The Early History of Cinemas in the Welsh Marches region with emphasis on Wem.
With thanks to Sue Robinson for allowing access to her collection of material relating to Wem Cinema.

Information about early cinemas is sparse. The first screening is reckoned to be that held at the Polytechnic in Upper Regent Street, London in 1896. The programme was made up of short films from the French Lumière brothers. Travelling fairs hired local halls for special shows, and music halls included films in their programmes. When businessmen realised that this was no ‘flash in the pan’, buildings began to be converted into cinemas. The conversion was fairly crude, often with just a whitewashed wall and boarded up windows. Government concern about public safety (the nitrate film used is highly inflammable) led to new regulations following the Cinematograph Act of 1909. This encouraged the spread of purpose-built cinemas.

Records show that in the early 1900s, the Cheshire Animated Picture Co. presented occasional screenings in Wem Town Hall. The nightly Picture Palace in the White Horse Assembly Rooms followed with shows from 7.00pm to 10.30pm; children's matinees took place on Saturday afternoons and admission was 3d or 6d. Activity moved back to the Town Hall with the Picture Drome by 1913 with screenings from Thursdays to Saturdays. Prices had risen, now being 3d to 1/-, with children's matinees at 2d and 3d.

There was a rapid expansion of theatres and companies in this period. The 1914 edition of the Kinematograph Year Book (KYB) shows:

  • Shrewsbury with the Central Hall at Castle Gates, seating 650, run by Glynn Hill & Co; the Picture House, seating 700, run by Cinema Theatres Midlands Ltd., and the Theatre Royal & Hippodrome, run by W. Yates Gregory;
  • Ellesmere, the Goulding Cinema Co. operated in Trimpley Hall;
  • Llandrindod Wells, a 500-seater in the King Theatre ran by GM Hand.
  • Wrexham Hippodrome Ltd. was also established for cinema operations.
Bert Williams, is mentioned in the Wellington Journal [16/1/1916, p9] as formerly a popular proprietor of the cinema pictures at Whitchurch, Wem and Market Drayton.

As a new and popular entertainment for the masses, Cinema soon came under the scrutiny of the National Council of Public Morals. Fears were expressed but it was judged a lesser evil than the public house. Soon feature length films replaced the shorts.

Small regional circuits started to develop.

  • 1931, the KYB shows Wem Cinema still in the Town Hall being run by Cambrian & Border Cinemas Ltd. of Wrexham. The Much Wenlock cinema was in the Memorial Hall with a nightly screening on Friday & Saturday from September to April operated by Walter Woof of Waljalen Cinema.
  • 1933 Wem Cinema was still operating, Much Wenlock was closed but there were two cinemas in Whitchurch, the Grand and the Palladium, operated by TE Markham, of Ye Olde Wych Theatre (Nantwich).
  • 1936, Wem was being run by Cosy Cinemas (Dawley) Ltd. with prices from 3d to 1/3. [400 seats; proscenium 18’ wide and dance hall.]
  • 1935 Much Wenlock's cinema was again operating in the Memorial Hall with seating for 250, offering two performances nightly across four days. It used Gyrotone, an early sound system. The proprietor was Edward V. Taylor, who was born in Stratford on Avon, the son of wooden patternmaker from Leicesterson, John Henry,from Leicester, and Annie, from Northampton. He was listed as an electrical & radio dealer in Much Wenlock (1939). He died in 1957 in Shirley, Warwickshire. In the early 1940s, the chain's HQ moved from Much Wenlock to Builth Wells.
    The cinema chain in the late 1930s/early 1940s, consisted of:
    • Castle Cinema, Builth Wells
    • Castle Cinema, Llandovery
    • Castle Cinema, Rhayader, Radnorshire
    • Castle Cinema, Llanwrytd Wells, Brecs
    • Farndon Cinema, Cheshire.
    • Grand Pavilion Cinema, Llandrindod Wells, Radnorshire
    • Plaza Cinema, Newent, Gloucs.
    • Savoy Cinema, Egham, Surrey
    • Wenlock Cinema, Much Wenlock
    • Wem Cinema, Wem

The cinemas are shown on the map below. The inclusion of the Savoy Cinema in Egham is unexplained.

Few of these cinemas survive.

  • Much Wenlock closed in 1961.
  • Farndon Cinema was built in 1922 by Thomas Roycroft. Edward Taylor leased the building in 1941, it seated around 100 people. Admission was from 8d to 1/2; children from 4d to 1/-. It ceased operating in 1956.
  • Newent cinema began operating in the 1920s. By the early 1930s it was equipped with the little known SOS sound system. It was known as the Plaza Cinema when part of the Taylor chain of cinemas. It was still operating in the summer of 1971. The building is now a printer's.
  • The Grand Pavilion in Llandrindod Wells operated as a cinema from the 1920s to the 1950s.

    Grand Pavilion in Llandrindod Wells

    Summer entertainments in Llandrindod Wells had been provided in temporary marquees at the Rock Park. Then the Grand Pavilion was built there in 1912 at a cost of ¤4,750 as a concert hall, dance hall and theatre. Originally there was a balcony all the way around the building, which was used by Lord Baden-Powell when he gave a speech to a Scout Jamboree in 1933.
    During the First World War, whist drives were held at the Grand Pavilion to raise funds for the Blue Cross, which cared for animals in military service. The army still depended on horses for heavy transport. Dogs served at the front in many capacities. The pavilion was also used for lectures by the Royal Army Medical Corps. More than 2,000 men, mostly from the RAMC, packed into the pavilion in March 1915 for a RAMC boxing tournament. Concerts given in the Grand Pavilion by RAMC men were popular. The RAMC's farewell concert, held here in May 1916, drew a large audience.
    The pavilion functioned as a cinema (900 seats) from the 1920s to the 1950s. During the 1930s and 1940s, as part of the Taylor chain and at other times it was run by the Welsh chain of Paramount Picture Theatres and by Whale Cinemas.
    Later it was primarily a dance hall. Powys County Council ran the pavilion from the 1970s until 2015 as a venue for conferences, discos, comedy and other events. The building was refurbished in 1994 by the Town Council. In 2015 it was closed and the County Council put the building and the grounds that surround it up for sale. In March 2016, Grand Pavilion Events, a community interest company, reopened the building as a venue for public hire and entertainments. The image shows that main hall still has the appearance of a cinema (minus the seating) and we were told that the stage was well suited to Welsh male voice choirs.

    Our thanks to for the additional information.

Plasterwork, a reminder of the heydays for cinemas and theatres.

The main hall

Wem Cinema's history is chequered but happier.
During the Taylor period, a number of local people worked for the cinema.
  • Hilda DROMGOOL
  • Dorothy GERMAN
  • Hubert HOULDING
  • William JONES
  • Daisy LODWICK
  • Frederick LODWICK
  • Mary LODWICK
  • Gwen MILLER
  • Kenneth RATCLIFF
  • Sylvia RATCLIFF
  • John ROBERTS
Frederick Lodwick, the manager, who also worked for Shrewsbury & Wem Breweries. [His grandson Glenn Lodwick remembers going in on Sunday mornings to see the new films. On Tuesday mornings, on his way to school, he would collect posters from Denis Healey in the White Lion.] Mary Lodwick, Frederick’s sister, was the cashier and worked for the solicitors, Lee, Bygott & Eccleston as well. Kenneth and Sylvia Ratcliff were also on the payroll, Kenneth, who with his bother Vin kept a butcher's shop on the High Street, was the projectionist, and his sister was an usherette with Hilda Dromgool. Ticket prices in 1938 ranged from 3d to 1s/3d. On the 25th & 26th January 1938 (Mon. & Tues.), two films were showing, "The Captain’s Kid" and "Satan meets a Lady", the latter being a remake of ‘The Maltese Falcon’ with Bette Davis taking the Mary Astor role. The total takings for those two days were £11/8/9. The playlist from 1941-42, shows that the films being shown were fairly recent releases: "House of the Seven Gables" with Vincent Price, George Sanders (1940); "49th Parallel" with Leslie Howard, Laurence Olivier, Glynis Johns (1941); "For Ever England" with John Mills, Betty Balfour (1935). The latter is an adaption of a CS Forester novel of British naval officer singlehandedly defeating a German cruiser during WWI, with John Mills in his first starring role. It was probably chosen for the aptness of its theme in wartime. As would be expected, cartoons such as "Little Tough Mice" (1939) featured.

Small regional cinemas usually took the 2nd and 3rd runs of films after the major national chains, ABC, Gaumont, Odeon, took the 1st runs. There was a 'quota' that required distributors to take a number of British films. Small regional chains would sometimes take up the slack. 1959's playlist also shows that the cinema was screening recent films: ‘Carry On Sergeant’ with William Hartnell [the first Dr Who], Bob Monkhouse (1958); "The Duke Wore Jeans" with Tommy Steele, June Laverick (1958); "Gideon's Day" with Jack Hawkins, Dianne Foster (1958); "The Deep Six" with Alan Ladd, Dianne Foster (1958).
Enough patrons were coming from the villages for film adverts to be placed at a number of sites. Bills were posted from Cockshutt to Prees Green, from Stanton on Hine Heath to Steel Heath. There were numerous sites in town, Co-op Stores (Station Rd.), Obertelli's Fish Shop (New St.), Maund Cycle Stores (High St.), the Vine Vaults and many more.

Advertising sites for Cinema Posters (Wem):

  • Mr Jones, Mount Stores, Harmer Hill, Nr. Wem
  • Mrs Menzies, Post Office, Clive, Nr. Wem
  • Mr Smith, Post Office, Grinshill, Nr. Wem
  • Mr Austin, Preston Brockhurst, Nr. Wem
  • Mrs A. Rhodes, The Stores, Stanton, Nr. Shrewsbury
  • Mr Vearnals, Post Office, Shawbury, Nr. Shrewsbury
  • Mrs Wrench, Post Office, Weston, Nr. Shrewsbury
  • Mr Greenhaulgh, Fair Holm, Prees Green, Nr. Whitchurch
  • Mr Wilbraham, Hairdresser, Prees Green, Nr. Whitchurch
  • Mr Jones, The Chip Shop, Prees Green, Nr. Whitchurch
  • Mr Johnson, Heather Café, Steel Heath, Nr. Whitchurch
  • Mr Scott, The Raven, Tilley, Nr. Wem
  • Mr Wright, Grocer, Loppington, Nr. Wem
  • Mrs Williams, Post Office, Burlton, Nr. Wem
  • Mrs Lawbridge, The Stores, Cockshutt, Nr. Wem
  • Mrs Cliff, Creamore, Nr. Wem
  • Mr Brown, The Garage, Edstaton, Nr. Wem
  • Mr Edwards, The Harp Inn, Quina Brook, Nr. Wem
  • Mrs W. Preston, Post Office, Whixall, Nr. Wem
  • Mrs Hall, The Shop, Hollingwood, Nr. Whitchurch
  • Mr Bedford, Fishmonger, Wem
  • Mrs Moss, Vine Vaults, Wem
  • Mrs Downes, Paper Shop, Wem
  • Mr. F. Turner, Butchers, High St., Wem
  • Mr Morris, Hairdresser, High St., Wem
  • Co-op Stores, Station Rd., Wem
  • Mrs Minton, Brewery Lane, Wem
  • Mr Obertelli, Fish Shop, New St., Wem
  • Mr Maund, Cycle Stores, High St., Wem
  • Mr C. Rhodes, Hairdresser, High St., Wem
  • Joe Rutter

1937 Wem Cinema Takings
Monday 1st November7.30pmMist for Luck,
On Secret Service
Tuesday 2nd November7.30pmditto313
Thursday 4th November7.30pmLittle Miss Nobody,
Human Cargo,
GB News
Friday 5th November7.30pmditto303
Saturday 6th NovemberMatinéeditto104
Monday 8th November7.30pmVariety Parade,
Phantom Patrol,
GB News
Tuesday 9th November7.30pmditto466
Thursday 11th November7.30pmKillaghtee Second,
Sweeny Todd the Demon Worker of Fleet Street,
GB News
Friday 12th November7.30pmditto4153
Saturday 13th NovemberMatinéeditto108
Monday 15th November7.30pmSensation,
Night Cargo,
GB News
Tuesday 16th November7.30pmditto319
Thursday 18th November7.30pmMistey Cinderella,
Sexton Blake and the Mademoiselle,
GB News
Friday 19th November7.30pmditto3106
Saturday 20th NovemberMatinéeditto93
Monday 22nd November7.30pmEducated Evans [1],
The Law in Her Hands,
GB News
Tuesday 23rd November7.30pmditto2811½
Thursday 25th November7.30pmA Tale of Two Cities,
GB News
Saturday 27th NovemberMatinéeditto626
Monday 29th November7.30pmAren’t Men Beasts?,
Millionaire Kid,
GB News
Tuesday 30rd November7.30pmditto2180
Thursday 2nd December7.30pmCase of the Velvet Claws,
Twelve Good Men,
GB News
Saturday 4th DecemberMatinéeditto2160
Monday 6th December7.30pmWell Done Henry,
Curious Lane,
GB News
Tuesday 7th December7.30pmditto4180
Monday 13th December7.30pmKathleen Mauroveen [2],
GB News.
Tuesday 14th December7.30pmditto296
Thursday 16th December7.30pmHearts Divided,
Fair Exchange,
GB News
Friday 17th December7.30pmditto2110
Saturday 18th DecemberMatinéeditto59
Monday 20th December7.30pmO'Mally of the Mounted,
Tomorrow We Live,[3]
GB News.
Tuesday 21st December7.30pmditto2140
Thursday 23rd December7.30pmPlease Teacher,
Honours Easy [4],
GB News
Friday 24th December7.30pmditto2153
Saturday 25th December6.00pmditto12146
Tuesday 28th December7.30pmHail & Farewell,
Case of Mrs Pembrook,
GB News
Wednesday 29th December7.30pmditto356

[1] Educated Evans (1936) - British comedy starring Max Miller, probably the best stand up comic of the period; often called 'The Cheeky Chappie'. The script was based a horse racing novel by Edgar Wallace (1924).

[2] Kathleen Mauroveen (1937) - Anglo-Irish musical drama starring Sally O'Neil, Tom Burke and Jack Daly. The film includes 'Old Mother Riley and daughter, Kitty' played by husband and wife, Arthur Lucan and Kitty McShane. These characters became a film series in their own right.

[3] Tomorrow We Live (1936) - British drama starring Godfrey Tearle, Haidee Wright and Renee Gadd. A financier facing bankruptcy gives £50 to various down-and-outs in the hope that they can make something better of their lives.

[4] Honours Easy (1935) British drama starring Greta Nissen, Patric Knowles and Margaret Lockwood. The origin was a play Honours Easy by Roland Pertwee (father of Dr Who actor Jon Pertwee).

Wem Cinema ~ 1941/2 Playlist
  • Jack's the Boy (1931) - Jack Hulbert, Cicely Courtneidge, Francis Lister and Peter Gawthorne.
    [British Comedy]
  • House of the Seven Gables (1940) - Vincent Price, George Sanders.
    [Gothic Drama - US]
  • Diamond Frontier(1940) - Victor McLaglen, John Loder and Anne Nagel.
    [US Adventure]
  • Old Bill & Son (1941) - Morland Graham, John Mills.
    [British Comedy]
  • Black Diamonds (1932) -
    [British Documentary Drama on Coal Mining]
  • Saint Takes Over (1940) - George Sanders, Wendy Barrie.
    [US Thriller]
  • Little Tough Mice (1939) -
  • Ragtime Cowboy Joe (1940) - Johnny Mack Brown
    [US Western]
  • My Old Dutch (1934) - Gordon Harker, Betty Balfour
    [British Drama - WWI]
  • One Hour to Live (1939) - Charles Bickford, Doris Nolan.
    [US Thriller]
  • For Ever England (1935) - John Mills, Betty Balfour.
    Originally titled 'Brown on Resolution'
    [British Navy Drama - WWI]
  • The Mummy's Hand (1940) - Dick Foran, Peggy Moran.
    [US Horror]
  • You Will Remember (1941) - Robert Morley, Dorothy Hyson
    [British Musical Drma]
  • Let's Make Music (1941) - Bob Crosby, Jean Rogers
    [US Musical]
  • Young Buffalo Bill (1940) - Roy Rogers, Gabby Hayes, Chief Thundercloud [US Western]
  • 49th Parallel (1941) - Leslie Howard, Laurence Olivier, Glynis Johns.
    [British War Drama]
  • My Song for You (1934) - Jan Kiepura, Sonnie Hale, Emlyn Williams.
    [British Musical - operatic arias]
  • Give Us Wings (1940)- Actors from "The Little Tough Guys" and "The Dead End Kids" series of films.
    [US Comedy Drama]

Wem Cinema ~ 1959 Playlist

  • Winchester 73 (1950) - James Stewart, Dan Duryea.
    [US Western]
  • Carry On Sergeant (1958) - William Hartnell, Bob Monkhouse. [British Comedy]
  • Gideon’s Day (1958) - Jack Hawkins, Dianne Foster.
    [British Police Procedural] Based on John Creasey novel of the same name.
  • The Duke Wore Jeans (1958) - Tommy Steele, June Laverick and Alan Wheatley
    [British Musical] Songs by Lionel Bart, Mike Pratt and Jimmy Bennett (Tommy Steele).
  • Flying Scot (1957) - Lee Patterson
    [British Crime]
  • A King In New York (1957) - Charlie Chaplin, Dawn Adams, Sid James, Michael Chaplin.
    [British Comedy]
  • Lucky Jim (1957) - Ian Carmichael, Terry Thomas.
    [British Comedy]
  • The Wind Cannot Read (1958) - Dirk Bogarde, Yoko Tani, Ronald Lewis.
    [British Drama] Based on the novel by Richard Mason.
  • A Night To Remember (1958) - Kenneth More, Honor Blackman, David McCallum.
    [British Drama] The sinking of the Titanic.
  • The Deep Six (1958) - Alan Ladd, Dianne Foster.
    [US WWII Drama] Based on the novel by Martin Dibner.
  • Where There's A Will (1955) - Leslie Dwyer, Kathleen Harrison.
    [British Comedy] The screenplay by RF Delderfield from one of his own plays.
  • Orders To Kill (1955) - Eddie Albert, Paul Massie, Lilian Gish, Irene Worth, James Robertson Justice.
    [British WWII Drama]
  • When Gangland Strikes (1956) - Raymond Greenleaf, Marjie Millar, John Hudson, Slim Pickens
    [US Film Noir]

Along with other small cinemas, Wem cinema was facing two growing problems, competition from TV and patrons being able to travel more easily to the larger towns where more current films were being screened. By the 1970s, films were only shown monthly on Monday nights. These were not the latest releases, but mainly from the 1950s (Carousel, 1956; Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, 1954) with occasional ones from the 1960s (Born Free, 1966).

Gone to Earth (1950) was also shown. This was not a surprising choice since it was filmed in Much Wenlock. It Starred Jennifer Jones, Cyril Cusack, Sybil Thorndike, George Cole, etc. Gone to Earth is based on the 1917 novel by Mary Webb - Hazel Woodus is a child of nature in the Shropshire countryside in 1897. Most of the film was shot at many sites around Much Wenlock. Local people were recruited as extras. The local Methodist church choir appears in the film but Michael Powell thought they weren't ragged enough to portray a choir of "country folk", only to be told "But we are country folk, Mr. Powell."

The arrangement was more akin to the film clubs that operated in many schools and no comparison to the situation in the 1940s and 1950s.

There were other sources of income for the cinema. Film-goers were a captive audience for advertisers. The only broadcasting medium (visual), the BBC, did not screen adverts and was most careful that programmes did not feature brand names for products. Adverts being screened into people's own homes only began on September 22, 1952 when Independent TV started broadcasting in the London Region (Associated Rediffusion). Other companies began to join the network but it was 1962 before there was countrywide coverage.

Advertisements being screened in Wem Cinema, 1945
April 30th - 5th MayOvaltine, "This England"£1 5s 0d
May 21st - 26thPersil, "We Mothers"£1 5s 0d
June 18th - 23rdGibbs SR, "Sound Sense"£1 5s 0d
July 9th - 14thPersil, "The Sisters"£1 5s 0d
July 23rd - 28thRinso, "Bluebeard Had 8 Wives"£1 5s 0d
August 6th - 11thLux Toilet Soap, "Bouquet of the Month"£1 5s 0d
August 20th - 25thPersil, "Surprise Kept"£1 5s 0d
October 1st - 6thPersil, "Ghost Goes White"£1 5s 0d
October 2nd - 6thRinso, "Mystery of the White Handkerchief"£1 5s 0d
November 25th - 30thPepsodent, "As Others See Us"£1 5s 0d

A letter from 1953 shows that the range of confectionary to customers included Mars Bars, Bounty Bars, Spangles, Popcorn, etc. plus various ice creams. Ice cream was supplied by Eldorado Ice Cream Ltd. (Devon Creamery, 54-76, Stamford St., London SE1) purveyors of other iced product including lollies, HappiKups, choc ices, bricks. Less perishable items seem to be supplied centrally from the Builth Wells cinema. (see letters in above panel.)

A programme advertisement suggests that customers could purchase their sweets, chocolates, and cigarettes before the show from Pemberton's (Confectioners) of 36, High Street. It seems unlikely that Edward Taylor would have been aware or pleased with this idea!

The second part of this printed programme shows adverts from local businesses. Two members of the family who ran the butchers, Ratcliffes also worked in the cinema, see previous.

One Wemian commented that the finish time was after the last bus to the villages left. If you didn't live in Wem, you had the choice of walking home or getting a friend to tell you "what happened"

By 1960, Wem was no longer part of the Taylor chain and Frederick Lodwick (High St.) was running the cinema in Wem Town Hall. A contract (from 8/11/1960) with WUDC shows him paying £1/15s/- per night to provide cinematograph entertainments, variety turns or theatrical enterprises on permitted nights. These permitted nights were Monday, Tuesday, and Friday nights from 6pm to midnight, and Saturday afternoon and night from 2pm to midnight. The council could give 6 weeks' notice to use the building on any permitted day. The tenant could lease for Wed & Thurs if not required other use, 14 days notice was required.
The tenant was responsible for order and decorum, and had to employ a caretaker on performance nights.
The council provided gas for secondary lighting and electricity for a ventilation fan and kept the premises clean. The tenant had to pay for any other gas or electricity usage. The lease was renewable if both parties agreed; termination notice, 3 months by either party.
There was and endorsement of the lease on 28th November 1962 (by Chairman W Kingsley Nott), which for the months of June, July & August, reduced the rent to £1/10s/- per night.
An extension of the lease was requested in 1964 with the comment that trade was very bad and screenings difficult to obtain but that an attempt would be made to keep the cinema open as long as possible. The lease was renewed on 21st October 1964 for 6 months with the rent for June, July & August held at £1/10/- per night.

In November 1995, fire destroyed Wem Town Hall leaving only the Edwardian façade.

Our thanks to Harry Futers for the use of the above images.

Rebuilding commenced using lottery funding.

Since 2006, Wem Town Hall Community Trust has worked hard to bring Wem Town Hall back into community use. Revival of the cinema was one of the ventures. Harry Futers, who as a young man had worked as a projectionist at the Gaumont in Manchester, volunteered to operate the cinema and worked with Paul Roberts the manager. Harry Futers boarded up the walls of the projection room leaving small portholes because previously it had huge amounts of glass that allowed a direct view of the interior and light interfered with the show. He also did all the adverts. As well as the film projector there was a digital projector operating from a computer that was used to show forthcoming attractions. Harry Futers and Rod Owen organised around 5 shows a week. Putting the film together was much more complex than the present digital system. Sarah Zacherak and Harry attended a lecture at the Odeon in Manchester on digital cinema. That spelt the end of the age of the film reels as a digitised system spread throughout cinemas in the 2010s.

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