Date Opened: Friday 26th December 1913.
Seating capacity: 1023
Date Closed: Saturday 23rd June 1973 Building demolished.
The Empress cinema Lowlands Road, Runcorn, was the head office of Cheshire County Cinemas, run by the Godfrey family. They ran several cinemas in Cheshire and Lancashire. In Runcorn they also owned the Scala cinema, which was originally known as the Palace Kinema. This became Scala in the late 1920s and Cheshire County Cinemas took over in 1930. Cinema screenings ceased in 1957 and it became a dance hall, called La Scala. Its claim to fame was two appearances by the fab four, the Beatles, playing There on the 16th October 1962 and 12th November 1962. It was eyes down in 1970 when bingo was the name of the game. It closed for good in 2006 and had the demolition hammer on it in 2012. The small circuit also ran the Kings cinema Other cinemas in the circuit included the Woolton, Liverpool, the Empire and Plaza Widnes and the Regal and Plaza Northwich.
The Empress opened on the 26 December 1913 as the Empress Assembly Hall with a flat floor and no balcony. The building was used for a number of uses, including film. An ad from December 1914 mentions it as the Empress cinema showing the films Hearts Adrift and A Lady of Quality. Still named as the Empress Assembly Hall, it was up for sale in March 1915. It was closed for alterations on 11 th June 1915. The floor was raked and a stage and balcony were inserted. it re-opened on the 16th August 1915 and run by Mr Robert Godfrey, better known as Robert Hamilton. Later, Cheshire County Cinemas were formed.
The foyer of the Empress was small with a pay-box on the right, as you entered. Next to the pay-box was a door leading to the small projection room. The projection equipment consisted of Westar projectors, Peerless carbon arcs and Western Electric Sound. There was also a slide lantern. Stereo sound was an attraction, offered occasionally when prints with four track magnetic sound were available. All the circuit’s cinemas were equipped with the Westar machines and Western Electric sound. After the cinema’s closure the machines went to the shopping city twin cinemas, now gone, using the tower system. The balcony staircase was on the right, just past the pay-box. The 1,023 seat cinema, which originally housed 1200 had a fully equipped stage.
For many years the manager was a Mr John Darlington. He was there in the silent era, and and would stand behind the screen, creating sound effects. Later, a Mr Horton took over the manager’s duties. The cinema had a children’s matinee on Saturday afternoon, which included the usual cliff hanging serial. Films were only shown in the evenings, with the main feature being screened twice and the second feature once. The national anthem was screened before the start of the show and for some reason they didn’t show the certificate at the time I went. The only cinema where I hadn’t seen it.
For many years the chief operator was a man by the name of Percy. Relief projectionist was John Forster. He would cover at other cinemas including the Plaza Widnes. On June 23 1973 the little Empress closed with the film The Clockwork Orange, and it was later demolished for road development.
David A Ellis ©chestercinemas.co.uk (Photograph – Shirley Valentine)