FOR today’s families – familiar with having to travel to The Valley or Middlebrook Retail Park to catch the latest Hollywood blockbuster – it may be hard to picture a Bolton where a cinema stood on nearly every corner.

But in the early 20th century there were more than 20 dedicated cinema buildings in the town, and scores more within easy reach.

Dr Peter Swain, a visiting researcher at the Centre for Worktown Studies at the University of Bolton, has penned The Golden Age of Cinema-going in Bolton.

Bolton-born Dr Swain hopes his book will be the first in a series of studies of Bolton’s leisure interests in the 20th century.

Modern cinematography began in 1892, with the invention of the Kinetograph and Kinetoscope by William Kennedy-Laurie Dickson at the Edison labs in the USA.

Between 1897 and 1910 fairground showmen incorporated the ‘living pictures’ the Kinetoscope projected into shows which wowed large Boltonian audiences.

The Bolton News: Lido Cinema, Bradshawgate, Bolton. Seen here in 1986 as the Cannon Cinema

But the silver screen truly came to Bolton in 1896, when the first authenticated film was shown at the Temperance Hall on St George’s Road, later known as the Rialto.

Just weeks later the Grand Theatre in Churchgate held its own exhibition of ‘animatographic or living pictures’ – the exhibition described in the Bolton Evening News as “one of the most marvellous mechanical contrivances placed before the public”.

But after the turn of the century, the fortunes of ‘living pictures’ began to ebb.

The first regular programme of silent films was at the Temperance Hall in July 1907, when New Century ran a month-long series, changing weekly.

In 1908 the Empire and Hippodrome Theatre opened in Deansgate, opposite the Post Office, setting the scene for the flurry of new cinemas which were to come.

After a series of fires in buildings showing film across the country, in 1909 the Government passed the Cinematograph Act – opening the floodgates for established cinema as it came to be known.

The first cinema built in Bolton was the Electric – later named the Imperial, then the Embassy.

It opened on the corner of Deansgate and Bridge Street in 1910 and remained there for more than three decades before making way for Boots in 1947.

Following soon after were the Ideal in Silverwell Lane in 1910, the Empire in Howard Street and the Derby Electric Palace in 1911, the Regal, formerly a skating rink, in December 1912 and the Paragon in Bradshawgate in 1913.

The Bolton News: The Regent cinema, Deane Rd, Bolton in 1967

1913 was also the year which saw the launch of the Princess, later part of the Theatre Royal, the Beehive Picture Palace in Bark Street and the Tonge Picturedrome.

By 1916 there were 21 dedicated cinema buildings in the town. They could seat huge audiences; the Regal in Spa Road, later the Astor fitted more than 2,000 people through its doors and similarly at the Odeon a single audience could number up to 2,534.

The first full-length talkie was shown at the Palladium in Higher Bridge Street in 1929, when The Singing Fool ran for a month.

By the 1930s Bolton’s cinema count had risen to 22 and there were also numerous film venues in nearby towns; the Palace and Empire in Westhoughton, the Empire, Palace, Savoy, Hippodrome and ABC in Farnworth, the Corona in Little Lever and both the Picture Palace and Picture House in Horwich.

The Bolton News: Farnworth's first cinema the Empire Electric Picture Theatre, opened in March, 1911

In 1934, it was estimated there was one cinema for every nine people in Lancashire and it was these inter-war years which proved the golden age of cinema-going.

During the 1930s cinema clubs were established to encourage more children into the so-called ‘dream palaces’, and prices were so cheap, that even the unemployed could afford to go.

But as television took its toll, one by one the cinemas closed.

The Astor became the Nevada skating rink which burned down in 1985, and the Palladium in Higher Bridge Street was transformed into a wrestling stadium.

The Bolton News: The old Ritz Cinema in Peel Street Farnworth

The Lido, later known as Cannon Cinemas and the ABC, was the last to close on January 22 1998. It lay empty and boarded until March 2006, when it was demolished.

Things are looking up for cinemas in the town though, with work underway to create a new nine-screen cinema at the Market Place Shopping Centre as part of a £14 million redevelopment project.

And with a similar cinema project by rival centre Crompton Place also in the pipeline, it won’t be long before Boltonians can walk ‘t’ pictures’ once more.

The Bolton News: The old Queen's Cinema on the corner of Bradshawgate and Trinity Street, September 1967