From Tearooms to Terminator - The Regent Cinema

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Peter (Warren Beatty) ClarkeThis article, by Peter Clarke, appeared in the April 2001 issue of the Community News in our regular feature "Local History & Heritage with the Marple Website"

Unfortunately the article was published in the News without any of the pictures we provided, the acknowledgements and author's details were omitted and the general layout and presentation was extremely poor compared to the standards of previous months.

Thankfully, although we have no control over how the paper presents our efforts, we can show you here how we wanted it to appear. The feedback article that should have accompanied this was eventually included in the May issue and is shown on a separate page

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From the moment of his arrival in Marple with his family in 1859, Thomas Carver was to play a leading role in local affairs. Along with his twin brother, John, he bought the Hollins Mill and accompanying land and began an involvement with Marple that was to last for 50 years.

A token from the Union Rooms Coffee Tavern

The Carvers, along with their partners, the Hodgkinsons, were strict Congregationalists and in 1864 they formed part of a committee that oversaw the acquisition of land and the building of a Congregational Church on Hibbert Lane. All was well until 1876 when, following a disagreement, Carver severed his ties with the church and spoke of the setting up of " An un-sectarian meeting room where Christians of all denominations may meet". As a result in November 1878 he began the building of the Union Rooms (now the Regent cinema) on Stockport Road on land near to the entrance to his home, Hollins House. In line with his tea-total beliefs he incorporated a Coffee Tavern to tempt the working man away from the evils of drink, a reading room full of books aimed at improving the mind and of course a mission room where services were conducted by a preacher in his employ.

Initially the services were very well attended but the newness soon wore off and the mission settled into less than satisfactory attendances. In contrast the coffee rooms went from strength to strength. During the holidays and at weekends the village was crowded with the various church groups and Sunday school outings that were popular during that period. In April 1887 it was reported that "200 people from Miles Platting took the total for the weekend to over 500 dinners with tea provided by Mr. Webb to excursionists".

In 1882, in order to try and boost his flagging attendances at services, Carver formed the Union Rooms Mission Army. Based on the Salvation Army, which had been founded in 1878, they were to be found marching around Marple trying to enlist new recruits every Sunday, resplendent in their dark blue uniforms complete with epaulettes and striped trousers and headed by General Carver himself. Following the devastating fire at Bottoms Mill in 1893 work became scarce and many of the mill workers sailed to the USA to try to begin new lives. This robbed Carver of the core of his Army and by 1898 it had effectively ceased to exist.

The Union Rooms around 1905.

Carver died in 1910 and having healed his rift with the Congregational Church he passed the Union Rooms into their care. Under their stewardship the Rooms continued to survive in one way or another for almost 20 years, with the Congregational Chapel still holding their services in the mission room. One senior resident told me that when she used to attend as a child she disliked it because none of the seats had backs and they were very uncomfortable. During the 1920's it became a popular venue for magic lantern shows, ("However, if you made the slightest noise they would throw you out"). Despite all this the attendances continued to decline.

In June 1929 an application was made by Walter Stott for the approval of a cinema and music license. He was proposing to erect a new cinema called 'The Rialto' on the site of the old Union Rooms which he had acquired. "It would" he claimed "be a steel framed, fire proof structure, it would have a good appearance with two shops at the side and would accommodate 680 persons". For reasons that are unknown, but which were probably financial, this venture never reached a conclusion and the old building was saved.

It was to be two and a half years later that Ernest G Allen purchased the Union Rooms and adjoining properties and made an application for their conversion into a 545 seat cinema. It was backed by the New Mills Cinema Company and was to be run by the Marple Cinema Co. under the name 'The Regent'. This new venture was to be managed by Mr. Ray Taylor who also managed the Arts Cinema in New Mills. The application was granted and in August of that year, following extensive work, The Regent, "a cinema run on popular lines at popular prices" was opened. Extended on the outside in order to accommodate a balcony it was virtually unrecognizable on the inside as the old Rooms.

At 6.45p.m. on Monday 22nd August 1931 the doors were flung open and a packed house enjoyed watching Renate Muller, Jack Hulbert and Owen Nares in 'Sunshine Susie'. Prices for the opening bill were: Stalls 7d & 9d and Circle 1/- & 1/3d. (those of you not old enough to remember, that's roughly 3p, 4p, 5p & 7p respectively).

And so the Regent Cinema carried on year after year, film after film until the arrival of an invention that threatened to completely destroy the entire film industry….Television!

The Regent today.

Up until the event of TV, cinema was by far and away the most popular entertainment medium in the world but throughout the late 50's and 60's that was to change. Why go and sit in a cinema when you can relax in the comfort of your own home and be entertained? As a result cinemas world wide began to close for good. The Regent wasn't immune from this trend and on 3rd August 1968 the Regent Cinema was closed.

Later that same year a new owner applied for planning permission for a change of use to a Bingo Hall. Bingo was now becoming massively popular and hundreds of former cinemas were being snapped up and converted. Marple UDC decided on 10th February 1969 that to grant approval as a Bingo Hall would be "injurious to the amenities of the area" and as a result permission was refused. The council then decided that they would try and acquire the premises themselves and applied for a Compulsory Purchase order. Their plan was to convert the Regent into a Civic Centre that could be used for activities ranging from meetings and exhibitions to athletics events. However, when on 12th June Mr. James Lillis made an application for renewal of a cinema license, the council withdrew their application for compulsory purchase and the Regent was saved as a cinema.

Following a complete refurbishment, which included the fitting of Pullman seats, the cinema re-opened for business once more in May 1969. It has of course since then gone from strength to strength under the management of the Lillis family and today Marple is indeed fortunate to have one of the few cinemas in the north that maintains a traditional welcoming atmosphere, unlike the now all too common and impersonal multiplex.

From Picture Palace to Super Cinema - William Shenton
Union Rooms photograph - Marple Local History Society
Additional information: Kate Phillips

Feed Back Item intended to accompany this article in the paper.

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