The once prosperous town of Ebbw Vale suffered badly following the decline of the regions natural industries,  coal and steel, the two primary industries that brought wealth to the area. The town has struggled to recover although in recent years some efforts have been made to rejuvenate the town and re-establish the once mighty retail area that attracted people from surrounding valleys for its shopping and entertainment.

In its heyday the town boasted no less than four cinemas, with another two just a few minutes away in the nearby villages of Cwm and Beaufort. Additionally the Workmen's Hall also functioned as a cinema on from time to time from the early days of cinema through to that later decline of cinema going. Nowadays there is very little evidence of these popular picture houses existing in the town and the younger generation of residents born into the area would probably be more than surprised at the entertainment once available to their family members of years gone by.
Welcome to an affectionate appraisal and tribute to the cinemas that entertained us in the South Eastern industrial valleys of Wales.
UPDATED - 2015
James Street.
Ebbw Vale had become a vibrant market town by the early thirties, prosperous as a result of the steel works that dominated the town. With several cinemas established and already operating successfully in the town, Max Corne, a valleys cinema exhibitor at the time with several cinemas in a number of valley towns and a handful of provincial cinemas in Cardiff commissioned the building of a brand new luxury purpose built cinema for the town of Ebbw Vale during the mid-thirties together with another luxury picture house in the market town of Blackwood. 

The Astoria became the town’s flagship cinema immediately upon opening, with a luxurious interior constructed by local contractors and designed by the appointed Max Corne architects who were probably based in Cardiff.

It is understood that Max ran into financial difficulties during construction of the Ebbw Vale project, forcing him to sell what was to be the Ebbw Vale Maxime Cinema, Ebbw Vale, immediately upon completion of the construction. The Town’s local exhibitor, Ebbw Vale Theatres Ltd acquired the new cinema and renamed it the Astoria Cinema. The Astoria would be the last purpose built cinema in Ebbw Vale. With a conventional cinema appearance to the façade, edging on art deco, the Astoria opened in 1940, boasting an impressive auditorium with a balcony that included modern, plush and comfortable stadium style seating. The luxurious foyer was small but offered a welcoming hint of luxury, fully carpeted and while it was compact when compared to other cinemas in the valleys it gave the feeling of luxury together with space. The walls featured large glossy posters of the film stars of the day.

A box office and concessionary stall were located in the foyer space with entrances to the stalls and staircase to the balcony. Toilets were in the ground floor foyer. The programme of films and attractions were advertised in the foyer, including starting times for the main feature and finishing time.

Originally seating 1,500 patrons in the stalls and balcony with stadium style seating, some alterations and renovations were applied during 1952. The now acclaimed cinema architect David Evelyn Nye was appointed to redesign the new cinema, with some remodelling to the façade alongside changes to the interior. Shortly after the Astoria was acquired by the Jackson Withers Circuit along with the other venues that formed the estate of Ebbw Vale Theatres Ltd. Dave Evelyn Nye was commissioned again in 1953 for the installation of Cinemascope. The auditorium was redecorated and seating capacity was reduced to 1,255.

The Withers Circuit had been successfully booking films for the Ebbw Vale cinemas for some time prior to acquiring the circuit alongside a string of other valleys cinema circuits. By the mid to late sixties the introduction of television with a reliable signal throughout the valleys towns had a drastic effect on admissions, cinema remained the primary leisure interest that was affordable to all but television was starting to include films in addition to comedy and drama programmes. With the growing decline of interest in cinema going, the Astoria introduced bingo on occasional evenings, this was to prove a popular attraction. By 1965 the Astoria ceased screening films and became a full time popular bingo hall for the town. The smaller Workmen’s Hall just to the side of the Astoria cinema had been offering bingo until the Astoria switched and became the primary choice for bingo goers.

Still operated by the Jackson Withers circuit as a bingo club, the former Astoria cinema was slowly but surely falling into disrepair, the increasing costs of the accumulating repairs made the venue an expensive operation. When the Jackson Withers Circuit was approached by a developer who wanted to acquire the building to redevelop the site for a large supermarket, the Withers Circuit gladly accepted. The bingo hall was closed in 1968 and remained unused until it was demolished in 1970, making way for the town’s new Tesco supermarket.

With little interest in fixtures and fittings the cinema was demolished with seating, screen, tabs, projection equipment and lighting intact. Following closure as a cinema in 1965 some of the equipment and fittings was purchased by the owner of the nearby Workmen’s Hall, which was being converted to use as a cinema.

The new Tesco store was built on the site of the cinema and the small decorative roundabout and paved areas that lay in front of the cinema, this brought the new supermarket closer to the main shopping street. During the late nineties the Tesco store also closed with a larger Tesco store opening just outside of Ebbw Vale Town. In 1998 The JD Wetherspoon pub chain acquired the former Tesco store and converted it for use as a pub, which they named The Picture House in memory of the Astoria cinema.

With a modern art deco appearance associated to David Evelyn Nye, it is unlikely that the Astoria would have been demolished nowadays, it would certainly have been granted a Grade II listed status.

Church Street.
Located at the Southern end of town and a little walk from the main retail area of the high street where most of the other picture houses stood, The Palace Cinema opened in 1912 during the cinema boom in the South Wales Valleys. It was remodelled in the former Central Hall, Assembly Hall, which was a church type construction. The venue dominated the street it stood on for many years.

With a large 40ft stage and a 35 foot proscenium with eight dressing rooms The Central Hall hosted a wide range of events prior to becoming a cinema, including band concerts, political speeches by the like of local MP Aneurin Bevan, Gracie Fields and Charlie Chaplain also drew big crowds when performing live at the Central Hall. With seating for 600 the Palace Cinema was a popular picture house during its early days and continued successfully through to the thirties when a number of purpose built cinemas were constructed to the North of the retail area of this busy town. 

The Palace continued to function as a full time picture house, in competition to the more modern, luxury and popular purpose built cinemas at the other end of town. The Palace ceased film shows during the late fifties and remained derelict from then onwards until it was eventually demolished sometime in 1958. The former meeting hall, theatre and cinema were never put to use for the community after closing in the late fifties. Remaining derelict and abandoned after closure its sole purpose became that of an unofficial bus shelter, with bus passengers using the doorway to shelter from the rain while awaiting the arrival of their bus. Realising that the old cinema was used by people waiting for a bus the former picture house was utilised for the promotion of films at nearby cinemas in both Ebbw Vale and Tredegar. 

With the closure and demolition of the Astoria Cinema at the other end of the Town the Palace was once again considered for use as a cinema by a local cinema exhibitor, unfortunately a survey confirmed that the Palace would not be suitable for cinema use without considerable financial investment and improvements as a result of it being unused for a long duration, pigeons and rainwater had caused considerable internal destruction and another venue in the North of the town was converted and opened as a cinema. 

Charlie Chaplin performed at the Palace and became very fond of the venue, as he mentions in his autobiography, leaving the Palace with a significant claim to fame.

Since demolition of the former cinema, theatre and public hall, all that remains is a large patch of green grass, leaving this historic landmark with nothing to identify its once historic standing when it served to entertain the residents of Ebbw Vale.
Canning Street. Cwm.
The Coliseum or “the Col” as it was referred locally was built in 1922 for Ebbw Vale Theatres Ltd who already operated all of the cinemas in nearby Ebbw Vale, just 2 or 3 miles away. At the time cinema was becoming a popular and affordable leisure activity in the industrial valleys of South East Wales, providing much needed escapism from the dust, dirt and grime that dominated the hillsides and valleys at that time.

With seating for 839 patrons in the stalls and balcony the col was pretty unique in size for such a small village. Built using traditional red brick, common throughout the valleys the cinema featured a 30ft proscenium with 4 dressing rooms facilitating use as a cinema and occasional live performances and political rallies that were popular in this area of Wales.

Opening in 1922 the cinema was hugely popular with locals preferring to see a film at the Col rather than taking the short 8 minute journey by bus to nearby Ebbw Vale The structure dominated the village, unfortunately its close proximity to the river Ebbw that flows through much of the village the Col was not only popular with the local but the rats from the river Ebbw too. Even so, there were two changes of programme weekly. Between performances the staff would complete a brief fumigation of the auditorium, common with many cinemas of the region during this era.

A serious fire severely damaged the balcony, forcing the cinema to close for a short time to allow for repairs, once reopened the balcony was never used again, suggesting that only the vital cosmetic repairs were undertaken. The cinema continues to be popular until dwindling audiences in the area forced Ebbw Vale Theatres to close the Coliseum in 1955 or 1958, there is a dispute over the actual closure date. By closing the cinema local patrons were then forced to visit the circuits other cinemas in nearby Ebbw Vale. 

The Coliseum was eventually demolished in 1959/60 and the space created was left unused until 1995 when a new community medical centre was built on the site using Government funding.

Beaufort Hill.
The Electric Theatre and ballroom was built in 1925 as a community leisure facility for the growing population of Beaufort, a residential area just outside of the main town of Ebbw Vale.

With a seating capacity for 338 patrons the venue is probably more known as being one of the ugliest looking venues in the UK. Although it offers nothing in terms of its awkward looking design the venue proved to be a popular attraction for the local residents. Originally functioning as a theatre the venue soon became a popular second run cinema with films that had previously been running at the cinemas in nearby Ebbw Vale. The independent cinema functioned for a number of years showing popular features. Combining a small ballroom and theatre the venue closed as a cinema in 1959 and was acquired by the local council who quickly converted it for community theatre use. With considerable local authority funding the community theatre and multi - purpose hall has become popular.

The venue was never one of the better entertainment halls of the valleys and in later years it struggled to win audiences from the much bigger Ebbw Vale town cinemas. Over the years a considerable amount of money has been spent on improving the interior and exterior, even so it remains unpleasant from outside with improvements applied during the 60s and 70s doing nothing to add character to the venue.

The Beaufort continues to operate as a theatre and community hall with revised funding in 2013/2014 and remains the only venue in the Ebbw Vale area that is intact and open.

Market Street.
The Market Hall was built in 1884 by the Ebbw Vale Market Co Ltd. A typical Victorian building built to provide the community with a venue for political meetings alongside public entertainment such as boxing and roller skating. A popular venue in its day the facade was typical of its era with a grand entrance flanked either side by ornamental towers and masonry panels. The cinema was ideally located opposite, the then town fountain and across the road from the now vanished County Hotel. 

The Market Hall soon adapted itself for use as a cinema, circa early 1930s, which had become immensely popular in Wales and in particular throughout the industrial South Eastern valleys. The auditorium was plain and basic with hard wooden bench seating, which was replaced later by conventional wooden tip up seats for more comfort.

The Market Hall continued to function as a theatre and cinema for a number of years with the local council using a large room that formed part of this complex, for council meetings. Access to cinema goers wasn’t ideal as it was necessary for them to access their seats from the screen area, often interrupting the view of those already seated. 

A Mr A. Tilney acquired the Market Hall during the mid to late 1930s and declared that the Market Hall was the home of the silent film. The Market Hall was acquired by the Ebbw Vale Theatres Group Ltd.

In 1936, with business booming it was decided to demolish the Market Hall and replace it with a purpose built cinema, to be called the Plaza. The Plaza opened in 1937 and was a great success. The new cinema offered comfortable luxury plush velvet tip up seating while the screen was decorated with quality gold coloured curtains that were illuminated by multi coloured footlights. Although luxury for its day the seating was very close with narrow leg room offered to patrons. The new high quality Microphonic sound system was proudly promoted as the Plaza was the first cinema in Wales to feature the latest sound system. The cinema changed the programme twice a week. 

The Jackson Withers circuit acquired Ebbw Vale Theatres during the 50s. The Plaza continued as a popular venue and was managed for much of its time as a cinema by the popular Mr Jack Holden through to its closure in 1968 when the cinema was demolished in order to improve the road configuration for access into the town's retail centre. Sadly Jack Holden passed away in1975.
Bethcar Street.
The White house cinema was the first purpose built venue for film exhibition to be built in the town. Construction started in 1908 and the cinema opened in 1910.

Named the White House because of its imposing glazed white brick facade the venue opened with seating for 800 patrons with a 24 foot wide proscenium, seating was later reduced to 650. Even though it was considered to be luxurious for its day the White House wasn’t popular at first and continued to offer a mixture of live performances alongside film shows before closing in 1914.

New owners acquired the White House in 1915 and reopened the venue as the White House cinema in 1918. Although officially a cinema the venue continued to operate as a cinema with live music hall and vaudeville shows on stage. This use continued until it was equipped with a Western Electric sound system in 1931, and it became a full time cinema again.

Unfortunately on 21st November 1931, it was badly damaged by a fire, which destroyed the stage house and roof of the auditorium. It was soon repaired, and it has been recorded that comic film star Harold Lloyd made a personal appearance at the White House Cinema in 1933. It was operated by Ebbw Vale Cinemas Ltd and later became part of the Jackson Withers group.

The White House Cinema was never equipped to screen Cinemascope films, and was closed around 1956, which wasn’t expected. In 1958 the venue was demolished to make room for a large A Woolworths store on the site, Woolworth ceased trading in the UK during 2009 and the former Woolworth store became a discount home-ware store.

As with all of the former picture houses that entertained the working class community of the once thriving town, the White House cinema is fondly remembered by the older community who can still recall when the town offered a wide number of choices when it came to film and stage shows.
West End Terrace.
The Workmen’s Hall was built on a street behind the town’s main shopping area in 1907. The front facade uses rock faced stone to add decoration and prominence to the building as a public venue of entertainment. As the name suggests, the hall was built as an entertainment/leisure facility using financial funds collected weekly from local workmen employed throughout the industrial trades that dominated the town at the time.

The Workmen’s Hall included a large auditorium that consisted of stalls with two U shaped balconies above. In addition there was another, smaller hall incorporated into the building, hard to see how this was achieved when looking at the Workmen’s Hall from outside. The venue was originally intended for live performances of boxing, wrestling and music hall acts, the venue could be adapted for a multiple number of uses from day one.

 It has been suggested by some that the Hall has many similarities with the Leeds theatre of varieties in the North of England. A small bar was also incorporated into the building, quite risky because at the time the non alcohol drinking Quaker’s dominated the town, at that time most public houses were assigned to areas just outside of the central area of town with a much smaller number of public houses and bars being operated in the main streets of Ebbw Vale.

Shortly after opening it was agreed through the elected Miner’s welfare committee, who served to manage the hall on behalf of the community, that the auditorium should be adapted for film presentation. A screen and the necessary projection equipment were added with sound facilities being installed a few years later. The venue could now offer live performances alongside film shows when necessary. Although a popular venue for film shows the venue abandoned regular film performances once the towns other cinemas started to attract most of the audience and the hall continued to function purely as a social club with cabaret acts and bingo.
By the sixties the workmen’s hall became part of the social estate operated by Ebbw Vale Steel Works.

With the decline in cinema attendance resulting in the closure of all Ebbw Vale cinemas by the mid sixties it was beginning to look as though there would be no cinema in Ebbw Vale, although a number of towns within a short distance away from Ebbw Vale still operated at least one purpose built cinema. 

With the closure and demolition of the Towns last remaining cinema, the hugely popular Astoria, just a short distance away from the Workmen's Hall, a Swansea businessman, D Lynn Thomas, who had adapted a number of venues throughout Wales for use as cinemas acquired the lease of the now unused Workmen’s Hall and refurbished the venue for use as a studio style cinema, opening in 1967. Thomas had already had success of opening studio cinemas in nearby Abertillery and Pontypool. D Lynn Thomas reopened the hall as a cinema using a number of different names including Scala, New Theatre and Grenada. A team of staff ran the cinema for D Lynn Thomas, including Gerald Hazell who managed the venue and also working in the projection box, his wife also worked in the foyer from time to time, meanwhile of full complement of projectionists manned the projection box alongside Gerald, these included, Les Williams, John Long, John Lewis and Roy Nancarrow.

For projection 2 Kalee 12 35 MM projectors were used, one Xenon and the other carbon, with single and long play spools.

By 1970 D Lynn Thomas installed himself as manager of the venue and renamed it the Greneda Studio 1 and 2, the smaller hall, known as the lesser hall within the Workmen’s Hall was converted to accommodate the additional screen.

The studio cinema was very much a ramshackle affair but served its purpose and the residents of Ebbw Vale were thankful that they still had a cinema. Although adapted for full cinema use D Lynn Thomas didn’t waste any of his finances on redecorating the auditorium, even as late as the early seventies the auditorium house lights were gas wall lights, something that would horrify local authorities nowadays. Even so the venue served a purpose by providing screen entertainment for the local community.

By now the former Workmen’s Hall was very much a backstreet venue with the demolition of the former Astoria cinema that once stood almost alongside the Workmen’s Hall the new Tesco supermarket that opened in 1970 had been built on the land previously occupied by the Astoria as well as the small square that stood in front of the old Astoria, bringing the new retail store in line with the high street area. This, in turn, left the access to the Workmen’s Hall or studio cinema restricted to a small passageway between the then May’s fashion shop and the new Tesco.

Sadly, D Lynn Thomas decided to return to Swansea and his cinema in the former Workmen’s Hall ceased trading with the premises sold to a bingo operator. The first bingo operator at the venue was Van Zyld an organisation operating a chain of bingo venues. Donald Deakin then bought the venue and it was refurbished before reopening as Don Bingo. Later Don sold out to Castle leisure, Castle sold the bingo operation to Welcome Bingo in 2001. Bingo closed in March 2010 and the former venue is now boarded up and left abandoned and up for sale.

During a visit to the area in August 2014 the former entertainment building remained boarded up with signs for sale or lease the only signage identifying the type of use for this venue.

While other former entertainment, cinema or bingo venues in the valleys have been sold to new owners with plans to modernise them it is sad that this historic venue remains unsold and is in danger of becoming left to decline.

Time is running out, the generations of local residents with knowledge, memories, information and photographs of the great cinemas that once dominated the valleys are dwindling. All contributions are welcome, photographs, programmes, information. please email the webmaster using the link on the main menu page.
Use the link below to return to the main menu page to view other cinemas in other valley towns and cities.