Out Now!

Friday, 21 October 2016

Bring back the Picture House!

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 Astoria

                                                                  The Paramount
                                                                      The Palace 
                                               The prosaically named Walton Picture House
                                                           Astoria at night

                                                                  The Carlton 

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


Maria Zannini said...

The theaters I went to as a child were like this too. Eventually they fell into disrepair and abandon. A few got a facelift but it's never really the same, is it?

We also went to the Biograph, not as fancy, but it's where John Dillinger, gangster, met his end.

Mike Keyton said...

I must look up the Biograph! The nearest equivalent is/was el siecos, a vibrant and nicely seedy nightclub in Newport where kurt Cobain proposed to Courtney Love 😀

LD Masterson said...

We have a grand old building here that started as a theater (legitimate theater), slid into vaudeville and burlesque, became a movie theater, went out of business, and was restored and re-opened as the home of our local philharmonic orchestra and choirs, and our opera and ballet companies. It was originally named The Victoria, changed to The Victory during WWII but is now The Victoria again. In the summer they also show classic films. It's one of my favorite places.

Stephanie Faris said...

Those are so nice! I worked at a movie theater in high school, but it was nothing like this. It was the 80s...so you can imagine it was a pretty boring building. Now it's just an empty building with a "For Lease" sign that's been there for three years!

Mike Keyton said...

Linda, are there any pictures on the internet?

Mike Keyton said...

Stephanie, that's a shame your picture house was so boring, but I've read about some wonderfully ornate picture palaces in various American cities and towns