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Rotherham Unofficial

An unofficial website about the town and borough of Rotherham

Theatres & Cinemas

I tried splitting the various buildings into Theatres and Cinemas but decided to abandon this as many of them were used as both theatres and cinemas, and afterwards as bingo halls, during their lifetimes.

Little is known of the history of theatre in Rotherham before the late 19th Century. There appears to have been no permanent stage but doubtless touring companies performed in inn yards and halls. Public performances were subject to licensing by the town authorities and probably quite difficult to get in Rotherham. The town was very Protestant, not to say Puritan, in outlook and actors and travelling companies were generally regarded as deeply sinful and depraved.

By the end of the 19th Century Rotherham had acquired its first public theatres. I'm not sure that the people of the town were ever the sort to appreciated 'Grand Theatre' but Variety Shows and Music Hall were very popular in their day. All the big stars included Rotherham on their tours. This popularity was in decline by the 1930s and the last privately-owned theatre closed in 1957. Rotherham Civic Theatre was opened by the council in 1960 to provide a venue for touring thespians and local theatre groups and is still going. A small theatre also existed in the Arts Centre but this closed in 2010.

There are theatre facilities at Rotherham College of Arts and Technology and various schools throughout the borough but these seem to be rarely used. The Lyric at Dinnington also stages shows from time to time.

The first animated films were shown by travelling showmen on the Bioscope (or some similarly-named equipment) as a side show at visiting fairgrounds. Before the first cinema opened, animated features were shown in Rotherham at the Town Hall Assembly Rooms, previously the Mechanics Institute from 1902 to 1911, and also at the Clifton Hall. At one time cinema-going was so popular that most decent sized villages had at least one cinema: I think there were at least two in Rawmarsh (The Princess and the one that was the Job Lot supermarket demolished May 2013) and another in Parkgate (The Electra). I haven't been able to find out much at all about most of these.

I am no great expert in the history of the cinema but in the 1960s television became available to the masses instead of the privileged few through weekly rental and cable services like Redifusion. Cinema attendances plummeted, prices went up, and you ended up with one feature plus adverts instead of a full programme. This decline continued and eventually all the cinemas in Rotherham closed down. For many years you have have had to travel to Sheffield to see the latest releases.

Occasional film showings are projected at Rotherham Civic Theatre with the emphasis on something for the children. There are also a couple of film societies but there are no cinemas anywhere in the town or borough of Rotherham these days. Cinemas used to rejoice in the name of picture palaces round here.

Smaller towns and villages had their own cinemas but I have been able to find out very little about them. I believe that there were two cinemas in Rawmarsh, on was called the Princess; and another in Parkgate. There was at least one in Maltby, The Grand Cinema on Muglet Lane. This has long been something else and burnt down in 2013.

Dinnington Palace

Dinnington Palace was built around 1915 by James England and some local businessmen. For the first year there were live acts during the breaks in the film programme, which was Pathe's Gazette, the serial, the main feature and the comic. In its heyday it was very popular. It was converted to a supermarket.

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The Alexandra Music Hall & Theatre of Varieties

The first theatre to open in Rotherham in 1870 was the Alexandra Music Hall & Theatre of Varieties, situated in Howard Street. It was re-named Alexandra Theatre Royal and Music Hall in 1871. It closed in 1873 and the building was converted into a chapel which has now gone.

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The Clifton Hall

I had a great debate with myself as to which section of the website the Clifton Hall belong to. It is definitely history and I decided that it fitted most cosily in here. It opened as the Rotherham Volunteer Drill Hall in 1873 and was used for balls and dances as well as drill. From about 1910 the hall was used for concerts and film shows as well. After the Second World War the Hall ceased to be used to be used by the Royal Volunteers, was renamed the Clifton Hall and came under the control of the Local Authority. I can remember going to dances and does here in my teens but the venue was becoming less and less popular, not to mention that it was getting tattier and tattier. Attempts were made to turn it into a night club and disco in the late 1980s but the appropriate licenses were not granted. The Council put the Hall up for sale and when there were no buyers they demolished it in 1991 to make way for a car park.

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The Electra Picture Palace
or the Electric Pavilion

The building that became the Electra was originally a Zion chapel. It stood opposite the Hippodrome on Henry Street. Other than this I know next to nothing about this one other than its name and that it closed in 1930. It has long been demolished.

Electra or Pavilion
The Electra

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The Lyric, Dinnington

Dinnington has a small local theatre called The Lyric which was opened in 1910 as a roller skating ring. At one time it was a Salvation Army Citadel and during World War II was used for dances. It was bought by the Parish Council in 1962. It now stages local amateur theatrical productions, and is available for wedding receptions, etc.

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The Premier Picture Palace

The Premier Picture Palace was situated facing Ferham Park at Kimberworth. It opened in 1912 and remained a cinema until 1961 when the fashion for bingo took over. Houses ceased to be called in 1964 and I believe that it is now a Billiards Hall but I have not been up to check.

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The Tivoli

The Tivoli at Masbrough was a cinema which opened in 1913 and closed in 1959. It was Fred Elliott's second hand furniture warehouse when I remember it, but even this passed into dust in 1989 when the building was demolished to make a car park.

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The Whitehall Theatre

The Whitehall Theatre was a picture palace situated on High Street which opened in 1911 as the Picture Palace. After refurbishment in 1920 it was gutted by fire in 1921. It was rebuilt in and reopened in 1925. It closed in 1960 and the building was demolished the same year.

I have to confess that I have no recollection of this theatre at all and cannot even remember where the site was. Andrew has informed me that the Whitehall Theatre stood on the site that is now the Primark store (formerly BHS). I don't think that I could have ever visited here as I have no memories at all of the place.

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Page amended 2015

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