The Rise and Fall of the Cinema in Newmarket
We are indebted to Roger Newman and Peter Norman who were very helpful in providing suitable pictures from their large collections dealing with the town’s history.
The picture below shows The Kingsway Cinema staff on their outing in 1929 and recalls the old 1907 Music Hall song “Put me Among the Girls”- the manager certainly seems to be popular with his staff.
It was kindly sent by John Banks, who now lives in Victoria, British Columbia who says that it was hand
coloured by his father Frank. John has postings on the Correspondence pages (January 2013).
John has sent another copy of the picture identifying some of the girls, including his mother and the pianist – the laughing lady wearing a hat, 5th from right (most films were still silent at the time and relied on piano accompaniment for dramatic effect). The names can be supplied on request.
The Doric opened on 1st March 1937 with Will Hay in “Good Morning Boys” and Yvonne Arnaud in “The Gay Adventure”. Located at the end of the High Street, next to the Memorial (Town) Hall and diagonally opposite the Kingsway Cinema.
It was built for and operated by local independent company Doric Cinema (Newmarket) Ltd. The cinema had a 35 feet wide proscenium, a stage 35 feet deep and six dressing rooms. There was a café upstairs for the convenience of patrons.
It was equipped with Cinemascope, the first film shown in that process was MGM’s “Knights of the Round Table” starring Robert Taylor on 19th January 1955, and this was followed by Richard Burton in “The Robe”. The Cinemascope screen was 30 feet wide.
The Doric Cinema closed on 27th July 1964 with Bette Davis in “Dead Image”(Dead Ringer) and Robert Hutton in “The Secret Door”. The building then stood empty and unused for 15 years until it was renovated and re-opened in around 1979 as a cabaret and variety club, known as the Cabaret Club. In 1987, a special screening was held in the building to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of its opening when a Pathe Newsreel film of the original opening was shown, together with a film starring Will Hay.
The Cabaret Club continued into around 2000 and since then the building has been used as a variety of leisure bars until it was converted into residential units. The Grosvenor Arms pub having changed its name to The yard, the name Grosvenor was re-invented for these flats.
Brumby and Brown’s barber’s shop at the corner of Grosvenor Yard was once known as Manor Place.
The Doric Cinema in 1938, just a year after it opened. The building, which survives today, was designed as a cinema with cafe above. Its pleasantly rounded front and Doric style columns made an attractive addition to the town’s High Street.
The Doric film projectors. In 1955 the equipment was updated to allow the screening of Cinemascope.
This was in Victoria Mansions, later known as The Carlton Hotel, the imposing building on the north side of the High Street that was demolished in the 1970s.
The Victoria cinema operated during the Great War and the 1920s but was gone by the time the Kingsway opened, probably about 1927.
During the early 20th c, as the film craze spread, no doubt there were several small units showing films in buildings not solely used for the purpose. Perhaps the best known of these was The Kozy Kinema, situated in Grafton Street (now called Black Bear Lane). The building had been erected in 1886 on the site of the present Harley Davidson (2019) motorcycle showrooms, its original purpose being a steam laundry and swimming bath, for which admission to the latter was 6d.
Sometime later the swimming bath was converted to take a removable floor platform, allowing seating for 340 persons. A stage, gallery and dressing rooms were provided; and so, The Kosy Kinema came into being. The building was sold in 1913 at which time the cinema was a going concern. It is not known at present when the Kozy Kinema gave its last performance.
In September 1907 a great tragedy occurred in Newmarket Town Hall (the building on Rutland Hill now Wild Woods restaurant) which was in use as a temporary bioscope (cinema). The hall was overcrowded and the projector, which used incandescent limestone as the illuminating medium, was knocked over resulting in a fire. Panic ensued and there were many casualties. As a result of this fire and other similar tragedies the Cinematograph Act of 1909 was passed, which laid down safety standards.
The old Kingsway building is currently occupied by ARK Nightclub.
* The Doric is Grosvenor Apartments
Efforts are being made (2022) to establish a new cinema in town. The Jockey Club in a presentation at the Memorial Hall, put forward the idea of using the old Subscription Rooms, (more recently, the National Horse Racing Museum) as a site for a cinema complex.
Memories of The Kingsway and The Doric Cinemas
(extract from Rodney Vincent’s book about village life in the thirties and forties “A Tanner Will Do”)
Rivalling the participant entertainment, ‘the flicks’ were at the height of their popularity. In Newmarket during the late thirties two cinemas flourished – the Kingsway and The Doric. Both buildings still in the High Street near the corner of The Avenue.
On 1st March 1937 a new and up to date cinema, The Doric, opened with Will Hay in ‘Good Morning Boys’. With pleasantly rounded façade and fluted columns the Doric even had a café upstairs where patrons could meet before the show, for tea. As this extravagance added some two shillings each to the cost it remained a luxury for the minority. At the Kingsway special sixpenny shows on Saturday mornings brought in the kids to see Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy or George Formby.
Cinemas had a plush atmosphere exuding an air of opulence and an evening out became a real social occasion. A world of romance and excitement opened up as the torch-waving usherette showed the patrons to their well upholstered seats (ninepence or a shilling downstairs, one and six or two and thruppence in the balcony) to become engrossed in the latest epic from Hollywood. For a couple of hours the villagers were transported from their simple lives. The young man’s arm crept around his girl’s shoulders as she assumed some of the glamour of the current screen goddesses – Alice Faye, Carole Lombard or Dorothy Lamour …
During the war years the cinemas became even more popular and long queues formed for the evening shows, with uniforms well in evidence. Wartime morale-boosting films like ‘Target for Tonight’, ‘One of our Aircraft is Missing’, ‘Mrs Miniver’ or ‘In Which we Serve’ were sell-outs. For the first half of the show a crowd stood at the back of the auditorium while awaiting seats while the projector beam cut through the smoke haze of scores of cigarettes.
During the interval the usherettes came round with Eldorado ices but as the war progressed ice-cream disappeared. Instead, the audience was treated to ‘Dig for Victory’, ‘Buy War Bonds’ and similar patriotic messages flashed on the screen. Finally, the curtains drew and a solemn playing of ‘God save the King’ had everyone standing to attention except for the few who had made their escape at the back.
The audience streamed out into the darkness and rain of the real world – it usually seemed to be raining when I came out of the cinema. Those of us from the village found their dripping bikes, peeled apart their sticky oilskin capes and tackled the long and exhausting bike ride home, the last bus having long since gone.
… from John Marshall, a stable lad in Newmarket 1945 – 1950
(Correspondence September 2008)
I was interested to hear the picture houses are now night clubs. I well remember the Doric and the Kingsway. We lads used to sneak in via the emergency exit. We were so poorly paid that it was the only way sometimes to see the latest film. One Saturday night I had sneaked in when the usherette asked me to show my ticket.
For some very strange reason I said, “you fetch the manager, and I will not only show you my ticket but demand an apology.” This from an undersized 14-year-old. I sat back very pleased with myself. Just a few minutes later the manager and the doorman, an ex-sergeant came from behind, lifted my under five stone body and threw me out of the place and banned me for 4 weeks – from both the Doric and the Kingsway. However, we saw some good films at both places, and I have fond memories of both.