Retro: Rise and fall of cinema in Thrapston

The Plaza in Thrapston, the venue of the town's cinema from 1934 to 1964
The Plaza in Thrapston, the venue of the town's cinema from 1934 to 1964

For nearly 50 years Thrapston had its own cinema.

Neil Busby from Thrapston District Historical Society looks back to when Thrapston had its own cinema.

Thrapston’s first cinema was opened in the Temperance Hall in Bridge Street during the latter half of the First World War by a Mr Williams, who also owned a cinema in Cambridgeshire.

The hall could seat about 400 people on hard wooden benches at the front and on chairs at the back for more affluent patrons.

The balcony was largely occupied by the projection box.

The main hall was lit by two large gas lamps which were turned off by an attendant with a long pole when the show was about to begin.

The projector was powered by a generator outside the back of the building.

There was only one projector so there was an interval every time the film reel had to be changed.

The hall was still in use when the first “talkie” – Rookery Nook with Ralph Lynn and Tom Walls – came to Thrapston in 1931.

The original “church” window at the end of the hall was covered inside by the cinema screen which hung over the top of the stage.

On the stage there was a piano which played in the days of the silent film.

The music was appropriate to the theme of the film.

The stage and screen could be removed when the hall was used for social occasions such as teas or amateur dramatics.

In 1934, Mr Williams eventually moved from the Temperance Hall to the Plaza, a purpose-built cinema with a frontage on to Cosy Nook.

At the entrance, a flight of steps led to glazed double doors.

There was a small foyer with a centrally placed box office and stairs up to the projector room and a few balcony seats.

Again there was seating for about 400 people, but with modern tip-up seats.

The auditorium had a gently raked floor except at the front where seats were on the level.

These could be removed and the floor used for dancing when musical events were held.

There was a very narrow stage in front of the screen and members of the band had to sit in a single line.

The same Rushton Hornsby engine supplied power during the whole time the Plaza was a cinema.

In 1943, Mr Williams sold out to Risborough Cinemas of Fleet, Hampshire, who installed cinemascope and two Kalee projectors.

Cinema audiences everywhere dwindled and the Plaza closed in November 1964.

It was bought by George Browne in the next year and he held cinema shows four times a week, alternating with bingo sessions.

Later it became a store room for reproduction furniture from the Oundle Galleries.

The Plaza is now a very busy community centre run by Thrapston Town Council.

This article is an extract from a past edition of Strapetona, the magazine of Thrapston District Historical Society.