1920s picture palace plans
...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