also showed Indian films and, I believe, some of the Bruce Lee's Hong Kong productions too. The Asian community like Hong Kong film as well as western epics, so it was more than just an Asian cinema. The majority of customers were Asian but not all the films were."


Fire Disaster
Early on the morning of Wednesday 25th February 1976 a huge fire gutted the upper floors causing around £50,000 of damage. It was said to be Bradford's biggest cinema fire which caused a blockage of Manningham Lane in the morning rush hour. The blaze was believed to have started in the first floor foyer and spread quickly through offices, projection suite and the area previously occupied by the Café and Winter Garden and part of the rear circle.

The fire brigade prevented the blaze from reaching most of the auditorium but too much of the building had been wrecked. Eventually the building and the surrounding shops were demolished. The new Drewton Road dual carriageway now runs across part of the site.

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