UPDATED - 2015
Hall Street.

Welcome to an affectionate appraisal and tribute to the cinemas that entertained us in the South Eastern industrial valleys of Wales.
In comparison to other towns typical to the former South Eastern industrial valleys Blackwood is a slightly larger market town with a better layout. The main high street is attractive and benefits from the legacy of wider roads and pavements that were originally designed for trams. The retail areas and market continue to attract shoppers from the surrounding valleys and even Newport and Cardiff.

As is common with all towns in the area the decline of the traditional industries hit Blackwood hard although it has prospered a little better than those towns nearby, possibly because it has easy access roads and public transport to nearby Cardiff and Newport.

The town once boasted three cinemas, all three have been closed for a number of years and only two of the buildings remain, the former Maxime cinema, the last to be built in the town became a bingo hall in the mid-seventies and continued to do so until early 2014 when the bingo operator decided to close its venue as a result in a change to government tax legislation, the Maxime was put on the market for sale. Unusually the former cinema was acquired by a cinema exhibitor who planned to restore and reopen the Maxime as a community cinema once again. The Maxime five screen digital cinema reopened in August 2014. The other former cinema still standing has been a popular pub since the 1990s,

The nearby village of Oakdale also boasted a large and popular cinema, sadly and regretfully the Oakdale Picture House was demolished.

The Capitol was originally constructed as a live performance theatre to serve the community of Blackwood together with the considerable population of the surrounding towns and villages, providing the venue with the necessary footfall from the extended catchment area. 

Located just a stone’s throw from the town’s popular and vibrant High Street the Capitol was a dominating structure because of its high roof. Functioning as a popular variety theatre for a number of years it eventually closed and became an indoor market, competing with a large and popular outdoor market just off the town’s main High Street. The market wasn’t a great success and with cinema becoming very popular throughout the valleys the venue became a first run cinema for the town during the early 1930s. 

By now cinema was a popular leisure attraction and the town’s first cinema, the Palace, on the High Street, operated by Blackwood Entertainment’s Ltd was popular but a great deal smaller. Blackwood Entertainment’s Ltd acquired the Capitol in the mid-1930s and remodelled the venue for use as a cinema, significantly increasing the number of available cinema seats in the town. Blackwood Entertainment's Ltd now operated the two venues with the Capitol screening the big film attractions and the Palace screening the less popular attractions, second run and extended runs of films playing at the Capitol.

By 1939 ownership of the Capitol switched to the Jackson Wither’s Circuit, who already owned and operated the nearby Maxime Cinema on the High Street, in addition to the majority of cinemas throughout the valleys. The Maxime became the town’s primary cinema while the Capitol was programmed with a variety of popular second run films together with attractive double bills and road-show Cinemascope presentations of popular epics that would not be suitable for the nearby Maxime. The lavish Cinemascope spectacular features and 70 MM films were a popular attraction for the venue. The Capitol was equipped with three projectors, two 35MM and one 70MM. In addition the cinema was the first in the town to be equipped with stereophonic sound.

A purpose built projection room was located three floors up with access via an external metal staircase, which can be seen on the photographs to the left of this feature.

As a cinema the Capitol’s auditorium appeared cavernous with a pleasant art deco style inside with minimal features. Offering a choice of seating in the large stalls and equally large balcony area the auditorium featured a large stage with fly tower. To facilitate the screening of films a large screen with tabs was erected to the front of the stage area covering much of the proscenium, looking somewhat awkward and temporary. The stage footlights illuminated the screen when no film was on screen.

The foyer was a somewhat strange but with a functional configuration, featuring the original and small pay booth located between two sets of doors that gave access to the main foyer that was on two levels. The main foyer contained a more recent box office together with confectionary kiosk, both a typical glass type structure. Two separate sets of doors gave access to the stalls and a staircase gave access to the balcony area. Toilet facilities were available in the foyer areas.

The white exterior featured a half circle glazed alcove serving as the main entrance with three sets of double doors of wood and glass, painted in the customary Jackson Withers Circuit colours of yellow. Above the doors stood another customary Jackson Withers Circuit signature, the cinema name in yellow and red neon, in this case Capitol in large bold neon lettering.

The Jackson Withers Circuit houses rarely had a read-ograph promoting attractions, usually they had large hand painted posters, the Capitol had one either side of the entrance area and a third one located further down the front of the building, directly on the exterior wall of the auditorium. These displays would advertise the current film plus supporting attractions while the other display would promote the next attraction and the third display further along promoted a future attraction. External wall displays either side of the entrance contained stills from the current attraction.During the mid-1950s the dominating high roof became unsafe, prompting owners, the Jackson Wither’s Circuit to endure considerable expense in order to avoid the venues forced closure on safety grounds.

Walt Disney double feature programmes were popular throughout the valleys. With two cinemas operating in Blackwood the Capitol played host to the Disney double bills, which were popular attractions during the summer school holiday break and other half term breaks. The sizeable Capitol was ideal for large family audiences with spacious auditorium and foyer facilities. This continued throughout the 1940s until the venue closed.

The Capitol ceased operating as a cinema during the summer of 1969 and quickly switched to bingo with no coverage in the local press or media on what was to be a general decline and loss of cinemas throughout the valleys. For unknown reasons bingo was not the expected success on a full time basis even though it had been a popular attraction as a one night bingo club, with films screened on the other six days. Even though bingo was hugely popular in the valleys, The Capitol bingo hall closed in July 1970. The Capitol was left unused for many years although there were a number of attempts to reopen the venue as an entertainment venue for the town. Bingo was soon introduced as an occasional feature at the nearby Maxime cinema alongside a programme of films.

One popular idea was to reopen the Capitol as a ten pin bowling alley, another potential use was that of a roller skating rink. Planning permission was given for the roller skating venture that had been proposed by a local business consortium, unfortunately the consortium failed to secure the necessary financial backing to deliver the project. 

With the eventual complete closure of the Maxime as a cinema plans were considered to reopen the Capitol, which by now had fallen into  irreversible disrepair and becoming structurally dangerous after being unused for many years the Capitol was demolished to make way for a new law court, sometime during the late 90s.

By now the Capitol had become an eyesore of great concern as the structure was dangerously close to collapsing, additionally it had become home to a large community of water rats.

High Street.
The Maxime cinema was built on the town’s main High Street during the mid to late thirties for Max Crone’s expanding Cardiff based Cornel Cinema Circuit. With cinemas already established in Cardiff, Newport and the South West of England, Max Corne’s vision for his business plan was to expand the circuit throughout the widely populated South Eastern Valleys. The majority of the circuit’s estate consisted of mostly smaller poor quality venues with the exception of a handful of cinemas within the circuit’s Cardiff home base. The new build cinemas, such as Blackwood’s Maxime would break the mold and offer quality venues built to a high standard of design, creating cinemas that would become the ultimate in big screen entertainment venues.

The Maxime opened at 7.45 PM on Sunday the 3rd July 1938 with a grand opening concert featuring a variety of local performers on stage, the event raised funds for the Gwent Hospital Foundation. This type of grand opening was a common feature for new cinemas opening throughout the valley’s, it secured valuable press publicity which assisted in spreading the news that a new luxury cinema was now open to serve the community. Competition was rife throughout the Welsh valleys with most towns boasting a choice of cinemas, some purpose built and others converted from public halls and vaudeville theatres.

Although designed as a modernist style cinema boasting a modern art deco, Bauhaus façade design featuring clear strong line appearance further enhanced with coloured neon lighting, internally the auditorium and foyers were unfussy and functional.

This area also included offices and staff rooms alongside a stairway to access the projection box on the third floor. In addition to the projection room the third floor provided spacious storage and administration space for the venue.

Shortly after the opening concert the Maxime was sold by Max Corne, the sale was a surprise within the industry and while it remains unclear as to why the venue was sold it is understood that the Max Corne circuit might have experienced some cash flow difficulties at this time, following considerable work that had been undertaken at the circuits flagship cinemas in Cardiff. By the late thirties much of the circuit was sold to other exhibitors in the region.

The Maxime was sold to the local exhibitor, Blackwood Entertainment’s Ltd, who already owned and managed the town’s Capitol and Palace cinemas further along the street. The new owners successfully managed and operated the Maxime and the Capitol cinema for a number of years with one team of staff and management who would journey between the two venues as and when required, performance times were staggered to facilitate this method of working, and this process kept running costs under control, enhancing revenue profits for the local exhibitor. The town’s first cinema, the Palace became surplus to requirements and closed.

High Street.

High Street.
The Palace cinema was thought to be the first purpose built cinema in the town. It started life as the Pavilion theatre with a small auditorium seating 550 or more and a small but functional stage. The Pavilion was acquired by Will Stone who had started acquiring a number of entertainment halls in the industrial valleys, the addition of the Pavilion increased his small circuit of venues to five with the flagship venue being the New Empire in Tonypandy which would serve as the circuits head office. By 1910 the Pavilion was given a makeover that gave the venue’s facade a modernist appearance while the auditorium remained very much a pavilion type structure, almost like a large shed, something that was very common in the valleys. By 1929 the venue had been renamed the Palace with a focus on film entertainment alongside occasional variety performances. 

Structural modification reduced seating from 550 to 450. By the mid-1930s the former Pavilion theatre was taken over by Blackwood Entertainments Ltd who was already running the nearby Capitol Cinema, another former theatre. Blackwood Entertainments programmed and operated both venues until they were taken over by Alfred Withers who acquired the towns venues as part of his growing South Wales Cinemas circuit, although each of the acquired circuits, Ebbw Vale Theatres Ltd, Abertillery Theatres Ltd, Blackwood Entertainments Ltd all continued to trade under their original trading names while forming part of the parent company, South Wales Cinema Circuit Ltd.

The Pavilion cinema on the towns busy High Street was the first cinema in town and was the first to close. With cinemas flourishing throughout the valleys and a large luxury cinema being built in Blackwood, further along the High Street, the Pavilion/Palace cinema became surplus to requirements and became one of the first cinema casualties in the area. The venue is understood to have been closed in 1938 and remained unused for a number of years when it was acquired by a local family retailer who converted the former cinema and an adjoining building for use as Baber’s Furniture store. 
Opening the cinema was not easy, with a growing number of objections from Monmouthshire County Council {MCC} who raised concerns about the small number of fire exits that it felt did not meet legal requirements or be sufficient to evacuate the venue in the event of an emergency. Further modifications were required to add additional exits from the auditorium before the MCC would issue the mandatory licences and permits for the cinema to be opened.

This issue was a surprising delay because the new purpose built cinema had been designed to meet modern licensing requirements ensuring safety and enjoyment of film entertainment.

Originally the Maxime offered seating for 1,400 patrons in the stalls and partially curved balcony, the interior boasted concealed lighting within the decorative plaster work that was a feature of the auditorium walls. Similar plaster work with concealed lighting decorated the ceiling below the balcony. To create a feeling of occasion and something special the balcony was known as the circle, a common term within theatre venues but less common in cinema, the circle would be seen as very upmarket in terms of seating and more expensive than the stalls.

The venue featured a 30ft proscenium with a large screen, something that modern exhibitors recognised as a substantial attraction for filmgoers of the day.

The modern foyer’s made the most of the available space available with a two tier foyer on the ground floor featuring a glitzy modernist style glass and steel box office with a spacious concessionary kiosk opposite for the sale of revenue generating refreshments. The confectionary kiosk also included a window opening out onto the street for the sale of confectionary products to non-cinemagoers passing by the street outside, this was forward thinking with a view of boosting revenue further.
With a plain speckled painted wall decoration the foyer area was made to be more luxurious with the use of marble style tiles and decorative ceiling plasterwork with concealed lighting and two or three seta of modern drop lights illuminating the foyer area together with the mostly glass front doors stretching almost the entire width of the street frontage the ground floor foyer were modern, welcoming and light. Toilet facilities for the stalls were available to the left and right of the upper ground floor foyer once you had passed by the box office, with a small office and an area that served as a freezer room where ice creams would be stored. A staircase to the circle/balcony was accessed from the lower level area of the foyer, taking patrons to the mezzanine foyer which included dedicated toilet facilities for patrons of the circle. An additional confectionary kiosk was added to the mezzanine foyer. 
In the meantime, Jackson Withers, a local valleys exhibitor with a number of venues in the area and based in nearby Bargoed was becoming an important person in terms of film exhibition in the industrial valleys and Swansea. Jackson Withers had acquired a number of small venues in neighbouring towns. Wither’s programmed and operated an expanding estate of cinemas. Within a short time Jackson Withers had undertaken responsibility for the booking of films at venues operated by small circuits like Blackwood Entertainments Ltd, Ebbw Vale Theatres, Ltd etc. By the late thirties and early forties Jackson Withers had almost monopolised the function of film booking for venues throughout the valleys in addition to a number of cinemas in Cardiff and the West country. Withers had a small but highly successful film booking empire and turned his attention to acquiring cinemas with his friend, the financier Julian Hodge, eventually the two men became the owners of cinemas that were operated in the valleys, including Abertillery, Bargoed, Cardiff, Ebbw Vale, Risca, Tredegar, Swansea and a growing number of cinema and bingo interests extending to the South West of England.
His expanding circuit included venues outside of Wales, covering a great deal of the South West across the border. He traded as South Wales and West cinemas. Following the death of Jackson Withers some years later, Julian Hodge renamed the circuit in memory of his business partner and friend. The circuit traded as Jackson Withers Circuit/Cinemas Ltd.

Jackson Wither’s became a highly successful and envied cinema programmer and exhibitor, key to this success was his loyal of viewing of new films with his family, each film would be graded on suitability for its target audience, which resulted in maximising box office revenue.

The Maxime cinema in Blackwood became one of two flagship cinemas within the growing Jackson Wither’s group of cinemas, of all the valleys cinemas belonging to the Jackson Withers estate of properties, the Maxime was probably the best, not only in terms of its operation as a cinema but also in terms of its build and design. The second flagship venue was the impressive Plaza cinema on the outskirts of Cardiff, a landmark building seen by many people travelling from the valleys by bus into the city of Cardiff.
Top Ten ceased operating the Maxime as a bingo club in September 2013. The venue was swiftly sold in auction and acquired by Adam Cunard’s Picturedrome circuit and converted to a modern five screen cinema complex featuring the latest technology in cinema projection with digital projectors in each screen. A licenced bar is a feature of the former circle foyer. Screen 1 seat 234 while screens 2 and 3 each seat 110 in the former stalls. Screens 4 and 5 in the original balcony seat 72 each, all screens offer luxury seating.

The Maxime Cinemas opened to the public on Friday the 6th August following a lengthy refurbishment. With low ticket prices and stylish cinemas the new Maxime picture house once again dominates Blackwoods busy High Street and has been a great success with the public. 
The Institute was originally a single storey snooker hall owned by the coal board and social welfare organisation. The Stute, as it was affectionately known as and still is to this day, opened in 1925 and was financed by Oakdale Miners’ who contributed 3d a week from their wage packet. During 1936 two additional floors were added, including a sizeable auditorium and fully functional stage and sprinted dance floor, allowing the facility to be used for conferences, speeches, live performance and as a ballroom. Early silent film shows were also an occasional  and popular feature at the Stute, as it was fondly called by locals.
Full on site Projection facilities were installed during the 1936 modification and occasional films were shown, mostly socialist propaganda related to the Labour support and interest in Socialism and communism that was becoming popular in Eastern Europe, most workmen’s Miners Institutes throughout the valleys screened similar material for members.

During the seventies and early eighties the Institute offered a popular weekly disco, attracting youngsters from surrounding valleys alongside those more local to the venue, one regular punter at the disco would be Steve Strange who went on to perform as singer with Visage.

Following the closure of the local mines the building fell into disrepair and was sold to the local authority. The venue closed in 1989 and reopened in 1992 funded by Islwyn Borough Council. Nowadays the venue is a multi-functional establishment offering films and live shows, although the venue wasn’t considered a success in film programming and focused on live performance theatre, which had been hugely popular and continues to do so nowadays.

The venue is reasonably well maintained and receiving sponsorship from the Arts Council of Wales who consider it a major entertainment venue for the former industrial valleys area. The auditorium offers seating on a flat floor with some rows further back that are stadium style, using a concertina type seating unit that allows the auditorium seating to be folded away when not needed. A full projection and screen facility remains available but is rarely in use and unlikely to be needed with the new Maxime five screen cinemas just a short walk away. The Stute remains well known for early performances by the Manic Street Preachers and other local bands and the annual pantomime at Christmas.
Although most will remember the building as a popular high quality family furniture store when inside the building there are a few signs serving as a memory to its days as a theatre and cinema. Towards the late nineties Babers closed the family furniture store, which remained unused for a small number of years until the pub chain J.D. Wetherspoon acquired it for conversion to a pub. The chain had acquired former cinemas in nearby Tredegar and Ebbw Vale and had been looking for a suitable venue in Blackwood.

The new pub, called the Sirhowy opened on the 9th of November 1999 and was an instant success.