Picture Houses / Cinema / Bingo Hall

– snippets from County Durham Advertiser &c.

(For some pictures of Bowburn’ s Crown picture house / bingo hall – see Crown Cinema pics.)

16/7/1923: Fire at Crowtrees WM Club, early on Saturday morning.

Mr. Turnbull’s picture house, upstairs, was totally destroyed. He was not insured.

The Club received £2,182/15s/11d from the insurance company, all of which was paid to Dorman Long & Co. “to cover the cost of reinstating the club building and the balance towards the repayment of the loan”.

The Club re-opened early in 1924.

(Sources: Dur. Co. Adv. 22/6/19223, p.6; Crowtrees WM Club minutes)

1924: Wilfred Turnbull’s Olympia cinema re-opened in the hall above Crow Trees W.M. Club, following its destruction by fire in July 1923. This cinema continued running till 1929. A new agreement was reached with the Club but the magistrates did not renew the licence.

Mr. Turnbull at that time also owned picture houses at Thornley and Sherburn Hill. The latter, the Co-operative Picture Hall, aka the Unity Theatre, was built to hold 500 people c.1923, on the site subsequently occupied by Sherburn Hill primary school, at the east end of the village. It was refurbished in 1930 but closed in 1940.

When the new school at Cornforth was opened in 1926, the old one was used for entertainments. In 1929 it was converted into the Regent Cinema by W. Turnbull. It closed in 1957 and was demolished in 1963. The Sherburn Hill Picture Hall was refurbished in 1930 but closed in 1940, many of its customers were then going to the Majestic at Gilesgate Moor, which opened in 1938.

In February 1943, Mr. Turnbull was the proprietor of two picture houses, at Fishburn and Sedgefield.

(Sources: Don Wilcock, Bowburn Interchange (6); Club Minutes; David Simpson, N.Echo 29/12/2004 p.8; David Simpson: “The Durham Villages” p.30; Dur. Co. Adv. 5/2/1943, p.8;

8/3/1926: Ernest Albert Merrison (15 years), pony driver, of Shincliffe Bank Top, was fatally injured by car belonging to W. W. [Wilfred] Turnbull, picture house proprietor, on the Durham–Stockton road, between Cassop Road Ends and Bowburn Colliery. He was trying to leap on the back of a lorry to get a lift home after finishing work at Bowburn Colliery. His father was James Merrison, roadman. He was taken to the ambulance house at Bowburn Colliery and attended by Mr. Ramsay and PC Hurrie, but died within half an hour.

The car (a Ford brougham 5-seater) was driven by John Leslie Everard, manager of Bowburn picture house (which was above Crowtrees WM Club). Joseph Claughan, stoneman, was a passenger. Mr. Everard was a teetotaller. The verdict was accidental death.

William Wilfred Turnbull lived at “Greenside”, St. Mary’s Terrace, at Park Hill. His wife, Phoebe (née Emmerson), whom he married about August 1929 [registered at Sedgefield], died after a long illness early in 1942. At that time, Mr. Turnbull was the proprietor of two picture houses, at Fishburn and Sedgefield. (Although he was the original proposer of the Crown Cinema at Bowburn – against his mother’s wishes – it opened in 1941 under Mr. Iseton.)

WWT was also Group Leader of the Coxhoe Special Constables, who paraded at his wife’s funeral, at Holy Trinity Church, West Cornforth. John Leslie Everard was Mr. Turnbull’s step-father.

(Sources: Dur. Co. Adv. 12/3/1926 + 5/2/1943, p.8)

3/2/1930: Magistrates decided to close Sherburn Hill’s “kinema” (i.e. cinema) and that Bowburn’s – i.e. Wilfred Turnbull’s Olympia cinema, in the hall above Crow Trees W.M. Club – “should only be open to adults until repairs were completed”, after Superintendent Foster reported to the Durham Brewster Sessions, the day before, that both should be closed as unsuitable. 

There were 21 kinemas in the Durham division “and considering the fact that a large number were originally constructed for other purposes and had been adapted there had been a remarkable immunity from disasters through fire or panic. These old buildings, he added, could not be compared with kinema halls erected during recent years for general safety and convenience…”

(Source: Manchester Guardian, 4/2/1930)

8/11/1931: “Armistice Service in Cinema

“Minister Refused Permission to Preach in Church

“The Remembrance Day service at Coxhoe, Durham, on Sunday [8 November] afternoon will be held in a cinema instead of at the parish church, as arranged. The Bishop of Durham has declined permission to the Rev. Arthur Watson, the Primitive Methodist minister at Coxhoe, to give the address in the parish church unless he gives an assurance in writng that he personally accepts the conditions of reunion formulated at the Lambeth Conference. Mr. Watson is not prepared to do so, and, in consequence, has been informed by the Bishop that he cannot give the address in the parish church… “…The Vicar of Coxhoe will take part in the service at the cinema with Mr. Watson and Captain Statham, of the Salvation Army.”

(The Manchester Guardian, Saturday 7 November 1931, p.7)

6/2/1939: Durham RDC deferred determination of plans for a cinema at Bowburn, submitted by Mr. Turnbull, pending a decision of the licensing justices. Letters of objection had been received, on the grounds that it would depreciate the value of their property by blocking their views, from Mr. Holmes and from Mr. Turnbull’s own mother, Mrs. Everard.

John Leslie & Elizabeth Ann Everard lived at 22, Durham Road West (“Hillcrest”).

(Sources: Dur. Co. Adv. 10/2/1939, p.8; Electoral Register, 1939)

1939: Durham RDC approved plans for the Crown Cinema (aka Crown Picture House), Bowburn and construction started soon afterwards.

Peat Edge Cottages were demolished to make way for it.

It was stopped in September, following the outbreak of war, but resumed later. (See 1941.) Cinemas and other places of public entertainment were closed by the Government upon the outbreak of War, due to the fear of air raids. Official policy changed later when it was “realised that entertainment was essential for the continuance of a high state of morale… [1939–45] thus saw a boom in audience ratings for theatres and cinemas and led to the opening of new premises…” (History of Sunderland, p.135)

(Sources: City of Durham Building Control; GL Dodds (1995/2001): History of Sunderland)

1941: The Crown Cinema (aka Crown Picture House) opened in Bowburn, with seating for 415.

Construction had started in 1939, just before the War. (Durham RDC approved plans in August 1939, but completion was then delayed.)

The licence was issued on 15/1/1941. The cinema’s owner was Mr. Frederick Iseton, who (with his brother Thomas) also owned the Avenue and the Gem in Coxhoe. (It has been said that the same newsreel used to be used at all three cinemas on the same night. But this may have applied to full-length films, too, with the reels being "bicycled" from one to the other, and each one's sitting starting a bit later so the next reel had time to get there from the previous one!)

“Bicycling the film” is how Walter S. Dunn Jnr. described this in the Durham County Local History Society Bulletin (66), Spring 2003, p.57: “The first reel was shown in theater A and then delivered to theater B, while theater (sic) A showed the second reel. When B finished the first reel, it went to theater C, the second reel to B, and A began the third reel. One print of a film could be shown in three or more theaters for the cost of a single rental, a great saving as the theaters were very small.”

The first film was almost certainly “Untamed”, although another source suggested it was “Tarzan and the Leopard Woman”, starring Johnny Weissmueller, and another thought it might have been the film version of Daphne Du Maurier’s “Rebecca”.

There used to be three changes of film programmes a week [Monday ,Tuesday & Wednesday; Thursday, Friday & Saturday, and Sunday]. Only the older ones went on Sunday nights. (So perhaps the “bicycling” was less of a rushed job than suggested above? Perhaps all three of the above films were screened in the same week, even?)

The first two rows were 6d, the rest of the downstairs seats were 9d and upstairs was 1s 6d.

The three cinemas in Coxhoe dated from 1909, 1914 and 1932. That, I think, was according to Walter Dunn. However “mewx” gives date of the Avenue Picture House as 1930. “mewx” wrote, on <>, in Oct 2010: “Work commenced on the Avenue cinema 18th June 1929 and opened 3rd February 1930. “It was owned by the Iseton family (Thomas & Frederick) who also owned the Gem cinema at the bottom of Coxhoe (now the Gem Cafe). The cinema had 300 seats and a proscenium width of 19ft. It was 3d (1 p) to sit on the form right at the front, upstairs in the balcony seats would cost 1s-0d (5p). The cinemas were always packed and you had to be sure to be at the front of the queue to be able to get on the form. Films shown were often Hop-along Cassidy and Roy Rogers, with Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy and The Three Stooges. The Avenue was the posh cinema. The queues would stretch right back to the police station now the dental surgery. I heard in later years the cinema was lived in by a strange fellow. He was arrested for selling drugs, and hanged himself in the building.

There are several photographs of the wrecked Avenue cinema interior on that site, plus one of it in 1953.

John Spinks told me “Tarzan…” was the first film but Cyril Egglestone’s diary (via his daughter) gives “Untamed” and also gives the date 27/1/1941. Moreover she remembers attending with her parents. Bill Harrod thought it was “Rebecca” and that the opening was on 15/1/1941. However he later acknowledged that the date may have been the date the licence was issued, not of the first performance, and that the conversation he had overheard about “Rebecca” was about what the first film SHOULD be, not what it had been. (The lady in question was also suggesting to Mr. Iseton that the cinema should be NAMED “Rebecca”, after the film.)

“Untamed” was a 1929 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer drama/comedy/romance motion picture starring Joan Crawford and Robert Montgomery, directed by Jack Conway. Made during MGM's transition from silent to sound movies, “Untamed” was Crawford's first talkie. It was the first role as a leading man for Montgomery, who never worked in silents. In the opening scene, Crawford dances as she sings the theme song, "Chant of the Jungle," which became a hit in 1929. An oil prospector, Henry "Hank" Dowling (played by Ingraham), has raised his free-spirited daughter, Alice "Bingo" Dowling (played by Crawford), in the jungle of South America. He asks his friend, Ben Murchison (played by Torrence), to come work with him on oil wells that have paid off. Just as Ben arrives with Howard Presley (played by Herbert), however, Hank is killed by an oil worker who has designs on Bingo… (etc.)

Both Bill Harrod and Jean Shield said upstairs prices were 1s/6d. Jean said she went, as a child, on Mondays and Saturdays, as those were pocket money days.

(Sources: City of Durham Building Control; John Spinks [personal conversation]; C. Egglestone’s diary [via Jean Shields]; Bill Harrod [pers. com.]; Syd Coulson [personal conversation]; David Simpson, “The Durham Villages” p.39-40; “mewx” [<>, which is no longer available].)

4/6/1944: A parade of Home Guard, Army Cadets and Civil Defence services opened the week of war savings (“Salute Week”) in Bowburn. Major T. A. Saint took the salute at the Crown Cinema, after which a dislay was given by the Home Guard and Army Cadets.

This was followed by children’s sports, under supervision of Mr. G.F. Holmes, and then dancing.

More than half of the target of £2,000 had been reached by the end of the day. (Many names are listed among the prize-winners.)

(Source: Dur. Co. Adv. 9/6/1944, p.5)

31/3/1996: Crown Bingo, in the former picture house/cinema on Durham Road West, closed. the owners were Hearn Amusements, South Shields.

Before the cinema closed, the projectionist was Charlie Shields (assistant = Peter Bell). In the 1950s, it had been Olaf Kay, helped by Jack Ward, of Coxhoe (who may have been the projectionist at The Avenue, seconded from time to time to Bowburn).

(Sources: Helena Dobkin, of Hearn Amusements [on telephone, 2002]; LHS 21/11/02; Bill Harrod [pers. com.])

8/6/2002: Former Crown Picture House/ Cinema, later Bingo Hall, demolished. The property was then developed by Castlegate Properties Ltd./Whitfields of Houghton to form the Wellfields Business Centre. It is now occupied by the Burgess & Hyder dental practice, downstairs, with the offices of Omega Asbestos Consulting Ltd upstairs.