Reading Branch meeting 28th February 2019
Speaker: David Cliffe
David opened by recounting that he had first given his talk, now updated, to our branch in 2014 after encouragement from us and the History of Reading Society which resulted in the publication of his book “Reading Cinemas: Picture Palace to Penny Plunge”.
He recalled drawing upon information from Leslie North’s 1958 book and Daphne Phillips’ book which mentioned some cinemas but was far from comprehensive. He set about researching as many picture houses with the help of the records in the Berkshire Record Office and from “Woodeson”. His biggest regret is that no account books have been found, which would give the readers an idea of how profitable these places of entertainment were. He was also disappointed at the lack of “internal” photographs available and has had to use mostly exterior shots in his book and talk.
David outlined the historical development of cinematography, from 1896 Luminarie Brothers and its arrival in Reading in 1897 as the Reading Cinematograph. He said that fairs, halls, stores, and the Town Hall were all used by pioneers of this new entertainment. 1909 saw fire regulations introduced due to the flammability of the film. Early developers of buildings to house this new invention were the Symonds family, of the brewing family who were responsible for the Rex, Regal, Granby and Savoy cinemas. In 1939 there were 11 premises which between them had 10,762 seats. If you multiply by the number of days they were open, not Sundays it would total nearly the population of Reading at that time.
Those were the days of queuing, with a commissionaire to keep order, page boys, and usherettes. Before the “Talkies” in 1929 most cinemas had an organ or and orchestra to accompany the film and some places had tea dances and cafes. David concluded his talk by reviewing the current situation in Reading with only one ten screen 2,000 seat venue if you discount the out of town Winnersh Showcase. He then showed a wonderful collection of slides of our heritage cinemas.