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, one has been a bingo hall  since the seventies and is to be returned to use as a five screen cinema during the Spring of 2014. The other is a popular Wetherspoons pub.
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 the venue became a first run cinema for the town during the early 1930s. Cinema was becoming 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, operating the two venues with the Capitol screening the big film attractions while the Palace screened the less popular attractions or second run, return films. With the increased seating capacity the Capitol soon proved to be a popular cinema in the town.

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.

Hall Street.

High Street.
High Street.


High Street, Blackwood.
Information provided is as complete as it can be, should you have any additional information or memories of these venues please do get in touch. You are also encouraged to contact me if you worked at any venue listed on this page.
Welcome to an affectionate appraisal and tribute to the cinemas that entertained us in the South Eastern industrial valleys of Wales.
UPDATED - 2014
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.

The Capitol ceased operating as a cinema during the summer of 1969 and quickly switched to bingo. 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. 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. Unused for many years and falling into irreversible disrepair and becoming structurally dangerous the Capitol was demolished to make way for a new law court, sometime during the late 90s.
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.

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. 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.

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 and as far away as Swansea. 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.

With Cinemascope becoming the latest attraction of the day, Wither’s was keen to install Cinemascope at the Maxime. The widescreen format had already been installed at the companies nearby Capitol cinema and Withers recognised that he needed to upgrade the Maxime but it would mean some disruption and possibly a short period of closure to facilitate the necessary modification of the auditorium together with the loss of two rows of seating towards the front of the stalls.

Jackson Wither’s commissioned his friend David Evelyn Nye to carry out the design of the auditorium to enable installation of the larger screen format. David Evelyn Nye had already completed a number of design changes for the Withers estate of cinemas together with sympathetic and successful modification of auditoriums for Cinemascope on a number of the Withers cinemas and had become an acclaimed architect within the cinema industry through his rebuilding of bomb damaged cinemas alongside his own exclusive architectural cinema designs.

Wither’s approached Nye with his request to convert the Maxime for the installation of Cinemascope in late 1956.  By February 1957 Nye had provided a design that involved widening the original 30 ft. proscenium to just over 40 ft. to incorporate a 41 ft. Cinemascope screen with new tabs and masking together with a showpiece and rather fancy plush festoon curtain that would be raised and lowered adding further showmanship to the performance, illuminated by colourful footlights the new screen formed part of the cinema-going experience. To facilitate Cinemascope two exits, one either side of the screen were removed and new decorative fibrous plasterworks incorporated to make the appearance complete, in addition to the removal of the two front rows of seating. At this time a new Westrex sound system was installed to compliment the new Cinemascope screen, although stereophonic sound had been installed in the circuits nearby Capitol cinema it was not deemed necessary to extend this to the Maxime, the reasons for this are not clear although the new sound system did deliver a high quality, crisp and clear sound in the Maxime and to the average patron it might not have been noticeable that the audio was mono rather than stereo. The Cinemascope installation was completed late in 1957.

With the circuits two cinemas operating in the town the Maxime was programmed with most of the big film attractions of the day, leaving the Capitol to screen mostly second run films alongside selected popular films that would be of appeal to local cinemagoers on a shorter run or would attract modest admissions and revenue, together with 70MM presentations.

The popular English actress, Diana Dors made a personal appearance at the Maxime cinema, although it has not been possible to confirm the actual date or occasion for the visit, it is unlikely to have been the original opening as Diana was probably too young and unknown for it to have been so noteworthy. It might have been a visit to launch and publicise the arrival of Cinemascope at the Maxime cinema.

The Maxime's large and modern auditorium the cinema was one of the largest in the industrial valleys, with successful runs of the big box office attractions of the day booked into the cinema long before those competing cinemas in the neighbouring valley towns the Maxime was notable for its design and suitability as a cinema in addition to its effective operation by management and staff at the time. Film projection was also to an impressively high standard, creating a feeling of an event before, during and after film presentation. Entering the auditorium audiences were seated by usherettes while the low level concealed house lights somehow created an ambience of style, comfort and luxury. In the background would be especially chosen music, mostly instrumental and often tracks by The Shadows or Montavani. At the given time the house lights would be lowered and the gold festoon curtains would rise, illuminated for effect from the flood lights at the bottom of the stage. The film would be projected onto the screen while the festoon curtains were slowly and electronically raised, the effect lighting would dim during the presentation process together with the background music.

During the early seventies many valleys towns lost their remaining cinemas, while the Maxime continued to operate, for much of this time the cinema offered a diet of the occasional big blockbuster alongside a steady flow of popular films based on television situation comedies, cinema audiences throughout the UK were falling drastically as the industry struggled to compete against television which had now become very strong in its offerings of screen entertainment combined with feature films that would be broadcast a few years after appearing in the cinemas. The Maxime remained one of the few cinemas in the area and while attendances had fallen it continued to focus on mostly film exhibition with the occasional evening of bingo squeezed in. 

Following the death of his friend Jackson Wither’s, his long term business partner and friend Julian Hodge renamed the business as the Jackson Wither’s Circuit, in tribute to the memory of his late friend.

With Sir Julian Hodge looking to retire he started making plans to do so through consolidating his business interests, he was approached by the Rank Organisation who ran a large successful circuit of cinemas and bingo clubs throughout the UK. Bingo was a particular crowd puller in the working class areas and the South Wales former industrial valleys was no exception.  In 1976 Rank offered Julian Hodge £2.4 million to acquire the Jackson Withers estate of cinema properties and bingo halls that by now covered much of the Welsh valleys, Cardiff and a number of towns throughout the South West of England.

Although an established cinema exhibitor since the early days of cinema in the UK, Rank had little interest in running the Jackson Wither’s circuit as cinemas. The primary interest would be to convert the cinemas into Ranks successful bingo operations under the premium brand of the Top Rank Club. An inspection of the newly acquired estate was conducted with those venues not considered to be suitable being sold off for other use or development. A good number of the former cinemas throughout the valleys were deemed unsuitable for bingo. The Maxime in Blackwood was one exception, the building was centrally position with a spacious and modern auditorium that could easily be adapted for bingo use. News of its closure as a cinema was not welcome in the Welsh valleys, it was one of the few cinemas surviving and more importantly it was still in good condition, unlike many others. A local campaign group set up to save the Maxime, using the logo MAG, the Maxime Action Group attracted significant support throughout the area in addition to support from the local authorities and arts groups who had raised concerns about the possibility of cinemas vanishing from the valleys altogether. Under pressure from the local community and the authority Rank reluctantly agreed to incorporate a two screen cinema into the venture, using the former balcony as a twin screen cinema to compliment the Top Rank Bingo club that would use the entire stalls and stage area.  The cinema development would be financed by the local authority in addition to annual funding to cover the annual operating expenses of the two screens, effectively subsidising the costs. 

A very good two screen cinema was constructed to a high standard and quality design in the former balcony space, the Rank Organisation were not happy or comfortable with this compromise but had no choice other than to allow it to go ahead. 

Cine 1 and Cine 2 opened to the public in 1977 with James Bond, the Spy Who Loved Me and the X rated Confessions Of A Pop Performer, a popular franchise of films during the mid-seventies. The twin cinemas proved to be popular with cinemagoers although this didn’t stop the Rank Organisation from constantly grumbling, arguing that it wasn’t financially viable to operate the cinema operation as a worthwhile business. The organisation continued to fight its cause to close the cinemas for a number of years but the local authority remained adamant that the cinemas should continue.  Cinema 1 offered seating for 170 patrons while cinema 2 seated 194, 364 seats in total.
The familiar façade of the Maxime was altered slightly with new doors installed providing the entrance into the original foyer for the bingo club and two doors dedicated for entry to the cinemas using the original balcony staircase from the foyer, a false wall partitioned the cinema and bingo entrances. A new canopy was installed with new lighting and a read-ograph erected on top of the canopy, promoting bingo and the attractions of the two screens.

Rank programmed the screens poorly to support its claim that the cinemas were not viable, eventually closing one of the two screens, the second screen, closed a short while after. The final film shown on the 25th October 1988 would be Coming To America. Once again the closure attracted widespread dissatisfaction and considerable opposition by cinemagoers within the area prompting another action group to be set up. Unfortunately they were unsuccessful on this occasion. Rank swiftly converted the balcony area into use as part of the Top Rank Bingo Club, increasing the seat number for bingo, something it had wanted to do for a number of years.

The familiar façade of the former Maxime faded over the years, falling into disrepair and looking in need of refurbishment, stripped of its attractive eye catching neon façade displays and splendour. Under the Rank Organisation the venue became the Mecca bingo Club and later it was acquired by Top Ten Bingo. Following a series of Government legislations the popularity of bingo fell drastically and is now on a similar journey as cinemas.
The venue continued as a popular bingo club for many years until 2013 when changes in Government legislation made trading as a bingo club made many venues unviable, the current operator, Top Ten Bingo placed the venue on the market for sale by auction.

The former cinema was acquired by the successful exhibitor Adam Cunard who had established himself with the success of his growing Picturedome cinema company, which has successfully acquired a number of former cinemas, restoring them and returning them to use as modern high tech community cinemas. Adam plans to convert the Maxime into a five screen digital cinema serving the local community and once again turning the High Street into a vibrant area for retail and entertainment.

In September 2013 I was invited to enter the Maxime by the new owner, Adam Cunard. This was just a few days after the bingo club ceased operating. Looking around the interior of the cinema there was considerable evidence of water damage to the plasterwork in both the public and non-public areas, much of the leakage was due to the original window fittings, something that Adam has responded to with speed. While many of the auditoriums features, including the decorative plasterwork has been removed during the initial conversion from cinema to bingo Adam intends to restore as much as possible as he creates a new modern high tech multiscreen venue. Adams plans are highly encouraging and I have no doubt the local community and catchment area will welcome Adams vision of modern day cinema.
Blackwood Miners 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 stage, auditorium. That could also be utilised as a ballroom.

Projection facilities were installed during the 1936 modification and occassional films were shown, mostly socialist propoganda 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.

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 venue establishment offering films and live shows.

The venue is reasonably well maintained and received sponsorship from the Arts Council of Wales who consider it a major entertainment venue for the former industrial valleys area. Occassional film shows are offered although there seems to be little focus on films and more interest in live shows. The auditorium offers seating on a flat floor with some rows further back that are stadium style. A full projection and screen facility is available but rarely used it would seem.

The Stute is well known for early performances by the Manic Street Preachers and other local bands.

Locals mostly travel to nearby multiplex venues for cinema entertainment.
The new Maxime five screen cinema is expected to open in May 2014... so make a date in your diary for a visit to the pictures once again, in Blackwood.
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.

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. 

The Palace was considerably smaller and less attractive than both the Capitol and new Maxime cinemas in the town. It is unlikely that the Palace would have been able to perform well against the competition of the towns other two cinemas so its closure would have been the most viable option.

Nowadays very few people will remember the Pavilion or Palace as a cinema or theatre in Blackwood but will remember it as an upmarket furniture store. Walking around the inside of the furniture showroom those with a keen eye for detail would have clearly recognised its former life as either a theatre or cinema. The store continued to trade for many years through to the mid-1990s when the owners retired. Remaining unused for a number of years the building was acquired by the J.D. Wetherspoon chain of pubs. The chain had already acquired a number of former cinemas throughout the UK, sympathetically transforming them for use as pubs, often naming the pubs in recognition of their former use as cinemas. The former Pavilion/Palace was to be an exception with the chain naming the pub as the Sirhowy, the river that runs through the valleys from Tredegar to Newport and runs through the town of Blackwood.