Picture Palaces of Liverpool

Art Deco style 1930s cinema, lit up at night

Curzon Cinema, Prescot Road, Liverpool, 1936. Stewart Bale collection, reference 13215-3

The Reel Stories exhibition also looked at Liverpool’s historic and iconic picture palaces, with photographs from National Museums Liverpool's Stewart Bale collection. The city was home to some of the North West’s most luxurious picture houses, including The Paramount and The Forum, perfect havens of escapism.

The birth of cinema

Music Hall and Variety Theatre dominated popular entertainment in 19th century Britain. But in 1891 a pioneering invention would revolutionise entertainment across the world – moving film. 

At turn of the 20th century, film was a curious but rare novelty. Within ten years though, the new wonder of ‘animated pictures’ had spread, and entrepreneurs hired local halls, shops and music halls to meet demand - cinema was the new sensation. 

The city’s first ever exhibition of film flickered into life at the Tivoli Palace, Lime Street, in 1896. A year later, the magic of film captured a journey along the Liverpool Overhead Railway. Filmed by the pioneering Lumiere Brothers, this tantalising footage is thought to be the first motion picture shot in the city. 

With the decline of Variety entertainment, many theatres converted to cinemas and purpose built picture houses began to appear too, with Bedford Hall in Walton the city’s first in 1911.

The golden age of cinema 

By the 1920s film was big business and cinemas were on every high street in every town. More than 90 had opened in Liverpool alone, some with eye-catching exteriors to attract custom. Many were cheap and cheerful and often described as ‘flea-pits’.

The end of the First World War coincided with the birth of the ‘talkies’ and the golden age of cinema. Vast new super picture palaces were built, offering a world of escapism, glamour and excitement. The cinema business was show business and leading film distributers of the period - ABC, Paramount and Odeon - created ever more opulent palaces of entertainment. Seductively lit exteriors gave way to elegant marbled foyers, lush carpets and plush seating for thousands. 

The curtain came down on the golden age of picture palaces in the late 1950s. Changing social habits and the new marvel, ‘television’, led to falling attendances. Today, only Woolton Picture House and the Plaza in Waterloo - both now run as community cinemas - continue from that period. 

You can discover more Liverpool cinema memories at:

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