The Magazine of Lenton Local History Society

Tyne Street - Lenton

The Palace of Lenton
The Palace Again

From 'The Lenton Listener' Issue 45

April to May 1987

The Palace of Lenton

If everything goes according to plan, we should soon have a brand new multi-million pound cinema complex in Lenton. An American company intends to construct a multi-screen cinema on Clifton Boulevard on the land between Redfield Road and the canal. The cinema's developers clearly chose this particular location because they felt it would be easily accessible to car owners from all over South Notts, nearby Derby and even from as far afield as Leicester. With such a major new development in the offing, it seemed an appropriate time to cast our minds back to when the very first cinema in Lenton was opened.

It will undoubtedly come as something of a surprise to most readers to learn that what follows is not about the Savoy Cinema but, instead, is the story of the Lenton Picture Palace. This cinema was in business over seventy-five years ago and its management would have been highly surprised if any of its patrons had taken to arriving in cars. The Lenton Picture Palace opened in 1910, when only the rich had motorcars and cinema was still in its infancy.

The people of Nottingham are reputed to have had their first experience of 'moving pictures' in 1895, when shows were put on in an empty shop on Long Row, using an Edison Kinetoscope. Thereafter almost until the end of the Edwardian period people watched films at Goose Fair or at one-nighters put on by travelling showmen in such places as the Albert Hall and the Mechanics' Institute. They could also see them as part of the programme put on at local music halls and theatres. One such was the Talbot Palace of Varieties on Market Street, which in 1901 became known as the King's Theatre. A mixture of live entertainment and films regularly filled the bill there until 1908 when the music hall turns were dispensed with and the King's Theatre became Nottingham's first regular cinema. It subsequently went through a number of changes of name but finally ended its days as The Classic Cinema. The building has recently been converted into The Robin Hood Tavern.


Formally Opened by the ex-Sheriff of Nottingham

The Lenton Picture Palace - the latest addition to the cinematograph halls of the city - was formally opened yesterday afternoon by Councillor T. Ward in the absence through illness of the Sheriff (Councillor F.N. Hobson). Mr. Ward recommended the entertainment on account of its instructive character.
The Palace, which is situated in Tyne Street, is a spacious building splendidly adapted for such entertainments as are to be given there twice nightly, and has been erected by the Lenton and District Theatres, Ltd. - a company of Lenton gentlemen - to cater for the amusement of the inhabitants of the immediate neighbourhood.

The proprietors have spared no effort to make the Palace a comfortable place of entertainment, and have so isolated the operating chamber as to reduce risk from fire to a minimum. The operating chamber is thoroughly fire proof - as is the whole building - and is enclosed by two iron doors, whilst iron doors cover the apertures through which the pictures are thrown. These doors can be closed by simply pulling a lever, so that in case of accident the operating chamber can be entirely shut off from the remainder of the building.

Comfortable accommodation has been provided for 600 people on tip-up seats, upholstered in red leather and an uninterrupted view of the stage can be obtained from all parts of the house, the floor of the building having a big 'rake'. The screen is artistically draped in blue plush and gold trimmings. The building is heated by steam and lighted by electricity, which is generated on the premises. Four large exits are provided, and by these means the building can be emptied in less than a minute.

Last evening, when the Palace was opened to the general public, a large audience attended each performance and thoroughly enjoyed a series of capital pictures, whilst the entertainment was rendered additionally interesting by excellent selections on a large Pathephone.

This news item was to be found in the Nottingham Daily Express on 20th December 1910

From 1908 onwards theatres specifically devoted to the showing of films began to spring up all over the country. In Nottingham the Midland Electric Bioscope opened in April 1909 at the top of Arkwright Street near the Midland Station. It closed, however, in December of the same year, not because it wasn't popular, but because the building was unable to meet the new safety and health laws enacted in the Cinematograph Act of 1910. This required that picture houses be licensed by the local authorities and that strict regulations should be observed with regard to the safety of the patrons. For instance, films could no longer be projected in the same room as the audience. Instead, the projector had to be kept in a separate room, constructed of fireproof materials. There also had to be adequate exits that could be opened easily. In the early years of the century, a number of serious accidents had taken place after nitrate film had caught fire and 'the public' had become greatly alarmed about the matter. This concern had eventually led to Parliament including stringent safety regulations in its Cinematograph Act.

In 1910 the City Council's Watch Committee was to approve applications for the opening of five new picture palaces. The first was Hibbert's Pictures, which occupied a building on Shakespeare Street. This cinema survived until 1931 (extensions to the YMCA now occupy its site). The Victoria Electric Palace on Milton Street was next. It subsequently had several changes of name but on its closure in 1970, it was known as the Moulin Rouge. Pringle's Picture Palace was situated at the corner of Goldsmith Street and Talbot Street and this opened in November 1910. It continued as a cinema until 1941 and the building later became the first home of the Nottingham Playhouse. Hyson Green was the first of Nottingham's suburbs to have its own picture palace when the Boulevard Electric Theatre opened on December 10th on Radford Road. This cinema remained in business until 1956. The fifth was the Lenton Picture Palace whose first night of films was just nine days after the Boulevard's on December 19th 1910.

The newspaper account of its opening included in the Nottingham Daily Express is shown on this page. It relates that 'a company of Lenton gentlemen' had put up the money for the cinema. Prominent among these gentlemen was a certain Frederick William Burton, who was actually described as the owner of the cinema in Watch Committee minutes. Mr. Burton also had other commercial interests on Park Street as his lace machine manufacturing business occupied premises almost opposite the site of the cinema. We know of no photograph of the Lenton Picture Palace, but it is evident from the plans submitted to the Council for building regulations approval (*) that Mr. Burton and his business associates didn't feel the need to give their cinema the sort of impressive frontage that was fast becoming the fashion elsewhere in Nottingham. Any visual extravagances would appear to have been reserved for the interior, viz. the blue plush drapes with their gold trimming positioned around the screen. The Express reporter in his account seems to suggest that all the seats were upholstered in red leather, but the equivalent report in the Nottingham Guardian for 20th December 1910 makes it clear that only the most expensive seats were so upholstered. The Guardian account relates that the auditorium was divided into three sections and that the second most expensive seats were merely cushioned. It doesn't specifically mention it but the implication is there that those who chose the cheap seats had only hard wood to sit upon. Prices ranged from 6d for a leather-upholstered seat at the back to 2d for a wooden (?) one at the front. Children were permitted to pay half price if they attended the first house which started at 6.30 pm but were required to pay the full price if they went to the second performance at 8.30 pm.

That someone as august as the sheriff should agree to perform the opening ceremony (even though in the event he failed to appear owing to illness) indicates both civic and social approval for picture palaces. As his stand-in, the ex-sheriff, made clear in his speech, reported more fully in the Nottingham Guardian, 'people' were keen to see entertainment provided for the working classes that was both healthy and cheap. He emphasised that young people could now enjoy themselves there and if such places as the Lenton Picture Palace were not available, they would have to seek amusement elsewhere. This 'elsewhere' was not specified but the implication was that it might be somewhere unsavoury or even 'dangerous'. The speech was apparently well received as cries of 'Hear, Hear!' were uttered by others present at the opening.

Those who chose to patronise the Lenton Picture Palace would have been treated to a mixture of short films some humorous, others dramatic in content, along with a sprinkling of historical sagas and scenes from faraway places. Few of these films would ever last more than fifteen minutes. As to the particular films shown at Lenton, it is impossible to say - the Lenton Picture Palace omitted to advertise its forthcoming programme in the local papers. It wasn't alone in this. In fact, only one Nottingham cinema, Pringle's Picture Palace on Goldsmith Street, chose to do so. Their bills of fare in early 1911 included 'Into the Jaws of Death', 'The Castle Ghost', 'Ransomed', 'The Sepoy's Wife', 'Shooting the Rapids in Japan', 'Heart of a Fisher Girl', 'The Airtight Safe', 'Married for Love' plus liberal helpings of 'the latest comics'. No doubt, Lenton offered films with similar sounding titles.

On February 3rd 1911 the Nottingham Daily Express included the following piece in its review of local amusements on offer in the City.


Judging by the large audience that attend this electric theatre, it has become quite popular with people living in the Lenton district. The programme is now changed twice a week and the pictures, of which there is an enjoyable variety, are accompanied by a large Pathephone.

It seems, however, that the evident popularity of the Lenton Picture Palace wasn't to last for very much longer. The numbers attending soon began to fall off. So much so that within a year of opening our company of Lenton gentlemen was forced to close the cinema and sell off the property.

On February 3rd 1911 this advert for Lenton's cinema also appeared in the
Nottingham Daily Express. It would suggest that, contrary to what was being said
elsewhere in the paper, all was not going well. There were price reduction, the
times of programmes were altered, and the owner, F.W. Burton, had removed
J.A. Derbyshire as manager and had taken over the running of the cinema himself.
The advert is reproduced courtesy of the Local Studies Library

That this took place sometime in 1911 is clear from a report in the Nottingham Daily Express for 28th December 1911. In an article on the revival of industry in Lenton, the following passage was included:

'What was known as the Lenton Picture Palace has been acquired by a Nottingham firm of lace embroidery manufacturers and a new and extensive plant of machinery from Switzerland is being put in..... The transformation of the picture palace into a hive of industry is indicative of the fact that the picture show craze is overdone. Fitted up at great expense about 12 months ago, it enjoyed but a brief period of prosperity, and the dwindling receipts led the proprietors to sell up, and the building has been bought outright by Mr. A.P. Lowe'.

In the preceding account, the reporter clearly got one thing wrong. The picture show craze was far from overdone. Before the end of the decade the Nottingham area was to see another 24 picture houses open for business. So why did the Lenton Picture Palace fail so quickly? It is impossible to be certain after all this time but there is one point worth mentioning. Almost all the other picture palaces were situated on fairly busy roads where lots of people would see them. The Lenton Picture Palace was tucked away in the back streets of New Lenton where only those living in the immediate area would have had cause to pass by. Was it possibly just a matter of 'out of sight - out of mind'?

Whatever the reason, the locals had to wait another twenty-five years before they got another chance to go to the pictures in Lenton. This was when the Savoy Cinema opened for business in 1935. But that, as they say, is another story.

(*) These plans were submitted to the Council in July 1910 and are now lodged at Nottinghamshire Archives where they can be examined.

From 'The Lenton Listener' Issue 47

August to September 1987

The Palace Again

For the past thirty-five years, Rick Wilde has been intimately connected with the world of cinema, for the last twenty as projectionist at the Savoy here in Lenton. Over the years he has spent much of his spare time seeking information on all the many cinemas that opened their doors in the Nottingham area. After reading our article on the Lenton Picture Palace in Issue 45, Rick sent us some additional material on the cinema that allows us to develop the story a little further.

Readers may recall that the Lenton Picture Palace was situated between Tyne and Park Streets, two of the back streets in the Willoughby Street area of New Lenton. We were unsure quite how long the cinema remained in business, but it was evident that it was no more than a year. As you read on, it will become clear that in fact the cinema only ran for a matter of months.

The revised story now begins on June 6th 1910, when Frederick Burton, along with his son Robert, Henry James and James Derbyshire registered a proprietorship known as the Lenton and District Electric Theatres Ltd. They were the 'company of Lenton gentlemen' who built the Lenton Picture Palace. On December 15th 1910, a cinematograph and music licence was granted to managing director, James Derbyshire, after payment of one guinea, plus a bond of surety of £10. Four days later the cinema began its twice-nightly performances. Mr. Derbyshire had been granted a temporary licence and would have been required to seek a full licence at the annual transfer session held the following April. According to Rick Wilde, James Derbyshire had come to Nottingham specifically to take over the management of the cinema and was clearly the only member of the board with any working experience of the cutthroat cinema business of that time. So it was obviously a major catastrophe for the rest of the board when Mr. Derbyshire suddenly died on January 23rd 1911.

This was the reason why Frederick Burton was required to apply to become the new licence holder on February 2nd. The full licence was never sought at the March/April sessions, so we can assume that the cinema had entered into a terminal decline prior to that date. Rick Wilde describes the probable scenario. A new manager may have been engaged, but he thinks it is more likely that the cashier was put in charge of the staff in general with Robert Burton calling in daily to supervise, collect and bank the takings, and deal with wages etc. Perhaps Burton junior also took over the film booking -a complex and risky business in those days, made worse by the fact that he would know nothing of where and how to obtain films, terms and conditions, transport costs etc. If this was the case, problems might well have arisen within a week and within a month a sizeable debt could have built up, or worse still the supply of films might well have dried up completely.

Demolition of part of Tyne Street had already taken place in July 1961 when
George Roberts took this photo from Head Street. However, it does allow us
a view of the gable end of the building that was once a cinema.

Mr. Derbyshire's death may well have been the deciding factor when looking for reasons to explain the cinema's early demise, but Rick Wilde feels that the seed of its failure were sown by the Burtons. To have sited the cinema in such an inaccessible place, tucked away down a maze of back streets, was a major mistake. The scale of admission charges looked like a further error. The Burtons were employers of local labour at their lace machine manufacturing business on Park Street and so should have been well aware of the size of local wage packets. They should have realised that their admission prices were set too high. Six pence to sit in the best seats was simply beyond the pocket of many living in the area. To make matters worse, at that time, the New Lenton area was undergoing one of its periodic bouts of high unemployment. The prices were in fact reduced in February 1911 but this may have come too late, given the problems set in train by Mr. Derbyshire's death.

Although it seems that we will never know the exact date of the cinema's closure, Rick Wilde is sure it was before April 1911, as no application for renewal can be found in the March/April transfer sessions. Furthermore, Rick found a reference to the cinema among the entertainment registrations dealt with on April 13th 1911. It simply read, 'Lenton Picture Place. This licence is now abandoned'. As to its subsequent fate, in among some old Board of Trade records, Rick found that on May 15th 1911 the premises were described as 'light industrial works' belonging to Robert Burton. It would appear that Burton soon found a temporary occupant. Rick came across some old Corporation Rating Department records where the building was listed as No.42, Tyne Street, described as a 'machine works' with the rates now being paid by Edward Peat & Son from their works at Beehive Mills on Park Street. The building changed hands once again in December 1911 when Albert Lowe, a lace embroidery manufacturer, took it over. A.P. Lowe Ltd. continued in residence right up until the building's demolition in the early 1960s. The firm then transferred operations to the corner of Willoughby Street and Prospect Place and also changed its name to Allen Embroideries Ltd.

So thanks to Rick Wilde we can now be fairly certain as to how long the cinema lasted and quite why it failed so very quickly. It would also explain why so few old Lentonians have been able to recall ever having heard tell of the Lenton picture Palace.

All material on this site not covered by other copyright and not explicitly marked as public domain is © Lenton Times 2010 and must not be used without permission