The Queen's Hall

Darlaston's first cinema was the Queen's Hall in Willenhall Street, known locally as the “Blood Tub”. The hall had previously been used as a Sunday school by the Bell Street Primitive Methodist Chapel, which closed in 1908.

The chapel had been badly damaged by a subterranean coal fire, and so in 1910 the congregation moved to the new chapel in Slater Street. After closure, the old chapel and Queen’s Hall were sold.


The location of the Queen's Hall.

The Hall then became Darlaston’s only theatre, and its first cinema.

Plays were organised by Gus Levaine who ran the Darlaston theatre company and another in Cradley Heath.

The members were Marie Aston, Dot Claire, Vera Cook, Bert Evans, Gus Granville, Billy Glen, Jack Igo, Cyril Lane, Denise May, Linda May, Ruby Mildred, and Billy Russell. They performed a different show every week including dramas, farces, variety, and pantomimes, and made all of the costumes, scenery, and props.

Billy Russell, who later made a name for himself as a comedian, was only about seventeen years old when he began working for Gus Levaine. Whilst working at the Queen’s Hall he stayed with his Aunt May who lived in a bungalow opposite the hall. He was paid twelve shillings and sixpence a week, out of which eight shillings went to his aunt for board and lodgings, and for washing his clothes. His duties included scene painting, making props, doing odd jobs, and small acting roles in each production.

It was known locally as the "Blood Tub" because most of the plays included at least one murder. There were plays such as "Sweeny Todd", and "Maria Martin and the murder in the Red Barn".

Films were initially shown during the break in the middle of each production, well before 1910 when the Cinematograph Act of 1909 was implemented. After the passing of the Act, the hall obtained a licence to show films. It was over a year later that the Picturedrome, and the Olympia opened their doors for the first time.

The cinema was a make-shift affair. The projector stood on a small platform above the pay box at the rear of the hall. In 1916 the hall lost its cinema licence, possibly because it did not comply with the strict building code, and fire regulations that had been implemented. The plays and variety shows ceased around the end of the First World War, and the hall closed. After a short life as a warehouse, the hall was demolished to make way for the houses that are still there today.

In the 1914 - 1918 world war many people joined the local regiments and went to fight in France. Local factories also played their part by producing munitions for the war effort. Two hundred and sixty eight Darlaston people were killed in the war. The war memorial in Victoria Road, built as a tribute to them, was completed in the mid 1920s.

The Picturedrome

Darlaston opened its first purpose-built cinema, the Picturedrome, at Crescent Road in 1911. The first owner is believed to have been George Williams, who sold it in 1922 to Mr. Brettell of the Hockley Picture House Company.

It later became part of Colmore Entertainments Ltd. and was equipped to show cinemascope in 1956. The manager in 1956 was Mr. A. Webb, the licensee being Mr. V. I. Olliver. The cinema closed on 2nd February, 1959 the last films being "Escort West" and "Guns, Girls and Gangsters". It was demolished in the summer of 1963.


The Picturedrome. From an old postcard.


Another view of the Picturedrome, also from an old postcard.

The Olympia
A cinema not to be forgotten is the infamous Olympia, locally known as "The Limp" which opened on 15th November, 1911 with the film "Death Before Disaster".

It was originally built as a skating rink by Mr. Laycock and converted into a cinema by local builder William Taylor Lees.

Its situation in Blockall above the South Staffordshire coalfield led to a chequered career.


The Olympia. Courtesy of Tony Highfield.


Courtesy of Tony Highfield.

Underground fires were not uncommon in the area due to the thick seams of coal.

Once started, such a fire could burn for many years. Unfortunately the Olympia stood in an area that was prone to such fires and suffered accordingly.

In 1913 the wooden floor was replaced with concrete because of the fires.

Older people have recalled visits to the cinema during the fires. Watching a film could be an uncomfortable experience due to the heat, especially in the summer months.

 

Around 1913 the cinema was acquired by Pat Collins who sold it to C.D. Cinemas in 1926, and they in turn sold it to A.B.C. The last film, shown on 10th December, 1955 was "Thousands Cheer" starring Gene Kelly.

After being used as a car showroom for several years, the building was demolished in the mid 1960s.


An advert from 1921.


A final view of the Olympia and the Dog and Pheasant pub, known as 'The Wrexham'. From the collection of the late Howard Madeley.
The Regal

The last cinema in Darlaston; the Regal in Pinfold Street opened on the 19th of September, 1938. The first film was "Make a Wish" starring Bobby Breen, and a Mickey Mouse cartoon called "The Boat Builders". The entertainment also included a singer on the stage, and Leslie Taff played the organ. The admission for the evening was just 6d, 9d, 1 shilling, or 1 shilling and 6d.


Leslie Taff.

Leslie Taff was born in Tipton and started playing the piano for silent films at the age of 11 at the Victoria Palace in Railway Street, Horseley Heath.

He played in cinemas at Swindon, Clapham, Kilburn, and Shepherds Bush, before working in the Midlands at cinemas in Wolverhampton, Coventry, and Birmingham. Before coming to the Regal he played at the Tower Cinema, West Bromwich, and the Gaumont Palace in Birmingham.

He also became a frequent performer of cinema organ music on the BBC Home and Overseas Services, often broadcasting from the Regal itself on the Compton organ. Leslie was at the Regal for many years and became a familiar figure in the town.

The building, built by J & F Wootton Limited, and designed by Ernest Roberts, seated 1,043 people downstairs and 372 on the balcony. It was run by Colmore Entertainments. The Regal had a large stage that was used for Sunday evening concerts during World War 2 featuring famous midland entertainers of the day.

 

Courtesy of Tony Highfield.

  The Regal on a wet night. Photographed by the late W. J. Ashmore on 27th December, 1938. Courtesy of John & Christine Ashmore.


The Regal in the late 1930s.

The last film "Duel of the Titans" starring Steve Reeves was shown on 1st February, 1964.The next day the Regal started a new life as a Bingo club. This was very successful and included a restaurant, but in the 1990s attendance's began to fall, and it finally closed in 1994.

In mid 1995 the building was broken into and suffered an arson attack which resulted in severe internal damage to the structure. Demolition followed a couple of months later.

The Regal's Compton Organ. From an old programme.

Leslie Taff escorts a group of young film fans across Pinfold Street as they leave the Regal, some time in 1958. From an unknown newspaper. Courtesy of Ken Phillips.
A group of youngsters outside the side entrance of the Regal in 1958. From an unknown newspaper.

Courtesy of Ken Phillips.

A young appreciative audience in the Regal in 1958.

From an unknown newspaper.

Courtesy of Ken Phillips.


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