Regent Cinema Marple: Background, history and milestones

       Marple's first regular film shows were held at the Shepley Hall, now the Conservative Club, on Church Lane. A cinematograph licence was granted to James Rolmaz in July 1911, and the hall was later run by Henry Lawrence. In August 1915 Lawrence moved from the Shepley Hall to new premises in Church Lane, which he called the Gem cinema. The Shepley Hall was later used for occasional film shows. By all accounts the Gem was a primitive, mostly wooden structure, with the seating consisting largely of wooden benches. The Gem survived until the arrival of talking pictures under a number of proprietors. These included Messrs. Morris and Ryden of Hollins Lane, Marple, with N. Cooper acting as resident manager, and Walter Stott, a well-known figure in Manchester cinema circles.

In 1929 Walter Stott, ex-proprietor of Marple’s Gem cinema proposed to erect “The Rialto” cinema on the site, subject to the granting of a cinema and music licence,. "It would" he claimed "be a steel framed, fire proof structure, it would have a good appearance with two shops at the side and would accommodate 680 persons". The design used was by architect William Thornley, who built the Stockport Plaza in 1932. It is thought the there was insufficient finance for the plan.

Two years later approval was granted for another plan. This was by Ernest G Allen, the new owner of the property, for the conversion of the Union Rooms (current location) and three adjoining houses on Stockport Road to the “Regent Cinema”, with 545 seats. Structural changes were to a design by R.W. Samson of Sheffield, for the Marple Cinema Company. (The Union Rooms had been built by Thomas Carver, owner of Hollins Mill in Marple, as a chapel, coffee room, library and reading room for the destitute). This new venture was to be managed by Mr. Ray Taylor, who also managed the Arts Cinema in New Mills. Fitted with British Thompson-Houston Sound Equipment, the cinema opened at 6.45 p.m. on Monday 22nd August 1931. The packed house enjoyed watching Renate Müller, Jack Hulbert and Owen Nares in 'Sunshine Susie'. Prices for the opening bill were: Stalls 7d & 9d and Circle 1/- & 1/3d. (Those of you not old enough to remember, that's roughly 3p, 4p, 5p & 7p respectively). It was from Sheffield the regent cinema was managed and in 1940 Edwin Arnfield was given full charge to run the cinema.

The Regent survived into the 1960s in a poor state of repair; it was run by manager Ray Taylor, a well-known local character, and later, in its final days, by manager, projectionist, boilerman and caretaker Lawrence Corbett. It was closed on 3 August 1968, and put up for sale. In December an application was made of the Urban District Council (UDC) for the use of the building as a bingo hall, but this was refused. The U.D.C. then planned to issue a compulsory purchase order for the building. Based on the order the Lillis family (James Lillis and David Lillis) purchased the company and reopened as ‘Regent cinema’ in June 1969.

       David Lillis who had experience of cinema management with the ABC circuit, and with the help of his father who came with rich experience in managing a retail company, almost completely renovated the cinema. The circle seating was replaced with Pulman seats, new stalls seats were installed, the interior was redecorated and the entire circle and stalls were re-carpeted. The number of seats were reduced to from 500 to 252 in order to improve the leg space and comfort of the customers. In 1974, the old projector was replaced with a new equipment, installed from the Alexander Cinema, Chesterton. The Lillises also ran a twin cinema in Matlock for about 10 years. In late 1970s the cinema business was slow as films on video became popular. Since mid 80s, the cinema business became steady and in line with national trends attendance was improving.

       In 1991, David Lillis became the director of the company. The advent of new projection technology forced David to go digital in 2013. The movie Lincoln was the first movie screened in the new digital format.

       Since 1932, the cinema was temporarily closed in 1968 due to lack of enthusiasm and business acumen. Since 1969, Regent Cinema has been run continuously without any interruption until March 2020 when it was forced to close due to Covid.

       In April 2020, after running the cinema for 52 years, David Lillis decided to retire from the managerial position and handed the baton over to Edwin Gnanaprkasam. Before taking over as the managing director, Edwin was assisting David Lillis in the cinema for 5 years since 2014. During which, he developed an enthusiasm to carry on the legacy of this cinema.

        As Regent Cinema is a historical landmark to Marple, the retro ambiance of the place will be maintained though the online booking is introduced.

       The outbreak of Covid-19 forced the Regent to be closed temporarily from 17 March 2020 to 20 May 2021. We are sure that the cinema that stood the covid trial will live to see another milestone. NO TIME TIME TO DIE was a ray of hope at the end of a long dark tunnel.

The Union Rooms Marple: From 1870s to 2020


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