1920s pic­ture palace plans

Black Country Bugle - - FRONT PAGE - By GAVIN JONES

...and much more!

DUD­LEY’S Cri­te­rion cin­ema, like all its con­tem­po­raries, has long be­come a mere mem­ory, but one thing that has sur­vived is a slim doc­u­ment which out­lined the plans for the build­ing, back in the early 1920s.

En­ti­tled ‘Plans and Par­tic­u­lars of Pro­posed New Cin­ema, Mar­ket Place, Dud­ley’ it also fea­tured the de­tailed il­lus­tra­tions we re­pro­duce here, which give a fas­ci­nat­ing in­sight into the long-gone cin­ema.

It was opened in Novem­ber 1923 – a lit­tle over 95 years ago, and ac­cord­ing to Ned Wil­liams’ re­search, fundrais­ing for the re­quired £40,000 be­gan in the au­tumn of 1922; the likely date of pub­li­ca­tion for these plans.

The di­rec­tors of the project were headed by Sid­ney Bray, a Dud­ley na­tive, and they set out their am­bi­tious plans as fol­lows:

“Dud­ley is a large town served by tram routes from all di­rec­tions of the thickly pop­u­lated dis­trict around, in­clud­ing Wed­nes­bury, Princes End, Tip­ton, Dud­ley Port, Old­bury, Hale­sowen, Cradley, Old Hill, Stour­bridge, Bri­er­ley Hill, Kingswin­ford, Wall Heath, Gor­nal and Sed­g­ley.

“The pop­u­la­tion of Dud­ley and the sur­round­ing dis­trict men­tioned above is about a quar­ter of a mil­lion peo­ple. Many thou­sands of pas­sen­gers alight right op­po­site the main en­trance to the Cri­te­rion, and there is no doubt that a large per­cent­age of these pas­sen­gers will be ir­re­sistably at­tracted to pa­tro­n­ise this up-to-date Pic­ture House.

“The site is a won­der­ful one from many points of view, and it is con­sid­ered im­pos­si­ble for it to prove other than a prof­itable in­vest­ment to its own­ers, what­ever form of busi­ness the fu­ture de­mands, but its suit­abil­ity for a well con­ducted Pic­ture House can­not be ex­celled in the dis­trict.

“It will be seen that it is pro­posed to run an up-to­date Cafe at the front of the build­ing and the pub­lic will be well pro­vided for by way of Lounges, Cloak Room and other ac­com­mo­da­tion, which is so es­sen­tial for the com­fort of the pa­trons.

“The Lounges and Crush Hall, which will ac­com­mo­date hun­dreds of vis­i­tors to the Cin­ema, will ob­vi­ate the dis­com­forts of queu­ing in the streets.


“The seat­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion is ex­pected to be 1,400, and in this mat­ter the com­fort of Pa­trons will be the first con­sid­er­a­tion. Al­though the space avail­able would ac­com­mo­date con­sid­er­ably more, the Di­rec­tors stud­ied com­fort first.

“It is in­tended to only ex­hibit the very high­est class of Pic­tures and to pro­vide a first class Orches­tra.

“The pro­vi­sion of a very fine up-to-date show will be a boon to the pop­u­la­tion of Dud­ley and its sur­round­ing dis­tricts.

“The prices will be very pop­u­lar ones, and well within the reach of all pa­trons.

“The Cin­ema will be un­der the able man­age­ment of Mr Sid­ney Bray, who is well known in the Pic­ture world and has been for many years Pro­pri­etor of var­i­ous Cin­e­mas in the Mid­lands, and it is an­tic­i­pated that un­der his guid­ance very large prof­its as well as ex­cel­lent en­ter­tain­ment will ac­crue.

“Fi­nally, this scheme is pro­moted by Dud­ley busi­ness men, who have ev­ery con­fi­dence that in of­fer­ing the shares to Dud­ley peo­ple they will avail them­selves of such a fine in­vest­ment.”

The pro­pos­als did of course go ahead, with Vis­count Ed­nam per­form­ing the open­ing du­ties, Ned tells us.

Sadly, it met a sud­den and need­less end in 1956, when then-own­ers the Rank Or­gan­i­sa­tion closed it, as part of a sweep­ing move which brought an end to many of their older houses. Its fi­nal show­ing, Reach for the Sky, played to a packed house.

Though the front en­trance was con­verted into a shop soon af­ter­wards, the au­di­to­rium re­mained; stripped of its seats and used as a ware­house un­til its de­mo­li­tion in 1980.

The frontage, how­ever, can still be seen – these days it serves as the en­trance to a gam­ing ar­cade.

The ‘Pro­posed el­e­va­tion of the front of the New Cri­te­rion Pic­ture House,’ as seen from the Mar­ket Place

De­tailed plans of both lev­els of the Cri­te­rion

The ‘pro­posed el­e­va­tion of the back of the new cin­ema in King Street’

The Cri­te­rion’s old fa­cade is still in place to­day

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