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Buildings

Manor Cinema: The rise and fall of a 1920s masterpiece

Perhaps the biggest Poundland sign in the country. This branch occupies a small space at the front of the former Manor Cinema. Picture: Google.

A few weeks ago, I was looking at some old documents and discovered that if this shabby building at Manor Top survives another six years, it will have reached its centenary. This is one of Sheffield’s last remaining suburban cinemas but hasn’t shown a film for 52 years. People in this part of the city will be more familiar with it as a supermarket (Challenge, Frank Dee, Gateway, Somerfield, Tesco) and now Poundland. In fact, it’s spent more time as a shop than it did as a cinema. Sadly, its condition is worsening, and one suspects that demolition will be the eventual outcome.

However, the former Manor Cinema has an interesting link with an important building in Leeds. It opened in December 1927 to the designs of Pascal J. Stienlet and Joseph C. Maxwell, of Newcastle-on-Tyne, the same architects who conceived the Majestic Cinema in Leeds city centre, which has recently been restored as the new headquarters for Channel 4.

The Majestic opened in 1922 and remains a distinguished building. The Manor Cinema opened five years later, cost much less to build, and was praised for its smart appearance at one of the highest points in the city.

It was the idea of Thomas Francis McDonald, one of cinema’s pioneers, who had been in business in the United States, and realising the future of the film industry, rushed back to Britain and built his first cinema at Wallsend-on-Tyne in 1904. Afterwards, he was owner or lessee of houses at Gateshead, Blaydon, Mexborough, Worksop, Edinburgh, Shirebrook, Ripley, Heanor, and Coalville. Until the intervention of World War One, he was in the film-renting business, under the title of Photoplays Ltd, based in Sheffield and South Shields, buying films from America, and renting them to cinemas.

In 1927, following expansion of housing estates in the Manor area, McDonald went into business with Michael Joseph Gleeson (the builder) and George W. Dawes (plumbing contractor) to form Manor Picture House Ltd. It acquired a site on sloping land at Manor Top to build a ‘super-cinema’, the largest in South Yorkshire, accommodating 1,700 people.

A sketch of the Manor Cinema that appeared in newspapers when it opened in December 1927. Picture: British Newspaper Archive.

M.J. Gleeson were responsible for main construction, including excavation reinforced concrete, brickwork, carpentering, joinery, and roofing.  

The façade of the cinema was faced with rustic brick and coloured cement rendered dressings with the ‘MANOR CINEMA’ name in the brick work above the entrance doors. Its exterior was lit by floodlights mounted on concrete pylons.

The entrance to the cinema was through an 18 foot wide vestibule into a spacious foyer housing the pay box. Because of the hillside, the circle, often referred to as the first balcony, was on the same level as the entrance. Stairways led down to the stalls and up a second balcony. The auditorium was decorated with fibrous plaster pilasters, coffered ceiling and beams with a proscenium opening of 23 feet. The decoration was by Frank Flint of London Road with a scheme of pastel shades, not too strongly contrasted, together with an original stipple effect on the wall panels.

The screen was hung in front of a curtain that covered the whole of the back of the stage. The projection room, with two Kalee projectors, was outside the building, at the back of the second balcony. In the basement, under the main entrance, was a 10-table billiard room, and three private rooms, the table supplied by Fitzpatrick & Longley, one of the country’s oldest and reputable manufacturers.

An aerial view of Manor Top taken between the wars. The Manor Cinema is at the bottom of the photograph. Photograph: Picture Sheffield.

The Manor Cinema turned out to be one of Sheffield’s finest cinemas and was later joined by the Paragon at Shiregreen and the Ritz at Southey Green. Sound was introduced in the 1930s, and a canopy was erected on the outside, running the entire length of the façade.  Thomas McDonald died at Montgomery House, Sharrow Lane, in 1946, the business carried on by his two sons.

A canopy was added to the outside of the Manor Cinema in 1936. This image of the cinema was taken in 1963. Photograph: Picture Sheffield.

In 1950, a more modern style proscenium was fitted and in 1955 a new projection suite was fitted at the back of the stalls.

The Manor Cinema was sold to the Leeds based Star Cinema Circuit in 1958 who closed it to carry out further improvements including the installation of a new sound system. The reopening was celebrated in style with a grand fireworks display, when 120 rockets were set off, one for each of the cinemas on the Star Circuit.

It closed as a cinema in 1963, reopening three days later as the Manor Casino – Star Bingo Club. However, films returned on a part time basis along with some bingo sessions, but finally closed in 1969 after being sold to Challenge, a Sheffield-based supermarket group.

The Manor Cinema closed for good in 1969 and was sold to Sheffield-based supermarket group, Challenge, which removed the outside canopy and built a new ground-level floor above the former stalls. Photograph: Picture Sheffield.
It is hard to believe that the Majestic Cinema in Leeds was built a few years before the Manor Cinema. Both buildings were designed by Stienlet & Maxwell of Newcastle-on-Tyne. The Majestic is now Channel 4’s new HQ while the Manor Cinema is a pale shadow of its former self.

© 2021 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.

Categories
Buildings

Old name, new look: the Gaumont Building

How we’ve loved to hate. The Odeon Building built in 1986-1987.

Back in the 1980s it was an important part of Sheffield’s regeneration, but after completion was universally hated. The steel and concrete building in Barker’s Pool opened as the Odeon, replacing the Gaumont Cinema, built in 1927 (as The Regent) for the Provincial Cinematograph Theatres circuit, and demolished in 1985.

A tear or two was shed, but its severe appearance could never keep up with the go-getting eighties.

We enjoyed its bright new replacement, but it didn’t last long, closed in 1994 in favour of Odeon’s multi-screen complex on Arundel Gate. And then came its reincarnation as a nightclub.

The Regent Theatre was built in 1927 for Provincial Cinematograph Theatres and was the first major cinema designed by architect William Edward Trent. Taken over by Gaumont British Theatres in 1929 it retained the Regent name until 1946. (Picture Sheffield)

If memory serves correct, it was vilified by Prince Charles, but fiercest criticism came from Sheffielders. It was considered downright ugly.

Over thirty years later, disapproval never waned, and the once-futuristic appearance looks as much out of place as it did then.

But that might be about to change.

A planning application proposing a significant facelift to the Gaumont building (as it has wistfully been renamed), has been submitted to Sheffield City Council.

The improvement works fall within the wider Heart of the City II development scheme – led by the Council and their Strategic Development Partner, Queensberry. Plans would see the building’s current red steel frame completely removed and replaced with a contemporary design.

The new façade proposals for the building, designed by Sheffield-based HLM Architects, who are also working on the Radisson Blu hotel, take inspiration from the building’s origins as the Regent Theatre (although I see no resemblance whatsoever).

Gone is the glass and steel. An artist’s impression of the new design of the Gaumont Building. (Sheffield City Council)

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.