Cambridge – a brief Cinema History

The recent BAFTAs made me think about cinema history in Cambridge and the number of local cinemas that have vanished in recent years.

In 1896 the first moving film was shown in London. But it was not until 1913 that Cambridge got its first purpose built cinema, the Playhouse.

The Playhouse, Mill Road – now Salvation Army Shop

But Cambridge residents were not unaccustomed to the new technology.  By 1910 several halls in Cambridge had Cinematography licenses.

In an age before television the popularity of cinema was enormous.

The picture houses brought the rest of the world to its audiences. Pathe newsreels of local and national events, film serials such as Dr Fu Manchu in the 1920s, Flash Gordon and Batman and Robin in the 40s and 50s attracted all ages to the excitement of the moving screen.

Local Cambridge undergraduates also sought out the cinemas.   In February 1912 a local newspaper reported that undergraduates had misbehaved, causing seats to be broken. As a result Mr. Hawkins published a notice in the Cambridge Daily News stating that, in compliance with the wishes of the majority of the patrons, the Empire was in future to be open to Townspeople Only.

The Kinema, Mill Road

By the mid 1930s people were in search of a better cinema going experience. Opened in 1937, The Regal was the largest cinema in town seating 1,869 and with a modern café over the entrance. The Victoria could seat 1,500.  They were modern and efficient whereas Halliwell, the famous film writer and critic, described the Playhouse as being ‘knobby, antique little place out in the suburbs, with gas radiators which always smelled dangerous without giving off much in the way of heat.’

The Victoria Cinema, Market Square – now Marks and Spencer

The Mill Road cinemas declined in popularity with people out of town and those wanting a clean, modern experience. Yet they remained well loved and used by those in the immediate area.

The Kinema particularly is still remembered with much fondness. Despite the fact that it was often referred to a ‘the Fleapit’.  It was a kind of mecca for all the poorer children who went there on a Saturday to escape into a fantasy world of cinema heroes.

A post about Cambridge Cinemas now and then coming up.


About The Real Cambridge

There is more to Cambridge than Colleges. A rich and vibrant social history and one steeped in contrast, and often, conflict, with its more famous academia. View all posts by The Real Cambridge

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