Every Picturehouse Tells a Story

Wednesday, 3 July 2013


The seven cinemas of Forest Gate

Cinema was very much a novelty in the early years of the twentieth century, when the silent movies held sway, and over the years there have been seven functioning cinemas in Forest Gate, with upto 7,000 seats, at any one time.  The seven cinemas had, confusingly, 18 separate names between them over the sixty odd years during which some or all of them operated in what is now E7.

All are now sadly gone, and only the most recent of the Forest Gate seven still stands in a recognisable form - having been through a considerable change of use since the lights were dimmed for the final time in 1975.

In what follows, we present a brief survey and are very much indebted to Bob Grimwood's 1995 book Cinema in Essex and the superb website www.cinematreasures.org for our information. If you can add more - particularly old photos, and offer memories, we'd love to hear from you, via the comments box, below.

Bijou Theatre This was one of Forest Gate's oldest, but shortest lived. It opened prior to 1908 and was owned by Gale's Bioscope Theatres. It was compulsorily closed by the council in 1909, and apparently never re-opened. The Co-op on Woodgrange Road now occupies the site from which it briefly screened.

Co-op, Woodgrange Road, - site of Bijou Theatre
Forest Gate Cinema, also known as The Forest Lane and The Splendid. Like the Bijou, it was close to the railway station. It was opened in 1912 and seated 570 patrons. It was owned by AE Neary and J Lewin. It had been renamed The Forest Lane Cinema by 1922 and after a brief closure for modernisation, in 1932 reopened as The Splendid Cinema. It closed for the last time in 1939/40 and was later demolished. Its site is now occupied by Forest Gate Community School.

Forest Gate Community School, site of former Forest Gate Cinema

Forest Gate Public Hall, also known as The Grand Theatre, The People's Picture Palace, The Public Hall, The Grand Cinema and The King's Cinema This was opened as the Forest Gate Public Hall, on Woodgrange Road on 1 November 1902, set back from the road, with its own wide entrance road. It had seating for 1,000 in the stalls and balcony and also had its own stage and ballroom. By 1907 it had become The Grand Theatre and in March 1908, after redecoration, it re-opened as The People's Picture Palace. 



Forest Gate Public Hall, Grand Theatre, People's Picture Palace, Grand Cinema, King's Cinema, Woodgrange Road
The venue hosted variety shows as well as cinema and by 1910 it was once again known as The Public Hall, still showing films, with its own orchestra pit. It closed early in 1932 and reopened later in the year as The Grand Cinema. By 1932 it was controlled by London and Provincial Cinemas, but closed in December 1932 until January 1935. 

It was again closed, from October 1935 until January 1937, when it reopened as the King's, but it closed for good - as a cinema- around the outbreak of war. Over the years the building was used as a roller skating rink, a clothing factory and The Upper Cut club and finally an electrical store, until 2000. It was demolished in 2005, to provide a ventilation shaft for the cross channel rail link, on its way to central London.

Site of old Grand Cinema etc, Woodgrange Road, today
The Imperial Playhouse, also known as The Regal and The Rio. This was opened at 55 Woodgrange Road (now the site of the Durning Hall charity shop) by Woodgrange Estates, at the rear of existing shops, with one of them now acting as its entrance hall, in 1910. It was owned by London and Provincial Cinemas by 1922 and was closed for alterations in 1932. 


55 Woodgrange Road, site of Imperial Cinema
It reopened as the 600 seater Regal cinema in 1935. It closed in March 1938 and reopened as the Rio later that year, under new management. It closed as a cinema in 1944.

Kings Hall (not to be confused with the King's!) This had a short life, opening in 1910 on the former site of the Forest Gate British School. It closed within four years, around the outbreak of World War 1. The much altered site now houses Angel's restaurant, at the junction of Woodgrange Road and Forest Lane.

79 Woodgrange Road, site of King's Hall Cinema
Odeon This, last surviving local cinema building, was opened in 1937 with a seating capacity of 1,806 - complete with stage facilities and two dressing rooms. It opened on 1 March that year with a showing of Max Miller's Educated Evans. It was hit by enemy bombing in April 1941, when the almost adjacent Queen's was destroyed (see below), but it reopened later, in August that year. It passed to the Rank Organisation in 1948 and remained structurally unaltered until its closure, as a cinema, in November 1975 - with its final show Sean Connery's The Wind and the Lion.


Odeon Cinema, Romford Road - in better shape and days
It was converted into a bingo hall. After this failed it became semi derelict until the stalls areas were refurbished and a false ceiling erected and it reopened as a snooker club. The building retained its Odeon sign, probably because it was too costly and difficult to remove, until it closed for snooker in 1994. 

The building has subsequently been converted into an Islamic centre, whose new owners sanctioned the crude hacking off and vandalism of the art deco relief panels and figures of Pan on the exterior. The Odeon name has also been removed. Since 2001 it has become the Minhaj-Ul-Quran Mosque and Adara Minhaj-Ul-Quran Muslim Cultural Centre. With its dirty, scruffy, defiled exterior it is now, like many of the shops opposite it on Romford Road, a significant eyesore within the district.

Former Odeon Cinema, now Minhaj-Ul-Quran mosque, Romford Road
Queen's Cinema also known as New Queen's and ABC Queen's This opened in June 1913 and was originally owned by Forest Gate Estates. It had seating for 1,750, stage facilities, three dressing rooms and its own generators. By 1926 it had come under the control of Suburban Super Cinemas and in 1928 closed briefly for a major refit, during which time its seating capacity had been increased to 2,000. A Christie organ was installed and it reopened in September 1928 as the New Queens. 


Queen's Cinema, Romford Road, pre 1928
The following year it was acquired by Associated British Cinemas and was subsequently renamed the ABC Queen's. It was completely destroyed by a parachute mine on 21 April 1941 and has subsequently been redeveloped as a block of flats/shops between the former Odeon Cinema and Barclays' Bank on Romford Road.



Queen's Cinema, Romford Road, 1930's


Site of old Queen's Cinema, Romford Road, today

Post Script
In November 2014 we added the following posts script to this blog:
A Cinema Miscellany no 24 (2003) by Brian Hornsey has provided valuable additional local material about a few of the local cinemas covered in our history of them in our Every Picturehouse tells a story feature, of July 2013. We thank him for his painstaking research.

The Imperial Palace (also known as the Regal and Rio) was for a while, around the outbreak of World War 1 known as the Forest Gate Electrical Theatre ( shortened to The Electric).

The Forest Gate Public Hall etc. In its early days had 1,000 seats, but following refurbishment around the outbreak of World War 1 they were reduced to 750 - suggesting that the earlier seating was on benches, replaced by single seats after the refit. Prices for show around the start of World war were from 5d to 1/3d (depending on sitting within the cinema).

The Queen's. Millionaire A E Abrahams had had such success with his Manor Park Coronation Cinema (built, nor surprisingly in 1902) that he built this - a sister cinema to it, near his Forest Gate home. Following its 1928 refit it became one of the first cinemas in the area to show talkies (introduced that year) and full length feature films.

Queen's Cinema
Poor reproduction of photograph
of interior of Queen's Cinema
Another poor reproduction photo
of Queen's Cinema exterior


The Odeon. It was opened on 1 March 1937 with "Thank Evans", when prices ranged from 6d to 1/-, with continuous showings from 12.30pm, daily. After the emergence of Odeon the two main cinemas in Forest Gate were it and the Queen's - operated by two of the country's major cinema chains. From this time, these two cinemas tended to show the major recent releases and the other local cinemas were left showing re-runs and 'B' movie feature films.

World War 11 and local cinemas. All places of entertainment - in Forest Gate, and nationwide - were closed on 3 September and all but essential staff were laid off (without compensation). When it became clear that the threatened invasion was not about to happen, cinemas reopened gradually, after about two weeks. 

There were four local cinemas operating by October 1939: The Odeon (1,800 seats), The Queen's (1,700 seats), The King's (600 seats) and the Splendid (550 seats). The Kings closed first, in 1940 (the circumstances are not clear). The Splendid, dropped its curtain for the final time, around then. The Queen's was badly bombed on 21 April 1941, and its near neighbour the Odeon less severely hit. The Odeon was repaired, but the Queen's was now gone for good.

So, by the end of the war the Odeon was the sole surviving local cinema, brining to an end a frantic half century of openings, closures, name changes and mergers locally. The Odeon was fully restored and operating at its peak level by 1950. It was fitted with a Cinemascope screen in 1954.

Original article, with these notes and photos added as a post script, can be accessed here.






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