Bradford - Victoria Cinema

Victoria Picture Palace / Victoria
Thornton Road,
Girlington, Bradford.

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Built in a prime position on Thornton Road adjacent to Waterside Road and about 1.1/2 miles from the City centre and close to the busy crossroads with Whetley Lane and Ingleby Road. The Girlington district was densely populated in streets of back-to-back and terrace houses.


The Building
A purpose-built stone construction of rather plain rectangular plan. The front elevation had a central entrance with shop units on either side with first floor rooms above. The pitched roofed frontage had a flat topped centre section above the projection room with a name stone at the very top. The architect was William Watson who also incorporated the adjoining Billiard Hall operated by Joseph Schofield.


The well proportioned spacious auditorium had a raked floor and a small straight fronted balcony. Its 1,000 seats were arranged in three blocks with two aisles with two corresponding access doors to both stalls and circle. The projection room at the rear of the balcony was not central but slightly offset to the right of the auditorium and projecting forward from the balcony rear wall.

The proscenium opening was quite wide, for a suburban cinema, at 40 feet and a shallow depth stage complete with curtains and a small orchestra pit. The ceiling was vaulted with decorated cross ribs and typical of other halls of the period. The side walls had curved topped recessed panels at each side.


The Victoria was built and operated by Hibbert's Pictures Ltd (Henry Hibbert) trading as Victoria Palace (Girlington) Ltd with William Naylor as managing director and C. Whiteley as manager. It was to stay under the same company ownership for nearly five decades.


The Opening
Hibbert's opened the Victoria Picture Palace, two months after the start of World War I, on Monday 19th October 1914. For the first three days, Monday to Wednesday advertised . . .

The Rendezvous of the District.
See our Perfect Pictures.
"The Red Spider" - 1914 USA B/W Silent.
Continuous performance 6.30 to 10.30pm.
Prices: Circle 6d. Stalls 4d. Front Area 2d.
For the remainder of the week from Thursday to Saturday . . .
"The Right of Way" - 1914 USA B/W Silent
Starring Van Dyke Brooke, Norma Talmadge and Leo Delaney.
"The Chief of Police" - 1914 USA B/W Silent
Starring Paul Hirst, Marin Sais and William H. West.
(By coincidence these two films were also shown at the opening on Thursday 22nd October 1914 of the Empress Picture Palace less than a mile away in Legrams Lane.)

The following day, Tuesday 20 October 1914, the Bradford Daily Argus commented . . .

"The inhabitants of the Girlington district are quite proud of their new picture palace. It is a very pretty place and a series of interesting pictures were shown before a large audience last night. The principal picture "The Red Spider" is a thrilling description of life in New York. Belgian refugees in Bradford was also filmed, besides numerous other interesting subjects."


The 1920's
In the early 1920's with F. Whiteley as general manager the prices were 3d to 9d. By the mid 1920's with Ralph F. Thomas as manager and prices of 4d to 8d it advertised "The Victoria Orchestra" as accompaniment to the silent films.

In March 1926, while some other picture halls still mixed silent films with variety acts on stage, the Victoria added to its advertising . . .

"NB - Picture Fans - Our speciality is Pictures not music hall turns".
In 1927, after a refurbishment, the cinema promoted itself as the New Victoria with its New Victoria Orchestra and musical director Charles E. Stephenson, the broadcasting violinist.


'Talkies' Arrive
In September 1929 the New Victoria Girlington (another much larger New Victoria Theatre was now being built in Thornton Road in the City centre) was equipped with the British Talking Pictures (BTP) sound system and advertised its twice nightly 6.30 and 8.30pm programmes . . .

"The only Theatre in Bradford fitted with the full British Talking Pictures equipment presents . . .
"Hearts in Dixie" - 1929 USA B/W
Starring Stepin Fetchit, Clarence Muse and Eugene Jackson.
Talking, Singing and Dancing.
200 entertainers from the cotton fields of America."
It was, in fact, the first Hollywood film made with an all-black cast and was very well received.

Despite the claim about the sound equipment, Hibbert's Pictures had also installed the BTP system at their Towers Hall cinema in Manchester Road.

By 1934 the Western Electric sound set had been fitted and prices were now 5d to 9d for continuous performances with twice weekly programme changes. In the late 1930's Trevor Blackwell was to take over a manager. Meanwhile the Billiard Hall was now known as the John Bedford Billiard Rooms.

In the late 1940's, with Thomas Armitage in charge, the seating had been reduced to 953 and prices increased to 9d to 1/6d. By 1951 the seating had been further reduced to 892.


Fire Damage
During the night of Tuesday 8th March 1955 in atrocious weather of frost and snow, a fire broke out in a ground floor room and the flames spread right up to the underdrawing with thick black smoke in the auditorium.

The ceiling, seating and balcony flooring were seriously damaged and the fire brigade had to pour water through a ventilator on top of the roof to reach the flames. Extensive damage was also done to the adjoining ladies and childrens outfitters shop of Edwin Pearson Gudgeon. A notice was printed in the newspaper . . .

"Will Patrons please note the the cinema will be closed until further notice owing to fire."


Refurbishment and CinemaScope
A major refurbishment followed the fire with new seating, carpets and decoration. A CinemaScope wide screen was installed at 26 feet wide and 13 feet high with motorised masking. In the refurbished projection room anamorphic lenses were fitted and the latest RCA sound set. Due to the larger screen some seats were removed from the front stalls reducing its capacity to 780.


Grand Reopening
The Victoria was to have a Grand Reopening on Monday 16th May 1955 with . . .
Cinema completely modernised and CinemaScope installed

"River of No Return" - 1954 USA Technicolor 91mins.
Starring Robert Mitchum, Marilyn Monroe and Rory Calhoun.
See the Splendour of CinemaScope at Girlington's
Remodernised Cinema. Continuous from 6pm.
Proprietors were now simply listed as Hibbert's Pictures Ltd with M.E.W. Armitage in control and run in conjunction with the Towers Hall cinema. Prices had now jumped to 1/6d to 2/6d for its continuous performances with three programme changes weekly.


The Victoria closed on Saturday 16th December 1961 with . . .

"Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" - 1961 USA 105 mins.
In CinemaScope and DeLuxe color.
Starring Walter Pidgeon, Joan Fontaine and Barbara Eden.
The film title being somewhat prophetic as the Victoria had now 'sunk' for good after 47 years.


Conversion to Supermarket
Former Victoria cinema, Girlington. Following a short spell as a Bingo Hall, the former Victoria cinema building was purchased by Wm. Morrison's small company and stripped of its seats, screen and balcony and its floor levelled. The 5,000 square feet interior was fitted with a false ceiling, shelves and checkouts to become the very first Morrison's Supermarket.

The unique opening of Morrisons Victoria Supermarket on Thursday 1st November 1962 was performed by 'Bobo' one of the famous television chimpanzees (from the PG Tea adverts) who cut a white tape across the entrance to open the first self-service supermarket of William Morrison (Provisions) Ltd. Bobo was wearing a pink dress and yellow straw hat was handed a pair of scissors to cut the tape. Afterwards Bobo made her way to a tea display. See Morrisons plc website for their Company history.


Later Use of Building
When Morrisons built a larger supermarket in the Victoria Shopping Centre on land behind the former cinema building, the original premises were then leased out to Don Valley Discounts as a furniture centre and later to Windsor House for discount shoe retailing.

Eventually in early 1982 the building was demolished to make way for extensions to Morrisons car park. Morrisons have since demolished the original late 1960's Victoria Shopping Centre and built a new and much larger Supermarket complex on the greatly enlarged site still carrying the name Victoria Shopping Centre.

Copyright ©2005, Colin Sutton.
May not be copied or reproduced without permission.


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