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Birch Lane Cinema
Towers Hall Cinema
Towers Hall Film Studios
Original seating capacity was circa 750 arranged in three blocks with two aisles with the front row being 11ft 6ins from the screen. A recess at the rear of the hall had two small blocks of seat each with four rows and central aisle.
Grand Civic Opening at 2.30pm byAlbert Cowling was then the licensee of the Prince of Wales public house in Bowling Hall Lane and was later famed for his Cowling's Wine Lodge pub in city centre Market Street.
Among the films shown were "A Selection of the Latest War Pictures" from the First World War which had started that year.
It is not clear what happened between the opening and December but the Birch first advertised to the public on Tuesday 1st December 1914 with . . .
"Vendetta" - 1914 B/w Silent 5-reels.The newspaper reported . . .
"Mr Fred J. Hewett, late of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, has been appointed the manager. He will endeavour to present a series of capital attractions in the way of future films."
In the mid-1920s with J.T Wilcock as manager, the proprietor was now Thornton and Kitchen where Tom Thornton was also involved with the Idle Picture Palace and Oak Lane and Oxford cinemas. Leonard Kitchen (as Kitchen & Feather) was operating the Lyceum at Laisterdyke.
Finally, Cansfield's Marshfield Cinema Co took control along with their newer Carlton and Cosy cinemas. Lambert Cansfield, a quarry owner, was also quite a cinema entrepreneur and even built a cinema in his own garden which fronted on to the Leeds & Bradford Road at Stanningley - it was the rather grand Savoy.
"Hollywood or Bust" 1956 USA Technicolor 95mins.
Bingo then Pool
Now as managing director, E.G Douglas provided Bradford with its first Chemin-de-fer facilities at the Silver Birch Club. [For the record, this was followed in December 1962 by the Lyceum Bingo, Cabaret & Social Club and was much wider publicised.]
More recently (2003) the premises were still in use as the Game On pool hall and arcade games centre.
Built with 1292 seats - 1118 in stalls in three blocks with two aisles and a mid-way cross-over aisle spanning side exit doors. The front row was 18ft 9ins from the screen. The straight-fronted balcony had 174 seats in seven rows arranged in three blocks with two stepped aisles.
Grand Opening Performance TodayThe manager was A. Cansfield and those 'popular prices' were from 4d in the front stalls to 1/-d in the circle.
In the floral setting of the orchestra pit, Clement Ambler directed the Carlton Symphony Orchestra where its drummer, Billy Stean, had also played at the Lyceum at Thornbury and Towers Hall lower down Manchester Road. Centre of the orchestra pit was a reed organ played by Clement Ambler - this was one of only three reed organs in the city; the others being at the Regent on Manningham Lane and Saltaire Picture House.
Monday 20th March 1933Audience support for local cinemas was at its peak during and just after the Second World War. It was two programme changes weekly (except for special attractions) and by 1950 prices were 7d to 1/9d; the seating had been reduced to 1263.
The manager, Harry Allerton, boasted that the Carlton was the second cinema (after the Essoldo) in Bradford to install CinemaScope and full stereo sound to meet 20th Century Fox exhibition requirements. Later the Oriental cinema was to install a similar but smaller full system.
From Monday 29th May 1961 for two weeks the Carlton ran the blockbuster . . .
"South Pacific" - 1958 USA Technicolor 150 mins.The showing was concurrent with other 35mm showings at the Plaza in Cross Lane, Elite in Toller Lane, and Regal at Five Lane Ends. All were charging much higher prices for this attraction, eg. 3/-d to 5/-d. Carlton patrons could enjoy the sensation of the full 4-track magnetic stereo sound system whereas the other cinemas played the film with only a mono optical sound track.
"Breakfast at Tiffany's" - 1961 USA Technicolor 115mins.Harry Allerton, the manager for the past ten years took pride in the Carlton's reputation for well-behaved audiences. In a newspaper interview he said "We have kept out all the rowdies, we have nipped hooliganism in the bud and those who caused trouble have been refused entrance again". He had earlier been a manager at the former Ideal Picture House at Bankfoot.
The site was later developed as a petrol filling station.
Towers Hall Cinema
The Towers Hall takes its name from an earlier Towers Hall - a meeting place of the local Temperance movement and famed for the preachings of one Rev A.C Perriman in the 1890s. The new Towers Hall Skating Rink built by Ezra Hoyle announced in the Bradford Daily Argus . . .
Grand Opening on Easter Monday 5th April 1909.The rink was claimed to be "a terrific success" and boasted "Richardson's Light Ball-Bearing Skates". By January 1911 Rink Hockey was played every afternoon. and evening.
The skating novelty faded and the cinema novelty increased so the huge rink was split into two sections and the front part nearest Manchester Road was converted into a picture hall.
Henry Hibbert and his like-minded business partners had patented a cinematograph camera and projector under the name Ebor. This revolutionary contraption was made in a Bradford (Leeds Road area) cellar and the very first film was of a little girl skipping.
The first public showing was to the Bradford Photographic Society in March 1896 and was hailed as "a wonder of wonders". This was to become the start of Hibbert's Pictures and the Hibbert name became associated with many cinemas across the wider area. Although Hibbert's original headquarters was based in the old Temperance Hall in Chapel Street he did return to this Manchester Road site to create his new Towers Hall cinema.
Towers Hall Cinema
Seating for 1078 originally on forms and later in chairs arranged in two blocks with centre and two side aisles. The front row being 14ft 8ins from the screen.
A small orchestra was in residence to accompany the silent films and included Billy Stean, a drummer who went on to play at the Carlton.
Henry Hibbert, addressing the crowded audience, said . . .
"They (Hibbert's Pictures) had spent as much altering the building as they had given for it and they intended to spare nothing that money could buy in order to provide the best entertainment. They had been refused a dramatic licence, and they could not compel the granting of one, but they would do their best to deserve one."Films shown at the opening included . . .
"Fight With Fire" - 1911 UK B/w Silent.The Bradford Daily Argus reported . . .
"This place of entertainment has leaped into popularity at one bound judging by the large audiences last night.whilst the Bradford Daily Telegraph extolled . . .
"Towers Hall opened most auspiciously last night when, at both first and second performances, vast audiences greeted the pictures that constituted the entertainment. The Patrons expressed themselves delighted with the manner in which the hall had been altered ti suit the purpose of a cinematograph show, and there is no gain saying that the place has been transformed in wonderful manner and is not a most up-to-date and comfortable place of amusement."
"Special Engagement ofThis was later followed by . . .
"Nick Winter & the Phantom Thief" - 1911 France B/w Silent.Starring on stage was the popular Molle La Burl, the dancing model.
The Towers Hall adopted the slogan "Always Merry and Bright".
Load of Old Bull
"Tom and his Pals" - 1926 USA B/w Silent.The Towers "First Class Orchestra" continued to accompany the silent films.
Refurbishment and Upgrade
In 1950 the Towers Hall closed for a day (Sunday) in order to install new British Thompson Houston (BTH) sound and new projection equipment. It re-opened again on Monday 3rd April 1950 with . . .
"Jolson Sings Again" - 1949 USA Technicolor 96mins.Later in 1954 a CinemaScope wide screen was fitted but not stereo sound.
"Thunderball" - 1965 UK Technicolor Panavision (aka 'scope) 132mins.
The previously mentioned Henry Hibbert, now a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, had a globe-trotting friend Charles John Cutcliffe Hyne (son of Rev C.W.N Hyne, Vicar of Bierley) who was a successful author, most notably of the Captain Kettle adventure books. Hyne formed the Captain Kettle Film Company in the larger part of the former roller rink at the back of the Towers Hall cinema.
After adding a glass roof, the film studios opened in 1914 which was not a good time as the ensuing war was to stifle activity. The studios were fully equipped with arc lighting, property and scenery rooms staffed with electricians and carpenters, film processing and editing facilities and a small cinema for previewing the film "rushes".
Films produced here were screened in Hibbert's cinemas around the city including (rather obviously) the adjoining Towers Hall cinema and the Temperance Hall (also known as the Jowett Hall in Chapel St, Leeds Road) which later became the Civic Playhouse and Film Theatre and more recently renamed Priestley Centre for the Arts then back to Playhouse again.
One of the early films was of a variety act performing next door on the stage of the Towers Hall cinema in 1912 and involving a troupe of young dancing girls where (according to historian Geoff Mellor) one of the girls was thought to have been a 14 year-old Gracie (Stansfield) Fields. If this is correct then this was her screen debut at the Towers Hall.
Following the short lived Captain Kettle project, the Pyramid Film Company moved into the studios behind the cinema and produced much parochial material which was naturally popular with local folk together with a catalogue of feature films (though short in length) for showing throughout the region. The Towers Hall film studios ceased film production in 1916 due to the difficulties of the war.
Despite its fascinating history, the Towers Hall Cinema did not have a monopoly in the West Bowling area for in 1913 competition appeared at the Coventry Hall (a former coffee tavern) and in 1914 the Ideal cinema opened (later to become Bert Shutt's Ideal Ballroom) and, of course the Birch Lane cinema also in 1914 and finally the Carlton in 1922 but the Towers Hall outlived them all.
This has been a small but very important part of cinema and film making history in Bradford which for the most part is little known except to a handful of cinema enthusiasts and historians.
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