AS the plans to build a new cinema in Bolton are approved, MELANIE WALLWORK looks back at the history of the town's silver screens
IT is almost 16 years to the day since the last film was screened at a Bolton town centre cinema.
When Cannon, in Bradshawgate, closed its doors on January 22, 1998, it marked the end of an era for a town centre which was home to more than 20 cinemas by the late 1930s.
The silver screen was first brought to Bolton at the end of the 19th century, with “living pictures” shown at the Temperance Hall, later the Rialto, in St George’s Road.
At one point, there were almost 50 in the town centre and surrounding areas, including ABC in Churchgate, the Odeon in Ashburner Street, the Palladium in Higher Bridge Street, the Palace in Bury Road, Regent in Deane Road (pictured below); and Tivoli in Derby Street.
Other names that will bring memories flooding back for many people include the Lido, Gem, Majestic and Queens.
Dr Peter Swain, a senior lecturer at the University of Bolton who has carried out research in the area, said: “It’s a remarkable number. It was a reflection of the time in Bolton.
“The people who were really attracted to cinema were women because it was a safe place for them to go. Visiting a cinema allowed them freedom in the 1930s.
“Lots of those women would have been employed within the cotton factories and they would have probably, for the first time, have had their own disposable income.”
He added: “They were very glamorous places. The real boom was with young women. Bolton being the centre of the cotton industry became the centre of cinema-going.”
In the first half of the 20th century, Churchgate was a major thoroughfare and focus of the town’s nightlife, with the Capitol cinema, two theatres and seven public houses there in the 1930s.
Every week, thousands of film fans flocked to see their favourite stars in action, with the Odeon boasting a capacity of 2,534, the Regal, which later became the Astor, Spa Road, seating more than 2,000 and the Capitol holding 1,632.
However, the increasing popularity of television took its toll on the town’s cinemas, and the Astor became the Nevada skating rink, which was popular in the 1960s and 1970s, and the Palladium became a wrestling stadium.
Dr Swain said: “The rise, first of all, of radio then TV, that was the beginning of the end — at the end of the 1950s and into the 1960s.
“It’s gone on from there to the point where we have not got a single one in the town centre.”
One by one they closed, until the Lido, which had opened in March 1937 and was later renamed Studio 1, 2 and 3, and then Cannon, closed its doors in 1998 with a special screening of Casablanca starring Humphrey Bogart.
The cinema where a young Peter Kay once worked laid empty and boarded up until demolition in March, 2006, when a block of flats, known as the Picture House, was built on the site.
The new owners of the Market Place Shopping Centre are set to transform the retail complex with a nine-screen cinema, which is hoped to be completed as soon as next Christmas.
Dr Swain said: “Without a doubt, anything that enhances the town centre of Bolton is to be welcomed because it does need some impetus.
“It is a sad reflection of the state of the town centre. Hopefully, this new cinema will bring some people back into it.
“It would be nice if there was some memorial to Leslie Halliwell — a remarkable Boltonian who is not celebrated in the town.”
A Bolton-born film critic, Mr Halliwell made a significant contribution to the cinema and film industry, particularly with his internationally-known Halliwell’s Film Guide, which continues to be published.
Bolton is currently served by two out-of-town multiplex cinemas — the Vue at Middlebrook and Cineworld, at The Valley (pictured below).