Bradford - Picturedrome/Astra

Bridge Street,

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Location & Building
On the fringe of the city centre at the junction of Bridge Street and Croft Street where the former joins with Wakefield Road stood the imposing solid stone structure of the Wesleyan Association Chapel (later United Methodist Free Church) of 1838 with its entrance from Bridge Street and the body of the building running east to west parallel with Croft Street.

In 1910 the hall was converted into the Picturedrome picture hall with 700 seats and full stage facilities for variety acts offering a mixed programme of kine-variety. The projection room at the back of the balcony and partly external with a wood box-like extension outside the main structure towards the street overhanging the front entrance and with an iron wall ladder as a means of emergency escape. The central entrance door had a wrought iron and glass canopy.

For many years around the first World War period there was "a delightful ladies hat shop" run by Gertrude Flood next door to the Picturedrome which was featured in many old reminiscences.


Hamilton's Dioramas
From the early 1900's the Diorama had been a feature of many touring music hall programmes. Dioramas, also known as Panoramas were huge vertical scrolls with painted scenes unwound to present illuminated and changing panoramic views.

One of the pioneers of such Diorama shows were the Hamilton family who called their scenic shows 'Excursions'. The Hamilton brothers of William, Joseph, Alfred and Harry were all involved in the Hamilton Dioramas where Alfred was noted as the scenic painter. These shows regularly visited the St George's Hall lower down Bridge Street. The touring Diorama shows ceased in 1911 as the silent film era was rapidly taking off.

A young Victor Hamilton (a son) was to enter the emerging cinematograph trade with this converted chapel here in Bradford. Hamilton called his new enterprise Hamilton Pictures and the hall became the Picturedrome.


The Opening
A few days before the opening, the Bradford Daily Telegraph correctly predicted . . .

"The pictures are to be shown in a Golden Frame and an excellent selection has been obtained for the opening week. The Picturedrome is a luxurious Bijou Theatre run on the music hall principle of 'Two Houses Nightly' and seats may be booked by telephone - a great innovation."

Hamilton had chosen Monday 21st March 1910, the week before Easter, as the time to open his new Picturedrome . . .
"Grand Opening tonight
Twice Nightly at 7.00 and 9.00pm
Grand Matinée Saturday at 3.00pm
Special Performances on Good Friday afternoon and evening.
Hamilton's Flickerless Pictures
(in the Golden Frame)
Magnificent series of all the latest subjects.
On the Stage:
Special engagement of Li Chang Hi - Chinese conjurer
and Herr John Oronow - facial expert.
Complete change of programme weekly
Prices: Front Circle 1/-d. Back Circle 9d.
Front Area 6d. Back area 3d.
Seats may be booked in advance."

The Bradford Daily Argus reported . . .
"The building has been admirably adapted to this class of entertainment and the Picturedrome must be looked upon as a decided acquisition to the amusements of the city. It is excellently fitted with comfortable seats, the circle being arranged with tip-up seats. It is not too much to prophesy that the latest house of entertainment will prove entirely successful.
Last night's (opening) programme was one of a diversified nature, including:
"An Outlaw's Sacrifice"
"The Forgotten Watch"
"Cook Makes Madeira Sauce"
"His Only Child"
"The film programme consists of carefully selected series of animated pictures with an explanatory comment by the Lecturer, Mr R. Pearson, on behalf of Hamilton's Flickerless Pictures and Amusement Party."

The audience highly appreciated the services of the lecturer, Mr R. Pearson, who assisted in the elucidation of some points in the pictures which were not too self evident"

Within a month (April 1910) prices had been reduced to . . .
"2d, 4d, 6d and 9d for
Hamilton's Pictures and Vaudeville"

By September 1911 the Picturedrome was advertising colour films which were now beginning to make an impact . . .

"Twice Nightly 7 and 9pm
Matinée Saturday at 1.00pm
Colour Cinematography
plus (on stage):
Louisa Miller
The Eight Frolich
Rokby - eccentric juggler
Prices: 9d, 6d, 4d and 3d."


New Owner
In the early 1920's the Picturedrome was taken over by Eddie Anderton's Elite Picture House Co Ltd who already controlled the Elite and Coliseum in Toller Lane and the Grand Picture House in Manchester Road. Anderton was to install J.B Mackenzie as resident manager at the Picturedrome.

Circa 1922 the Picturedrome played the film "A Cup of Beef Tea" for a week and advertised as "Verity All-Talking and Singing Pictures" - this followed Claud H. Verity's demonstrations at the Royal Hall in Harrogate in May 1921 and the Albert Hall in Leeds in April 1922 of his "Perfected synchonisation to within 1/24th of a second" talkies using "a super gramophone" - really another sound-on-disc system. Although only this one film and a few shorts were ever produced and the project soon disappeared without trace with lack of amplification being the major drawback at that time.


Music & Sound
Musicians were engaged as necessary to accompany vaudeville acts on stage and silent films. By 1930 the Picturedrome had been fitted with British Talking Pictures (BTP) sound system in common with Eddie Anderton's Elite and Coliseum houses. Anderton had also formed a new company Picturedrome (Bradford) Ltd and prices were now 5d to 1/-d.


Temporary Closure
After successfully operating through two world wars and the intervening depression the Picturedrome closed on Saturday 5th February 1949 with . . .

"Dragnet" - 1947 USA B/W 71mins.
Starring Henry Wilcoxon, Mary Brian and Douglas Dumbrille.
"Silver on the Sage" - 1939 USA B/W 68mins.
Starring William Boyd, Russell Hayden and George 'Gabby' Hayes.

The closure was to last over two months for major alterations and complete renovations.


Another New Owner - New Name
The Picturedrome was now under the control of Bridge Street Cinema Co Ltd part of Lionel Agar's Ace Cinemas circuit which included the Birch Lane, Coventry, Elysian and, later, Oxford cinemas.

Lionel Agar was to rename the Picturedrome to Astra Cinema now with a reduced 670 seats and fitted with the more popular Western Electric sound system. The newly renovated Astra was to be the flagship of Agar's small local Ace Cinemas circuit.


Astra Opening
The refurbished Astra was to open on Monday 11th April 1949 . . .

Ace Cinemas present
The Astra Cinema will open
Easter Monday at 1.00pm.
"Pimpernel Smith" - 1941 UK B/W 121mins.
(aka "The Fighting Pimpernel" and "Mister V" in USA)
Starring Leslie Howard, Francis L. Sullivan and Mary Morris.
"Old Mother Riley's Ghosts" - 1941 UK B/W 82mins.
Starring Arthur Lucas, Kitty McShane and John Laurie.

The Astra was now showing two changes of programme during the week and a separate programme on Sundays. All shows were continuous and prices ranged from 1/3d to 1/9d at this time.


Final Closure and Demolition
Widescreen or CinemaScope was never installed at the Astra and it was not surprising that its days would be numbered. The cinema "will close definitely" the adverts proclaimed. Closure came on Sunday 29th January 1956 with the final film . . .

"Japanese War Bride" - 1952 USA B/W
(aka "East is East" in USA)
Starring Shirley Yamaguchi, Don Taylor and Mary Windsor.
"Smart Boys" - USA B/W
Starring The Bowery Boys.

The former chapel/cinema premises were demolished in 1959 for the widening of the Bridge Street/Croft Street road junction.

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May not be copied or reproduced without permission.


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