Local History

Majestic Cinema: Looking back at the 90-year history of iconic picture house in Mapperley which was once called ‘the Elite of the suburbs’

Local historian Bob Massey looks back at the history of the Majestic Cinema in Mapperley as plans to demolish the iconic building are revealed…

The Majestic Cinema in Mapperley was opened at 6pm on June 10, 1929 by the local councillor and ex-Sheriff of Nottingham Mr John Farr.

During the opening ceremony Mr Farr said that “the new cinema has provided the area with one of its finest building. The people of Mapperley could not until that time be charged with too much cinema going as this was the first building of this type to be built in the area”.

He also stated that “the new cinema would provide for the social and recreational sides of life with its program of educational values and healthy interest.”

CELEBRATION: The grand opening of the cinema back in 1929

The site for the cinema had been well chosen at the top of the hill near the Methodist Church. Being built into the hillside it allowed the entrance to be at street level with steps leading towards the screen, thus making it natural auditorium. This arrangement gave easy access to both the stalls and balcony.

The building was designed by Alfred J Thraves who also designed many of the arteas cinemas including the Regent at Kirby and the Plaza in Mansfield. This cinema was built by the firm of Coleman and Blackburn of East Kirby  who had built several other cinemas. It had a total seating capacity of 721 all with a good view of the 20’(6m) by 15’(4.5m) screen.

It was for its time splendidly equipped and decorated and was described as “the Elite of the Suburbs”. This was a reference to the Elite Cinema in Nottingham which was one of the finest cinema buildings then in existence.

The opening film was Sorrell and Son, the story of an ex army officers struggles after the First World War, and starred Mary Nolan, Nils Asther and H B Warner.

The cinema was owned by the Severn family who operated the building themselves, They carried out many of the jobs, managing the venue and taking tickets etc. a real family operation.

SCRAPPED: One of the discarded designs for the Majestic

The program operated Monday to Wednesday when there was then a change of film. This new film then continued until the Saturday. There were of course no films on a Sundays in those days. Saturday afternoon was the kids time when from 2pm Westerns, action films, comedy, cartoons and of course the serial, were shown.

The Majestic continued to provide the people of Mapperley with good entertainment throughout the following decades but like many cinemas succumbed to the effects of the cinema tax and the start of television. It finally closed its doors for the last time, with the film Carry on Admiral, on Saturday, December 7, 1957. Unlike many others of Nottingham’s cinemas however the building was not lost. It was taken over by a firm of Electrical Contractors who used the main cinema as a workshop.

There is also evidence of an earlier rejected design for the Majestic cinema. This was to be called the Cinedrome. Although this design had a central entrance and two side wings this is where the similarity with the Majestic ended. The proposed build was very similar to that of the St Albans Picturedrome in Arnold having a central pay box with entrances either side. There was a office and projection room above the entrance with a small balcony that overlooked the street. The two wings contained a shop in each one, facing out to the street. It is assumed that these shops would have sold sweets and refreshments for the visitors to the cinema. Very different from the design of 1929.

The majestic did not incorporate shops in its layout but a sweet shop was built next door to serve the cinema patrons. This shop was owned and run, for a time a least, by a Mr Boyle. This shop still exists next door to the present building and is now serving the local population with very different food stuffs as Indian Takeaway.

ALL CHANGE: The former cinema housed a golf shop in the 90s

Thanks to one lady’s memories I have found out that the Majestic did not go straight from a cinema to an electrical contractors after its closure in 1957. It was for a time used for various activities until it was taken over by Roy Wallance.

Mr Wallace was very aware of the standard and historical importance of the building, being one of the few A J Thraves cinemas still standing. He decided to convert the building to his needs but to keep all its character and as much of the original design as possible. To this end he employed Julian Marsh of Gerzy Grochowski Architects ( now Marsh Grochowski Architects) to carry out the design work required. The project took two years to complete at a cost of some £200,000. This resulted in the Nottingham Civic Society’s prestigious award for outstanding design in 1989.  On receiving the award Mr Wallace said “With architectural and design awareness heightening, it is a privilege to receive an award, even more so from such a worthwhile body as our local Civic Society” The building then reopened to great appreciation as Picture House Interiors.

On their move to other premises the electrical contractors then moved in followed later by a golf store which occupied the premises for a number of years.

The premises then stood empty for a number of years until taken over by the present tenants opened The Haunted Museum. All the users especially the present ones have respected the decor and the building is substantially unchanged except a floor being added in the auditorium to provide a level surface.

The cinema is a very important example of Thraves work one of only a hand full of his buildings to survive. its design is almost unique as its has a natural slop to the auditorium being built into the side of the hill. There is a door in the lower part of the stalls which leads outside this was the entrance through which the patients from the adjacent Mental Hospital entered for the special performances put on for their benefit. The cinema also had a small stage so that some live entertainment also took place in-between the main feature and the B films. This helped reduce the amount of cinema tax that the building had to pay but it did not save it from closure as it went the same way as most other cinemas in the 1950s.

We are very lucky however it was not knocked down as many were and was not substantially altered or damaged. This building is very important to the history of cinema and the local Mapperley area and should be a listed building to keep it for future generations.

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One Comment

  1. If you want an example of how a once run-down cinema can once again become a thriving cinema showing a wide range of films look at the Regal in Melton or the Belper cinema. They have been tastefully modernised but keeping important features and are well run and successful.

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