Sunday, 13 March 2016

Loughborough and its cinemas

I recently had the good fortune to attend a lecture session and picture show in the Phoenix in Leicester. Lots of great stuff in the lectures, but I was particularly interested in Matt Jones's work to uncover the history of the many cinemas that have been in Leicester. There have been a number of books written on the history of Leicester cinemas, but Matt's own research discovered that many cinemas had been built along the routes of public transport, especially along the tram routes, so it was easy for people to get to the cinema. He also discovered that at first there were lots of small cinemas, in about the 1970s many were converted into two screens, and in the 1990s many introduced further screens. Some of the cinemas were known as flea pits, because people didn't have the opportunity to bathe so often in the earlier days of the cinema, so fleas were quite common in the buildings. Also, there seems to have been lots of name-changes going on!  

A friend, who has recently moved to Belper, told me all about the Ritz Cinema there, which was originally built as a municipal hall, and at various times has housed the library and a theatre, and has been a court and a meeting hall. Apparently there used to be two cinemas in Belper, and both The Ritz and The Palace were owned by the same family, the Morley family. 

Both these recent conversations reminded me of the cinemas in Loughborough, and that they have a very similar history to those in Leicester and in Belper. 

At one time there were 3 cinemas in the town: The Victory in Biggin Street (opened 1921, demolished 1967), The Odeon (built 1936, re-named as The Classic in 1974 and converted to a Beacon Bingo in 1977) on The Coneries, and The Empire (opened 1914, and still going strong as an Odeon) in Cattle Market. 

At one time both The Victory and The Empire were owned by Charles Deeming,  who also owned several other cinemas, for example The Olympia / The Regal in Coalville. 
A suitcase belonging to Charles Deeming

In its day, The Victory was known as the "flea pit", and like cinemas in Leicester had those famous "double-seats" in the back row!! I think The Victory has been immortalised in the 1957 film "The Last Show on Earth", a small "flea pit" situated in Sloughborough, and suffering a bit of a decline! Watch it, see what you think!

The Empire, which opened in 1914, was originally called The New Empire Palace of Varieties, although advertised as The Empire. In 1929 the façade was changed, and in 1936 extra space was added, the frontage again changed, to the Art Deco façade we see today, and the name changed to The New Empire. In 1954, when Deeming sold The Empire (as it had then become known) to the Essoldo chain, it became known as The Essoldo. 
As The Curzon
Then in 1972 the Essoldo chain sold The Essoldo to the Tigon Group who also owned the Classic (which is what the original Odeon became), but since there was already an Classic in town (the former Odeon), The Essoldo became known as The Curzon, before becoming The Classic when The Classic (i.e. the former Odeon) closed in 1973. Also in 1973 the cinema was spilt into three screens. The Classic name didn't last long though, and it reverted to being The Curzon in 1974, and a new screen was also opened. In about 2009 it was taken over by the Odeon chain.
The former Odeon, now Beacon Bingo
So, today we still have our Odeon cinema, with its Art Deco façade, but we are also about to have a Cineworld multiplex cinema, opening on the site of the former Baxter Gate general hospital. Not only is there going to be a cinema, but there will also be lots of restaurants and bars. The building work seems to be going well, and I believe things are scheduled to open in May. Here's a couple of pictures of how the site looked recently:
Taken from Jubilee Way

Building works on the former general hospital site Baxter Gate

The multiplex cinema will be set back from the former nurses' home on Baxter Gate



  1. Hi Lynne,fascinating article. The present-day Odeon cinema also spent some time as the Reel Cinema - I believe it is still owned by the Reel Group but leased to the Odeon. I hope it survives the competition of the new cinema.

  2. Hi Christine! Well, fancy me forgetting to mention the most recent incarnation of the Empire cinema!!! The Reel - a small chain, who also have cinemas in Plymouth, Ilkeston, Fareham etc.. Loughborough's Curzon was the first one in the Reel chain, and the chain still exists today, although it has sold about 4 of its cinemas, including the Loughborough one, to the Odeon. Lynne

  3. Oh my... I can't believe they've knocked down the hospital! I'm sure if I went back to Loughborough I'd never recognise it. It makes me wonder if I should. I'd like to show my home town to my children, but so many of the places I grew up with have gone now. Thanks for this though :) I remember the Classic before it became a bingo hall, and I just remember the Essoldo before it became the Curzon. Where the Victory was, that became a supermarket didn't it? I don't remember it being a cinema, but I was only four when they knocked it down.

    1. Hi Chani! Yes, I'm afraid the Baxter Gate Hospital was vacated in approximately 2007, and was eventually demolished in about 2012. The site remained unused, but with many proposals, and eventually planning permission was granted for the cinema and restaurant complex, with work starting last year, and due to be completed in early May I believe. I blogged about other changes in Loughborough a while ago, but I agree, you'd maybe not recognise some of the place. Yes, there was a supermarket on the site of the Victory, but now there's a card shop, a Games Workshop, charity shop and Bonkers (a discount store). Lynne


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