Bradford - Temperance Hall / Civic Playhouse

Temperance Hall / Jowett Hall / Civic Playhouse /
Film Theatre / Priestley Centre for the Arts / Playhouse
Chapel Street,
Little Gemany, Bradford.

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Playhouse exterior


On the eastern side of Chapel Street sandwiched between (originally) wool warehouses and opposite the aide of the former Eastbrook Chapel (later rebuilt as Eastbrook Hall Methodist Church) from which the street takes its name. Chapel Street connects from the busy Leeds Road to Peckover Street in the heart of the former merchants quarter of Little Germany. This location was in later years and still is seen as a disadvantage being almost hidden out of the way.


Temperance Hall
Occupying a site 50 feet wide and 65 feet long to rear, the original building was a stone built, and the city's first, Temperance Hall of 1837 at a cost of £14,000. With its traditional U-shaped gallery it was one of the first locations in Bradford to show films.

Capable of accommodating circa 660 people it fist showed experimental films using a 'fit up' projector and sheet (screen) from 1900. In January 1908 Sidney Prince promoted films on a regular basis trading as 'Sidney Prince's Pictures' and this lasted about two years.

Following the 1909 Cinematograph Act, the hall closed for alterations to meet safety requirements and re-opened as a permanent cinema on Wednesday 22nd September 1909 and advertised . . .

"The finest picture hall in the North.
Magnificent decorations. Beautiful Pictures."
Prices 1/-d, 6d, 3d.
Tonight 7.45pm. Mats. Sat 3.00pm.
After a short closure it was re-opened again on Tuesday 8th February 1910 by Henry Hibbert with an early talkie film . . .
"A Trip Through Jersey" to demonstrate
'Viva-Phone Talking Pictures'
(A non-sync gramophone record system.)
Henry Hibbert was already well known in the city for his "Saturday Evening Entertainments" and "Cinematograph Exhibitions" at the Mechanics Institute in 1904. Hibbert, now trading as Hibbert's Pictures, was already expanding his cinema interests to the Dales and other towns using the Temperance Hall as his headquarters.
The cinema was registered as Bradford Picture Theatre Ltd with Mrs A. Crowther as resident manager. Prices were 4d to 8d.

The Temperance Hall closed as a cinema on Saturday 25th March 1922 with the film . . .

"His Friend's Wife" - 1911 USA B/w Silent.
Starring Francesca Bertini, Francis X. Bushman and Dorothy Phillips.
"No Man's Land" - 1918 USA B/w Silent.
Starring Bert Lytell, Anna Q. Nilsson and Charles Arling.
Hibbert's Pictures headquarters were then transferred to his Towers Hall cinema in Manchester Road.


Jowett Hall
ILP mural The former Temperance Hall later re-opened as the Jowett Hall named after Fred Jowett who became a Minister in the 1924 Labour Government and very active in the Bradford Independent Labour Party (ILP). The Jowett Hall was destroyed in a fire on Monday 25th March 1935.

The Playhouse was an offshoot of the Leeds Playhouse and had used the Jowett Hall for their Bradford Productions. They had just staged a play "Noé" at the Jowett Hall following which a fire had started in the hall and totally destroying the building.

The Playhouse company then bought the land and commissioned local Architect Eric Morley to design a new purpose built theatre in a project costing circa £10,000.


Civic Playhouse
After the site had been cleared plans were drawn up for a new Playhouse Theatre with cinema facilities - the second such purpose designed dual function theatre/cinema in the city following the gigantic New Victoria Theatre of 1930.

The new, and very much smaller, dual function hall was to be known as the Civic Playhouse. The architect was Eric Morley FRIBA of W.J Morley & Son FRIBA in Swan Arcade.


The New Building
The new (and current) building was a plain flat fronted structure with Art Deco features. Faced with white rendered concrete with a tiled lower part either side of its small central entrance with a cantilevered rectangular canopy over. A central vertical fin sign 'Playhouse' announced its existence to passers-by in Leeds Road. Tall first floor windows provided light for the staircases at each side and the central windows for the projection room.


The narrow stepped entrance led to a small foyer with paybox. Stairs led downstairs to the bar/café and upstairs to the raked stalls at first floor level and a steep stepped balcony above. Seating capacity was only 299 in tip-up seats. The proscenium opening at 22 feet was flanked by quarter-rounded pillars and the overall plasterwork was simple 1930s style with some Art Deco features.

The flat-fronted balcony with a small open loges at each end leading to entrance/exit doors and with 8 rows of seats and the stalls also of 8 rows in stadium plan make this an intimate style of theatre/cinema.

The projection room was at the rear of the stalls and equipped with two GB Kalee projectors and Kalee sound system. The screen was fixed to the back wall of the stage.

In this new building there was no flytower but ample dressing rooms, storage and wardrobe space were available under the stage and stalls at foyer level. A crossover corridor was under the stage front.


The Opening
The new Civic Playhouse opened on Friday 29th January 1937 with a stage production advertised as . . .

The World Premier of James Gregson's production of
"Bees on the Boat Deck" by Bradford author
J.B Priestley with Edward Thornton in the lead rôle.

The following month the first film opened on Monday 8th February 1937 with . . .
"Whom the Gods Love" - (details unknown)
Starring Stephen Haggard.
The proprietors were registered as Civic Playhouse Friendly Society. Films were shown every third week alternating with stage productions. Film programmes were usually non-mainstream, arty or foreign language offerings playing to a discerning clientele.

By 1949 the cinema prices were 1/6d to 2/3d dearer than the city centre main circuit cinemas.

The distinguished theatre history of the Civic Playhouse is not recorded here - only its rôle in the history of cinemas in Bradford.


21st Anniversary
The Civic Playhouse celebrated its 21st Anniversary on Saturday 25th January 1958 with the last night of the stage presentation of . . .

"When We Are Married"
A comedy by J.B Priestley.
In the presence of the Lord Mayor
Alderman David Black.
The cast and audience sang 'Happy Birthday' for the theatre and for the Lord Mayor for it was his birthday too. Also present was Eric Morley FRIBA architect of the Civic Playhouse.


A Second Screen
At its Golden Jubilee in 1987, the Playhouse boasted having shown over 6,000 films averaging 120 a year. Considering that films were shown only about every three weeks this seems an exaggeration unless it includes many 'shorts'.

However, a second screen was constructed in the rear of the basement where the café had previously been. It was a very small affair seating only around 35 and with a small screen and 16mm projection equipment.

For a period of time films were booked in conjunction with the British Film Institute and Bradford's National Museum of Photography, Film and Television (now the National Media Museum). In 1992 some £48,000 was spent in renovations to bring the cinema up to standard.


Luxury Screen Two
A £100,000 redevelopment of the earlier rather primitive basement cinema was extolled in the Telegraph & Argus 7th May 1994. The plan was to build a state-of-the-art auditorium ready for the first city-wide Bradford Film Festival in 1995.

The plan was to transform it into a luxury 75 seat cinema with . . .
raked sloping floor
luxury seating
air conditioning
Dolby stereo sound
sound proofing
new projector to screen 35mm movies.

A grand plan which did not happen and fizzled out.

By coincidence, the 3-screen Odeon Film Centre was considering plans to further sub-divide to make 7 screens but this too did not materialise.


Fire, Rebuild and New Name
Schematic Section A major fire broke out just after 11.00pm on Friday 19th July 1996 causing "hundreds of thousands of Pounds worth of damage" which almost totally destroyed the stage and roof. Luckily it was discovered in time to prevent it spreading to the auditorium as the safety curtain had been lowered. Earlier in the same week there had been a small fire in the projection room. The cause of both fires remains unknown.

The stage was completely rebuilt and a much needed flytower added and the theatre was renamed Priestley Centre for the Arts. The proscenium arch theatre stage now had an apron projection over a pit with original crossover beneath.

The new stage had a cyclorama rear wall, rear manual curtains, electrically operated mid-stage tabs which double as screen side masking. The 22 feet wide cinema screen is of the electric roll-up type. The main house tabs can be both drawn or flown upwards. A safety curtain is fitted.

New lighting is computer controlled from the 'tech box' within the projection room as is the comprehensive sound system. The projection room contains a single 35mm projector, platter and Dolby surround sound plus 16mm and video facilities.

Playhouse interior

Seating is now 291 with 8 rows in both stalls and balcony in a single centre block stadium style with side aisles. The projection system has been 'mothballed' for some time but in 2008 was overhauled and films can be shown again.


Studio Theatre
In adjoining premises a 70 seat studio theatre has been created to extend performance space. Both this and the main auditorium, cafe and bar are available for private hire.

Currently (2008) the basement has been refurbished and opened up as a bar and servery, meeting place, small performance space and gallery for local artists.


Haunted Theatre
Playhouse rear A fairly recent discovery seems to be its ghosts. It is claimed the ghost sits in chair H18 in the rear of the stalls. Other ghosts include Amelia, a little girl who fell from the balcony and whose giggling is heard by technicians over their headphones when setting up equipment.

J.B Priestley himself is said to haunt the place by walking across the foyer only to disappear into the stairs. Around 1980 there was the ghostly interruption on the sound system shouting "Breaker One Nine for a copy" but perhaps that one has been driven away.

Paranormal investigator teams have checked out the building which they claim is a very active paranormal site. Not surprisingly the theatre organises Ghost Nights at a cost for you to experience it yourself.


Renamed Playhouse again
Victoria 5 After the latest of several financial problems and being in administration, the former Priestley now has a new management team and its organisation restructured and re-invented itself as the Playhouse - the name by which older people always knew it.

In 2009 the Playhouse secured a grant of £51,000 to fund a three-year business plan with a view to coming out of administration. More film showings are promised and in March 2010 the Playhouse has a programme of films as a 'satellite' screen of the 16th Bradford International Film Festival.

For the time being, cinema still continues on this 110 year-old and chequered historic site.


Copyright ©2008, Colin Sutton.
May not be copied or reproduced without permission.



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