In the late nineteenth century the entertainment world changed forever with the emergence of the Cinematographe and Theatregraph. This new craze flooded the city of London during 1896 and the inhabitants of the capital rushed to see the new mysterious marvel. Shortly after, Poole had its first encounter with moving pictures and animated photographs when the old Ancient Order of Oddfellows’ Amity Hall was used as the home for Poole’s first cinema.
The Amity Palace of Varieties, located where the ‘This Is It’ store is now, had long been a centre for theatrical productions before 1896 but what better to pull in the crowds than the theatregraph? On 13th November 1896 Poole saw its first moving picture when the independent exhibitor John D. Ablett brought R. H. Paul’s invention to town. During the following year, the residents of Poole had their second experience of the motion picture when on the 16th June, Alexander, Howe and Cushing’s United Show came to the Amity Hall, bringing a “mammoth menagerie” of animals and curiosities alongside “London’s latest scientific craze” the cinematographe. The first full week of moving picture shows occurred from Monday 4thOctober 1897 when the Poole brothers ‘Myriorama’ presented scenes of darkest Africa and the Royal Wedding with an interesting accompaniment from performing foxes ducks and rats to name but a few. The Amity continued presenting the latest exciting film reels, such as ‘Our Navy’; the first action film depiction the Royal Navy’s preparations for war. With increased demand for viewings the local pioneer of cinema, James Bravery, set the ball rolling to build a newer, more functional centre for motion pictures.
James Bravery, director of Popular Bioscopes, built the town’s next centre for motion pictures, the Poole Electric Theatre, in 1911. Located between Payne’s fruit shop and Heaths the jeweller, currently the 3 Phone Shop in what is now Falkland Square, The Electric Theatre started its life with a showing of the film ‘A Flying Day’ and continued presenting the most up to date silent productions until the final film, ‘The Fighting Edge’, was screened in 1926. The Poole Electric Theatre took much of the interest away from the Amity Hall, however residents of the old town continued to visit and enjoy the silent films on offer at the variety palace.
By the 1920’s variety shows had albeit seen their time lived out and the motion picture was at the forefront of the world of entertainment. James Bravery’s renamed South Coast Theatre Company had managed the Amity throughout the early 20th Century but with the opening of Poole’s new Regent Theatre, James Bravery handed over the control to a former actor and producer, one Walter West. The Regent Theatre was opened on December 6th1926, just 37 days after the closure of the Electric. The Regent had a 1000 visitor capacity and once the “talkies” arrived in 1930s its programme consisted of almost entirely films. The buildings front was of interest to many, being covered with Carter tiles and the building remained in used until it made way for the Arndale centre in 1977.
As for Poole’s first home of moving pictures, the Amity Hall, life continued as it had until the 14th June 1959 for a final farewell. During its later years the Amity showed “talkie” pictures and even accompanied the films with a six strong group of musicians.
No further cinemas were built on the High Street, with the UCI cinema opening at the Tower Park entertainments complex in 1989. The Lighthouse still houses a small cinema and upholds the High Street’s links to those early days of magic and marvel.
Poole and Dorset Herald, Evening Echo, Dorset’s first Picture Shows (George Lorimer), A Century of Cinema in Dorset 1896-1996 (Peter Dyson)