Bradford - Coliseum Cinema

Coliseum Picture House
Toller Lane,

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On the south side of Toller Lane at its junction with Fairbank Road and next to the Elite cinema which opened the following year. A unique situation in Bradford where two cinemas were next to one another separated by Fairbank Road and surrounded by many streets of densely populated terraced housing.


The Building
Originally a roller skating rink and one of four built around the city in the period 1908-09 to cater for this popular craze. The other rinks were the Towers Hall in Manchester Road, Hippodrome in Barkerend Road and the Rolarena in Manningham Lane. All four rink halls became cinemas at some point in their existence.

The Coliseum Skating Rink opened on Friday 1st October 1909 advertising . . .

3 Sessions daily - Military Band
Up-to-date Café on balcony
Admission 6d. Skates 6d.
Manager Will Jowett.
Early in 1911 it was advertised as . . .
"The Largest and Most Perfect Floor in the City.
Yorkshire League Hockey every Thursday."
The huge single storey building with brick walls and a curved wooden roof sat low on the sloping ground with its floor area excavated out of the slope necessitating steps down from the Toller Lane entrance.


Conversion to a Cinema
In the late summer of 1912 the front part (nearest Toller Lane) of the vast hall was converted into a cinema with 1250 seats. With a barrel-vaulted ceiling and raked floor, the seating was in two blocks with a centre and two side aisles; front row was 11ft 9ins from the screen. The central rear entrance meant that the projection room was offset to the rear right-hand side. The proscenium with one set of curtains, coloured footlights and a very small stage area.


Quiet Opening
It first opened without any fuss as the Coliseum Picture House on Saturday 12th October 1912 with virtually no advertising.

The local newspaper simply reporting . . .

"A newcomer to the rapidly growing list of picture houses. It is a commodious establishment as all habitués of the old skating rink well know and the equipment is most complete."
The motto of the Coliseum was "The very Best in Pictures". It seems that patrons crowded in without even knowing what film titles they were going to see. The Bradford Daily Argus entertainments listing simply said "Continuous performance 6.30 to 10.30pm. Popular Prices".

Three days after the opening the Bradford Daily Argus gave the new venture a little encouragement with . . .

"The Coliseum Picture Palace in Duckworth Lane (actually it was in Toller Lane) taps a district which has been little exploited hitherto by entertainment caterers and judging by the crowds which were flocking to the new house, it should prove exceedingly popular. It is a most commodious and well equipped building and all the latest pictures are on view."


Pays to Advertise
Two weeks after the opening the Coliseum, headed by Alfred Lord as general manager (Lord soon went off to join Hibbert's Pictures and to manage the Temperance Hall Picture House in Chapel Street), decided to advertise in a proper manner with their films showing from Monday 21st October 1912 . . .

"Two Daughters of Eve" - 1912 USA B/W Silent 18mins.
Starring Claire McDowell and Henry B. Walthall.
"In Swift Waters" - 1912 USA B/W Silent
Starring Florence Lawrence and Owen Moore.
"Broncho Billy & the Indian Maid" - 1912 USA B/W Silent
Starring Gilbert M. "Broncho Billy" Anderson and Vedah Bertram.
Films ran for three days with a change of programme on Thursdays.

The Bradford Daily Argus continued to enthuse . . .

"That there is room for a first class picture theatre in the Duckworth Lane (again in error!) district is proved by the success that has attended the opening of the Coliseum Picture House where a four hours continuous programme is attracting big audiences. Clear, steady pictures and an uninterrupted view from every seat, with a cosy interior, makes the entertainment very attractive and the pictures are the best that can be obtained. Mr Alfred Lord is an enterprising manager."


Pensioners Treat
In December of 1912, the management of the Coliseum secured Selig's "Cinderella" - a spectacular black & white silent film presented on a gigantic scale with a perfect cast and elaborate scenery and reported as the "pièce-de-résistance at the Coliseum". For the Friday before Christmas the cinema advertised "Old Age Pensioners will be admitted free on presenting their certificate".


Fun City - A Circus too!
The cinema occupied only the front part of the former huge skating rink and the rear part with access from Fairbank Road was opened on Saturday 23rd November 1912 as "Fun City - Circus and Menagerie" along with a mini-funfair. Admission to the circus was just 2d.

There is a story that in the years leading up to the First World War (in 1914) and to promote the Circus, two Zulu warriors would stand at the entrance and utter weird cries and charge among the youngsters with their spears and shields.

The Fun City closed in 1914 due to the war. Later in 1919, after the war, the former Fun City part of the building was reopened as the Coliseum Garage.


Music then Talkies
There is no clear record or advertising to indicate whether the Coliseum had an orchestra in the early days, though it is certain that a piano would have been used to accompany the silent films. However, in 1922 it was advertising the Coliseum Orchestra in the Bradford Daily Argus (12 Oct 1923) to accompany the film . . .

"Rob Roy" - 1922 UK B/w Silent
Starring David Hawthorne and Gladys Jennings.
In addition to the Fine Orchestra, Pipes have been engaged.
In the 1920s Smith Lord (another member of the Lord clan) had become manager and prices were then 5d to 1/-d same as the Elite.

In 1929 under Eddie Anderton's Elite Cinema Company control, he installed the British Talking Pictures (BTP) sound system in the same manner as he had done at his Elite next door. Programmes ran on the continuous system with two changes weekly and a matinée on Saturdays. In the late 1930s Edward Bairstow was the manager.


1930s Memories
Gordon Clark clearly recalls . . .

The 'Colly' (Coliseum) seemed to be something of a mystery looking as though it had been built as a hanger for an airship with its great rounded roof and brick sides. The lower half was a garage with, in my youth, an Austin agency. I well remember the tiny showroom in which was a brand new Austin 10 and the caption " New Model for 1933". On the lower left-hand corner of the building and extending some way up the side was an indoor rifle-range where, as lads lurking in the area, we would hear the cracks of the shooting.

As a small lad, the Saturday afternoon show was all I was allowed to see. We would be waiting in line outside the side entry in Fairbank Road from 1.30 until the doors opened at 2.00pm when, with our 2d (tuppence) we would be allowed in and very soon the house would be filled with a noisey crowd waiting for the show to start. At 2.30pm sharp, a man would appear at the back of the left-hand aisle carrying a crank-handle and walk the full distance down to the screen, insert his handle and, amid a howling roar of joy, wind back the curtains. Oh happy days!


Wartime Peak
Like most cinemas, the Coliseum audiences peaked during the Second World War (1939-40) and the period of the late 1940s. Two cinemas operated by the same company and situated next door to each other produced its own problems. The Elite was always the better and more comfortable hall and the Coliseum became more down market with older films by comparison.


A.S Hyde takes Control
In the late 1940s, after the war, Eddie Anderton retired to the Lake District and the Coliseum came under the control of Shack Hyde as the Coliseum (Bradford) Ltd. At the same time Hyde snapped up the Elite and both became part of his expanding A.S Hyde Circuit with headquarters in Briggate, Shipley. Click here for more details of A.S Hyde and his cinemas. Around 1950 a major decoration and refurbishment was carried out and the seating capacity had been reduced to a more comfortable 856 The Coliseum continued to operate very much as before with prices 10d to 1/6d now making it cheaper than the Elite.


Star Takeover
In the early 1950's both the Coliseum and Elite were taken over by Star Cinemas of Leeds - the rapidly expanding circuit run by the Eckhart family of Harrogate. Star too regarded the Elite as the premier house and relegated the Coliseum again to down-market programmes. Seating appears (KYB source) to have been increased to 986.


Decline and Closure
There is no record of CinemaScope being installed at the Coliseum. Eventually the cinema closed on Saturday 20th June 1959 with the final films . . .

"The Gun Runners" - 1958 USA B/W 83 mins
Starring Audie Murphy, Eddie Albert and Patricia Owens.
"Terror in a Texas Town" - 1958 USA B/W 80 mins
Starring Sterling Hayden, Sebastian Cabot and Carol Kelly.
After closure the cinema was stripped of its furnishings and fittings to be used as a seat store for the Star Circuit for a while; then used as a temporary warehouse for a supermarket until the end of 1965.


The former Coliseum cinema part of the premises were demolished in February 1966 to make way for a forecourt and filling station for the Coliseum Garage.

Nowadays the site is derelict but the wide rear wall of the old cinema with its curved top originally supporting the curved roof can still be clearly seen.

Copyright ©2004, Colin Sutton.
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