Past Times, Our long lost Cinemas by Ellie Sales

8th March 2015

Past Times, Our long lost Cinemas by Ellie Sales

Cinema has come a long way since those early days of the silent era. Did you know you weren’t allowed to eat anything in cinemas at first and that the audience chatting amongst themselves as they watched the action unfold on screen was quite the norm?

The oldest UK purpose built cinema can be found in East Finchley at the Grade II listed Phoenix Cinema which opened its doors in 1912 just before our very own Palmers Green Cinema ‘The Queens’ in the same year. Another unique aspect of Phoenix Cinema is that since 1985 it has been a cinema of the community and is now run by a charitable trust, saved from demolition by the formation of The Phoenix Cinema Trust.

Over the years Cinema has re-invented itself, keeping up with the ever changing way in which movies are filmed and produced. You may think that 3D is a relatively new format where in fact it celebrates its 100 anniversary this year, being first screened to paying movie goers in 1915 at the Astor Theatre in New York.

By 1985 the UK’s first Multiplex cinema opened, ‘The Point’ in Milton Keynes, offering greater film choice and more flexible screening times, which enabled targeted movie schedules to meet the needs not only of children (and their parents), but ethnic and cultural minorities, pensioners, art-house film fans and beyond. 4D films will, no doubt, be the next big thing to hit the cinemas screens, a combination of a 3D film with physical effects that occur in the theatre in synchronisation with the film such as rain, wind, strobe lights, and vibration.

There are still Independent movie houses and ‘Community Cinemas’ such as Talkies to be found. They have developed niche offerings alongside the multiplex experience,

adding more generous seating, quality food and drink, and not to mention socialising in an exclusive atmosphere.

David Williamson tells us why he was inspired to form Talkies Community Cinema in Palmers Green in 2013.

“Several friends enjoy watching movies but were put off by the ‘popcorn and coke’ experience at local multiplex cinemas. We set up a friends film club, visiting each other, having a meal and screening movies using a projector. Lots of other people wanted to join us but we just didn’t have space so Talkies was set up to try and recreate that sense of a social occasion around a film. I remember as a child going to Saturday morning cinema, I enjoyed the short films, often with cliff-hangers to bring you back next week, but what I also enjoyed was meeting my friends and having a social time - shouting out and laughing at the films. The social experience of film is something that we try to encourage at Talkies - coming early, having a drink and meeting friends. We didn’t know if an amateur ‘pop-up’ approach to screening films would work, but people say it adds to the fun. We have had lots of good feedback on what we are doing and it is now getting a bit embarrassing when we regularly sell out!”

Let’s take a look at some of our long lost local cinemas


The Capitol – Winchmore Hill

Located at the corner of Green Lanes and Ford’s Grove The Capitol Cinema opened

on 26th December 1929 and was operated by Lou Morris. Designed in an Art Deco style by noted cinema architect Robert Cromie it had seating in stalls and circle levels. It was equipped with a Compton 2Manual/8Rank theatre organ which was opened by Edgar Peto. From December 1930 it was taken over by Associated British Cinemas (ABC) and was closed for a month in July 1936 for renovation. ABC continued to operate it throughout its life and it was closed 22nd February 1958, only to re-open again on 11th May 1958 (the Compton organ was removed from the building at this time and was broken up for spares). This was a short- lived reprieve as it closed forever on 5th December 1959. The Capitol Cinema was demolished in 1960 and a Government office block named Capitol House was built on the site.

The Odeon - Southgate

The Odeon Southgate was a rare example of a cinema designed by Bertie Crewe. It was built in 1931 in multi-coloured bricks with faience dressings, on a corner site at the junction with Tudor Way and The Bourne, with an imposing octagonal tower outlined in neon and carrying the word ODEON. The vestibule was paved with Terrazo in grey, and inside the foyer black polished columns supported the ceiling. The auditorium walls were pale green with mouldings picked out in red and blue-green, with concealed lighting and spherical fittings illuminating the front portion of the balcony and side walls, and plain proscenium. A large stage and dressing rooms were built, together with orchestra pit, but these were not used when, after closure in 1972, the building re-opened as a smaller cinema before its demolition in September 1982.

The Queens – Palmers Green

The Queens opened on 30th November 1912, and was a sister cinema to Queens Hall in Enfield. Originally it resembled a two-story house, with a pitched slate roof and could seat 650 people. The films were silent in those days and admission was three pence, sixpence and one shilling for the front middle and rear stalls respectively. It was rebuilt in 1927 with the introduction of the ‘talkies’ that same year and could now seat 1,100. It was larger with a balcony and a

plain white stone facade over three floors. After the Second World War the cinema industry started to decline and as television became more readily available local picture houses were the first casualties. The cinema closed in September 1967 and the building demolished in 1971. The site is now occupied by Waitrose.

The Palmadium Cinema – Palmers Green

The Palmadium Cinema opened as part of the small independent Gale & Repard circuit on 24th December 1920. The cinema was part of a complex which included a billiard hall and shops. Designed by noted cinema architect J. Stanley Beard it had a facade that was faced in white ceramic marble with red brickwork and apple green tiles around the entrance. The auditorium seated 2,159 and the cinema was equipped with a ‘straight’ 2Manual organ. The Palmadium Cinema was taken over by Denman/Gaumont Theatres chain in April 1928. It was re-named Gaumont from 26th February 1951 until its closure on 25th February 1961. The building was demolished and the site is now occupied by Store 21. A tiny fragment of the original facade remains to be seen, if you know where to look.


Anthony Webb are keen supporters of Talkies Community Cinema and are proud to sponsor The Suburban Film Festival ‘Here’ this Spring. As featured in our March 2015 Palmers Green & Southgate LIFE magazine