Central Hall…first cinema in Colne, the UK or the world?

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It has been argued that Central Hall on Colne Lane was not just the UK’s but the world’s first purpose built cinema. Quite a claim for such an inauspicious looking building. That it opened before the other UK contenders for the title is not in doubt. The counter argument surrounds the question of whether it was purpose built. Was it deliberately intended as a cinema, or just a hall in which film shows could be put on as part of a wider range of activities.

“The first building in the world specially designed as a cinema was opened in Colne, Lancashire, in 1907”. So say, Christopher Harvie and Colin Matthew of Central Hall in their Nineteenth-Century Britain: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press). It is a claim that is repeated in other places too as is the lesser one that give the hall the UK-only first place; just perform a few google searches and see. It was even recognised in the Guinness Book of Records.

The case against Colne’s claim is put by John Burrows in ‘The First Purpose Built Cinema: The Case Against Colne’ (Picture House, issue 30). His detailed argument is, unfortunately, quite convincing. He explains that the claims for Central Hall are based on what Josuhua Duckworth, the hall’s owner, said in Kinematogaph and Lantern Weekly (a British film industry trade paper) in July 1908:

The experience [in the film business], together with the good fortune to possess a site for a suitable hall in the centre of a population of some 30 to 40000 led to my present undertaking. I built what is known as  the Central Hall at a cost of over £2000. It is suitably furnished, installed with electric light, and heated with hot water….The apparatus for projecting is Gaumont’s Professional Chrono driven by electric motor, and this  has now run  every now for 2 years.

It is this last sentence upon which the Hall’s claims rest. If true, it takes it’s opening as a cinema back to mid 1906, one which predates other contenders. The problem is that there is no evidence to back up Duckworth’s statement – there is none to confirm when the Hall actually opened for instance – and the evidence that does exist suggests that, whilst it may have opened as early as 1905, it was more of a multi-purpose building. The building’s design certainly doesn’t have the appearance of a cinema – the five windows along each side for instance – and the plans submitted to the local council in 1905 for approval refer to it as a “public room”. These do not show a projection room, screen or seating but do specify an orchestra enclosure.

Central Hall2

Central Hall

From the building control plans submitted by Duckworth to the council (Lancashire Archives reference MBCO 27/1581)

Financial accounts seem to show that it was not in constant use in the first couple of years either – perhaps being used as storage space for Duckworth’s neighbouring print works – with little evidence of what use it was being put to (and certainly no evidence of film shows).

All that said, there might be evidence out there that does confirm what Joshua Duckworth said in 1908. We need to know precisely when the hall opened, when the first film show was and how often films were shown. Even in the absence of this information no one could deny that Joshua was a cinema pioneer and that Central Hall, if not the first purpose-built cinema, certainly has an important place in the early history of UK cinema.

Inside the hall today

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Sources: Nineteenth-Century Britain: A Very Short Introduction, Christopher Harvie and Colin Matthew; ‘The First Purpose Built Cinema: The Case Against Colne’ in Picture House 30 – Jon Burrows, 2005; Building control plans (Lancashire Archives reference MBCO 27/1581); business and personal accounts of Joshua Duckworth (Lancashire Archives reference DDX 752/8/3)

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Market Street, Colne, c1880s (and now)

high res market street c1880.tif

A view down Market Street, c1880s. W Croasdale, Bookseller, Stationer and General ? is the shop on the far left. I suspect that’s Mr Croasdale in front of the shop, short white apron and arms folded; there’s another adult and a young girl stood in the doorway of the shop which is now long gone. In it’s place we have Clifford Smith and Buchanan, solicitors and estate agents, with its wonderful neo-classical columns and balustraded roof.

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Market Street, Colne, 1960s

Market Street 2

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the building of Christ Church School #1

The earliest known image of Christ Church School and Church from a letterhead of 1845

January 2016 will see the 175th anniversary of the opening of Colne Christ Church School.

With a strong determination to bring the word of god and a basic general education to the children of the poor in that part of the town, along with lots of arm-twisting and some measure of emotional blackmail, the second incumbent of the church, Reverend William Hodgson, succeeded in raising the funds necessary for a schoolroom. Money, or lack of it, was the constant challenge for Hodgson, and though January 1841 saw the school open, he found himself without the money for a teacher. Undeterred, Hodgson taught the classes himself and spent the next few years drumming up support for his new school and trying to secure the funds for a full time teacher. During this early period, the future of the school was far from certain.

William Hodgson had arrived from Haworth a few years earlier. There, on 25 Dec 1835, he had performed his first duty, a burial, as curate to Patrick Bronte in Haworth.

By temperament he [Hodgson] was a fiery and somewhat tactless young man who proved to be a voluble advocate of the Established Church and a vigorous opponent of Dissenters both in the pulpit and in print.” (Barker, The Brontes, p280)

He was Patrick’s right hand man until May 1837 when he signed the registers as curate for the last time and crossed the moors to become Vicar of Christ Church. Within a few months of arriving in Colne, Hodgson, tired of teaching children in the church, wrote to Reverend Joseph Wigram MA, secretary to The National Society about the poverty of the area, his ambition to build a school and with a request for money.

2 Aug 1837

Reverend Sir,

I find myself under the necessity of making an application to the National Society of pecuniary assistance in the erection of a Church Sunday and Daily-School Room; for the obtaining of which I respectfully request you interest and instructions.

We have already collected about 200 children, but having no School-room, we are obliged to teach them in the Church, which on many accounts is very inconvenient, especially because in our narrow pews I find it impossible to put the National System of Teaching, of which I highly approve, and to which I have long been accustomed, into operation.

The Church, to which I have but lately come, and of which I expect, under the blessing of God, soon to be Incumbent, has been only twelve months open for Divine Service since its erection; and is in a Chapelry of 20,000 souls.

There are but three Church Sunday School in the whole Chapelry. The children of the first are taught in the Grammar School, of the second in a room provided by your Society for that purpose [Colne National School]; and my children (the third) are taught in the Church. The number of children in these three schools will not amount to 600; leaving the remaining thousands to grow up in the wilds of ignorance, or to stray and be led in the paths of schism.

Judging from the local situation of the Church, and other circumstances, it is probable that, had we a convenient room for a good system of teaching, we might have not fewer than 500 children; however, of a certainty, we should be justifiable in providing for 400.

James Wilson, Esq. Who gave ground for the Church, offers land from the same estate for the School. But as the wealthier inhabitants had to subscribe for the erection of the Church, and are daily called upon to contribute towards the maintenance of unemployed operatives, I have no hope at present of pecuniary assistance from them.

From an estimate which I have obtained, it appears that about £300 would be required, a grant of which from your honourable Society would confer upon us a lasting obligation and an inestimable benefit.

Sources: the image of Christ Church – Lancashire Archives reference PR 3173/2; Hodgson’s letters to The National Society are at the Church of England Record Centre, reference NS 7/1/3365

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Church Street, Colne, c1900

Church Street 1 A Parade passes in front of the parish church. Across the road are The Fleece and the Parkers Arms. I make the words on the banner to be Colne Baptist Church Sunday School.

Church Street 1 detail

 

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Carry Bridge, Colne, c1910

Carry Bridge

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poor Mr Pryce

Grave of David Pryce

We have already heard that David Pryce, a curate at Christ Church in Colne, died within six months of having his offer of marriage turned down by Charlotte Bronte. Yesterday I unexpectedly came across details about Mr Pryce’s death and funeral in the diary of James Foulds of Trawden. The story starts at a hunt across the border in Yorkshire:

January 4 1840

Clifton and myself joined a shooting party at Farnley [Farnley near Otley]. We killed 51 hares, several braces of Pheasants, a Woodcock and 3 rabbits, not having a shooting dress with me I borrowed a pair of trowsers of E Whittaker and a coat of Clifton which answered very well. Mr Markland left this morning

January 5 1840

Went to Church and heard an excellent sermon from the Vicar Mr. Hart [Vicar at Otley]. Had a letter from Jno Shaw informing me of the death of Mr Pryce, (our first curate at Trawden) which took place this morning a little after 4 o’ clock and I immediately concluded to go home early in the morning. [so news of Pryce’s death reached Foulds same day – it is 19 miles as the crow flies from Colne to Farnley or 32 miles on modern roads]

January 6 1840

Started in the Gig about 7 o’clock and got to Colne about 11, called upon Mr Bolton for the purpose of making arrangements for the funeral of poor Mr Pryce, sent for Wm. Hodgson incumbent of Christ Church and from him ascertained that the affairs of Mr. P. were in a bad state and then Mr Bond [more likely Bolton] and myself concluded to bury him jointly and Jno.  Shaw was fixed upon to take the management of the funeral.

January 16 1840

John Shaw and myself were engaged the greater part of the day making preparations for the funeral of poor Mr Pryce. I gave 7 of the female teachers at the Sunday School [probably Christ Church] Ribbons for their Bonnets, Gloves and Scarves the male D[itt]o Hat bands and Gloves

January 17 1840

About 2o Gentlemen 7 Clergymen partook of luncheon here today who had come to attend Mr Pryces funeral, we started in procession from the deceased house [where, presumably, Pryce’s body had been lying for the past 13 days] about 2 o’clock–and were joined at Carry Lane head by a number of the respectable inhabitants of Colne who accompanied us to the Church [Christ Church]

Source: The diary has been transcribed by Herbert Hindle and published in his “Foulds of Trawden, Danes House & Burnley” (available at Colne Library); the original, once owned by Mr Hindle, is now at the Borthwick Institute in York, reference MD.128

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