Cinemas and Nightclubs
Somercotes had two cinemas, although originally they were probably as much variety theatres or music halls as ‘picture palaces’. They both opened in 1912 and closed as cinemas within a year of each other in 1959 and 1960. This is their history:
I. THE EMPIRE CINEMA
The Empire cinema was opened as early as 1912. It is listed in Kelly’s Trade Directory for that year as “The Empire Palace” operated by S. Jaques & Company. Mr. D. Jaques was the General Manager, Mr. Augustus F. Manges the Stage Manager and Mr A Vardy the Musical Director. It was trading as the “Empire, Somercotes”. “The Stage” magazine ran a notice on 15 August 1912 for Alf Grady, a “… Versatile Comedian in Song, Dance and Story …next week, Empire, Somercotes, Derbyshire”, while on 5 December 1912, the same publication reported that “…Baby Violette, the Wonderful Child Artist… performed at the Empire Somercotes”.
In the early years, the Empire seems to have been a venue for many live acts and shows, being more of a variety theatre than a cinema. The original location of the Empire was off Somercotes Hill, standing back from the road. It was probably the same building as used by Everlastic for their first Somercotes factory, and currently by Titan Windows, although with some major alterations.
Examples of some of the acts appearing can be seen from advertisements placed in various publications. “The Era”, an entertainment publication, ran a small notice on 7 October 1914 for Masie Coyne which partly read: “just a comedienne – This week, Empire, Somercotes, Derbys”. Many advertisements appeared in “The Stage” magazine for the Swan Agency, based at South Normanton. They booked variety acts for many theatres, including the Empire, Somercotes [as well as the Premier Electric Theatre].
During the 1920’s the cinema started to overtake variety theatres as the main source of entertainment and more films began to be appear. The Empire also had competition from the Premier Electric Theatre, which was in a much more prominent position on Nottingham Road.
The Empire, possibly to compete with its neighbour, also moved to Nottingham Road, almost across from the Premier. Kelly’s Directory, published in 1925, lists the address of the Empire as Nottingham Road, although it is not certain exactly when the business moved from Somercotes Hill to its new home. The manger in 1925 was Mr F. Leatherland.
The first talking picture was the “Jazz Singer” released in October 1927. The Empire had sound equipment installed in 1930, and the inaugural screening was reported in the Ripley & Heanor News on 4 July that year: “SOMERCOTES. The latest is the installation of talkies at the Empire, the first performance being on Monday last, after being closed for a week. There were two crowded houses and at each performance on Tuesday and Wednesday there was no falling off of patrons. It is evident that the talkies have come to stay, for there is a dual feature now—you have not only to see the pictures, but you have to listen. This is the verdict of one who was present. The Harlie Co., of London, apparatus has been installed, and it produced “The Broadway Melody” in fine style. The installation work has been carried out by Mr. Frank Jowitt, of Ripley”. The film “The Broadway Melody” mentioned in the article was released in the USA on 6 June 1929.
The Kinematagraph Year Book, 1931 lists the Empire but offers no further information, although their publication in 1935 lists the proprietor as A.H.& N. Cinema Circuit Ltd, of Southport. In 1936, a change of ownership took place when the Kinematograph Year book records Thomas Dennis as the proprietor. Mr Dennis was the Managing Director of Ollerton Pictures Ltd, which ran several cinemas at the time. The following year, 1937, the same directory lists Ollerton Pictures Ltd as the actual owners, the business having previously been transferred to them. Interestingly, by 1939, the listing in the Kinematograph records the Empire at Somercotes as the head office of Ollerton Pictures Ltd.
During the 1930’s and early 1940’s variety acts still appeared at the Empire, although they became fewer in number. The building had a seating capacity of 500, and prices, in 1938, ranged from 6d to 1s 3d.
PHOTO: Drawing of the Empire Cinema facade by Mr. Norman Vertigan, 2014
Around the early 1950’s the Ollerton Picture Company also became the proprietors of the Premier at Somercotes, from then on owning both theatres. Prior to this period the Empire continued to stage live performances as well as film and the proximity of the two theatres did not seem to affect either business, but during the 1950’s the medium of television was becoming more popular and evermore affordable and It must have been difficult to manage both businesses together. The Empire Theatre finally closed its doors late in 1958.
By the following year, plans had been made to convert the cinema into a Roller Skating Rink, which is confirmed in a short notice printed in the Alfreton Urban District Council’s Annual Report of 1959.
Ia. SOMERCOTES ROLLER SKATING RINK
The Somercotes Roller Skating Rink was opened during 1960. Its conversion from a cinema was, however, not without problems. The Alfreton Urban District Council’s report for 1960 referred to various complaints and reported that: “Immediate steps were taken by the owner to minimise the noise by the cutting away of joists from the wall of the adjoining building, and other measures are being tried to avoid vibration”. Despite the occasional issue, the Roller Rink proved very popular with its young clientele and in the early years of the 1960’s prospered. Like most entertainment aimed at the young, though, the roller skating craze did not last forever.
After a few short years, the Roller Skating Rink closed and the old Empire Cinema was again converted, this time into a nightclub.
Ib. THE WINDMILL BALLROOM
After major internal renovations, the “Windmill Ballroom" opened its doors on 17 September 1966. The opening was reported in several local newspapers: “SOMERCOTES NEW BINGO AND DANCE HALL – Tomorrow [Saturday] sees the opening of the new “Windmill Ballroom”, Somercotes, where all modern conveniences have been added and over £2,000 spent on decoration, lights and furniture. The need for a ballroom in the Somercotes area was confirmed in April last when a survey was made to householders, and the unanimous opinion was that the public needed a first class local hall. The main reasons that people gave were to save travelling to Nottingham or Derby for dancing and then having to travel a long distance home after a meal and a few drinks. Others voted that a hall fit for industry was needed, to entertain customers and display goods for firm’s conventions and get-togethers and which could also be used to cater for functions and organising of charity dances. The Windmill Ballroom has been altered to supply all the these things, plus National Bingo with £1,000 to be won three nights per week, a place for children to spend Saturday afternoons, modern ballroom dance classes and an ideal place for old time dancing. The proprietor states that he can cater for 300 five course meals, or dinner and buffet dances at 48 hours’ notice. Already 385 members have enrolled for the bingo club and the only item outstanding is the licenced bar, but the proprietor says that secretaries and organisers may apply for an occasional licence. He adds:- ‘I have supplied the place and 100 per cent service; the rest is up to the public’”
The “Windmill Ballroom” traded for probably less than one year, before it became the “Club Pacific” Nightclub.
Newspaper avertisement for the opening of the Windmill Ballroom
Ic. THE CLUB PACIFIC NIGHTCLUB
The “Stage and Television Today” magazine published on 12 October 1967 records the opening:: “The newest club to open its doors is the Club Pacific at Somercotes with exquisite décor, UV lighting and a good food service plus a late licensee, it’s all go. Mr. Greatrex, the boss here is running the club on theatre lines and here again its only weekend live shows, but full weeks will be put in when the time is ripe, and indications show this is not far off”.
The Stage also ran a small article in its magazine on 14 November 1968, which read: “Dark nights bring back the “live” scene to the “Club Pacific”, Somercotes. Owner/agent Harry Greatorex is now presenting the “Late Date Show” from 11pm Saturday to 2am Sunday. This offering is aimed at the very late night-outers, bone-fide bookers’ and agents, and names listed so far include Teddy Alexander, Dennis Daniels, Alicia Dells, Ray King, Marion Walker, Dace and Carol etc. Meal service is laid on and a real “show-biz” gathering is promised.”
Although the “Club Pacific” traded for several years, around 1971 it became the “New Pacific”, under new owners Robert Else and Derek Sutton. Several small advertisements appeared in The Stage magazine for the years 1972 and 1973. An article published in the magazine on 24 May 1973 reads: “Up the road at Somercotes the NEW PACIFIC NIGHTSPOT had another in the “STAR TIME” series, and this one featured a return (by public demand) of the delightful colleen herself, RUBY MURRAY, whose fan following in the parish must be astronomical. In fact co-owners, BOB ELSE and DEREK SUTTON are now trying to book her for a third time this year…”
The “New Pacific Club” continued trading until the late 1970s, although by 1974, it was advertising itself as a “Disco-Dine” club. It was listed as such in the local telephone directories between 1974 and 1977.
By the late 1970s, the “New Pacific Club” had become more or less a discotheque. The exact date and circumstances of its closure are not known, but it seems by that time the owner was Rudolph Saunders. His name appears in the London Gazette, relating to the premises – “... previously carrying on business from The New Pacific Club, 207 Nottingham Road, Somercotes, Derbyshire, as a CLUB PROPRIETOR … Date of Order—27th September 1979. Date of Filing Petition—16th May 1979”.
After the closure of the nightclub the building was converted into retail premises.
2. THE PREMIER ELECTRIC THEATRE
The history of the Premier Electric Theatre can be taken back to the time of the land enclosures of 1812. The land around the plot on which the building stands was allocated to William Palmer-Morewood of Alfreton Hall. William Palmer-Morewood died in 1863 and the land was held in trust. The Trustees agreed to sell part the land, which comprised of several closes and parcels adjacent to the turnpike at Somercotes and it was sold on 26 March 1877 to Joseph Spencer Robinson of Alfreton, pharmaceutical chemist and Abbott Thurman of Ilkeston, solicitor, who paid the trustees £1500 for the whole of the land of just over 5 acres.
Robinson and Thurman almost certainly purchased the land as a short term investment. It was parcelled into 44 lots suitable for development and duly consigned to auction, described as “Building Land” which also included a newly proposed road [later to be named “Victoria Street”]. The auction was held on Tuesday, 15 May 1877 at the Royal Tiger Inn, Somercotes. Lot 4 of the auction had a frontage of 42ft to Nottingham Road and this is the plot of land where the Premier would be built. It was originally purchased by two men named George Clark Towson and Sampson Hardy. It is known from certain Indentures that these two gentlemen still owned the land in 1884, but at some point in the following years it was sold to George Beastall, the wine and spirit merchant. The houses and shops built on these plots of land seem to have been constructed at different times and there appears to have been no cohesive plan. Whether or not George Beastall originally intended to build a theatre on the site will probably never be known. He built the small brewery and wholesale wine and spirits warehouse on Nottingham Road, on the junction with High Street in 1901 [it is now Archway Interiors], but the Premier Electric Theatre was not built at that time.
The Premier Electric Theatre opened on 1st January 1912. The building fronted Nottingham Road, at the junction with Victoria Street. Although it initially held only 300 patrons, it was soon extended to almost fill the original plot of land and held over 1,000 people. The first projectionist was Charles Lewsley.
The centre of the proscenium arch had a crest containing the initials “A.B.B” which stood for Annie Bertha Beatsall, the wife of the proprietor, who presided over the cash desk. Admission prices were 2d for plain seats, 4d for leather seats and 6d for velvet armchairs. [An original bench seat from the Premier can be seen at the Alfreton & District Heritage Centre, on Rodgers Lane, Alfreton].
When originally built the entrance to the auditorium was through an old-fashioned shop frontage, which can be seen in old photographs. This was replaced during the 1930s with a modern frontage for the time. A large cinema for the area it served, the Premier Electric Theatre had by then some 1,180 seats.
PHOTO: The Premier Electric Theatre, Somercotes, probably dating from the 1920's
George Beastall owned the cinema until the mid-1940s, when Goodman Cinemas of Lenton, Nottingham took over, followed in 1947 by the Ilkeston Cinema Company. The name changed to the Premier Cinema about this time.
Sometime within the following few years the Premier Cinema was again sold, and purchased by the Ollerton Picture Company, which also at the time owned the Empire, virtually across the street.
Probably because the Premier Cinema was a much larger building and the auditorium was more suited, the owners of Ollerton Pictures installed a stereo sound system and cinemascope in 1954. The significance of this development cannot be exaggerated. The Premier Cinema became, for a while, the only cinema in the area outside of Derby to have this facility, and people travelled over considerable distances to experience this new technology. In an age when there was only one black and white television channel, cinema audiences were much larger than today, and the Premier Cinema regularly sold out at all performances during this period.
According to various anecdotal sources, the cinema was badly damaged by a firework on the night of 5 November 1960. The damage caused was so extensive it never reopened.
2a. WALKER'S BINGO CLUB
The Premier was eventually sold by the Dennis family to Walker’s Bingo Clubs, and after some extensive refurbishment was opened as a Bingo Hall in 1974. The business flourished in the 1970's and 1980's but a combination of dwindling customer numbers and the cost of upkeep in the late 1990's and ealry 2000's began to have an affect. The building remained under the ownership of Walker’s until it was finally closed on 9 November 2013.
The building has a large sign on the side wall facing Victoria Street proclaiming the PREMIER ELECTRIC THEATRE, harking back to happier times.
As of 2016, the building is closed and awaits its fate in the hands of developers.