Friday, 20 January 2017

Chorlton’s first cinema, a Molotov cocktail and a shed load of new stories

The story of Chorlton has just started a new chapter and it is all down to a phone call from Mr Hollinworth.

We all know that you can never close a book on the history of a place because there will always be a fresh discovery, a new set of memories and an unseen batch of photographs which add to the picture and even contradict what we all held to be the truth.

Looking at the petrol station, 1961
So until recently I had no idea that during the Great War there had been two Red Cross hospitals operating in Chorlton or that our first cinema had originally been a variety hall situated on Wilbraham Road.

And now there is the promise of a lot more from Mr Hollinworth who phoned me today after having read the blog.

He was born in Chorlton in 1928 and lived on Silverdale Road until 1951, and has a vivid set of memories of the area.

These include the Manchester Blitz, the bomb that fell behind the air raid shelter on Wilbraham Road and the bomb crater which for a day became a venue for a man with a piano and an impromptu choir to see patriotic songs as a gesture of defiance.

And it is these small bits of history which in their way are as revealing as any academic account of the war and of course are the ones that often get lost.

Our first cinema, circa 1906
So I was intrigued when Edward also told me of the Molotov cocktails that were stored behind the advertising hoardings on the railway bridge which he and his friends were determined to use if German tanks ever rumbled along Wilbraham Road.

But the jewel in the conversation was the story of his father’s garage on the corner of Wilbraham and Buckingham Roads.*

Today this is the site of the shiny new Morrison’s petrol station but once it was home to our first cinema.

This was the Pavilion which had been the Chorlton Theatre and Winter Gardens which opened in 1904 and became part of H D Moorhouse chain of picture houses three years later.

It offered that usual mix of exciting silent movies from the comedies of Chaplin and Keaton to the daring exploits of Tom Mix and stories of the place have yet to fade from living memory.

That said those memories are second hand because the cinema closed in the 1920s in the face of stiff competition from the newly built Palais de Luxe on Barlow Moor Road and the even newer and far grander picture house on Manchester Road.

Building the new petrol station, 2014
But the actual date of its closure remained unclear until now.

I now know that it had gone by 1924 to make way for the garage and petrol station owned by Edward’s father who had lost a leg aged just 20 in the Great War.

Along with the petrol station there were a set of lock up garages running along the railway fronting Buckingham Road and both the lockups and the petrol station had been built by Edward’s grandfather.

The business was sold in 1951 but the original 1920s building was still there eleven years later and looking at that 1962 picture it is possible to pick out evidence of the old theatre which judging from more recent photographs was a very substantial building.

So there you have it, a chance phone call and a whole new set of stories have been set in motion.

Pictures; the petrol station in 1962 by A Landers, m18047, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council, the Chorlton Theatre and Winter Gardens, later the Pavilion 1910 from the Lloyd collection, and the construction of the new Morrison’s petrol station, 2014 from the collection of Andy Robertson

*The story of a garage,

Additional information Edward Hollinworth

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