ABC Savoy Cinema, Northampton.

ABC Savoy Cinema

Abington Street, (Abington Square),

Northampton, NN1 4AE


Original owner:  John Maxwell/ Associated British Cinemas Ltd.

Architect: William Riddell Glen., F.R.I.A.S.

Interior Design Consultants:  Clark and Fenn.

Principal building contractor:  A.R. Glen and Sons, Northampton.

Projection equipment:  Ross FC projectors. Ross D lamphouses & Western Electric Wide Range amp.

Date opened:  Saturday 2nd May 1936.

Opened by:  Sir Mervyn E. Manningham-Buller, M.P., J.P.

First General Manager:  T.B. Purdie.

First film shown:   “Broadway Melody of 1936” starring Robert Taylor and Eleanor Powell.

Seating capacity:  Stalls~1258, Balcony~ 696. Total capacity of 1954.

Compton organ (original):  3Manual/7Ranks . Opened by organist~ Wilfred Southworth.

Resident organists:  Gordon Spicer, Joseph Flitcroft, Raymond Charles, Verden Waugh, Harold Nash.

Date closed:  Thursday 27th April 1995.

Final films shown:  “Pulp Fiction”, “Just Cause” and Terminal Velocity”.

Building extant:  The Old Savoy Theatre.




Associated British Cinemas secured a prominent site, replacing a Technical College that had previously occupied the ground on this sweeping corner of Abington Street and Lower Mounts for their large Super Cinema.

The architect chosen for this important project was ABC’s prolific house architect, William Riddell Glen., F.R.I.A.S. The opulent interior decorations were entrusted to specialist designers, Clark and Fenn.

The principal building contractor was A.R. Glen and Sons, based in Chaucer Street, Kingsley Park, Northampton. They managed to complete the build within a nine-month time frame.

The main shell of the auditorium was set back and concealed behind the entrance block which was positioned on the corner and flanked either side by lower wings containing shops.

The rendered concrete and brick facade composition that was set back behind complimentary curves of the adjoining shops, with five bays divided by four projecting fins with two more fins that were more prominently placed either side of the bay arrangement. A high and generous in-depth canopy spanned the width of the entrance. With abundant amounts of neon tubing adding a dazzling effect to the fin edges and the large Savoy sign that was placed centrally upon high. The five sets of entrance doors had decorative metal Art Deco designs placed over the glass.

The lofty and spacious entrance foyer was typical of a Glen design. With flooring finished in terrazzo, marble and deep pile carpet giving an over whelming feeling of grandeur to those entering the large auditorium via the wide staircases that led down to the stalls, and up to the balcony bridge and foyer.

The stalls area accommodated 1258 patrons. The wide, curved balcony provided seating for a further 696, giving a total capacity of 1954.

The venue was to be known as the ABC Savoy Super Cinema. This grand name reflected in the luxurious fit out of the foyers and auditorium, all tastefully decorated in autumnal shades. Walls were artistically painted in stencilled patterns in which green shades were harmoniously blended with hues of pink and gold edging. The proscenium was encased within a deep double arched recess, ribbed like a wireless set in the German modern style, into which decorative grill-work in an abstract design was cut at right angles at the lower reaches that masked the apertures of the organ chambers. Each recess had concealed cove lighting that was used to full effect to create stunning colour changes.


The main ceiling with an elaborate sequence of steps and illuminated coves and featured a large lighting trough which was enclosed on three sides by wide stylized banding which was replicated vertically on the side walls. The subtle and diffused illumination came from coves that had been brilliantly integrated into the plaster-work and supplemented with fittings on the side walls on balcony level and on the ceilings of the under balcony.  The overall Art Deco appearance of the interior applied in the International Modernistic style was well received, even by the most discerning eye.

Ross FC 35mm projectors. Ross D arc lamphouses & Western Electric soundheads.

A Compton 3Manual/7Ranks theatre organ which included a Melotone unit and an illuminated surround had been transferred from the Princess Cinema, Dagenham, Essex.

The ABC Savoy was opened by Sir Mervyn E. Manningham-Buller, M.P., J.P., on Saturday 2nd May 1936. The Compton organ was played by the renown organist, Wilfred Southworth. The feature film shown was “Broadway Melody of 1936” starring Robert Taylor and Eleanor Powell.

The first General Manager of The Savoy was T.B. Purdie, who came to Northampton from the Hippodrome cinema, Ipswich.

Organist on the Savoy’s opening day ~ Wilfrid Southworth

The Compton organ was played by the renown organist, Wilfred Southworth, who remained for two weeks after the opening.

Logistically the ABC Savoy was well placed and enjoyed buoyant admissions, particularly during the 1940s heyday of cinema. With the introduction of CinemaScope during the early 1950s, the wide proscenium showed off the new format to full advantage on a large screen.

The Savoy Cinema engaged resident organists. From 1936 Gordon Spicer took over the keyboards for a year, followed by Joseph Flitcroft from 1937 to 1938.

Raymond Charles from 1938 to 1941, Verden Waugh 1941 to 1945. Local man, Harold Nash was the Savoy’s last resident organist, from 1945 to 1956.

As the 1950s progressed many large UK cinemas were busy preparing to alter their stages, etc, in readiness for concerts that would bring top name artists and groups to perform “Live on Stage”.

The Savoy was well ahead with accommodating performers to their Northampton stage.

Weekly film performances were punctuated with highly popular special one day pop concerts, featuring such performers as Cliff Richard, the Rolling Stones, Billy Fury and notably two separate appearances in 1964 of the Beatles.

During 1960 the organ and all its pipework was removed from the chambers. These rooms were then converted into much needed dressing rooms that supplemented the rest.

In line with company policy, the name Savoy was dropped in favour of the cinema simply being known as the ABC during 1961.

A decision was taken in 1974 to turn the building into a three-screen venue. A large, 1018 seat auditorium was created in the balcony and front stalls. Two mini cinemas were built under the balcony area of the stalls. One screen seated 263 patrons, the other accommodated 208.

The capacity was now reduced to 1489 seats.

A determined effort by organ enthusiasts and local management, engineered the return of a Compton organ. It had been transferred from the ABC Cleethorpes and was provided on a loan basis.

The Compton organ from the Ritz cinema, Cleethorpes, in place at the ABC/Cannon Northampton. Thanks to Alan Ashton for sending this photograph.

It was installed at the ABC Northampton between 1985-1986. It was opened by organists Ron Curtis and Michael Wooldrige on Sunday 4th May 1986.

The late Ron Curtis

In 1986 the company was taken over by the Cannon Group. The cinema was soon advertised as Cannon.

Fortunately, the cinema was awarded a Grade II listing on 19th October 1994, surprisingly a rare listing for a Glen designed cinema. Under Cannon’s management the business continued until, faced with imminent multiplex competition, the cinemas were quickly closed on Thursday 27th April 1995. The final programme selection was “Pulp Fiction”, “Just Cause” and Terminal Velocity”.

It lay closed for several years. Greenham’s Inns acquired the building in 1997. Their intentions to remove the balcony and turn the venue into a theme pub were scuppered mainly because of the listing status. A Public Inquiry in November 1998 required the retention of the balcony.

It was eventually purchased by the Jesus Army Charitable Trust. Their original plans were refused. The case was subject to a further protracted Public Enquiry.  A report on the cinema’s history and architecture by the University of Leicester Archaeological Services in accordance with Northamptonshire Heritage and the Northamptonshire Borough was commissioned.  Other interested parties included English Heritage and the Cinema Theatre Association. The Public Enquiry lasted several weeks and concluded to allow some amendments but the interior was to be kept as near to the original design as possible. Once there was agreement between the interested parties, a huge budget of several millions of pounds was set for the major construction and repair work to begin. Work commenced during 2003 to repair and restore the building. Eventually to the delight of many campaigners, Glen’s fabulous 1936 design was to be seen once more. The building opened as the Jesus Centre in October 2004.

Another change in ownership came with the demise of the Jesus Army Trust.

In October of 2014 the building opened once more as a multi-purpose entertainment venue.

English Heritage advised on the restoration that has eventually combined the original, art deco styling with the latest state-of-the-art technology. The 900 seat Auditorium in conjunction with The Doré and The Glen suites make this unique facility both flexible and practical.

At present the building is known as The Old Savoy ~ Home of the Deco Theatre.



Alan joined the Savoy’s projection team in 1950 aged 15. He recalls his own experience of visiting the cinema during its heyday together with a vivid account of his time showing the films, with a unique insight of the behind the scenes particularly the technical operation. Alan has kindly sent photographs from his collection, together with a video that he produced.  Click on the frame below to watch Alan’s video.



Click on the above frame to see the new~ Old Savoy Theatre.  credit~ Prophoto 


Click on the above frame to see a short review of the Deco Theatre History (silent)


Click on the above frame for a walk in tour of the Deco Theatre. credit~ 360 video