Three Wickford Cinemas

On the opposite side of the road to the Wickford arcade, where the Aldi car park is today, there stood until 1998 the Castle public house which had also been known as the Castle Hotel. On the first Saturday of September 1928 the Castle Hotel Club Room was used as a cinema by a Mr Hardaker of Ramsden Bellhouse. This is likely to have been a temporary measure for Hardaker had some association with the nearby Broadway Cinema, which appears to have been the first cinema in Wickford.
According to a short piece in the Chelmsford Chronicle, the new Broadway Cinema was opened in December 1928 “with many improvements”, indicating it had existed before that time. The improvements included two new operating machines, tip up seats, and music from the latest panatrope (in modern terms, a record player). This is likely to have been used to accompany the screening of the Herbert Brenon directed drama, Dancing Mothers, which was shown on Easter Saturday and Easter Monday in 1929. The film was a silent one, made in black and white, and ran for 66 minutes. The stars of the film were Conway Tearle, Clara Bow and Alice Joyce.
Expertise in all matters of moving pictures may well have been close at hand for the Broadway Cinema owners if needed , for Will Day, who traded in all things related to cinematography from Lisle Street off Leicester Square in London, lived in Wickford. He was the film industries acclaimed historian and a friend of William Friese Greene, a pioneer of the motion picture and the inventor of the first commercial cinematograph which he patented. On the inventor’s death Will was instrumental in raising funds for his two boys and widow. Will had an extensive collection of cinema objects himself which were of such historic value that he allowed them to be displayed at the South Kensington Science Museum. He used part of his collection for entertainment too, when raising £25 for Warriors Day and the Earl Haig fund with a private showing of films at his Wickford residence. The films were kindly loaned to him by the Vitagraph Company based in London’s Charing Cross Road. Will Day was also instrumental in organising a Victory Fete and Carnival at Wickford where he collected £500 for the War Memorial Nurses Home in Southend Road. 6000 people were in attendance. In 1923 his data reference on the history of cinematography was regarded as the standard reference on the subject by the National Physical Laboratory in Tedddington.
However, it is not currently known when the Broadway Cinema was originally built, who its owners were, its exact location, or when it closed, although it is likely to have closed before 1935 when plans were drawn-up for a new cinema to be built in the High Street, and another in Station Road. The Chelmsford Chronicle states the High Street cinema opened as the Carlton on Monday September 14, 1936. It would appear the Station Road cinema did not materialise.
The building company for the Carlton was E G French and the heating installation was contracted to the Paton Engineering Company. The general foreman for the building works was William George Hart, the son of Aaron Hart and Emma. They lived in the London Road at Shamrock Cottage. On completion of the works the cinema could accommodate an audience of 650 people. The first film shown was the Victor Saville directed musical, It’s Love Again. This was a black and white film which ran for 83 minutes and stared Jessie Margaret Matthews. On the day of the opening the car park was free to patrons, as was the use of the cycle store.
In 1948 the Carlton Cinema was visited by the Southend Carnival Queen, Patricia Waterman, who was accompanied by her four maids of honour. She was presented with a bouquet of carnations by the Wickford Carnival Queen, Joyce Whitlock. In 1950, Daphne Ashbourne, a former cashier at the cinema, was crowned Pitsea Carnival Queen by the then Member of Parliament, Bernard Braine.
Sadly for movie goers, the Carlton cinema closed its doors for the last time during the mid-1950s and the building was taken over by Woolworth. On 7th October 1958 the new Woolworth store was mentioned in the Belfast Telegraph. Apparently a specially designed body based on the Wickford store was built on a coach chassis and this toured Canvey Island, Shenfield and Basildon. The travelling Woolworth shop was staffed by a manager- driver and two assistants.
The Woolworth building itself was substantially altered in the 1970s, so the site looks very different now to what it did in its heyday as a cinema. The last full year of trading at the Woolworth store was 2008 with the Woolworth business entering administration in January 2009. The building was acquired by the 99p Store and that business was purchased by Poundland in 2015.
After the closure of the Carlton cinema there was an attempt to establish another cinema at Wickford in the Public Hall at the corner of Elm Road and Jersey Gardens. The building of a public hall there was agreed at a meeting chaired by Sir Carne Rasch MP in 1906 and strongly supported by the Reverend Francis Dormer Pierce. The hall was opened by Pierce in November 1908. It was built of corrugated iron and measured 45 feet by 30 feet with a height of 20 feet. A platform measuring 12 feet by 18 feet was built inside. The main hall was lit by oil lamps and it could accommodate up to 300 people, so less than half the people accommodated by the Carlton. There were also two ante-rooms attached to the main building. The hall became the Astoria Cinema in around 1955, but it appears to have been an unsuccessful enterprise, closing its doors within 12 months or so of opening. A proprietor of the Seven Kings Astoria filed for bankruptcy at about the same time as the Wickford closure. He lived in Athelstan Gardens, Wickford, a short distance from the Astoria, but it is not known if he had anything to do with the last of the three Wickford cinemas.

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  • I went there once. It rained and you could not hear the dialogue because of the corrugated iron roof. I did not get my money back. Ha ha.

    By bobcroot (23/03/2020)

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