GAUMONT

Gaumont Palace

87 Brook Street,

Chester, CH1 3DY

Date Opened – Monday 2nd March 1931.   

Total seating capacity- 1,997.  (circle 800 seats * stalls 1197 seats)

Architect: William T. Benslyn

Date Closed – as a cinema, Saturday 9th December 1961.   Building survives.

 

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The all British cast of the 1930 ON APPROVAL which was the first film screened

 

 

 

Gaumont architect,                    William T. Benslyn

The first of Chester’s three “super cinemas”, the Gaumont Palace, Brook Street opened on 2nd March 1931. Attending the first audience were the architect, William T. Benslyn, and the sheriff of Chester, Robert Mathewson, who would later open Chester’s ABC Regal Cinema. The opening film at the Gaumont Palace was “On Approval” starring Tom Walls. A Compton 3Manual/8Rank organ was installed, played in the opening week by Leslie James.  After five years the name was shortened to Gaumont.
For patrons old enough to remember queuing over Cow Lane bridge, sometimes in a vain attempt to get in. This was a magnificent cinema/theatre to visit.  The stage was a good size, enabling far more ambitious productions than the ABC stage could ever cope with in future years. Top billing stars appeared live on stage on a regular basis.

Often tales crop up that there was a major mistake at Ranks head quarters and the Gaumount was closed instead of the Odeon. This is a complete nonsense as intricate plans would have been drawn up well in advance and board approval for such a move would have to be approved in fine detail. In many local’s opinion the Gaumont was sacrificed to try out a new craze of bowling, which quickly fizzled out. The Odeon was much better placed for business at that particular time. The Gaumont building still survives as a Mecca bingo hall, and is still operated by the once mighty Rank Group.

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CHESTER’S WONDER “PALACE”

The foyer of the Gaumont Palace, looking towards the Brook Street entrance doors with the Tudor fireplace on the left

From Chester Chronicle February 28th 1931.

Fred Rowley                                     The Gaumont’s first manager

On Monday (2nd March 1931) the mayor (Mr John Morris), accompanied by several prominent people will officially open Chester’s wonder cinema the Gaumont Palace. It is a cinema beautifully designed to accommodate 2,000 people; the comfort of the patron has been considered all along the line, and this week-end the final touches will be applied to what is a magnificent hall. The new manager (Mr Rowley) invited a “Chronicle” reporter to have a “look round” on Thursday, and he was amazed that the site could have been transformed into a hall of such splendour. The architects and builders have worked splendidly , and now Chester has the most modern and best equipped theatre on the North of England.

The cinema contains 2000 plush seats, and in no corner of the hall is it difficult to obtain a comfortable view of the stage. Even those sitting in the cheaper seats – the nearest to the screen – will, from a point of view of comfort, be equal to those people in the gallery. The front seats are set well back from the stage so that there will be no need for craning of necks. This is a decided advantage. The floors are heavily carpeted,and on Thursday Messrs, Richard Jones’s workmen, superintended by Mr. Norman Jones, were busily engaged in laying yards and yards of carpet. The furnishing is as luxurious as that of any hotel. The cafe is oak panelled and affords plenty of room.

An attraction is the organ that has been installed at a cost of £10,000. When I went there I found the organ is in an elevated position, obscuring a full view of the screen. I made enquiries, and found that it works on a lift effect, and that by merely touching a switch the organist can raise or lower himself and the organ. Nothing that should have been done hand been left undone; the ceilings are tastefully coloured; the curtains and carpets are in tone with the rest of the decorations, and it all combines to make the hall what it’s title implies. It is impossible to exaggerate the grandeur, as people will see when it is opened by the Mayor on Monday.

David A Ellis researched article 

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When I was young (16), I started work as an apprentice at Blaggs next to the Gaumont cinema in 1956. The building was owned by the cinema and had no toilet so we had to use the toilets in the cinema.  In those days the Gaumont had a really good dining room upstairs which was open every day,  I remember having some good lunches there.

The projection room had two Gaumont Kaylee projectors.  Some very good stage shows were put on, I remember seeing Charlie Chester in “Zip goes a Million ” and seeing Lonnie Donigan. In it’s hey day it was a brilliant theatre.

When it was converted into a bowling alley I was appalled to witness the organ console dragged into the foyer and badly damaged, I’m not sure if it was rescued or just dumped but seeing how damaged it was I would be surprised if it would ever be used again. The building was converted by building another structure inside the old. The main ceiling and stage were kept but I expect all this has long since gone.

Allan Taylor

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Seats for 300 in the Gaumont’s Oak Restaurant

 

 

Gaumont Chester menu 1958

Preparing for the CMA Presentation Dinner at the Gaumont Chester 1958

Very few clear images are available of this cinema. David and Roger have had to beaver away on their research to uncover what we have, so we are now fortunate to see the Gaumont as it was. Sadly little remains inside to remind us of this once magnificent venue, apart from the paneled walls of the Oak restaurant.  Check out the history page for the full account

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The Gaumont’s final film THE MARRIAGE GO ROUND on Saturday 9th December 1961.

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If you enjoyed going to the Gaumont, or worked there at anytime,then chestercinemas.co.uk  will be pleased to hear from you to share your thoughts.