By Local Historian Vincent Dorrington

Cinema will return to Huddersfield town centre next year when The Light opens at the Kingsgate centre.

But there was a time when cinema thrived in the town and buildings still remain. The listed facades of those like ‘The Empire’ and ‘The Grand’ recall a time when the townscape was full of picture palaces.

These cinemas brought glamour and entertainment to the people of Huddersfield in a new exciting age of moving images and, later, Hollywood films.

Cinemas as we know them did not exist in the late 1890s and early 1900s. To see moving pictures, the wonder of the age, crowds flocked to a strange assortment of venues.

Theatres like the Hippodrome and Palace showed films, but so did Temperance Halls like the Victoria Temperance Hall on Buxton Road. Many halls later adapted to become permanent cinemas.

Purpose-built cinemas began to appear in Huddersfield and its suburbs from 1910. ‘The Picturedrome’, in Buxton Road (Primark site today) opened in 1910.

It was the first purpose-built cinema in Huddersfield. The first Charlie Chaplin film to be seen in Huddersfield was shown there in 1914, but Bamforth’s comedy shorts about the adventures of ‘Winky’ were just as popular.

Businessmen were eager to exploit the new film craze. In 1912, two new cinemas opened. They were ‘The Picture House’ and ‘The Olympia.’



In 1915 ‘The Empire’ opened. Its managing director Mark Freedman was a key figure in the Huddersfield cinema world. He was a Jewish tailor and immigrant from Eastern Europe.

Critics said the people of Huddersfield would not accept longer films, but Freedman thought otherwise. He brought ‘The Battle of the Somme’ and the great silent epic ‘The Birth of a Nation’ to Huddersfield.

Freedman’s career in early cinema management was extensive. In 1912, he opened ‘The Olympia’ before going on to manage ‘The Empire.’ Later, he became MD of ‘The Princess’ cinema, and finally ‘The Savoy’ in Marsh.

His rags to riches story came to an end when he died, aged 70, in 1942. Marsh, of course, was the childhood home of James Mason, Huddersfield’s very own Hollywood film star.

The austerity years of WW1 were forgotten as ‘The Grand’ cinema was built on Manchester Road in 1921, at a cost of £21,000. In 1923, ‘The Princess’ cinema, followed on Northumberland Street. It was built at a greater cost of £34,000, as it tried to surpass ‘The Grand.’

Huddersfield’s public became enthralled with the opening of its new cinemas. Usually its Mayor or Mayoress opened the cinemas.

However, film stars provided the glamour. When matinee idol Peggy Hyland opened ‘The Princess’ cinema with a golden key in 1923, Huddersfield came to a standstill.

‘The Princess’ was also rivalled by ‘The Empire’ in claiming to be the first cinema to show ‘talking’ films in Huddersfield.

‘The ‘Princess’ was the first Huddersfield cinema to convert to sound. Al Jolson’s ‘The Singing Fool’ was the first full length talking and singing picture, shown in Huddersfield in May 1929.

Controversially, a month before in April 1929, ‘The Empire’ synchronised ‘The Jazz Singer’ film with sound effects on the Majestone sound recorder to give the “impression” of a talking film.



The 1930s saw the building of two super cinemas, with seating capacities for 2,000 people. The first, ‘The Tudor House Super Cinema’ opened in 1930. Over the years it changed its name many times, from ‘The Essoldo’ to ‘The Classic’ to ‘The Cannon’. When it finally closed, in 1997, it had reverted to its original name, ‘The Tudor.’

The ‘Ritz’ Cinema was the second super cinema to open in the 1930s. It was built on the site of the Cloth Hall in 1936.

Many people in Huddersfield opposed its building, including the Mayor. Once built it was praised as the greatest cinema of the North. The staggering cost of £100,000 shocked people.

It could hold over 2,000 people (larger even than ‘The Tudor’) and had a cafe and dance hall, following the example of ‘The Princess’ with its cafe dansant.

Jessie Matthews, Britain’s second most popular film star, was guest of honour at the grand opening. Her film ‘It’s Love Again’, with Robert Young, was the main feature.

‘The Billy Cotton Broadcasting Band’ were among celebrities on stage adding to the entertainment. Nevertheless, press reports indicated it was the illuminated rising Wurlitzer organ, costing £10,000, that caught the public eye.



The birth of ‘The Ritz’ marked the high point of Huddersfield’s cinema building. Despite the Great Depression of the 1930s, cinema attendances from the middle of the decade began to rise.

Film going was the public’s most popular form of entertainment. A total of eight suburban Huddersfield cinemas opened in the 1930s plus the two super cinemas in town.

Famous athletes were also in demand for the grand openings of Huddersfield’s cinemas. Dewsbury-born Eileen Fenton, the Channel swimmer, was guest of honour for the grand opening of ‘The Curzon’ cinema.

It opened under new management in 1950, after major refurbishment. Previously it had been ‘The Picturedrome’, Huddersfield’s first cinema.

Despite what appeared to be the unbridled success of cinema going in Huddersfield, there were downsides. The use of highly inflammable nitrate film proved to be a major fire risk.

Some cinemas were partly or wholly destroyed by fire. The list of fires is staggering: ‘The Grand’ (1932), ‘The Lyceum’ (1934) ‘The Regent’ (1936), ‘The Star’ (1939), ‘The Picturedrome’ (1949) and ‘The Tudor’ in 1967.

From the 1950s cinemas started to close down, most notably: ‘The Grand’ in 1957, ‘The Picture House’ in 1967, ‘The Empire’ by 1973, ‘The Princess’ in 1982 and ‘The ABC ‘in 1983.



The suburban cinemas, even those with grand names, like ‘The Lyceum’, ‘The Regal’ or ‘The Palladium’ went the same way. The appeal of television and video watching could not be matched. In short, people stayed at home.

Many cinemas, like ‘The Curzon’, put up a fight. In 1953 a panoramic screen was fitted, only the second of its type in the country.

This meant Cinemascope films and 3-D films such as ‘The House of Wax’ could be shown. Both ‘The ABC/Ritz and ‘Tudor House’ cinemas tried 3-D films but such efforts were doomed to a short life.

‘The ‘ABC/Ritz’ continued to stubbornly fight on. It diversified and allowed music acts and entertainers to use it as a theatre.

The appearance of ‘The Beatles’ in 1963 caused the greatest stir. In 1974, a second screen was added and then a third – it was all to no avail.

‘The ABC/Ritz’ closed down in 1983. It was the final cinema to be built in Huddersfield’s town centre and was one of the last to go – making way for the building of a Sainsbury’s supermarket on Market Street.

Finally, in 1997 the UCI multi-screen cinema complex, now ‘The Odeon’, opened ‘out’ of town. Four months later ‘The Tudor’ cinema went into receivership.

This marked the end of an era. Huddersfield no longer had a cinema in its town centre, when it once had as many as seven.

Yet echoes of that past time still live on in the precious memories of those who sat in the stalls and circles of Huddersfield’s picture palaces.


Vincent Dorrington on the life and times of Huddersfield-born film star James Mason and his love-hate relationship with his hometown