The Regal Cinema in 1964. The central and right hand first floor windows were the projection room. The iron ladder under the top right window was the fire escape from the projection room. The stairs to the balcony were behind the left hand windows and there was a small box office behind the win- dow to the right of the doors.

Step back into Corsham’s cinematic past

The Regal Cinema in 1964. The central and right hand first floor windows were the projection room. The iron ladder under the top right window was the fire escape from the projection room. The stairs to the balcony were behind the left hand windows and there was a small box office behind the win- dow to the right of the doors.

The Regal Cinema in 1964. The central and right hand first floor windows were the projection room. The iron ladder under the top right window was the fire escape from the projection room. The stairs to the balcony were behind the left hand windows and there was a small box office behind the win- dow to the right of the doors.

In 1929 a fairground operator named H. Andrews had plans drawn up for a cinema in Pickwick Road, at the junction of what is now Newlands Road, by a Trowbridge architect.

Plans for the Picture House show a hall of a basic design, with open roof trusses. A central entrance, with steps up from the street, opened into a small foyer. Doors opposite led directly into the stalls where there was a shallow dress stage, 20 feet wide, with an exit door ether side. The Gents toilet was outside, behind the right hand side of the building, next to a small boiler house. On the right of the foyer was the Ladies toilet and a tiny pay box and to the left a staircase led up to a shallow balcony, with room for just two or three rows of seats. Access to the projection room was up a further four stairs. The fire escape from the projection room was via a window and vertical iron ladder.

The Picture House opened on Monday 13th October 1930 to a capacity audience of around 350 people. The films shown are not recorded, but former projectionist Joe James recalls it being “King Of Jazz”, a 1930 musical review staring, among others, Bebe Daniels and Bing Crosby. The cinema was described as having ‘ tip-up plush covered chairs throughout’. The building measured 60 x 25 feet and cost approximately £1,500 to build. The frontage of the cinema was of Bath stone, with the rest of the building being brick. Local firm Osborne and Sons was chosen to build the cinema. Projection equipment consisted of Leeds-made Kalee 7 projectors, a British Acoustic sound system and a mercury arc rectifier. The rectifier consisted of a large glass bulb with tubes (nicknamed ‘the octopus’) filled with mercury. This would glow an eerie blue green colour when an electrical charge was introduced. Mr Andrews’ sons helped with the day-to- day running of the cinema.

Films were advertised locally on bill boards and in flyers; the first press adverts for the cinema didn’t appear until 1963.

July 1935 programme

July 1935 programme

In 1935 Mr A. J. Stratford took over the cinema and changed the name to Regal. Seating capacity is given in the 1935 Kine Year book as 270, with a Morrison sound system fitted. This lasted ten years before a BTH system was installed.

The Regal had a rival in the Hawthorn Cinema between 1946 and 1960. This was located to the West of Corsham in Westwells Road, Hawthorn, where there was an Army camp. The Hawthorn Cinema seated 525, was fitted with RCA sound, a 40 foot proscenium and had a café attached. Shows were once nightly and changed weekly.

Business was outgrowing the Regal and Mr Stratford was looking to expand. In 1942, he had plans drawn up for a grand Art Deco cinema at the end of the road opposite the Regal by local architect Walter Currie. The cinema was to seat 588 on a sloped floor, with a stepped raised ‘balcony’ section at the rear over the foyer and was to be situated at the end of a new development of houses in The Tynings. Planning permission was not forthcoming though, the council stating lack of access to the cinema. A few years later, the site became the entrance to The Corsham School.

In 1951 further plans for a replacement cinema for the Regal Cinema Co. were put forward on a site at the end of the Golden Path, behind the houses at the southern end of the recreation field. Again, this was turned down. The site itself was deemed large enough for a cinema and car park, but access to the site, via Post Office Lane, was limited and considered totally inadequate. The site is roughly where the current Royal British Legion club is on Newlands Road.

By 1956 Mrs D. E. Tilley, Director and daughter of Mr Stratford, had taken over the day-to-day running of the cinema. The cinema was starting to show its age and the licensing authority insisted that some upgrades were made to bring the building up to the current regulations. These included making a lobby between the balcony staircase and the projection room, making the stage drapes flame retardant, no smoking signage in the projection room and the fitting of a telephone line so that the fire brigade could be called in the event of an fire. Previously, the cinema had to use Mrs Tilley’s home phone line, which was in The Tynings opposite the cinema.

Projection room, 1969

Projection room, 1969

On the 3rd August 1958 Mr Norman Jefferies, who had been the cinema’s projectionist at the time, took over the cinema’s licence with his partner, June. He also ran the Regal Electric Co. and used his skills to improve the building. The stage was altered to accommodate a CinemaScope screen in 1960, a new false ceiling to retain heat in the auditorium in 1962 and proposals to build new modern toilets under the balcony in the rear stalls in 1965. Norman and June were married in Bristol on 13th February 1960, rushing off after the service to open the cinema for the evening performance.

In 1965, the fire officer had cause to write to Mr Jefferies concerning the lights in the exit way at the rear of the building, which had been found not working on several occasions. Despite a new heating system in 1965 and the other improvements that had been made since taking over the licence, Norman Jefferies closed the Regal in 1966, saying the cinema was outdated and inadequate. The closing film, “Von Ryans Express” staring Frank Sinatra and Trevor Howard, played on Thursday, Friday and Saturday the 7/8/9th April at 8:30pm supported by “Days Of Thrills And Laughter” at 7pm.

Mr Jefferies set about drawing up plans for a twin cinema, utilising the original building and an extension to house the second screen at the rear and new foyer to the left of the building, to bring a National Theatre class of programming to Corsham. Work was held up whilst terms were agreed for the purchase of some of the land to the right of the building by the local council for a new junction and road (Newlands Road). Norman and June did much of the building work themselves, with specialised jobs being contracted out to local firms.

The re-born Corsham Film Theatre opened on 19th June 1969 with a week of films shown as a fringe venue of the Bath Festival. Films included

Corsham Film Theatre opening, 1969

Corsham Film Theatre opening, 1969

“Le Bonheur”, “The Nutcracker” and “The Sound Of Music”. Initially, just the 180-seat main screen was used. A new entrance and foyer extended down the left hand side of the building, patrons now entering the auditorium at the stage end. The stalls’ floor rake was increased to take it up to the balcony level, making the cinema a single level stadium type. A bigger screen was put in with red tabs and matching red curtaining surrounding. The original Regal seats were recovered and set out in alternating rows of green and red. An extension was built to the rear of the building to house a new projection room and second screen, but this remained undeveloped.

Corsham Film Theatre

Corsham Film Theatre

Norman and June purchased an old church hall in the centre of Bath in 1971 and set about turning this into a twin cinema. The Corsham Film Theatre was closed on Thursday 8th June 1976, showing “Mr Superinvisable” supported by “War Of The Planets”, whilst work was finished on the Bath Cinema. It was the intention to reopen later in July after the Gemini in Bath was up and running. As the new cinema took off, Norman Jefferies stated that the Corsham cinema was no longer viable and had little local support.

Interior of Corsham Film Theatre

Interior of Corsham Film Theatre

The cinema remained closed and never reopened. Plans for the site were reported in the local press from time to time, including sale to the local council and reopening with three screens in 1979. None of these came to fruition and in 1985 Norman drew up plans to replace the cinema with four shops. Plans were approved and demolition work started on the shops in May 1985. One of the shop units opened up as a video rental store, carrying on the cinema tradition in a small way.

Ben Doman

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