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 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 published a notice on 15th August 1912 for Alf Grady, a “… Versatile Comedian in Song, Dance and Story …next week, Empire, Somercotes, Derbyshire”, while on 5th December 1912, the same publication reported that “…Baby Violette, the Wonderful Child Artist… performed at the Empire Somercotes”. Just two years later it would seem that the business had new owners, although the premises were leased. The Kinomatagraph Weekly, published on 26th February 1914 reported that: “…Arthur E. Hough, Harold W. Hough and Bertie Catsford, lessees of the Empire Palace, Somercotes, were summoned at Alfreton, a few days ago, for failing to keep the exits and passages clear of obstruction at the Palace on January 10th. As this case was the first of its kind in the district it was dismissed on payment of 5s. 6d. costs.” It is believed that the business was known as the Empire Palace from the outset, and many advertisements and billboards over the years name it as such.
There was also a change in the manager by 1914, as the Derbyshire Advertiser & Journal dated 2nd January reported on a case of drunkenness, when Mr. Bert Sedgebear, described as “…the manager of the Empire, Somercotes…” was a witness in the case.
In the early years, the Empire seems to have been a venue for many live acts and shows, being more of a variety theatre or music hall than a cinema. In fact the first permanent cinema, showing only films, opened in the United States in 1905, which was only six or seven years prior to the establishment of the Empire in Somercotes.
The original location of the Empire was off Somercotes Hill, standing back from the road. It was probably on the same site as that used by Everlastic for their first Somercotes factory, and currently by Titan Windows (2018), although with some major alterations. The “Picture Theatre” is marked on a map dating from the 1930s. Examples of some of the acts appearing can be seen in advertisements placed in various publications. “The Era”, an entertainment publication, ran a small notice on 7th 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).
Most forms of entertainment were included in the programmes over the years, and it was not until the late 1940s or early 1950s that the Empire became solely used as a cinema. For example, the Derbyshire Times on 14th January 1922 reported on a charity event held at the Empire: “The Riddings and District Choral Society sang for the cause of charity on Sunday in the Empire Palace, Somercotes, which was packed on the occasion of a performance of the ‘Messiah.’ All profits are to be divided between the Riddings and Somercotes Nursing Associations… “
During the 1920s though, the cinema started to overtake variety theatres as the main source of entertainment and more films began to 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 4th 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 6th June 1929.
The Kinematagraph Year Book of 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.
PHOTO:: The Empire Cinema, Nottingham Road, Somercotes, 1931. Evelyn Brandon was the manager, on left with the hat. Her daughter on the photograph is Grace Brandon and the boy at the front is Roger Brandon. (SLHS)
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
After the closure of the cinema the building was converted into a roller skating rink. According to the 1959 Annual Report for the Alfreton Urban District Council, planning permission to change the venue had already been received by that time.
The Somercotes Roller Skating Rink was opened during 1960. Its conversion from a cinema was, however, not without problems. The council’s Annual 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 1960s prospered. Like most entertainment aimed at the young, though, the roller skating craze was relatively short lived.
After just a few 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.
Cinemas in the early 1900’s not only screened silent movies, but also showed newsreels and educational films. An advertisement in the Derbyshire Courier on 9 January 1912, just days after its opening stated: “NEXT WEEK’S GREAT ATTRACTION – The Delhi Durbar – Special Pictures of the King and Queen’s Indian Tour – Don’t Miss It. Other Interesting and Amusing Pictures”.
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.
In 1927 the first feature length motion picture with synchronised sound, The Jazz Singer, was released in the United States. Within a short time, cinemas all over England were being updated with the latest technology to allow them to show “talkies”. In 1930, the Premier was closed so that a sound system could be installed, but at the same time substantial alterations to the façade of the building took place, and extensions and internal modifications were made to increase the number of seats. The Ripley & Heanor News, published on 7 March 1930 ran a short article on the changes that were planned for the Premier: “Cinema goers in the district will be pleased to hear that plans have been passed for considerable alterations and extensions to the Premier Cinema, Somercotes, belonging to Mr. Beastall. Not only are talkies to be installed, but the hall is to be made to accommodate about 2,000 people”. The frontage of the building was rebuilt in a brutalist art-deco design, which although at the time modern, still managed to blend in with other premises on Nottingham Road.
On 10 November 1930, the Premier Electric Theatre re-opened. The Ripley & Heanor News printed the following article: “After being closed for twelve weeks for alterations and installation of talkie pictures, the Premier Theatre, Somercotes, re-opened its doors to the public on Monday, with ‘The Rainbow Man’ perfectly recorded on the Western Electric talkie apparatus. The colour scheme of the theatre is wonderful, although not quite finished, a red marble coat being tinged with gold. It is heated and ventilated in the latest style. A perfect view of the screen can be seen from any seat in the hall. Patrons have expressed themselves delighted with the cinema, and crowded houses have welcomed the re-opening. The prices are practically the same as before, being 5d; 8d; 1/- and 1/3.; children’s matinee 1d. The floors of the auditorium and the lounge are to be covered with rubber of red and gold covering, and all the gangways with red carpet. The management are to be congratulated on what may be called a super cinema.”
A large cinema for the area it served, the Premier Electric Theatre had by then some 1,180 seats, on two levels.
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. Also in 1947 a small fire broke out in the projection room. The incident was reported in the Ripley & Heanor News on 19 December 1947: “FIRE AT SOMERCOTES CINEMA – Robert Martin , of Mount Pleasant, Riddings, assistant operator at the Premier Cinema, Somercotes, received burns on his right hand in a fire in the cinema operating room on Saturday. The fire destroyed 2,000 feet of film”. Whilst obviously not a large fire the cinema may have been lucky as film in those days was considered highly flammable.
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.
The Ollerton Picture Company was, at the time, managed by Mr. Percy Dennis. The company was started by Percy’s father, who had built a picture house at Ollerton which opened on 16 January 1928. The company would eventually own the cinemas at Pinxton, Jacksdale and South Normanton, as well as the Empire and Premier at Somercotes.
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, after it had been closed, was badly damaged by a firework on the night of 5 November 1960. There appears to have been various plans to refurbish the cinema over the following years. The Birmingham Post, published on 12 February 1962 reported that “NEW CINEMA SEATS NOT WORTH WHILE – Re-opening of the Premier Cinema, Somercotes, Derbyshire which was damaged by fire 18 months ago is being held up by a shortage of second hand seats. ‘There is such a lot of seat slashing by teenagers before the cinema closed that it would not be worth-while to put in new seats,’ a spokesman for the owners said.” Seat slashing by teenagers has almost become a country-wide craze in the late 1950’s, but it would seem from this article that local youngsters had had a role to play in the eventual fate of the Premier. Further plans for its re-opening were discussed in 1966, but did not materialize.
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.