St Albans' Own East End

Fleetville cinema


The sloping floor is merely the ground slope from Royal Road to Tess Road.  The projection box is attached to the left of the structure.  The foundations were said to have been very flimsy.


... but it didn't even reach its first performance

At the dawn of the 20th century short moving films were shown in many small halls by enterprising entertainers, but the comfort and safety of customers was a low priority compared with a profit for the enterprise.  Arthur Melbourne Cooper showed the way in this city with a properly designed cinema building, on the site of the present Odyssey in London Road.  By 1910 Parliament had enacted the Cinemas Act to provide for minimum levels of comfort and safety; and cinema-goers did not take long getting used to them.

Meanwhile, self-labelled theatre manager Russell Edwards from Granville Road developed an idea which was not entirely legal.  He negotiated with the trustees of the late Thomas E Smith to lease a plot of land at the corner of Hatfield Road and Tess Road (Woodstock Road south).  The Post Office today occupies the site.

Mr Edwards placed an advertisement in certain (unidentified) newspapers:

“Partnerships – Advertiser requires about £200 to acquire fully-equipped picture theatre, now running.  Has taken £30 weekly; electric plant, seat 450; expenses nominal; no opposition.” 

Thomas Swan, from Aldershot, responded and agreed to invest in the project up to a maximum of £350, not realising that, not only was the cinema bot taking £30 weekly, it was not yet open for business, nor even constructed.  Edwards even lied to Swan about the degree of supervision he had personally been devoting to the construction, which, in fact, he had left to a site foreman, George Anderson.

Edwards had negotiated the purchase of a second-hand building from Mr John Forrest of  Colne, Yorkshire, at a cost of £125.  By agreement he paid Mr Forrest £100, even though a bill for £125 was made out for the benefit of Mr Swan, who paid across that sum.  It later transpired that this building, when new had cost only £70, so Mr Forrest was seeking to gain a significant profit, even though chairs were included in the deal with Edwards.  It is not clear how the sections of the building were then transported to Fleetville.

The entrance doors opened onto Hatfield Road.  It may have been originally intended as a 'tin church' or 'tin parish hall'. 

Plans and elevations courtesy Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies

The screen was on the right wall, backing onto Tess Road (Woodstock Road south).  To reach the men's toilet (none for women) it was necessary to leave the building and walk around to the little room.  Although quoted as a 450-capacity hall, it is likely to have held fewer the 250, and maybe even fewer than 200.

The building had been demolished before 1914 and the site lay waste until purchased by A Rankin Smith c1930.  On the site he had his new shop built, with a flat over.  Until then his little post office, sweet and newsagent shop was nearby in the parade known as Bycullah Terrace.

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Fleetville almost had a cinema ...

Edwards continued to bill sums of money to Swan for work which may or may not have been undertaken, and several local tradesmen failed to receive payments for materials supplied or work undertaken.  An average of ten men worked directly on the construction, and they often failed to receive their pay; Edwards requiring some measure of police protection from his casual workers.

The corrugated iron building was larger than Edwards had at first thought and part of it crossed the boundary of the plot, but he continued with the construction without communicating the problem to  the land owner.  It appears that the sizes of the building and the plot on the architect’s plan bore no resemblance to reality.

Eventually Edwards appeared in court, one of many such visits on various matters.  The court had to decide how creditors were to be paid.  Mr Swan eventually paid £16 to have the building taken down, and the sale of the building (it is not known who acquired it) enabled creditors to be paid.

Edwards was committed for trial at the next Assizes on a charge of perjory, given that he had made many false claims about his affairs to the court.  46-year-old Edwards pleaded guilty.  He was committed to prison for a period of 14 days.

Fleetville residents, unfortunately, failed to be entertained, and probably would not have been, as the 1913 court case and the involvement of the city council, determined that the structure could not have been given a license under the Cinemas Act.

Fortunately, the plans drawn up by Mr WH G Hubbard of Luton for Mr Edwards, are still at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies and are reproduced here.

Although the plans contain an incomplete set of  measurements, it is clear that the seating capacity would have been nearer 200 than the 450 predicted by Edwards.  An engine room was proposed, which presumably was to generate electricity, and there was no indication of a heating source for the winter months, given that the walls were corrugated iron.  There was to have been a separate projection room at the back (which was the part over-stepping onto the neighbouring plot).  A toilet cubicle was built in, but only the one.

The glory days of travelling cinemas, sometimes associated with fairgrounds.  In towns and cities halls or shops might be hired.   

Courtesy Jon Anton Entertainments

St Albans' Own East End