The long-lost first cinema to be built in one Merseyside town could well see its history come full circle now plans have been announced to turn it back into a picturehouse.
At one time almost every Merseyside town had its own cinema but sadly most of them are long since demolished or turned into other things.
Prescot’s first picture house opened in 1912 – and the exquisite building still exists on Kemble Street today with a lot of its original features still intact.
It was recently announced that bringing the former Prescot Picture House back into use as a cinema is one of the proposals that could benefit from a grant from Historic England.
We traced the building’s history through its different incarnations over the years.
Early 1900s: Prescot’s first cinema
Located on Kemble Street, the building is part of what was a longer terrace of mainly three storey houses, with an auditorium built in the rear gardens.
In 1912, the cinema opened as the Prescot Picture Palace and Theatre of Varieties and was built by Mr L Hughes, who appears to have been the landlord of several commercial buildings around Prescot town centre.
The Prescot Picture Palace was the first town’s cinema and many of the adverts in the programmes were for properties that Mr Hughes had available for rent at the time.
The auditorium remains to a large extent as built with a sloping floor, 150 original seats in situ and a lot of the original plasterwork, which includes the decorative proscenium arch that framed the screen.
Originally a cinema and variety theatre, the theatrical use stopped within a few years and in 1929 the cinema was upgraded to be able to show ‘talkies’ – films with sound – as well as newscasts.
The 1950s: A carpet and furniture warehouse
Many residents will know and even remember that Prescot also had another cinema, the Lyme House Cinema on Eccleston Street.
Now the Halifax Bank, it opened in 1922 and was also built by Mr Hughes.
Local tradition has it that the Lyme House was the town’s premier cinema, whilst the older Picture Palace was the second string cinema.
The Picture Palace closed in 1957 and became a carpet and furniture warehouse, with The Lyme House closing its doors three years later in 1960.
1970s: A bingo hall
In the 1970s, the Picture Palace was sold to Tudor Bingo and later became Coral Bingo and finally Gala Bingo by the early 1990s.
The photo, courtesy of Knowsley ARK, is from around 1984 when the building was Coral Bingo. It was taken from the stage, looking up across the auditorium.
To make it a bingo hall and social club, Coral Bingo made changes to the interior of the building, including removing the wings of the balcony in the auditorium, though the back part of the balcony remains.
In the 1990s, the original cinema seats that were removed were found in a sealed part of the building and returned to their original locations.
The 1990s: Prescot Community Church
In around 1995, Gala Bingo sold the Kemble Street premises to what is now Prescot Community Church.
The Church carried out many repairs and restoration works inside and outside, including reconfiguring the entrance from Kemble Street, repairing the ornate ceiling and restoring the windows with new stained glass.
Back in 2015, the ECHO was given a look inside the impressive building by Colin Hill, the church’s senior minister.
Stunning photos show the rows of distinctive cinema chairs in the main auditorium, which are more than a century old and have been restored, as well as an original an original programme from 1915 found under the floorboards.
The future: The return of a cinema?
Last month, it was announced that a new arthouse cinema could be coming to Prescot as part of a £3 million investment in the town’s heritage, by Knowsley Council and Historic England.
Building on the £4 million Prescot Townscape Heritage Initiative that ended in 2018, the money will go towards a series of restoration works and community activities in the town.
Among the projects in line to receive funding is the Prescot Community Church, and the local authority has suggested converting it into an arthouse cinema to “support the leisure and visitor economy of Prescot town centre”.
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Cllr Tony Brennan, Knowsley’s cabinet member for regeneration and economic development, said: “There have been many years of hard work and public and private investment that have gone into the transformation of Prescot town centre and I am delighted that there will be more heritage led investment to come.
“This project will help us to continue to restore some of Prescot’s most historic buildings and bring something really special to the local community and visitors to the town.”