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The palaces of fantasy that closed one by one

PUBLISHED: 18:17 17 June 2008 | UPDATED: 09:13 11 August 2010

IN PRE and post-war Britain, cinemas were social hubs and places to escape to from the dreariness of everyday life. The rise of television, however, inevitably led to the demise of these beautiful film temples. In Barking and Dagenham, eleven cinemas were

IN PRE and post-war Britain, cinemas were social hubs and places to escape to from the dreariness of everyday life.

The rise of television, however, inevitably led to the demise of these beautiful film temples.

In Barking and Dagenham, eleven cinemas were built between about 1910 and 1940, but only two buildings still exist. One of them is now a place of worship (Gala, Green Lane), the other is used as a bowling alley (Princess, now Super Bowl, New Road).

Former resident and retired POST and Daily Star journalist Tony Smith, 69, who now lives in East Devon, recalled his memories of some of the borough's cinemas.

He said: "The Gaumont and the Odeon were rather posh. They had very ornate stairs going up and marble interior. The ABC (Princess) was very basic, but those were the main cinemas in the borough."

The Gaumont (also known as Heathway and Odeon) could seat about 2,200 people. It was converted into a shop and demolished in 1983 after a fire. The Mall Shopping Centre was built on its site.

The Odeon, also known as the Rio, was built on Longbridge Road in 1935. It used to have a luxurious café lounge and a beauty parlour for its patrons but it was demolished in 2001. The site opposite Barking Station now houses residential units and a restaurant.

Mr Smith described the dedication of film fans in the 1950s. He said: "If they were showing a big film, sometimes people were queuing 50 yards to get into the show."

When the Electric Cinema opened in 1910 on Ripple Road, no-one could have anticipated the nickname it would be given by locals a few decades later.

"It was a rather run down place and known as the 'bug hutch,' said Mr Smith.

The bugs had to make way for a supermarket in 1955 but the building was soon demolished.

The site of Iceland supermarket in Whalebone Lane South, Dagenham, and the former headquarters of the POST, used to be home to another grand Art Deco style building, the Mayfair cinema.

It opened in 1933 with a capacity of 1,800 seats, but was renamed to Odeon after the war.

Apart from a café and a stage, it had an open-air swimming pool and terraces to the rear of the building.

Back then, watching a film was always a collective experience in a large, beautiful building.

Mr Smith said: "Cinema was very big in as far as the working people were concerned."

Few people could afford a television set in the 1950s, which meant that everyone was influenced by what they watched on the big screen.

He said: "For example, we would go and see a film with Doris Day or one of the other American actors. We assumed that everyone in America lived in houses like that, where people had lovely grass outside the front doors.

"And there we were, living in rows on rows of council houses.

"Cinemas were a way for people to get away from the normal life. People did not have anywhere else to go for enjoyment and now TV has completely taken over.

Other cinemas in Barking included the Broadway (Bioscope), built in 1914 and demolished in the late 1940s.

The Capitol (ABC), East Street, built 1929, was purchased by Marks and Spencer in 1959, but it was soon demolished.

Central Hall Mission was occasionally used as a cinema during the 1930s and 1940s, but it was destroyed during the war in 1945.

Theatre DeLuxe, Bamford Road, Barking, was built in 1914, on the site of the new inner Barking Ring Road.

In Dagenham, the Grange, Goresbrook Road, which had been built in the late 1920s, was demolished in the 1960s.


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