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Where was Torrington’s Old Cinema?

The old cinema was a small building in Church Lane which runs from Whites Lane round the back of the old infants’ school into the churchyard.  It had been converted from a building on the site of an old tannery.  After many years of providing entertainment for the people of Torrington, it closed and became used as a bingo hall. Then it stood derelict for a while and was finally knocked down when Tannery Row was built.

Elderly Torrington people who were children in the 1920s and 1930s remember going to see films there.  Every year the Mayor and Mayoress used to treat the schoolchildren to a film just before Christmas and, as they came out, they would each be given an orange and a toffee.  They particularly remembered Mr Harold Vincent, manager of the glove factory who lived up Villa Road and was Mayor in 1926, as being a nice man who ‘gived us sweets’.

In the 1930s a Mr Long and his son, Rex, were in charge of the cinema.  Rex did the film projection.  Mrs Long was at the cash desk.  Prices ranged from 4d to 6d (6d = 2½p)  for children and 6d to 1/- (1 shilling = 5p) for adults.  Cinema audiences, especially during the day when lots of children enjoyed the films, were generally noisy and, ‘if we got too noisy, Mr Long would chuck out the worst offenders.’  The seat at the rear of the cinema, which could accommodate about six people, was leather and made from the old back seat of a ‘charabanc’ and mostly used by courting couples in the evenings.

Local people who were children in the 1950s often used to go to the cinema for entertainment (and some remember being thrown out for mucking about!).  Two films a week would be shown, one on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and a different one on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  At that time it cost ‘half a crown’ or 2/6 (12½p) at the back, 1/6 in the middle, 1/- further forward and 7d (about 3p) at the front.  Dick Long was in charge and used to make his own ice-lollies with a stick in an egg cup and Fred Stapleton was the projectionist.   The films would often break down and Fred would take himself off to the pub!  

The cinema closed in May 1964 (the last film to be shown was Elvis Presley in ‘GI Blues’) and, like so many cinemas across the country, it became a bingo hall. Women in full make-up and wearing their best clothes would be dropped off by their husbands at the end of Church Lane looking forward to their weekly entertainment. When that activity in turn fell out of favour the building remained closed, becoming ever more dilapidated.  Eventually, it was  demolished to make way for the building of Tannery Row which was completed in 2006.

These days films can be seen at the Plough Arts Centre.