Monday, 9 January 2017

Who remembers the ABC in Eltham?

Who remembers the ABC in Eltham?

I thought I did, and was more or less certain it was where Pamela and I went for our first and only date in 1966.

It was on the corner of Passey Place and the High Street or I thought it was.
Not that I have given it much thought over the years until recently when I began searching the High Street for it.

And as I drew a blank I slowly concluded that I had imagined the whole thing which is one of the down sides of having been born in the first half of the last century.

You just assume that as the evidence is not there it never happened.  Now that I know is silly because all too often in the course of tracking a story or crawling over my family history I have come across events and places which prove I was right.

And so it is with the ABC, for despite my sisters being unable to remember the cinema, there are a few pictures of the place.

It opened as the Palace Cinema on August 22nd 1922 and closed just fifty years later.  Looking at a photograph of the place from the 1950s it seems much larger than I remember it.

I would like to have more images but so far only a few have come to light and all are copyright.

And that rather highlights one of those real concerns about our more recent past that it is vanishing without trace.

In the later 19th and early 20th century the picture postcard made certain that there was a visual record of almost everywhere.

But as the postcard went into decline so did the visual record of places leaving only the images captured by the amateur photographer whose pictures are all too often confined to private collections and rarely see the light of day.

The result I fear will be that many buildings and events like the old Whit Walks will be lost to future historians.

Now that matters and I rather think we should all do our bit for posterity and snap away, passing on the results to local history libraries and history groups, which is pretty much how Manchester has come to have 80,000 digital images of the city going back two centuries which are freely available for anyone to consult.*

And so I shall now go off and email the Greenwich Heritage Centre to see what they have on the ABC. So far I know that just twelve years after it opened the interior was remodelled and that in 1936 it was taken over by the Union Cinema chain who in turn were absorbed by Associated British Cinemas the following year.

It would be another twenty-seven years before it was renamed the ABC Cinema which was about the time I started going there.

I don’t remember how frequently I walked through its doors, but the Gaumont on Eltham Hill was a bit out of the way and given that I lived just up from the roundabout the Well Hall Odeon was a tad too close.

After all if you are out to impress a new girlfriend you can hardly do it on your own door step.

So I rather think that my date with Pamela and the big screen at Passey Place would have been followed by others with Jennie and Ann all of whom I remember with fond memories if alas the ABC has faded.

Pictures of an older Eltham in the absence of the ABC courtesy of Jean Gammons

*Manchester Local Image Collection,

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