The first cinemas in Britain were built in 1909 and by 1911 there were 2,000. Eight cinemas were built in Hunslet between 1910 and 1914. The last one to be built was The Strand, in 1931. It also had the largest capacity.
The golden age of cinema going was in the 1940s when British attendances peaked at 1,640 million a year. With the growth of television they fell to 501 million by 1960. Shortly after the end of the Second World War there were four cinemas left in Hunslet. Three of them closed in the 1950s. The last one, The Strand, closed in 1961.
Today there are around 150 million visits a year to British cinemas.
|Alhambra Picture Palace
||94 Low Road
||When it closed, the owners took over Pavilion over the road
|Hunslet Picture Hall
|Leasowe Picture Palace
||2 Leasowe Road
|Parkfield Picture Palace
||60 Jack Lane
||Engineering firm took over
|Pavilion Picture Palace (then the Regal)
||50 Low Road
||Name changed to The Regal in 1930. After closure, car dealer took over.
||12 Branch Church Street
||Also known as the Picturedrome and informally as "Bug 'utch"
|Premier Picture Palace
||37a South Accommodation Road
|Queen's Hall Picture House
||4 Norfolk Street
||122 Jack Lane
||Later Strand Bingo
All images copyright of Leeds Library and Information Services
The Strand, Hunslet's largest, last to be built and last to close in 1961 after 30 years. The final film was "Pure hell of St.Trinians".
(photo 1964 as a bingo hall)
Building of former Parkfield Picture Palace (photo 1963)
Building of former Premier Picture Palace (photo 1958)
Regal cinema (photo 1935)
Table and poster from Leeds Cinemas Remembered (R.E.Preedy, 1980)
"We could get in on Saturday if we took two clean jam jars. It was all hell let loose at the “penny rush”. Most cinemas changed films four times a week. Matinees were on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. There would be a main feature, Pathe News, forthcoming attractions, cartoon, travelogue or short feature."
Carrie Stocks (b.1932)
Ron Wait used to go to the Regal or Strand on a Saturday afternoon in the 1950s. There would be a feature film, two cartoons, and a weekly serial. "Two hours of pure delight"
Image copyright of Leeds Library and Information Services
Penny Hill, opposite St. Mary's Church, was where Hunslet feast was first held. In the early 1800s theatrical shows - plays and melodrama - took place at Penny Hill. In 1903 steam yachts arrived and in 1905 motors were put on gondolas, switchbacks and roundabouts. In 1888 the feast moved to Hunslet Moor and was held there annually for 65 years, in the first week of August. In 1953 the moor was converted into a parkland with flowerbeds, and from 1954 the feast was moved to the car park next to the Parkside ground.
Penny Hill also hosted open air political meetings during the depression following the First World War.
Hunslet feast on Penny Hill in 1850, with the old church that was demolished in 1862.
Tate Wilkinson was an eccentric actor-manager who also managed the Theatre Royal in York and other Yorkshire theatres. Once, at York, he hissed at some slovenly acting and was promptly thrown out of his own theatre.
He had the Hunslet Theatre built in Hunslet Lane in 1771. It staged Shakespeare and comedy. Baine's Directory of Leeds 1817 said that Tate Wilkinson was manager for 32 years:
"In Hunslet Lane is the theatre, the exterior of which is brick, without the least ornament. The interior is neat, and comprises two circles of boxes, with a good gallery" (A new and complete history of the County of York by Thomas Allen, 1851).
It burned down in 1876, and was re-built in 1880, but the new one was not a success.
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My mum used to go to the penny rush at the Regal cinema but if you were flush you went in the two penny seats and you didn't have to queue. I think the price had risen slightly when I used to go see Flash Gordon and The Little Rascals. Sometimes, however, we got in free because on the side of my grandfather's bake house was a poster for the Regal and each time the film changed, we got free tickets. When the old Regal cinema closed the Derbyshire Street Mission acquired all the old prickly red seats and installed them in the hall.
Sheila Gamblin (nee Barrett) was born in Hunslet in 1950 and now lives in York
Audrey Anne King (nee Naylor) describes her memories of Hunslet Feast on Hunslet Moor
Hunslet feast was the highlight of our year. It was so exciting to see the caravans and lorries pulling on to Hunslet big moor - that was the side of the moor that was very mucky and like a cinder track (not far from Cockburn High School). Boys and various schools used it for rugby and football. Strange that there was always some kid who would run around like a town crier to tell us that the gypsies, dogs, horses, donkeys and feast were on their way. I would be so excited I was sometimes sick.
The feast could have hundreds of people passing through, but the strange thing is that you would hardly ever see a lot of the local children, unless you went with friends or neighbours. Mothers would shout or threaten the children to stay near and there was always a lot of children of all ages weeping and wailing being sick from toffee apples and candy floss. Just tired, needing to go home. A panic- stricken mother running around like a frantic hen for her lost child, terrified the gypsies would take them (old wives' myths from many years ago, but the thought was there).
I used to go and watch the men setting up the stalls to roll pennies down. Booths and tents of all colours, shapes and sizes were erected. The most thrilling sights were when the enormous lorries came with the swings, the dive bomber, chair-o–planes, caterpillar, and the tremendously huge swing boats named the Shamrock and Columbia which were swung to a type of piped, tinny organ music. It is hard to believe the joy and fun obtained when going to the feast after it was all set up. I could hear the strains of all the different music being tested, clashing with each other and going on until early hours of the morning. I could hardly sleep knowing I would be visiting the finished wonderful fair on the day it opened.
The gypsies were tough looking men with striped shirts, some with hats or caps, all very brown, very dirty from setting up the machines, with huge rough hands from the manual work. Hordes of children and dogs running around added to the excitement and the women with colourful scarves on their hair and flowery skirts. If you wore sandals your feet would be really filthy, as lorries, many machines and people would churn all the cinders and Hunslet muck up.
Boxing booths were set up. These were fascinating and encouraged men to come in and box for half a crown. Their champs would shadow box outside the tent. Very few got to give more than one or two blows and the men were made to leave the tent at the back of the booth once the bout was over: they did not want to put new contenders off. There was a family of Sullivans that were in the boxing business.
I found it was funny to stand around and listen because there would be some old men, with flat caps puffing cigarettes or a pipe, stating in subdued voices that if they were younger they could take the boxers on and show everybody, with muffled jeers from younger men standing around them, then laughing and saying go on grand-dad have a go. The boxers themselves prancing up and down were so very whitey-pale, some even quite skinny, with faces that definitely were boxers faces, with busted noses and ears , dressed in baggy, not Persil-white vests, and baggy knee length shorts. I noticed that because my mother, although poor, insisted on boiling whites until white enough for neighbours to see them on the washing line, or you would be a bad mother and wife.
Food stalls were set up. Toffee apples were on counters in jars, and candy-floss machines were making pink, sticky clouds on long sticks, a process fascinating to watch. Fish and chips crackling in the dripping-filled, deep pans. Lemonade and orange juice in huge jugs was waiting to be poured. Coconut shies were being set up, with prizes set up in rows at the back. It seemed to be hard to knock a coconut off its perch, so people milling around would mutter that they were glued in or pushed too deep to dislodge. I could hear the strains of the organ-type music from the fair as I lay in bed, still full of excitement and looking forward to going again.
The small boat swings where you had to pull the striped, colourful, woolly end of the rope in a rhythm with your partner; the swings could go very high but there was always the moment when were afraid you'd go over the top. You could do it alone but it was not the same.
In later years there were new rides such as the gigantic dive-bomber: brightly coloured, painted, egg-shaped capsules on each long metal arm. They took up to four people each end of the bomber. These eggs were in two sections and they writhed and twisted all different ways, at the same time, swirling in mid-air. Plenty of screaming on that one.
Then there were the roundabouts with lovely coloured, wooden horses. All had wonderful names: Prince, Black Beauty, and Dandy. There was another roundabout with horses and cars. Even the cars had names; one was called Rose, but the colour was green. Maybe I did not notice, there might have been a flower on the side. The waltzers was a popular ride as they were very powerful and twisted and swirled, dipping up and down while going around and around. Bumper cars were there with their banging crashes as electrical sparks flew overhead, making a smell and crackling noises, with people laughing and screeching. They did not appeal to me!
The feast was laid out so you could enter in several places and walk round so you missed nothing. Of course as kids we took no notice of that as we ducked in between booths and tents, and sidled in at the sides of caravans at the back of the moor up towards the houses. We were hoping to see into the caravans and look at the dogs. When we were seen by the women or men they would play pop with us (sometimes in a foreign language), and tell us to get back into the feast, which we did very quickly: we were frightened of them. Of course I have left out what it was like when it chucked it down in buckets; that is for another day.
Photographers were at the entrance and exits. Some of the men were genuine, others took your money in advance, so no photos. The genuine ones took you on trust that you would be back and collect your almost instant, sticky, sepia picture, holding it up until it dried out.
The last time I was at the feast was 1952 with my fiancé Dennis (he lived at Varley Square). We had our photo taken but it faded so was discarded, to my dismay: the only photo I'd had taken up to then, at 16 and a half. Dennis went onto a rifle range. He won a couple of plaster heads of horses on a horseshoe and gave them to his sister. Then we went on the caterpillar. That was the highlight for young lovers, to kiss as the bright green cover started closing over our heads. That was romantic bliss never to be forgotten.
Not a lot of lads or men won anything, and there was always chuntering about the rifles being fixed so they did not shoot straight. Lads would pick up all the rifles to see how they felt and to look through the sights. There were quite a few different stalls and rifle ranges. so you went to the ones whose prizes you liked best. Poor little goldfish that died shortly after going home, with no instructions for care. Bits of bread and tap water killed them. That made me cry when I saw them dead, belly up. Cheap toys and dolls, plates, vases, glass dishes and ornaments of all descriptions were on view on most of the stalls, rifle ranges and hoopla stalls.
Dancing ladies wiggled about about on small wooden stages in thin, flimsy, highly coloured costumes, and men posed and showed their muscles, inviting you into the shows. As young children we couldn't afford anything other than a toffee apple, candy floss and the cheaper rides such as the chair-o-planes, pull swings and steamboats Shamrock and Columbia.
© Audrey Ann King (nee Naylor)