“The Local Cinema”

The Local Cinema

(article in Bowburn Interchange No. 6, August 1998)

by Stavros Young

(Stavros Young was the nom de plume of the late Don Wilcock, a founder member of Bowburn Local History Society.)


Now standing forlorn, empty, disused and ‘Up for Sale’, in the middle of the west side of Durham Road stands Bowburn’s cinema, “The Crown” – better known of late as ‘The Bingo Hall’.

The building of it was begun in the late 1930s. The brick-work is unusual in the pattern of the bricks. Also the use of tinted glass blocks in the windows is novel for the time.

Work was not yet completed by September 1939, when war broke out. As an on-going project – and a morale booster – it was decided to complete the building of the cinema. So a special order was made for it to have the steelwork it needed. This came from Skinningrove and was stamped “British Steel”. (This logo was used to promote steel made in Britain and not imported from the Continent – especially Germany. It was long before the industry was nationalised and called British Steel!)

Next time you go past, look how much extra steel was required for the canopy and for the tower carrying the title in neon lights, which for five years were never lit.

Does anyone remember the first film shown and who staffed the cinema (usherettes, the projectionist etc.)?

However, this was not Bowburn’s first cinema. For there was a Picture Hall, ‘The Crown Picture House’, before this, above Crowtrees WMC. It was described as such by the Durham Chronicle on June 22nd 1923, under the heading “Fire at Bowburn Club”:–

The Working Men’s Club at Bowburn was completely gutted on Saturday morning (June 16th).

The ground floor was used as the Club premises but the large hall above was let to Mr. W.W. Turnbull and used as a picture hall. Fortunately water tanks erected in the picture hall for the hot water heating burst and saturated the wall of the steward’s house saving it from destruction. A billiard table was able to be pushed out of the reach of the water and fire. A dynamo on the ground floor was got out, but Mr. Turnbull’s cinema engine and film worth £100 was destroyed.

The building was insured but not Mr. Turnbull’s cinematographic equipment. Subsequent examination showed that the fire started from a burnt out electric fuse in the corner of the picture hall.

A later report in the Durham Chronicle stated that the cinema reopened as the “Olympia Cinema” in February 1924 and continued running until 1929.

Until the advent of television in the 1950s, cinema going was very popular. There were three weekly changes of programme (Monday to Wednesday, Thursday to Saturday and a separate programme on Sunday) and three cinemas in the area (Bowburn, and The Avenue and The Gem at Coxhoe). So every night, if you could afford it, could be spent in the warm cosiness and escapism of “The Pictures”.

My thanks to David Williams of Durham for the above information. David is researching into the history of the cinema in the villages around Durham City. If you can remember your cinema-going days before the War, David would like to hear from you on (0191) 386-5874 or write to D.R. Williams, 17, Wearside Drive, Durham, DH1 1LE.

In History the large events are well chronicled. The smaller and local events, important to the community, don’t get the same attention. If you can help, please do so.


Note: The former Crown Picture House / Cinema, later Bingo Hall, was demolished on 8th June 2002.

The property was then developed by Castlegate Properties Ltd./Whitfields of Houghton to form the Wellfields Business Centre.

The building now contains the local NHS dental practice.