On the corner of Diamond Avenue and Kingsway, at Four Lane Ends, is The Regent, a Wetherspoon’s pub which previously was the Regent cinema, see Chapter 21. However, it appears that Wetherspoons may be looking to sell the premises.
The Regent Cinema
I have found the Cinema Treasures website to be a good source of historical information about cinemas, particularly those that have closed. For the Regent, it notes that it opened on 6 October 1930 with John Boles in “The Desert Song“. From 1961 to 1965, it operated as the Essoldo. Then, the stalls were converted into an Essoldo bingo club.
The Regent cinema reopened, in the former circle only, on 24 March 1988 with Kevin Costner in “No Way Out” and operated until 1993 when the last film was Richard Gere in “Somersby“. The stalls continued as Silverline Bingo Club and, when that closed, it operated as Fagins Bar. Fagins Bar appears to have closed itself in 1992. The building was empty until 2003 and then operated as a Cineplex cinema from April 2004 to around March 2005. The stalls area was taken over by Wetherspoons as The Regent in February 2013.
Recollections of the Regent
Annesley OC Heritage Extra
Annesley OC Heritage Extra Facebook page published an extensive piece on the Regent on 15 November 2023. This includes a number of photos and the following recollections, “The Regent has had a few names… Some time ago Trevor Lee wrote about the history of the building in a KDCS magazine.
When it opened a dancing school was on the 2nd floor. The lady owner’s stage name was Lupino, there was some connection to a film star. She had settled locally as her husband was involved in electrical theatre work and they had a family. They may have lived on Park Street, and the lady danced with Max Wall in London and Paris in her earlier career. Max Wall stopped in Kirkby when he was working in Nottingham (a friends family wrote a memoir and some of this info came to light, as a child the lady spoke over the garden wall to the famous man).
Now – Wetherspoons own the building and are looking to sell. The history of the building is worth saving, perhaps a petition could be arranged try and get the current owners to carry out the repairs needed and possibly develop the 3 floors, bearing in mind the history of the site?”
The My Trail website notes that, from 1947, the National Coal Board started producing Mining Review films which were shown at local cinemas across the country. One of the reviews featured the Jayrich drama group made up of local miners and railway workers. In 1962, they produced a trailer film called “The Prince of Darkness” which was screened at The Regent. The My Trail website includes a news cutting concerning that performance.
Attending the Cinema
In discussions about this on Facebook, Joan Ware recalled that Saturday morning at the Regent was set aside for children and it cost sixpence to go in. She continued, “your ticket gave a chance to win chocolate (me only once). Cartoons, Cowboy films. Always finished on a cliff hanger to get you back next week. And running home playing out the cowboy themes seen on the screen.”
I think the ticket cost of sixpence may be the origin of the term “tanner rush” which Alwyn Bowskill, Sandra Bale and Jonathan Evans all referred to. Alwyn mentioned loving the series films shown as part of the Saturday “tanner rush“. Sandra referred specifically to “Flash Gordon” as did Dot Grice. However, David Meredith referred to the Saturday morning “penny rush“. He noted, “we’d be queuing around the corner from nine thirty for the opening at ten so we could pick our seats“.
In a Facebook post, Frank Ball explained that the “tanner rush” referred to film shows for children on Saturday afternoons which cost a tanner (6d) to get into. He noted that they showed cartoons and cowboy films and were very noisy. When asked about the term “penny rush“, he thought this might be foreshortening of the term or could refer to an earlier time “before my era (Stone Age)“.
Sue Broughton recalled her grandmother taking her to see “The Young Ones” and “The Guns of Navarone” there. Barbara Murden recalled going there on a Saturday afternoon when she was about nine in around 1956.
A Cinema Director
Richard Cresswell noted that his great grandfather, James Cresswell, was one of the Regent’s Directors and “presumably was involved in the planning and having the Regent built“.
Henry Simms noted working at the Regent. He changed the reels over when one film had finished. He worked there seven evenings a week but was also employed during the day.
John Hickman noted that he was the projectionist at the Regent cinema for a short time in around 1990. He commented that he worked there as a night job while doing his apprenticeship. He noted that there were stories of a projectionist hanging himself in the sixties and “there was some strange happenings there“.
In another post, he expanded on these happenings, “A couple of times I remember, I had been working there for 6mth or so. The projectors were old things and fed the film from the top reel to the bottom, I would set the projector going and go in the auditorium to watch the film, knowing when the intermission was. The film stopped when it shouldn’t have done. I ran up to the projectionist’s room to find the top reel going round in circles on the floor.
Now the reels go on a shaft with the end of the shaft folding over and sliding up slightly to effectively create an X so the reel doesn’t come off. I thought maybe I didn’t push the end over right, even though in 6mths of working there it hadn’t happened before. So I quickly got the film on again, making sure the reel was on correctly and every time after that…. It happened again about a week later. A reel about 3′ diameter rolling round a small room and never hitting anything or falling over. Maybe coincidence but certainly weird. And it never happened again.“
Colleen Varnam Flint noted that her father was a runner for the cinemas in Kirkby. He used to take the film reels from one cinema to another. He covered the three cinemas, the Star, Kings and the Regent.
Ivan Braddow noted that his grandmother used to play the piano to accompany silent films.
Marjorie Edis recalled that her sister, Winnie Bowen, worked in the pay box at the Regent for a number of years.
There is a great photograph of the Regent staff in 1930 on the My Trail website. There is also some description of the various roles played by different cinema staff.
Cinema in Kirkby
Both mum and grandad went to the cinema a lot and these trips and the films they saw feature prominently in their diaries. The Regent opened as a cinema in October 1930 and, with the Star and Kings, see Chapter 4, brought the number of cinemas in Kirkby to three. The opening of the Regent coincided with the introduction of talking movies and grandad noted that the first film he saw (and heard!) at the Regent was “Gold Diggers of Broadway”.
According to the Cinema Treasures website, the Star cinema was at 40 Kingsway. It opened in 1914 presenting cine-variety. In 1930, it was equipped to show “talkies“. It closed in 1958. In 1961, it was taken over by Essoldo along with the Regent. However, the Star was used for storage and later became a garage. It was on the site of what is now McColl’s garage. In a Facebook comment, David Herberts recalled that, at some point, the Star was taken over by the Lace Web Company that had the Spring Factory on Queen’s Street.
According to the Cinema Treasures website, Kings Palace was located at 1-4 Urban Road. It opened in August 1912 and closed in July 1961. Then, it was converted into a bingo club which operated until 1965 when it was also taken over by Essoldo. It was then converted into a garage, Alwright Autos and was later used by Synshield Fabrications to make doors and double-glazed windows. From 2009, the building was empty and it was demolished by 2016. The land on which it stood is now part of Aldi car park.
In a Facebook comment, Peter Durant noted that they used to call the Star the ‘Flea Pit’. However, Maureen Lewis thought that was what Kings was called. Frank Towns commented that they were all probably called that at some point.
The My Trail website features adverts for the Regent from the 1930s and adverts for all Kirkby’s three cinemas from the 1950s.
Had There Been a Fourth Cinema in Kirkby?
In a post on Kirkby Living Memory Facebook Group, Frank Towns recalled being told that, a long time ago, Kirkby had at least four cinemas. Until recently, I was only aware of three. It does seem that Kirkby only ever had a maximum of three cinemas open at any one time.
Was There a Cinema on Unity Street?
However, in a response to this post, Ivan Braddow points out that a cinema is shown on Unity Street on a 1917 map. Sure enough, this cinema is found on the 1914 map I have.
Bet-Bet Phillips noted that she had lived all her life on Sherwood Street from 1934 and there was not a cinema on Unity Street. However, she noted that “at the top there was a row of newer houses all one one yard“.
Her recollections seem to be confirmed by the 1939 map which shows a number of houses where the cinema had been.
Not Mentioned in Family Diaries
My grandad’s diary starts in 1914. He frequently mentioned the Star, Kings and, when it opened, the Regent. I have not found any mention of a cinema on unity Street. Kings opened in 1912 and the Star in 1914, so it is possible that the Unity Street cinema closed when, or soon after, one of those opened. I have not as yet found any mention of this cinema, e.g. in newspaper archives.
Memories of a Cinema on Unity Street
Paul Wileman recalled that he was “once told of one [a cinema] on Unity street that had a tin roof and the floor was just soil.” John Tuttle commented that, somewhere in my old memory bank I seem to remember my Father said he used to go one in the Unity/Sherwood St area. I think it was in the area of the Catholic Church.“
Kev Evans noted that his grandmother used to reminisce about the “cinema” on Unity Street. Apparently, it started off as a magic lantern show and later showed silent movies. He notes, “it occupied the site that became Jack Wilkinson’s fruit and veg warehouse. It was about three quarters of the way up on the left hand side” coming from Lowmoor Road. This is the same location as shown on the 1914 map.
Jack Wilkinson and Grange House
The 1941 Kelly’s Directory has two entries for Jas Wilkinson. One is as a greengrocer at 7 Kingsway and the other is as a potato merchant at Grange House on Unity Street which is presumably the location to which Kev Evans is referring.
According to the 1939 Register, James and Florence Wilkinson were living at Grange House on Unity Street with their two sons John W (Jack?) (b1917) and Robert A (b1917). However, their surname has been transcribed as Willsinson. It appears that John and Robert were twins. James was listed as a wholesale fruit and potato merchant. John and Robert were both fruit and vegetable distributors.
1893 Land Sale
In trying to find any record of this cinema in Unity Street, I came across an 19893 notice of sale of 12 lots of land at the East ends of Unity Street and Sherwood Street. The cinema may well have been on one of these plots of land which would imply that it was constructed some time after 1893 and before 1914.
Was There a Cinema on Lowmoor Road?
In a comment on his post, Frank Towns said that he thought there had been a cinema “down Lowmoor where the welding supplies was/is“. However, Ivan Braddow and Graham Brown did not think so as that area was to do with the railways. But, Frank did not think the railway came down that far towards the Nag’s Head. Ivan Braddow shared a map which showed the main engine shed coming as far south as Gladstone Street. He noted that there were smaller buildings alongside it and that they were there until about 15 years ago. Nevertheless, Frank Towns still thought there had been an early cinema in this location. Ivan Braddow was equally convinced that there had not been because all the buildings there related to the railway.
Recollections of Movies in Kirkby
There are many accounts of seeing movies in Kirkby. Gerald Lee’s book “Kirkby-in-Ashfield: Yesterday Remembered” has a chapter (15) dedicated to “When the Pictures started Talking” from p70. In that, he says that “talkies” arrived in October 1930 with the opening of the Regent. However, according to grandad, he saw (and heard!) his first talkie a month earlier at the Star.
Edith Searson, in her book(let) “I Remember” (p62), noted that the Regent was built in 1932 (although other sources suggest 1930). She highlighted that they offered talking movies. In her second book(let) “I Also Remember (p11), she noted that, when her family moved to Kirkby in 1917, there were two Picture Houses or Picture Palaces. Although she did not go to the cinema often, she thought the pictures were “just marvellous“. She recalled the experience of going to the cinema, noting that there were two houses or sessions with the second a repeat of the first. There was an accompanying pianist. She also noted that both cinemas had “continuous performances“. Grandad noted that the Star introduced this first with Kings introducing this in 1915, see Chapter 4.
Mark Ashfield also has a chapter focused on the Regent entitled “When the Talkies Came to Town” in his book “Horses, Herbs and a Cockatoo” (from p13). This includes an advert for the cinema from the Free Press in 1938 on p13 and a photograph of the manager and staff on p16.
Before the Regent was built, the butcher James Wightman had his business on this corner. Edith Searson, in her booklet “I Also Remember, recalled that this business started in 1870. He was assisted by his son Thomas and his wife, Jane. Later, their son Thomas and his wife, Leah, took over the business. At the time Edith Searson was writing, in the 1980s, she noted that their two sons Tom and Paul continued the business. This presumably means that the business did not close when the Regent was built.
James Wightman is listed in the 1898 Kelly’s Directory. In both 1928 and 1941, Thomas Wightman is listed as a butcher in Kingsway. There is a 1904 photo of the butcher’s shop on the Our Nottinghamshire website. The name of the business there is M Wightman, which appears to refer to James’ widow, Mary.
After the Cinema
I am grateful to Alwyn Bowskill for his comment on this post concerning what happened to the building when the Regent Cinema closed. He noted that the upstairs became the Ciniplex while the bottom floor was converted into Henry’s bar which later became Fagin’s Nightclub.
Memories of Cineplex
In a comment below, Alwyn Bowskill notes that “I went to the Regent numerous times in my youth but I can only remember attending the Cineplex once to see Edward Scissorhands in the early 1990’s. You entered the Cineplex through a door at the side of Whitmans butcher’s and went up a steep flight of stairs. The auditorium was only about the size of the circle in an old style cinema.”
According to the potted history above, the cinema only operated as Cineplex for a year or so in the early 2000s. So, I wonder if that history is fully correct or if this experience was in fact at the Regent during its second, and smaller, incarnation.
Memories of Bingo
A number of people, on Facebook, recalled when the building was used for bingo. For example, Sharon Tumbleson notes that it was not a cinema when she was little but she remembered her grandmother playing bingo there. Sharon Farr also recalled when the building was a bingo hall. So, did Roberta Knight. She recalled that it was called Silver Line or Silver 7. She noted that she still had her membership card. Frankie Michelle Husband recalled that her great grandmother had been a manager at the Regent when it was used for Bingo.
Kirkby Constitutional Club
Some contributors on Facebook referred to a club being housed on the top floor of the building above the cinema. David Meredith noted, “I think it was about five sets of steps each consisting of about ten steps, may have been six sets. The club hosted a full-sized snooker table and was for members only, beer barrel’s were carried up the stairs by hand (two people). Many a famous snooker player played there during the mid to late seventies, entrance was at the side of the Regent cinema just after Wightman’s butcher’s, the entrance is still there today but the club closed at some point, I can’t say what the top floor is used for now, there was also a central floor which stood empty.”
Derek Taylor responded that his dad was a regular there and, he thinks, served on the committee, both as Treasurer and Head of the Committee. “He loved to go there for a pint with his friends. One of the stories I remember is one of the annual fund raising events near Christmas the main attraction was having a stripper. My Mother hated it and gave him a tough time for weeks every year when the big event took place. He still went and apparently enjoyed his night with the lads“. David Meredith confirmed that he had served on the committee at the same time as Derek’s father, Jim. He commented, “you are quite correct the main event was always a stripper, a comic as a warm up. We had many a good night there.“