Formerly an industrial town within the mountainous coal mining area of Blaenau Gwent, Abertillery struggled with its transition from an industrial hotbed of full employment and financial wealth, as was common with the majority of towns that form this section of the South Eastern Valleys.

More recently this traditional town has been transformed from an industrial relic to a modernised and clean community with funding from the European Union. Regeneration of the once prosperous and attractive commerce and retail centre of the town has commenced with plans to allow the town to compete with neighbouring towns that have already successfully transformed their shopping centres to attract business.

In common with most valleys towns Abertillery boasted five cinemas, six if you include the Scala. Unfortunately the town no longer offers the community a cinema, these have all closed and many have been demolished leaving no evidence of the wealth of entertainment once offered to those living in Abertillery.

While most of the old buildings that remained as testimony to the towns industrial past have been removed, the town has very recently marked its past with an impressive sculpture in memory of the coal miners, often referred to as the angel of the valleys the impressive sculpture stands proudly on the spot of the former coal mine in nearby Six Bells. 

Carlyle/Bridge Street.
One of the towns earliest cinemas, the Empress was a popular venue for film goers, even so, The Empress Cinema closed some years ago.

Although unused used as a cinema for many years the venue remained in use following conversion from cinema to Empress Cars, a car sales showroom. This business continued for a good number of years with its facade a reminder to many locals of its use as a popular picture house, competing with the more modern and therefore luxurious, purpose built Palace cinema. Much later the former cinema became a small factory before being demolished sometime in the eighties.

The photograph to the right shows the former Empress picture house in use as a car showroom, prior to demolition.

Further information/photographs urgently needed?

Bridge Street.
Another of the town’s popular cinemas and one of the earlier picture houses serving Abertillery and the surrounding community, while competition from other cinemas in the town had started to unfold the Gaiety continued to operate as late as the 1950s. The popular cinema was built over the river Ebbw and attracted the rats, which joined the audiences in the auditorium. 

Remembered by many of the town’s older population with fondness, very little is known about the cinema that continued to operate in competition to the other establishments in Abertillery, the Gaiety offered a choice of films that changed twice a week.

Abertillery, in common with other valley towns offered cinema goers a choice of a different film most nights of a week.

The Gaiety was Still operating as a cinema in the fifties and is understood to have closed in the late fifties or early sixties and was demolished, allowing the site to be redeveloped.
Mitre Street.
A splendid Victorian building by Charles John Seaborne, originally constructed as a theatre and boasting that it had the largest stage in Wales, outside Cardiff, the Metropole featured a highly ornate foyer and auditorium. This included stalls, circle and private boxes. The venue was very much of its day, in music hall style. Additionally a ballroom was included in the lower ground area, making the Metropole similar to many city theatres of that era. 

As theatre became less popular in the valleys and cinema took over the Metropole became a cinema with a large screen, seating was reduced to 645 at this time. The venue continued to serve the community as a picture house until the mid - fifties when it closed and was boarded up for some time before being used as a market hall and eventually a complete closure that left the building unattended for some years, falling into disrepair. 

In more recent years the former market hall and cinema has been put into use again with a grant funded by the Welsh Assembly the venue was refurbished for use as a community theatre and cultural centre in 1999 with additional refurbishment in 2007.  With seating now reduced to 216. Now renamed the Met and utilising its old name of The Metropole theatre. Part of the venue is used for conferences alongside community group and arts use. While local authority funding continues it is at risk alongside other such ventures in the South Eastern valleys.

Images to the right show the Metropole prior to the recent refurbishment with a sketch below of the original structure some years after opening as a theatre.

Carmel Street.
OPENED: 1929 CLOSED: 1974/75  SEATING CAPACITY: 1,263 OPERATOR: Abertillery Theatres LTD/Jackson Withers Circuit  PROSCENIUMN 23ft  SCREEN{S} 1. DEMOLISHED.
Of all the towns cinemas the Palace is probably the most remembered, not because it was the best cinema in town but because it was one of the town’s longest serving picture houses, serving the population with popular big screen escapism.

 The Palace opened as a cinema in 1929 in what was originally the Central Hall that had been adapted for use as the Palace Theatre of varieties, utilising the already established central hall. The conversion of the former hall and theatre was instantly popular, the quality conversion and remodelling for use from theatre to cinema gave it a purpose built cinema effect within the modernised hall. The Palace benefited from a number of further enhancements during its early days as a cinema. With seating for 1,263 patrons in the stalls and balcony the venue became the ideal picture house for the big pictures of the day, complemented by a generous size screen. Sound was installed a few years after opening. With a change of programme twice a week the Palace Picture House attracted a wide audience with patron visiting from surrounding towns. The venue ran a successful Saturday morning Matinee for Children.

Originally the main entrance was behind the stage, on the corner of the venue, with another entrance in the same vicinity but further down. During the remodelling of the venue for use as a cinema the main foyer and entrance was relocated further along Carmel Street. The new entrance channelled patrons through the back of the auditorium and not the front/stage area. At the same time a dedicated staircase gave access to the cinemas balcony. The projection box was enveloped into the balcony with projection beamed up towards the screen rather than down as is common in most cinemas.

With seating in the stalls and balcony and a sizeable stage with dressing rooms the venue was able to switch from film to live shows but from the early sixties the Palace focused mostly on film.  

While many of its competitors started to close the Palace affectionately became the town’s cinema, whenever anyone mentioned that they were going to the pictures or the picture house that evening or that weekend it was automatically assumed they were going to the Palace. The cinema remained very popular with cinemagoers through to the end, this popularity allowed the Palace to continue operating as a cinema while many of the other surrounding valleys lost their cinemas. By 1962 the Palace was the only operating cinema in the town. 

Boasting a large and comfortable auditorium the Palace suffered in terms of grandeur because of its small and narrow entrance and foyers. Although comfortable in the auditorium and to an extent within the small foyer, the facade of this cinema was plain and very bland without any features of note other than external advertising displays and illuminated still displays that were attached either side of the narrow doorway. A canopy over the doorway served to illuminate main entrance, unlike other cinemas throughout the valleys the Palace did not look anything special from outside. 

Following the decline of cinema admissions during the 1970’s the Palace struggled to remain viable for sole use as a cinema and so the operators, Jackson Withers Circuit switched to part time bingo in 1971, bingo operated two days a week while films were shown for the remaining five days, This was a familiar format for the Jackson Withers Circuit throughout the valleys, it had some success and extended the life of cinemas in the valleys for a short number of years.

Usherettes, box office & concessions staff line the stairs to the balcony at the former Palace Cinema.
Carlyle Street.
Once a traditional style and popular Valleys Electric Picture Theatre, the Pavilion struggled to find its place in the town, even though many recognised the Pavilion to be the main cinema of the town for some years, it always ran first run films and usually was the first in town to show the big films. For reasons unknown, the Pavilion struggled to maintain audiences with a wealth of other cinemas/picture houses attracting the majority of cinemagoers. 

The Pavilion featured a large stage and for a time during the fifties the venue hosted live stage plays. This would be a brief period as a theatre, while the more suitable Metropole was refurbished for a return to use as a theatre.  
TBC Street.
All of the established Abertillery cinemas had closed, converted to retail use or demolished by 1976. With the exception of Blackwood or Ebbw Vale there was no choice for cinemagoers who did not want to venture on a long and sometimes complicated bus journey.

A solution arrived in the form of D Lyn Thomas, the son of Harry Thomas who had built and operated cinemas in Swansea. Lyn and his family had moved to the South Eastern Valleys during the late 1960’s, seeing a market for cinemas in the valleys D Lyn Thomas acquired the former church school library with a view of converting the typical stone school building into a cinema. Lyn Thomas had already achieved some success in Ebbw Vale and Pontypool where he converted former workmen’s halls and schools, churches for cinema use.

The Scala Studio Cinema opened in the former school library building sometime between 1973 and 1974, typical of Lyn Thomas, the cinema was very makeshift and somewhat ramshackle affair. Fitted with seating and projection equipment acquired at bargain prices from other former cinemas throughout the South Eastern Valleys, the cinema was very much a DIY type of venue although it was adequate as a replacement cinema for the town and seated between 80 to 100 patrons in reasonable comfort. The screen was much smaller than cinemagoers were used to in the valleys but it received reasonable support from film lovers in Abertillery. 

Several films enjoyed a good run at the Scala Cinema, in particular X rated films such as The Exorcist, Enter The Dragon, The Legend Of Hell House, the few remaining cinemas in the nearby valleys were strict on admissions for X rated films, The Scala didn’t mind if you were 15, 16 or 17, you would mostly likely be allowed entry to the over 18 films.

The Scala Studio cinema was demolished during the 1980s.
Sadly we have been unable to source photographs for most of the cinemas that once played a big part of entertaining the community in Abertillery. Kindly contact the webmaster if you have suggestions on where to locate photographs and other material related to the cinemas listed here. You can email the webmaster using the email link on the main index page.
Welcome to an affectionate appraisal and tribute to the cinemas that entertained us in the South Eastern industrial valleys of Wales.
UPDATED - 2015
This page has been compiled with the assistance of Phillip Walkley. Phillip has fond memories of the cinemas in the Welsh valleys, further memories from Phillip are included in the Newbridge section of this website plus on an additional page where Phillip recalls his enjoyment of the cinema during his youth with a dedicated page of memories.
By 1975 the Palace ceased showing films with the focus switched to bingo. The Jackson Withers Circuit sold the Palace as part of a package to the Rank Organisation in 1976. Rank planned to operate Top Rank Bingo at the former valleys cinemas of the circuit. For reasons that are not entirely clear, Rank decided not to convert the Palace as one of its bingo clubs, even though it was reasonably successful as a bingo club operated by the Jackson Withers Circuit. It is thought that Rank inspected the building and found it had fallen into such disrepair that it did not warrant the organisation spending funds to transform the venue to the standard required for its premium bingo brand, the Top Rank Club. 

The venue was put on the market for lease or sale in 1976, although Rank continued with efforts to sell the venue it ran bingo in the auditorium without modifying the venue to bring it up to the standard of a Top Rank bingo venue, bingo continued at the hall for several years after it was put on the market. By the 1990s the Palace had been sold as a going concern, it was acquired by a local businessman and part of the venue converted for use as a nightclub with the Carmel Street cinema entrance and foyer bricked up and unused. Part of the venue was used as a snooker club but this together with the nightclub ceased in the late nineties with the venue unused. There was interest in the venue for conversion to a pub but this never happened and it is unknown why the plan failed. The Palace cinema stood empty, completely devoid of its past charm or any splendour. 
Following a number of years of minimal use the former cinema fell into disrepair; during an inspection in 1998 the old cinema was still showing signs of neglect and disrepair that has clearly accumulated over the past years of limited use. 

In 2015 the local authority agreed to purchase the venue with plan to demolish the Palace. Sadly the demolition plan was executed in 2015 and site is now a car park, a very sad end for the venue that entertained and served the community of Abertillery.

Shortly after closure in 1975, The Scale, a makeshift cinema opened in the town’s old school library building, see below.

The Pavilion cinema/theatre was demolished a good number of years ago The New Llymes Social club was been built on the vacant site.