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13 November 2014

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Arcade cinema Worcester

Picture: Worcester Records Office

The Arcade – Worcester’s lost cinema.

The cinema that once stood in the heart of Worcester city centre is now gone, and the building that housed it is just another shop, but in its day The Arcade was a big part of the golden age of film.

Go to the stages of the walk

Once upon a time Worcester boasted seven cinemas, an indication of just how popular an entertainment film was in the days before television spread into every home.

Only one of these, the Odeon, is still a cinema. 

The buildings that housed three of the others are still visible:  The old Gaumont is now a Bingo Hall; the Scala, once the most opulent of the city's picture houses, now hosts an amusement arcade and tanning salon; the Northwick, in North Worcester, which closed in the 60s, is now an antiques showroom.

The St John’s cinema, the first in the city to show a talkie, and later a nightclub, was all but destroyed in a fire on 31 March 2007, and will soon be swallowed up in a new supermarket development.

The Apollo, off Wyldes Lane, was the smallest of the city's cinemas, and patrons could exchange a jam jar for a ticket to get in. 

The building that once housed this tiny picture house is now converted into flats.

Grand opening

The Arcade cinema has also all but vanished, and the building that once housed this cinema at the very heart of the city is branch of Superdrug.

It was all very different from the grand opening night, on Saturday 15 March 1913, of what was billed in the Worcestershire Chronicle as "Worcester's Luxurious Picture House".

Arcade cinema Worcester

Picture: Worcester Records Office

The paper reported that "during the five hours continuous performance large crowds visited the beautifully equipped pleasure house.  Some of the best miscellaneous films were shown on a much larger scale than ever seen in Worcester before."

Contemporary pictures show that the screen was not huge by the standards of the 1930s cinemas, but that a surprising number of seats were packed into such a small building.

This was the age of the silent film, and the Chronicle commented favourably that "high class and popular music was tastefully rendered by a talented orchestral trio."

On offer that night were a clutch of films, including the dramas The Burglar’s Dilemma and The Wreckers (featuring a train crash, the must-have spectacle of the silent era), a film about exotic fish, and a couple of comedies.

Topping the bill was the love story of Elizabeth I and the Earl of Essex, starring 'Madam Sandra Bernhardt' as the virgin Queen.

Tickets cost 3d, 6d or 1 shilling (5p) for the poshest, and children under 12 got in at half price.

The Arcade only survived until the 1930s, when it was bought by the Gaumont British Picture Company, and closed, doubtless to make was for their new cinema in Foregate Street, which opened in 1935.

It is sad to think that there isn't even a plaque on the building to mark the 20 year life of the Arcade cinema.

last updated: 26/02/2009 at 15:13
created: 26/02/2009

You are in: Hereford and Worcester > Places > Places Stories > The Arcade – Worcester’s lost cinema.

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