Aylsham

Picture how it used to be!

Just Regional
Dec 4, 2014 4 mins read

There’s a new group looking into Norfolk’s history, hoping people will help put them in the picture.
Norfolk at the Pictures is a Heritage Lottery funded project organised by Cinema Plus, the education charity based at Cinema City in Norwich.

The project wants to involve local people from all over the county, with the aim of preserving and collecting the history of cinemas and cinemagoing in Norfolk and is interested in hearing from anyone who would like to share their memories or submit photographs or other memorabilia to the Norfolk at the Pictures archive.
You can also donate to the project to help create a permanent exhibition and new accessible education space (The Screen Heritage Centre) at Cinema City.

There is a long history of cinema exhibition in Norfolk, made more distinct through its proliferation of important seaside towns and often rurally isolated communities.

Showmen with their travelling entertainment booths and Bioscope machines regularly travelled to Easter and Summer Fairs across Norfolk. Piers and amusement arcades often had Bioscope machines installed from the early 1890’s. In coastal and market towns, Town Halls were often used as early cinema venues. Later in the 1920s the showmen would bring generators and electric light to areas which were more used to darkness or gas lamps. The Town Hall in Aylsham for example was regularly used for film screenings until 1937, when the unprecedented growth in the popularity of cinemagoing necessitated building purpose built cinema venues.

In Aylsham, the County cinema building still stands on Cawston Road and is instantly recognisable as a cinema. This was a custom designed building and operated from 1937-1960. Cinemas had to adapt and change to keep up with new technologies and encouraging audiences to keep coming. The County like many other cinemas was fitted for Cinemascope in 1954 to keep up with the larger cinemas in Norwich and Great Yarmouth.

The Regal in Cromer, which still operates as a cinema today, has been open since 1914. Like most other cinemas it also showed variety performances and sporting events including boxing. It is a great example of how cinemas, were at the heart of local communities, perhaps much more than they are today.

Many Seaside towns had more than one cinema in the heyday of cinemagoing. Sheringham had the Electric Picture Palace on Cromer Road, The Regent and the Picture House (now the Sheringham Little Theatre). North Walsham had the much loved Regal on New Road (1931-77) and the Picturedrome on King’s Arms Street. Before the invention of television, it was normal for these cinemas (which on average seated 500+ people) to be full and for local people to visit them at least twice a week. Many local cinema building like the Olympia in Cromer have long been demolished or converted to other usage. This is why it is important to record and document the buildings and our memories of them.

The project is interested in hearing from those who attended these cinemas, but especially those who worked in them – the projectionists, managers, ushers, usherettes and torch boys and girls. Cinema exhibition is its own industry, with its own skills and craft. Many people who work in cinemas have worked in them for their whole life or are even second or third generation cinema workers.

Those who submit their memories will be commemorated next year in a glossy magazine, permanent exhibition at Cinema City and digital online archive.

County Cinema, Aylsham. Now a Youth Centre

County Cinema, Aylsham. Now a Youth Centre

Regal Cinema, North Walsham

Regal Cinema, North Walsham

Sheringham Regent, now Sheringham Little Theatre

Sheringham Regent, now Sheringham Little Theatre

More of what's happening in Aylsham