Bradford - Cinemas of West Bowling

A Cinema History Compiled by Colin Sutton

Quick links to . . .
Birch Lane Cinema
Carlton Cinema
Towers Hall Cinema
Towers Hall Film Studios

Birch Lane Cinema
Birch Lane,
West Bowling, Bradford.

Birch Lane cinema c1915
Quick links to Birch Lane sections on this page . . .


On the eastern side of Birch Lane near to Clough Street. The area comprised densely populated streets of Victorian terraced housing.


The Building
A purpose-built red brick building of plain rectangular construction with pitched slate roof and with its entrance built out at the side facing Birch Lane. The cellar boiler house under the proscenium at the southern end.


The rectangular single-deck auditorium had a barrel-vaulted ceiling and curtained windows on each side wall. Entry was at the side from the small stepped lobby and paybox. The raked auditorium had the screen mounted on the wall at the southern end fronted by a curtained proscenium opening of 18 feet.

Original seating capacity was circa 750 arranged in three blocks with two aisles with the front row being 11ft 6ins from the screen. A recess at the rear of the hall had two small blocks of seat each with four rows and central aisle.


Civic Opening
Albert Crow, the first owner, launched his Birch Lane Cinema on Wednesday 18th November 1914 . . .

Grand Civic Opening at 2.30pm by
Councillor W. Bateson supported by
Councillor Varley, E.F Holdsworth Esq,
and Albert Cowling Esq.
Collection taken at afternoon show.
Evening at 7.00 and 9.00pm.
Prices 9d, 6d, 4d and 2d.
The whole of the proceeds for the Belgian Relief Fund.
Albert Cowling was then the licensee of the Prince of Wales public house in Bowling Hall Lane and was later famed for his Cowling's Wine Lodge pub in city centre Market Street.

Among the films shown were "A Selection of the Latest War Pictures" from the First World War which had started that year.

It is not clear what happened between the opening and December but the Birch first advertised to the public on Tuesday 1st December 1914 with . . .

"Vendetta" - 1914 B/w Silent 5-reels.
from the 1886 novel by Marie Corelli.
Acknowledged by critics to be the greatest film produced this year.
Popular Prices 2d to 9d.
The newspaper reported . . .
"Mr Fred J. Hewett, late of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, has been appointed the manager. He will endeavour to present a series of capital attractions in the way of future films."


New Proprietors
The company listed as West Bowling Cinema Co and by 1920 George F. Longden and R. Longden had taken ownership with George Longden as its resident manager and he was also involved with the Olympic Picture Palace in Manningham.

In the mid-1920s with J.T Wilcock as manager, the proprietor was now Thornton and Kitchen where Tom Thornton was also involved with the Idle Picture Palace and Oak Lane and Oxford cinemas. Leonard Kitchen (as Kitchen & Feather) was operating the Lyceum at Laisterdyke.

After the Second World War in late 1940s the Birch joined Lionel Agar's Ace Cinemas Circuit (including Coventry Hall, the Astra and Elysian).

Finally, Cansfield's Marshfield Cinema Co took control along with their newer Carlton and Cosy cinemas. Lambert Cansfield, a quarry owner, was also quite a cinema entrepreneur and even built a cinema in his own garden which fronted on to the Leeds & Bradford Road at Stanningley - it was the rather grand Savoy.


In 1930 the American RCA Sound system was installed.
Seating capacity reduced in 1945 to 686 and 675 in 1958.


Cansfield's closed their Birch Lane Cinema on Saturday 26th September 1959 with the final film . . .

"Hollywood or Bust" 1956 USA Technicolor 95mins.
Starring Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Anita Ekberg.


Bingo then Pool
Birch Lane cinema After a period of closure, the building was re-opened in 1962 by E.G Douglas as the Silver Birch Bingo Club. E.G Douglas had previously been the licensee and manager of the Western Talkie Theatre (formerly Park Road cinema) in Park Road near Manchester Road until its closure in 1961.

Now as managing director, E.G Douglas provided Bradford with its first Chemin-de-fer facilities at the Silver Birch Club. [For the record, this was followed in December 1962 by the Lyceum Bingo, Cabaret & Social Club and was much wider publicised.]

More recently (2003) the premises were still in use as the Game On pool hall and arcade games centre.


Carlton Cinema
Manchester Road,

Carlton Cinema
Quick links to Carlton sections on this page . . .


On the western side of Manchester Road next to its junction with Ransdale Road. A densely populated area with Victorian terraced housing and mills. Manchester Road was a major tram/trolleybus route.


A purpose-built stone construction of plain rectangular shape with pitched slate roof and running lengthways parallel to Manchester Road. The entrance at the southern corner with canopy and steps to a small foyer, pay-box and stairs to balcony.


The commodious interior with raked floor followed the slope of Manchester Road with stage/screen at the lower northern end. The barrel-vaulted ceiling nd a proscenium opening of 25 feet with curtains and a small stage. The hall had an ornate plaster frieze down each side and decoration around the proscenium.

Built with 1292 seats - 1118 in stalls in three blocks with two aisles and a mid-way cross-over aisle spanning side exit doors. The front row was 18ft 9ins from the screen. The straight-fronted balcony had 174 seats in seven rows arranged in three blocks with two stepped aisles.


The Opening
The proprietors, Marshfield Picture House Company (later Marshfield Cinema Company) with Cecil Barnett also of the Ideal Picture House and Cansfield's of the Cosy at Wibsey and Birch Lane cinema announced in the Bradford Daily Argus . . .

Grand Opening Performance Today
Saturday 23rd September 1922 at 2.30, 6.30 and 8.30pm.
"Sacred & Profane Love" - 1921 USA B/w Silent.
Starring Elsie Ferguson, Thomas Holding and Conrad Nagel.
From the Popular Novel (by Arnold Bennett) and Full Programme.
Fine Orchestral Music - Popular Prices.
The manager was A. Cansfield and those 'popular prices' were from 4d in the front stalls to 1/-d in the circle.

In the floral setting of the orchestra pit, Clement Ambler directed the Carlton Symphony Orchestra where its drummer, Billy Stean, had also played at the Lyceum at Thornbury and Towers Hall lower down Manchester Road. Centre of the orchestra pit was a reed organ played by Clement Ambler - this was one of only three reed organs in the city; the others being at the Regent on Manningham Lane and Saltaire Picture House.


In 1930 the Western Electric sound system had been installed and the orchestra made redundant. It was always two programme changes weekly except for special attractions.


Special Attraction

Monday 20th March 1933
Special Attraction 3 days only
Matinée Wednesday at 2.30pm.
The Superfine Concert Party on the stage.
On the screen . . .
"Burnt Offering" - 1932 USA B/w
Starring Elissa Landi, Paul Lukas and Warner Oland.
Audience support for local cinemas was at its peak during and just after the Second World War. It was two programme changes weekly (except for special attractions) and by 1950 prices were 7d to 1/9d; the seating had been reduced to 1263.


CinemaScope In 1955 the Carlton installed the new wide CinemaScope screen complete with the full 4-track magnetic stereo sound including the ambient (surround) channel - one of only three Bradford cinemas to fit the entire system. Due to the larger screen, the stalls seating was reduced to 1051 and a total of 1245.

The manager, Harry Allerton, boasted that the Carlton was the second cinema (after the Essoldo) in Bradford to install CinemaScope and full stereo sound to meet 20th Century Fox exhibition requirements. Later the Oriental cinema was to install a similar but smaller full system.

From Monday 29th May 1961 for two weeks the Carlton ran the blockbuster . . .

"South Pacific" - 1958 USA Technicolor 150 mins.
Starring Rossano Brazi, Mitzi Gaynor and John Kerr.
The showing was concurrent with other 35mm showings at the Plaza in Cross Lane, Elite in Toller Lane, and Regal at Five Lane Ends. All were charging much higher prices for this attraction, eg. 3/-d to 5/-d. Carlton patrons could enjoy the sensation of the full 4-track magnetic stereo sound system whereas the other cinemas played the film with only a mono optical sound track.


The Carlton closed on Saturday 31st March 1962 with . . .

"Breakfast at Tiffany's" - 1961 USA Technicolor 115mins.
Starring Audrey Hepburn, George Peppard and Mickey Rooney.
Harry Allerton, the manager for the past ten years took pride in the Carlton's reputation for well-behaved audiences. In a newspaper interview he said "We have kept out all the rowdies, we have nipped hooliganism in the bud and those who caused trouble have been refused entrance again". He had earlier been a manager at the former Ideal Picture House at Bankfoot.


During the summer of 1962 the building was demolished during which an Otley man working on the site as a mechanical shovel driver was partially buried by masonry on Wednesday 6th June 1962 when bricks fell about 30 feet, he suffered spine and head injuries. A second man (also from Otley) was also injured.

The site was later developed as a petrol filling station.


Towers Hall Cinema
Manchester Road,

Towers Hall 1911
Quick links to Towers Hall sections on this page . . .


On the eastern side of Manchester Road between Newton Street and Coates Terrace - a busy tram/trolleybus route and surrounded by mills and densely populated Victorian terraced housing.


Pre-Cinema History
The Towers Hall was one of four similar roller skating rinks built in 1909 around the city - others were Coliseum Rink in Toller Lane, American (Rolarena) on Manningham Lane and Hippodrome Rink in Barkerend Road. All became cinemas for some period of their histories.

The Towers Hall takes its name from an earlier Towers Hall - a meeting place of the local Temperance movement and famed for the preachings of one Rev A.C Perriman in the 1890s. The new Towers Hall Skating Rink built by Ezra Hoyle announced in the Bradford Daily Argus . . .

Grand Opening on Easter Monday 5th April 1909.
3 Sessions Daily. Military Band in attendance.
Admission 6d. Skates 6d.
To be up to date, you must roller skate.
Finest skating surface in the city.
The rink was claimed to be "a terrific success" and boasted "Richardson's Light Ball-Bearing Skates". By January 1911 Rink Hockey was played every afternoon. and evening.

The skating novelty faded and the cinema novelty increased so the huge rink was split into two sections and the front part nearest Manchester Road was converted into a picture hall.


Henry Hibbert
In the early days of cinema in Bradford, a big name was that of Henry Hibbert (1862-1924) who was well known for hiss lantern slide lectures and his support of the People's Sobriety Association (PSA), a Temperance movement in Bradford, and encouraged by the stirring preachings of Rev A.C Perriman in the original Towers Hall in the 1890s.

Henry Hibbert and his like-minded business partners had patented a cinematograph camera and projector under the name Ebor. This revolutionary contraption was made in a Bradford (Leeds Road area) cellar and the very first film was of a little girl skipping.

The first public showing was to the Bradford Photographic Society in March 1896 and was hailed as "a wonder of wonders". This was to become the start of Hibbert's Pictures and the Hibbert name became associated with many cinemas across the wider area. Although Hibbert's original headquarters was based in the old Temperance Hall in Chapel Street he did return to this Manchester Road site to create his new Towers Hall cinema.


Towers Hall Cinema
The converted hall now with barrel-vaulted ceiling beneath its wood arched exterior roof. A new single-deck raked floor had been added and a fully fitted stage for variety acts and a fireproof projection room.

Seating for 1078 originally on forms and later in chairs arranged in two blocks with centre and two side aisles. The front row being 14ft 8ins from the screen.


The Opening
Hibbert's Pictures opened the Towers Hall cinema with Joe Bell as its first manager on Monday 25th September 1911.

A small orchestra was in residence to accompany the silent films and included Billy Stean, a drummer who went on to play at the Carlton.

Henry Hibbert, addressing the crowded audience, said . . .

"They (Hibbert's Pictures) had spent as much altering the building as they had given for it and they intended to spare nothing that money could buy in order to provide the best entertainment. They had been refused a dramatic licence, and they could not compel the granting of one, but they would do their best to deserve one."
Films shown at the opening included . . .
"Fight With Fire" - 1911 UK B/w Silent.
Starring Alma Taylor.
"Battle Hymn of the Republic" - 1911 USA B/w Silent
A fine poem of martial interest.
Produced by the Vitagraph Company of America.
Starring Ralph Ince and Maurice Costello.
"The Outlaw Samaritan" - 1911 USA B/w Silent
Starring Gilbert M 'Broncho Billy' Anderson and Arthur Mackley.
"Captain Kate" - 1911 USA B/w Silent
Starring Kathlyn Williams, Charles Clary and Tom Mix.
plus 3 comedy films.
Prices 2d, 4d and 6d. Twice Nightly 7 and 9pm.
The Best Cinematograph Show in Bradford, bar none.
The Bradford Daily Argus reported . . .
"This place of entertainment has leaped into popularity at one bound judging by the large audiences last night.
Taking the general class of picture halls, it must be admitted that Bradford is particularly well favoured, and Towers Hall, the latest of its kind, well upholds the standards of its predecessors. The comfort of the patron has been largely considered and, of course, a capital programme is presented. The house is one of the two shows a night type."
whilst the Bradford Daily Telegraph extolled . . .
"Towers Hall opened most auspiciously last night when, at both first and second performances, vast audiences greeted the pictures that constituted the entertainment. The Patrons expressed themselves delighted with the manner in which the hall had been altered ti suit the purpose of a cinematograph show, and there is no gain saying that the place has been transformed in wonderful manner and is not a most up-to-date and comfortable place of amusement."


Stage Acts
Three weeks later the Towers Hall had got its drama licence and acts were now to appear on its stage in Kine-Variety starting with . . .

"Special Engagement of
The Towers Hall Melody Lady giving
Two screen songs at each performance."
This was later followed by . . .
"Nick Winter & the Phantom Thief" - 1911 France B/w Silent.
(aka: 'Nick Winter and the Somnambulist Thief')
Starring George Vinter as Nick Winter.
Starring on stage was the popular Molle La Burl, the dancing model.
The Towers Hall adopted the slogan "Always Merry and Bright".


Load of Old Bull
A popular manager in the 1920s was F.G Swindon. Around 1926, a man said to be a real live Red Indian Chief was touring around with a new film shown at the Towers. He claimed he was Sitting Bull, the star of the film and he caused much excitement in the area whilst lodging at a house in Skinhouse Street though some were rather sceptical of him.

"Tom and his Pals" - 1926 USA B/w Silent.
Starring Tom Tylor, Doris Hill and Sitting Bull.
The Towers "First Class Orchestra" continued to accompany the silent films.


Refurbishment and Upgrade
Hibbert's Pictures installed the British Talking Pictures (BTP) sound system in 1931 following renovation of the hall and its seating capacity reduced to a more comfortable 996. In 1938 E.W Bentley was its manager.

In 1950 the Towers Hall closed for a day (Sunday) in order to install new British Thompson Houston (BTH) sound and new projection equipment. It re-opened again on Monday 3rd April 1950 with . . .

"Jolson Sings Again" - 1949 USA Technicolor 96mins.
Starring Larry Parks, Barbara Hale and William Demarest.
Later in 1954 a CinemaScope wide screen was fitted but not stereo sound.


Still under the ownership of Hibbert's Pictures, the Towers Hall closed on Saturday 21st Mat 1966 with . . .

"Thunderball" - 1965 UK Technicolor Panavision (aka 'scope) 132mins.
Starring Sean Connery (as James Bond) and Desmond Llewelyn.


Asian Films
The premises were then sublet to the Pakistani Film Society for four years until a fire destroyed the building on Friday 16th October 1970. The building was demolished in 1972 coinciding with the planned reconstruction and widening of Manchester Road as a dual carriageway.



Towers Hall Film Studios
Manchester Road.

The previously mentioned Henry Hibbert, now a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, had a globe-trotting friend Charles John Cutcliffe Hyne (son of Rev C.W.N Hyne, Vicar of Bierley) who was a successful author, most notably of the Captain Kettle adventure books. Hyne formed the Captain Kettle Film Company in the larger part of the former roller rink at the back of the Towers Hall cinema.

After adding a glass roof, the film studios opened in 1914 which was not a good time as the ensuing war was to stifle activity. The studios were fully equipped with arc lighting, property and scenery rooms staffed with electricians and carpenters, film processing and editing facilities and a small cinema for previewing the film "rushes".

Films produced here were screened in Hibbert's cinemas around the city including (rather obviously) the adjoining Towers Hall cinema and the Temperance Hall (also known as the Jowett Hall in Chapel St, Leeds Road) which later became the Civic Playhouse and Film Theatre and more recently renamed Priestley Centre for the Arts then back to Playhouse again.

One of the early films was of a variety act performing next door on the stage of the Towers Hall cinema in 1912 and involving a troupe of young dancing girls where (according to historian Geoff Mellor) one of the girls was thought to have been a 14 year-old Gracie (Stansfield) Fields. If this is correct then this was her screen debut at the Towers Hall.

Following the short lived Captain Kettle project, the Pyramid Film Company moved into the studios behind the cinema and produced much parochial material which was naturally popular with local folk together with a catalogue of feature films (though short in length) for showing throughout the region. The Towers Hall film studios ceased film production in 1916 due to the difficulties of the war.

Despite its fascinating history, the Towers Hall Cinema did not have a monopoly in the West Bowling area for in 1913 competition appeared at the Coventry Hall (a former coffee tavern) and in 1914 the Ideal cinema opened (later to become Bert Shutt's Ideal Ballroom) and, of course the Birch Lane cinema also in 1914 and finally the Carlton in 1922 but the Towers Hall outlived them all.

This has been a small but very important part of cinema and film making history in Bradford which for the most part is little known except to a handful of cinema enthusiasts and historians.


Earlier Publication
An abridged version of this piece of cinema history was published (April 2003) in "Bygone West Bowling" - A West Bowling Local History Publication. 80 pages with writings, memories, newspaper reports and period maps edited by Alan O'day Scott.

Copyright ©2003, Colin Sutton.
May not be copied or reproduced without permission.


Return to Bradford Cinemas History Index Page.

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