Bradford - Thornton Cinema

Thornton Picture House / The Cinema
Mechanics Institute,
Market Street, Thornton,

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In the centre, next to the public baths, of the main street in the old village of Thornton situated high (alt. 816 feet) on the hilly western outskirts of Bradford. Thornton is famed for being the birthplace of the four Brontë children (Emily, Charlotte, Anne and Branwell) before the famous family moved to Haworth. The population in 1950 was 163 (a questionable figure in KYB 1950) and rising to 5,400 in the 1971 census.

The Building
The Mechanics Institute was a solid Yorkshire Stone multi-purpose building which included a Lecture Hall with small balcony and seating 500 persons plus a gymnasium, given by Joseph Craven Esq., and later converted into a library. Various school and adult classes were also held there. Its foundation stone was laid on 2nd July 1870 by Joseph Craven and the Institute building completed in 1871.


Conversion to Cinema
The main Lecture Hall was first licensed "for stage plays and cinematograph shows" in 1912 with an opening on Tuesday 10th December 1912 with a performance on stage of "Return" - a 3-act comedy play by Harry Hinchliffe and performed by the visiting Thornbury Dramatic Society.

Regular film shows were organised and presented by Richard Townson and were well attended. Townson was also the secretary of the Mechanics Institute.

After conversion to full-time cinema as the Picture House, the seating was reduced to circa 270 with a larger screen without tabs. Performances were once nightly. A popular activity of the Institute was the Operatic & Dramatic Society who in October 1922, for example, presented Gilbert & Sullivan's "The Gondoliers" on the stage.

In 1930 the British Acoustic (BA) sound system was installed. Mrs Janet Thornton became proprietress and manager.

The building now had a newspaper reading room and billiard room and through the 1930's and 1940's two rooms upstairs were used by the Thornton Grammar School.


New Owners
Owners (lessees) of the cinema have included Joe Emmott's Dales Cinemas who were also involved with the Clayton/Rialto cinema. Later it was controlled by Tom Thornton (of the duo Tom & Janet Thornton of Idle Cinema Ltd) who also ran the Idle Picture Palace in the north Bradford suburbs.

Tom Thornton changed the name from Thornton Mechanics to The Cinema in 1950 but everybody still called it the 'Thornton' after the village and not the man. Performances were once nightly and two shows on Saturday with prices of 6d to 1/-d. Seating capacity was now listed as 250.

CinemaScope was never installed at Thornton. Indeed, in the mid-1950's it cut back to just one performance each evening at 7.30pm including Saturday.


The Thornton Cinema closed on Saturday 25th January 1958 with the final film . . .

"The Tommy Steele Story" - 1957 USA B/W 70mins.
(aka "Rock Around the World" in USA)
Starring Tommy Steele, Patrick Westwood and Tom Littlewood.
The old Mechanics Institute building was later demolished and a Community Centre built on the site.

Copyright ©2004, Colin Sutton.
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