Bradford - The Picture House/Tatler/New Tatler

The Picture House / Tatler / New Tatler
4, Thornton Road,
Town Hall Square,

The Picture House/Tatler
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The Picture House was located at the start of Thornton Road (Bradford's longest road) and a few yards from Town Hall Square which was to the right of the Victorian Town Hall (now City Hall) building and not in front of it as you might expect.

This central position surrounded by shops and offices seemed ideal to its first proprietor John Goodman who converted the stone built 4-storey former warehouse in 1912 into a two-deck cinema to be called The Picture House together with café and a large basement area used a Billiard Hall. The upper floors were leased out to commercial businesses and a clothing factory on the top floor. This prime site was approx. 55 feet wide and 65 feet deep to the rear and accessible via a wide passageway and delivery yard.


Lavish Interior
John Goodman was also its manager and keen to ensure comfort for his patrons; he is quoted as saying "We intend to be a success and the only way for that is to leave no stone unturned to make this the latest and most comfortable house in the city".

The elaborate new frontage at street level with its mahogany and glass doors opened into a miniature court with its marble and mahogany base and richly embellished staircases leading to the first floor café. Here refreshments were available to off-street customers and to cinema patrons particularly of its luxurious balcony.

The carpets in the Grand Café, as it was to be called, were those used on the Royal Yacht 'Medina' in which King George V and Queen Mary had made their voyage to India for the Delhi Durbar in 1911.

From the café to the balcony there were thick Turkish carpets "to deaden the sound of a footfall and Ionic pillars and furnishings in the Adams style". The stalls area with raked floor and wooden proscenium arch with the screen mounted on the back wall.

An electric vacuum plant had been installed in the basement alongside the steam heating system. Goodman based his ventilation system on scientific principles with fans capable of changing the atmosphere in the auditorium ten times per hour.

With due regard to the Cinematograph Act of 1909, the projection machinery were enclosed in a fire-proof operating box. Still with safety in mind, over £400 had been spent on a special stone staircase and eight emergency exits so that the building "can be unloaded in less than 3 minutes even when it is quite full". This was quite an achievement as the original auditorium seated circa 700 people.

The seats were upholstered in the best plush and of the same quality throughout except that the higher priced seats were more commodious than the cheaper ones.


Grand Opening
At last the public could see this magnificent new cinema when The Picture House (sometimes referred to as Town Hall Square Picture House) opened . . .

Grand Opening Night
Monday 23rd December 1912 at 7.30pm.
(Doors open at 6.30pm)
Comfort, Luxury, Refinement
Grand Café - Popular Prices.
Family Lounges to seat seven 10/6d, to seat five 7/6d.
Prices 1/-, 6d and 4d. Bookable in advance.

Included in the programme was the film . . .
"A Heart of Stone" - 1912 B/w Silent.
(original version: "Gnore d'acciaio")
Starring Alda Hesperia, Albert Collo and Ignazio Lupi.

The luxurious lounges had deep pile carpets, ottomans and divans!
Later advertising proclaimed . . .
"The World's Premier Pictures with
elegance, refinement and comfort.
Latest flicker-free apparatus installed."

A small orchestra accompanied the silent films.

The following week on Tuesday 31st December 1912 it advertised . . .

"Tonight, Tonight
Special Musical Items
Old Year Memories and New Year Melodies"
And outside in Town Hall Square the carillon and chimes of the Town Hall clock would ring in the New Year.


Theosophists Meetings
In the early days cinemas did not open on Sundays but in 1918 the Picture House was booked by the Bradford Theosophical Society for special public meetings featuring a national lecturer of great repute. The BTS regular meeting room was far too small for such a prominent speaker.

On Sunday afternoons from 7th to 28th April and again for nine weeks throughout November and December 1918 crowds of up to 700 assembled to hear Miss Clara Margaret Codd (1876-1971), a suffragette and theosophist, whose topics covered Reincarnation, The Hope of the World, The Other side of Death and The Power of Thought.

". . . the Picture House was often filled with audiences thrilled by the inspired messages delivered."


Organ Installed
In November 1920 an organ was installed and The Picture House proudly announced . . .

"The management have augmented their orchestra by installing a Two Manual piped organ, electrically blown and with 15 stops. Built by T.E. Hughes, organ builders of Manningham Lane, Bradford.
Organist: Mr. W.S Wilkinson.
Don't fail to give us a visit this week."
From Monday 22nd November 1920 the organ and orchestra accompanied the film . . .
Sir Hall Caine's Greatest Masterpiece
"Darby & Joan" -1919 UK B/W Silent. In 6 parts.
Starring Derwent Hall Caine, Ivy Close and George Wynne.
Plus a clever Charlie Chaplin film.

Change of Ownership
In the early 1920's The Picture House came under the new ownership of Cinema Forum (Bradford) Ltd with L. Wilkes as general manager. The name Forum was painted in large letters on the front of the building above the first floor windows.

The cinema was never called Forum and continued to be known as The Picture House. However, the café did become known as the Forum Café. Continuous shows daily (no Sunday opening) with programme changes twice weekly. Prices now ranged from 6d to 1/-d and so comparable with its other city centre competitors.

In 1922 it was announced that the Tatler was now "under the new management from November 6th of Misses Thompson and Lord (late of Brown Muff)". In late 1929 the Western Electric Sound system was installed.


New Owner - now Tatler
In 1931 the cinema was in the control of Regal Cinemas (Warrington) Ltd with Leeds born Harry Buxton at the helm. Buxton changed the name to Tatler Picture House offering continuous performances at prices of 4d to 1/6d. The popular first floor café remained operational. The Telegraph & Argus advertised . . .

Grand Re-opening today Monday 2nd November 1931
by Miss Dodo Watts
(by kind permission of British International Pictures)
Supported by the Rev S.B. Swift, "The Showman Parson".
Stupendous attraction - all week.
"New Moon" - 1930 USA B/w.
Starring Grace Moore, Lawrence Tibbett and Adolphe Menjou.
Continuous from 12 noon to 10.30pm daily.
Evening prices 6d and 1/-d.
Western Electric Sound System.
"Best house for Sound and Comfort
Western Electric Super Set."

On Tuesday 22nd March 1932 Buxton proudly advertised . . .

Continuous 1.00 to 10-30pm daily.
Matineés 4d and 6d
after 4.00pm 6d, 9d and 1/-d
The Tatler is acknowledged by the Public to be the best for Perfect Sound and Reproduction. Also every Patron is treated with Courtesy and Civility. Remember, no matter where you sit you hear every word and no distortion. The little cinema with the big reputation.


Refurbishment - now New Tatler
From the late summer of 1935 and for several week thereafter, Harry Buxton instigated a major refurbishment to be carried out with minimal disruption to performances.

The horseshoe balcony was extended and the auditorium internal roof lifted. The wooden proscenium was now quoted as being 25 feet wide - quite large for the relatively compact size of hall. New ventilating shafts had been fitted. After such major work the cinema was reseated, recarpeted and redecorated throughout. Accommodation was now reduced to 650 for comfort. An updated Western Electric sound set was installed.

From Monday 30th September 1935 and now well into the 'talkie' era, it advertised as . . .

"The Tatler Super Cinema
Come along and choose your favourite seat."

But, a few days later, on the 2nd October it was now calling itself simply New Tatler - this name was to stay for the remaining years. By the end of October 1935 the refurbishment was complete. The Hughes organ was still in place though nothing is known of its usage (if any) after talkies arrived.


Steady Decline
As new an ultra-modern city centre cinemas were built and opened, eg. the New Victoria in 1930, Odeon in 1938 and Ritz in 1939 it was inevitable that the New Tatler would become a second rate house. It did try to bounce back in 1939 when the new and ultra-modern Ritz opened by claiming . . .

"The New Tatler is STILL the cosiest cinema in Bradford with bargain matinées 4d and 6d."
Attendances were good throughout the war (1939-45) period.


Fire Disaster and Closure
On the evening of Wednesday 12th December 1945 and only 10 minutes after the last performance had finished at 9.25pm, passers-by gathered in Thornton Road as smoke was seen pouring from the building. It took the National Fire Service (NFS) until 11.00pm to extinguish the blaze.

The following morning, the entrance foyer looked little worse but the auditorium was full of wreckage as firemen and staff cleared away fire damage by torchlight. Whilst many of the rear seats were undamaged, the front area, proscenium/stage, screen and the Hughes pipe organ were completely destroyed.

It was believed the fire started near the screen where the worst destruction was caused. Water percolated into the Billiard Saloon in the basement. The top floors of the 4-storey building were used by raincoat manufacturers Wright & Peel (Leeford) Ltd suffered smoke damage and firemen had to wear breathing apparatus.

Harry Buxton estimated the damage at "a few thousands (of Pounds)" and did not know when the cinema might reopen due to building difficulties - "Three months or six, if we're lucky" he said.

The last films shown before the fire were . . .

"Captain Blood" - 1935 USA B/W 119 mins.
Starring Errol Flynn, Olivier de Haviland and Basil Rathbone.
"A Night of Adventure" - 1944 USA B/W 65 mins.
Starring Tom Conway, Audrey Long and Edward Brophy.


After the Fire
The premises remained locked up and appeared from the front to be unused. The now stripped and empty auditorium was used for storage with access from a yard at the right hand side and rear.

Another disaster was to hit the building on the morning of Friday 29th September 1946 when, following heavy storms and 2 inches of rain in 30 minutes, the Bradford Beck which runs under Thornton Road outside the New Tatler building burst and overflowed into the streets flooding the city centre with the waters rushing right through the former cinema. The following day with all exit doors wide open the drying up operation began but the stored wool/textiles now outside in the yard were ruined.

The Billiard Saloon in the basement was totally flooded. Likewise the nearby New Victoria and Ritz cinemas were also to suffer damage in the same floods.

Harry Buxton whose company controlled the New Tatler later bought the Assembly Rooms in Leeds and restyled it into the Plaza. He established a very successful cinema circuit in Lancashire and particularly in Manchester where he was the first to bring Cinerama to the provinces. Had he still retained a connection in Bradford then our local cinema scene may well have been very different.


Afterlife and Demolition
The former New Tatler premises were later adapted for retail use with Walden's Bed Centre occupying a major part together with Erricks Photo and hi-fi shop. The whole site was demolished in the 1960's as part of the large scale redevelopment of Bradford city centre.

Copyright ©1980 and 2004, Colin Sutton.
May not be copied or reproduced without permission.


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