William Haggar's fleapit cinema

Wednesday 24 February 2010, 14:31

Phil Carradice Phil Carradice

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Beginning with short features such as A Ride On The Mumbles Railway and a film about the Boer War - actually shot in the Rhymney Valley - Haggar saw a niche in the market and was soon producing early classics such as The Life And Death Of Charles Peace and The Maid Of Cefn Ydfa. The Charles Peace film about the notorious Victorian burglar and murderer was shot in Pembroke Dock and is the oldest extant British story film.

By the end of World War One most Bioscopes had found themselves permanent homes, the Haggar family creating cinemas in places such as Lanelli, Pontardulais, and, in particular, Pembroke. William Haggar retired to Aberdare but the cinemas continued to be owned and run by his sons. The Pembroke cinema was established by William Haggar Jnr, being taken over, in due course, by his son Len. It was always a family concern.

Phil Carradice with members of the Haggar family outside the former Haggar's Cinema in Pembroke

"We were always being brought in to sell tickets or ice cream," says Sarah Haggar, granddaughter of Len, "it was just something you did. Years later I became an actress and I think my love of the stage and acting came from my involvement with Haggar's Cinema when I was young."

Selling ice cream in the cinema was not a job for the faint hearted as Len's daughter Dinah recalls:

"One evening I was told to sell ice cream and the picture that night was a desert one, Lawrence Of Arabia or something like that. I didn't really know what to do so I just went up to people and said 'Do you want an ice cream?' Of course, on the screen there were miles of sand and nothing but blazing heat. I think we broke the record on ice cream sales that night."

Haggar's Cinema closed in 1982, the last privately owned cinema in Wales and the building - once Pembroke's Assembly Rooms - now operates as a nightclub. William Haggar, always conscious of providing entertainment for the people, would probably have been pleased.

"I'm proud that my family were amongst the pioneers of British cinema," says Susan Haggar, great granddaughter of William Haggar. "And also to think that they provided so much entertainment for so long to the people of Pembroke."

The story of William Haggar and the cinema in Pembroke is told on The Past Master, first broadcast on BBC Radio Wales, 28 February 2010.

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    Comment number 1.

    Haggar's flea pit was my old local cinema, growing up near Pembroke.

    I can remember being dragged there to watch 'Greece' along with a bunch of screaming 9 yr old girls, for my sisters birthday :(

    And begging my dad to take me to see 'Clash of the Titans!' in 1981 just before it closed down.

    Shame it was turned into a nightclub. The area has been crying out for a decent cinema ever since...

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    Comment number 2.

    Fascinating stuff Phil, being from "the Dock" our cinema was The Grand. My memories of Haggar's relate to the early sixties - playing on stage there with my band The Creators - especially opening for the Swansea group The Eyes of Blue. I'm sure a lot of folks remember the steep staircase at Haggar's!

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    Comment number 3.

    There were many enterprising cimema proprietors in those early days. Not far from Haggar's Pembroke auditorium was Haverfordwest's Palace Cinema, opened by the Swansea impresario Sidney White in 1913, after a furious local debate about the morality of such entertainments. One of White's nicer touches was to screen the national football results during the Saturday night programme so that local fans could see them from the "cosy chairs" of the Palace, rather than have to walk down to the railway station on the Sunday morning to read them in the Sunday papers.

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    Comment number 4.

    Thanks for that comment, Robert. I wonder how many cinemas there were in Pembrokeshire? I know there was the Grand in Pembroke Dock and Haggar's. How many in Haverfordwest? Tenby had two that I know of and I think Milford had one. Does anybody know of any others?

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