I’m always getting stick for failing to use the word cinema. I was brought up in a world of ‘picture houses,’ which, to me, is a clear and understandable concept. What’s with this Johnny- come-lately, this French import—cinema—an abbreviation of cinematographe? In our new glorious post-brexit age it’s time we began to cherish Imperial Measures and Picture Houses.
The prosaically named Walton Picture House
Astoria at night
Above are some of the Liverpool ‘picture houses’ I went to as a child. Pure dream factories. But in Monmouth, I live close to a gem, a ‘picture-house’ of faded grandeur and steeped in history.
It was built on the foundations of an old coaching house, The Bell Inn. Known as The Assembly Rooms (very Bath and Jane Austen) it was granted an entertainment licences in 1832.
In 1850 it became The Theatre Royal, briefly doubling up as the town’s Corn Exchange before morphing into a roller skating rink at the end of the C19th. The C20th saw big changes. In 1910, as Monmouth’s first cinema, it became…wait for it….the ‘Living Picture Palace and Rinkeries.’ Rolls of the tongue, but the Edwardian flourishes didn’t last long. In 1912 it became ‘The Palace’, later the ‘Scala’ and ending up as the ‘Regent.’
In 1928, after extensive refurbishment it reopened, aptly renamed, ‘The New Picture House,’ and in 1930 showed the very latest ‘talking pictures.’ Monmouth was agog.
Like all good things it fell victim to the curse of the ‘modern’ in the 1960’s, stopped showing films, and re-opened as a Bingo Hall, closing again in 1983.
But Monmouth is the town of happy endings. Now known as the Savoy, it was leased to the Monmouth Savoy Trust, local volunteers and enthusiasts who run it as a going concern for the people of Monmouth. It enjoys no public funding and costs £50,000 a year to run.
In 2004 the Heritage Lottery Fund contributed to renovating a faded interior, restoring the famous red velvet curtains, the incredible gilded plasterwork and glass chandeliers. As a Lancastrian, it’s a joy to sit back and enjoy the Lancastrian Rose, and the Lancastrian portcullises of Beaufort à all the fruits of living in a Lancastrian town, the birthplace of Henry Vth. My wife, coming from Yorkshire is less enamoured.
Lancastrian rose and chandelier
And if you get bored with the film you can always enjoy fragments of the original wall paper.
The latest films are shown in this wonderful picture house, as well as presenting live performances from music to comedy and amateur drama. Long live the Savoy!
Savoy pics Dilly Boase