The Norwood Society

The Rialto

Fairgrounds were one of the earliest entertainment venues in the Norwood area. There is an extant photograph of Lord George Sanger’s Circus on a site which is now covered by three streets - St Louis, St Cloud and St Gothard Roads.

The earliest hall for public entertainment which I have traced to date was situated on Knight’s Hill – the West Norwood Public Hall which opened in 1885. It catered mainly for local theatrical and musical groups and was a base for Madame Angless, a composer who ran her own orchestras. Between 1910-1920 it had become a venue for a Kinematograph Theatre and when it closed it was turned into an engineering works. This venue still exists and private film shows continue today.

The Upper Norwood Public Hall on Westow Hill was opened in 1897. During the summer it was a swimming baths, however, in the winter months the floors were covered over to become a venue for dramatic and musical performances. In 1903 a Cinematograph performance is recorded to have taken place. For a period it was a Music Hall but by 1909 it was being used to show films. It had various names including The Photodrome and The Electra. The venue closed as a cinema around 1930 and for several years was used as a film studio by J. Arthur Rank making religious films to be shown in Methodist Halls. Later, it was converted partly into a snooker hall, but apart from the shop frontage, the Hall has been demolished and replaced by housing.

The third public hall is the Stanley Hall in South Norwood Road, part of an educational establishment built by W.F. Stanley. The Hall was available for private hire and for a two week period around 1908/09 Frank Ogden Smith hired the two-tier Hall to show films for the Standard Electric Theatres Ltd. Performances were given only in the evenings apart from two Saturday matinees for children. The best seats were in the balcony area which charged 6d. as against 3d. for the main area of the hall. Hall has been hired out to many entertainment groups and is still doing so today.

There were two purpose-built cinemas erected after the 1909 Cinematograph Act came into force. The earliest was the Central Hall Picture Palace in Portland Road. It seated 500 on two tiers. It survived the coming of sound in 1929 and did not close until 1956 after which it had various uses. The building is still there but has been concerted into flats, some of which are not yet sold.

The West Norwood Picture Palace opened its doors in 1911. Situated in Knight’s Hill, almost opposite the West Norwood Public Hall, it seated 326. In 1933 the name was changed to The Cosy and in 1937 to The Royal. It was closed in 1955 and partly demolished. Half of the building was incorporated into the Roseberry Auction Rooms.

A third early-cinema venue opened in 1911 in Portland Road, however, this was a shop conversion which, during its seventeen years of existence, had approximately six names including The Mascot, La Rosa and The Regent. The cinema which seated 300 closed prior to the advent of sound. Although it made a brief attempt to re-open in the mid 1930’s this proved unsuccessful. It was used as a Youth Centre called Socco Cheta until recently, and now awaits redevelopment.

In 1921 the New Gaiety opened in South Norwood High Street. It seated 750 on two tiers and in 1937 was modernised into The Astoria. It continued to function until 1957 when it closed. The cinema was demolished and has been replaced by part of the Harris Academy complex.

The Rialto opened in Church Road in 1928, seating almost 1,400 on two levels. In 1949 it was modernised by George Coles as a Granada. This in turn closed in 1968 to become a Bingo Hall, which has also closed. The cinema building still exists but is now owned by a religious organisation which is endeavouring to obtain a change of usage. A public meeting was held recently to try to restore this building as a cinema.

There were three cinemas built during the Sound period. The Regal Cinema in Norwood Road opened in 1930 with a seating capacity of just over 2,000. In 1935 it was taken over by the Gaumont organisation and continued until 1964, apart from a time during WW2, when it was forced to close. For some years it was a top-rate Bingo Club until it was demolished and the site is now a supermarket.

The Albany in Church Road was also opened in 1930. It adjoined The New Gaiety and had the same owner. It seated 1,250. However, it closed at the beginning of WW2 and did not re-open until 1948 under its new name The Century. Ten years later it finally closed for good and for some years it was a car showroom. The shell of the building survives but the interior has completely disappeared.

The Odeon in Station Road opened in 1937, seating 1,572 on two levels. A Cinemascope screen was installed during the 1950’s. 1971 saw its closure and it was later demolished to be replaced by a supermarket.

A number of the above cinemas, following their closure had been turned into Bingo Halls and Snooker Clubs. In 1924 a Temperance Billiard Hall was built in Norwood Road. This was only recently demolished and a block of apartment flats has been built on the site.

One other entertainment venue to be mentioned is at the British Home for Incurables in Crown Lane. The Home, which was built around 1908, annually hosts a silent film show as part of the Streatham Festival week. Since its opening the Home has regularly given entertainments for its residents and their visitors and during the late 1920’s and early 1930’s a film show was held after Christmas.

Finally, if any readers can add to the information about other entertainment venues or with more data, I would most grateful to hear from you.

Tony Fletcher

Editor’s note. Because the film itself was highly inflammable, and a heat source was used to project the image on to the screen, there were several disastrous fires. A requirement was then imposed for the projectionist’s box to be separated from the auditorium, with its own access.

The Norwood Review Edition #188.