Tuesday, March 20, 2007


“Going to the pictures was the highlight of our week!” Local resident, Jim Hall was one of the town’s regular cinema-goers. “You got a lot for your one-and-sixpenny ticket,” he recalled. “As well as the A and B films, there was usually a cartoon, Pathe newsreel, trailers and adverts. With a continuous programme, if you arrived part-way through a film, you stayed to watch the beginning later!”

The names given to theatres then were flamboyant. Among a variety of picture-houses, the Ritz opened in 1935 in Baddow Road. This was the 49th cinema under the control of a chain of cinemas and boasted 1,750 seats with a spacious ballroom/restaurant. Just before WWII, it was taken over by the Odeon before passing to the Rank Organisation in 1948. The name ‘Odeon’ derives from the name for a theatre in ancient Greece.

Perhaps only older residents remember the Empire Picture House in Springfield Road. Built in 1912, it was popular when it came under the eventual ownership of Eastern Counties Cinemas. In 1940 it was damaged by fire and was used as a foodstore before becoming derelict and ripe for demolition in 1961.

The Pavilion in Rainsford Road was popular. With its highly decorated facade, it opened in 1920 during the silent film era. This cinema closed in June1988 and stood empty until it was converted to Laser Quest Game Centre, then Zeus nightclub.

Many remember the Picture House in New Writtle Road, which in 1912, had been converted from an old foundry. This underwent several name changes until it became the Select Super in 1991. This cinema was the first in Essex to be remodelled for Cinemascope in 1953 when it underwent huge refurbishment.

In time, the old theatres became redundant as television eclipsed regular cinema-going. For a while, bingo was played in some of the buildings, but eventually they were demolished or their use changed.

But still standing in Moulsham Street, is the grandly decorated Regent Theatre. This harks back to the theatre architecture of earlier times. Built in 1913 the management ran Variety shows as well as early silent film (with piano accompaniment). Local press advertisements declared Chelmsford as leading the county in this amazing novelty and in August 1929 “The Singing Fool;” starring Al Jolson delighted packed audiences. The Regent was built on the site of the ancient Crossed Keys Inn and today although no longer a cinema, seems from the outside, a fascinating relic of a past age.

When the multiplex Odeon in The Meadows, Baddow Road opened in October 1993 it had four auditoria, which has grown to eight with Dolby stereo-sound. It stands just metres from the former Ritz/Odeon site.

Perhaps the most interesting venue for viewing is at the Cramphorn Theatre, Fairfield Road where members of the Chelmsford Film Club meet regularly to enjoy some of the world’s most fascinating films. For Details: 01277 622716

By permission of Chelmsford Weekly News

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