Warrington, WA1 2RR
Original owner : MacNaghten Vaudeville circuit. Francis William MacNaghten.
Architect: George F. Ward of Birmingham.
Building contractor: C. W. Davenport.
Construction cost: £15000.
Date opened: Monday 23rd September 1907.
Original seating : Stalls 800, Circle 500, Gallery 800. Total capacity: 2100.
Opened as a full time cinema: Saturday 26th December 1931.
Opening film shown: ‘Hell’s Angels’, starring Jean Harlow and Ben Lyon.
Closure as a cinema: November 1964.
Final film shown: ‘The Camp on Blood Island’, starring Carl Möhner and André Morell.
Building Extant: Trilogy Nightclub.
Designed by George F. Ward the Palace began life as a theatre called the Palace Hippodrome. The foundation stone was laid on the 1st May 1907 and it opened on 23rd September 1907. It was built by builders C. W. Davenport. It was run by the MacNaghten Vaudeville circuit. The managing director was Francis William MacNaghten and it opened with John Tiller’s High Jinks Company, consisting of forty performers. Also on the bill were Sisters Reno, Tennyson and Wallace, Kurkamp and Raymond’s Bio Tableaux.
There were two performances nightly at seven and nine. In charge of the orchestra was a Mr Widdop. The stage was sixty feet by thirty feet.
Prices were gallery 3d, the pit (stalls) 6d. The circle was one shilling. It was unusual for the circle to be more expensive than the stalls.
Films became part of the show in the early years. Two balconies were installed with a box on each side of the proscenium with baroque style plasterwork.
Two staircases took you to the circle. The upper balcony, or gallery was reached from an outside door at the side of the building. This was also the only way to get to the small projection room, which had a small rewind room. At the back of the gallery was a room that housed the rectifier. By this there were iron steps that took you to the projection box.
The gallery wasn’t used when the building was a cinema.
In 1931 it was converted into the Palace cinema, opening with Ben Lyon in ‘Hell’s Angels’, opening on Boxing Day 1931. The hall was refurnished and tub seats were installed, upholstered to tone with the colour scheme provided by Beck and Windibank Ltd.
The artistic redecoration of the foyer was enhanced by novel lighting effects. A large replica of a rising sun was the basic motif. There was a new lighting scheme known as the FG system of Sunray lighting installed by Kenneth Friese-Greene of Sheffield .
In April 1954 a fire broke out, badly damaging the gallery and floor of the circle. It was reported that the cause was a cigarette.
In 1955 long serving member of staff Minnie Wood, a cashier, who worked in the building for forty seven years retired. She had never seen a film there. It closed in December 1957 when the owners came out of the business.
The building remained closed for three years and was then taken over by the Hutchinson circuit from Burnley. It re-opened with the musical ‘Oklahoma’. The cinema went on for another four years, closing on 7th November 1964.
The chief projectionist was a Mr Joe Slevin, who would fix TV sets between reels. After the cinema closed, he became a driving instructor. The manager in the early sixties was Mr Makin.
The projection room was small and was equipped with RCA sound. Previously BTH was in use. Peerless arcs provided screen illumination. A single mercury arc rectifier supplied the current, so there was a slight drop in light when striking up. Many cinemas had twin rectifiers preventing this.
A job for the junior projectionist, twice a day, was to go down the long flight of steps and get a jug of tea. The box also housed a small stove for warming pies.
In the early sixties there was a relief projectionist by the name of Arnold Bates, who by day was a postman. Another task of the junior was to clean the glass in the projection ports and do rewinding.
The dimmers were on sliders, which could give a off a shock if not careful. There was a bucket of sand, a bucket of water and an asbestos blanket in the box. All these had to be there in case of fire.
When you look back, a projection room back then could be a hazardous place to be. There was dust and fumes from the carbon arcs. These had to be cleaned every morning and there was a fair amount of dust. An asbestos blanket, which you wouldn’t go near today, cleaning fluid called thawpit, which wasn’t really good to handle or breath in, and there was the constant risk of having badly cut fingers from re-winding bad prints, which were sometimes very oily. Bad prints were often used in second and third run houses. The major circuits usually got new or near new prints.
The secondary lighting at the cinema was gas and the doorman would go around just before opening and light them.
The last films at the Palace were ‘The Camp on Blood Island’, which was in black and white cinemascope and the ‘Revenge of Frankenstein’, two Hammer offerings.
The building became a Surewin bingo club, later named Apollo, and was opened by Peter Adamson, who was a Coronation Street star.
Later, it became Brannigans night spot. Then it became the Showbar.
The building is still standing.
David A Ellis©chestercinemas.co.uk