Local Heritage

History of The Regent Cinemas in Hungerford and Wantage 
The Regent Cinema, Hungerford

Prior to the construction of The Regent Cinema, the people of Hungerford would attend movie nights in the Corn Exchange on a regular basis. Forthcoming shows would be advertised on a series of placards which stood outside on the pavement of the Corn Exchange.

There was no real places of entertainment in Hungerford before the start of WW1 and with cinemas providing thrills, laughter and news. James Tufnail a Newbury based entrepreneur seized the business opportunity to create a profitable cinema business in Newbury, and Aubrey George Beardsley from Wantage who had originally been the projectionist at The Picture Palace, followed suit financing new cinemas in Hungerford, Calne, Chipping Norton, Wantage and Farringdon (see below for further details).

The Hungerford cinema was built in 1934 in Church Way opposite Atherton Road (fondly called Picture House Hill) by the local building company, J.Wooldridge and Co, who had their business in Wooldridge’s yard in Hungerford Wharf (today the site of Canal Walk).

The first-night performance was on Thursday 22 November 1934 starting at 7.30 pm and featured Norma Shearer and her co-stars, Herbert Marshall and Robert Montgomery starring in Riptide.

Other movies screened that year included:
Queen Christina, starring Greta Garbo
Those were the Days, starring Will Hay
Murder at the Vanities, starring Victor McLagen
Cleopatra, starring Claudette Colbert

There were two programmes each week and with changing bills generally on a Monday and a Thursday. There were five different ticket prices which were in pre-decimalisation, and these were: seven pence, nine pence, one shilling, one shilling and three pence (known as one and three), and one shilling and sixpence (known as one and six).

(In these days of decimalisation, understanding the language of pounds, shillings and pence that the country used before 1971 may be not altogether clear. Money was divided into pounds (£) shillings (s. or /-) and pennies (d.). Thus, four pounds, eight shillings and four pence would be written as £4/8/4d. or £4-8-4d. There were:
• 240 pennies in a £1;
• 12 pennies in a shilling (sometimes called a bob);
• 20 shillings in a £1.)

During the war, the cinema was always packed with troops of all nationalities, evacuees from the cities, as well as people working in the area but living away from home.

Cinema goers in 1953

The number of cinema goers countrywide started to decline in the 1950’s and 1960’s due to number of reasons such an increase in other forms of leisure, the immediacy of TV to watch live events in the comfort of your own home and a change of use such as bingo halls, dance halls, bowling alleys and building land which were more profitable.

The Regent became unprofitable and closed its doors in 1972 and was finally demolished in 1974.

The site was then sold for the building of residential homes (Regent Close).

Wooldridge’s also built sister cinemas in Wantage and Farringdon. Amazingly, all three cinemas are similar in appearance: unattractive red brick buildings. The Farringdon Regent was however rendered in a white mortar in the 1960s to improve its external appearance.

The Regent Cinema, Wantage

The Wantage Regent opened in 1935 and remained operating until 1976 when it was converted into a bingo hall. Its first bill was “Stormy Weather.” Seating was provided for 561 in the stalls and circle areas. The proscenium was 40 feet wide, and the cinema also offered a café.

In 1980, a new owner re-introduced films part-time but in 1985, the building was purchased by developers and the cinema closed for reconstruction.

The building was gutted internally and a shopping mall was created where the cinema stalls used to be and a restaurant was created in the stage area.

The old circle was extended forward and re-opened as a cinema on 13th June 1986 with Michael Douglas in “Jewel on the Nile”.

Today the building is home to Regent Second-Hand Bookshop which has over 100,000 titles and is probably the largest bookshop south of Haye-on-Wye.

The Regent Cinema Farringdon

Located in Farringdon, Oxfordshire (formerly in Berkshire), the Rialto Cinema was opened in 1935 when film star Stewart Rome appeared ‘in person’ on the opening day. New owners took over in the early 1950s and re-named it the Regent Cinema. It was equipped with a Western Electric (WE) sound system. It was closed around 1974.

 

Jimmy Whittaker

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