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Towcester Cinema - Beginnings
Towcester Town Hall (2007)Towcester Town Hall (2007)
British Thompson Houston sound disc player and projector c.1927British Thompson Houston sound disc player and projector c.1927

by Martin Winterton

The first time moving pictures were shown to a public audience was in 1895 by Louis and Auguste Lumiere using their invention the cinematographe. Silent films became commercial from about 1903 but synchronised sound was not added until 1927. Colour films became available from the 1930s.

The first films in Towcester were shown at the Town Hall, but this ceased when the Towcester Cinema opened in 1939.

In about 1983 Colin Ball wrote:

"Towcester Town Hall was the town's first picture house from about 1920. The hall, measuring 58ft by 36ft and 28ft high, was erected in 1866 as a combined Corn Exchange and Town Hall and was used for meetings and public entertainment.

Moving pictures were introduced to Towcester by Mr Groom of the motor engineering firm of M.V.Groom & Sons who leased the hall on Saturday evenings. As there was no mains electricity, Grooms generated their own by using an oil engine and dynamo, and ran the power lines over the road from their garage 300 yards to the south of the Town Hall.
This is the garage that was run by Ralph Kaby until he retired in 2006.

In around 1929-30 the running of the cinema was taken over by Cyril Hall who at one time lived in Blisworth. He had purchased portable projectors and sound equipment for the talkies and used them to present shows on Saturdays in Towcester and on other days at Brackley Town Hall, Buckingham, Winslow and Weedon. He transported the equipment in a trailer towed by his fabric covered Rover 10 car. As mains electricity had been laid in Towcester in about 1925 there was no need for a generator.Cyril Hall left the district in 1936 or 37 and the running of the cinema was taken over by Robert Neall, of Daventry, until he managed the purpose built Towcester Cinema.

L.V.Bootman, a retired motor engineer who worked for Groom's, recalls:

"At first the sound for the "talkies" was on disc, and sometimes it used to get out of synchronisation and the actors lips would move and the sound would be late or early. But this was usually rectified as time went on. The projectionist was Harold Edwards, who was a relative of Groom and so may have been the projectionist at the very beginning. The gentleman who played the piano for accompaniment to the action being shown on the silent screen was William Westwood Baker. He was accompanied by a drummer."

Tom Knowlton, in 2009, remembered the 1930s when:

"a man called Cyril Hall had a shop which sold fireworks and wireless sets. He was also the proprietor of the mobile cinema in Towcester Town Hall and ran the cinema in Daventry too. He showed films in Towcester twice a week on Thursday and Saturday. The projector was where the stage now is, and the screen was on the wall that now has portraits of the mayors. There were two forms at the front, three forms behind, then five rows of chairs. It cost 5d in front row, 9d in the better rows and 1/3d in the seats. It was very well attended, especially for Boris Karloff. We were frightened to death as kids. Sometimes the projector broke down, and everyone stamped their feet. Now and then Cyril Hall used to advertise local things in between the short film and the main picture."

The Town Hall was not needed for films when the Towcester Cinema opened on the 5th December 1939.
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