A Visit to Kenilworth Cinema in the Early 20th Century

Site of the cinema. Robin Leach states in his book 'Kenilworth People and Places: Volume 1' that following damage from the landmine on 21st November 1940, the upper floor used for the cinema was removed.
Photo by Benjamin Earl.

A Mr. Cole wrote down his reminiscences of his childhood in Kenilworth and Warwickshire, around the time of the First World War. His memories of visiting the early cinema in Kenilworth are certainly evocative, and recall an innocent time of fun.

To the “pitchers”!

Let’s go to the “pitchers” this Saturday afternoon. It is over the King’s Arms Hotel Vault, the ground storey is still there. We set off with our two-pence in hand. Over the Common and along School Lane, calling at Mrs. Bennett’s for 4ozs of Toffee, one penny. This is a Saturday to remember, is it not. We cross the Abbey Fields to the top of Southbank Road. As we get there we hear the sound of the gas-engine which drives the dynamo, start up. “They’ve started!” We think we are too late to see the whole programme, if they will let us in. We dash across the fields and arrive to find that they are just warming up the engine etc.

The modern wonder, the cinema, cannot be managed by anybody you know. How fortunate the town is to have a man like Mr. Pettifer. Only such a genius is of any use.

Up the narrow staircase

We climb up the narrow wooden staircase into the “pitchers”. It is a long, narrow room about 50ft x 20 at the back, on a dias stands the all-important projector. Just in front of the projector about 24 chairs arranged in about three rows, these are the best seats. Then comes a few rows of benches, that is our place. We are packed in and now we can begin to enjoy our toffee.

We shall see a serial at the “pitchers”. I remember one of those serials well. It was entitled “The Clutching Hands”. Very briefly, the plot concerned the murderous activities of a pair of hands which popped up regularly week by week to strangle someone. We hold our opinion as to the identity of the “Hands”. Just as the cast is nearly throttled off, the hero unmasks the dastardly villain.

It is the meek and mild professor. The hero holds up, for all to see, the overall which made the wearer invisible. I think that turned me right off films for life, they are so silly.

Turn that light out!

During the show the door near the screen is often opened. When this happens the whole lot of us start yelling for the door to be closed. The light blotted the picture right out. The film breaks at frequent intervals, now do you see why only Mr. Pettifer can be in charge.

We liked cowboy pictures best. We could, and did, re-enact them on the common or in the wood.

The early films used to be accompanied by someone on a piano. If you listened you would hear all kinds of music. The new ragtime, or snatches of classical and all without a note before the pianist, they were certainly not limited as they are described today, to one or two “vamps”.

Text from Warwickshire County Record Office document CR 2737/2. Reproduced with permission of St. Nicholas School.

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