The village of Oakdale is unique within the former South Wales Valleys, most villages sprung up and expanded in a hap hazard manner with housing built as required in a ramshackle way wherever and however. Oakdale was different because it was the first and only village in the area to be planned with an American style grid system. The village provided modern quality housing for the nearby coal mine which opened in 1907. 

The village of Oakdale began in 1911 to provide housing for the growing force of workmen and their families, built on what was previously farmland, the new modern style village featured a landscaped central square and avenues, within the square would be facilities including a hospital, schools, shops, pubs and the Workmen’s Institute. A showpiece cinema was added to the Workmen’s Institute in 1916.
Welcome to an affectionate appraisal and tribute to the cinemas that entertained us in the South Eastern industrial valleys of Wales.
UPDATED - 2014
The Square, Oakdale.
Affectionately known as the Stute, the Oakdale Workmen’s Institute was a fine building with leisure and educational facilities open to the residents and visitors of the village. The Institute opened in 1917 and proved to be a very popular attraction in the village.

The Institute already featured a small concert hall within the main building, on the top floor, used for concerts, dancing and meetings. The Institute and village did not have a cinema, a leisure activity that was very popular with the working classes at the time. In October 1920 the Institute’s Committee received a suggestion that a cinema should be included as one of the facilities offered to the community. The suggestion was to adapt the multi-purpose concert hall on the top floor for use as a cinema. The Committee agreed that the addition of a cinema would generate additional revenue for the Institute, it would have been a tried and tested business with cinemas in nearby Blackwood and Crumlin proving to be very popular.

Another suggestion was that the Institute itself, should go ahead and build a cinema together with a swimming baths on waste land adjacent to the Workmen’s Institute. This idea was considered and a local architect, a Mr Webb prepared a plan and costing’s for the project.

A committee meeting was called on to discuss, consider and agree the conversion of the already popular main hall on the top floor of the Institute. While a good number of the Committee membership felt that the cinema would benefit the village and provide another form of revenue to assist in funding the Institute, others objected because it would result in the loss of the only sizeable public hall in the village, with these concerns it was decided not to go ahead with the proposal to add a cinema in the Workmen’s Institute. Shortly after the decision was agreed, strong rumours circulated around the area that a local businessman was looking at building a private cinema in the village. Rumours of a cinema being built in Oakdale ruffled the feathers of the Institute’s Committee. Had they made a grave error in voting against the original proposal of a cinema within the established Workmen’s Institute. A cinema in the village, not operated by the Institute would certainly affect both the attendances and revenue of the Institute, which concerned the Committee members. In February 1923, the Institute received an application from a Blackwood Businessman who offered to hire the Institute’s concert hall for two evenings a week, in which regular films would be shown. The application created an atmosphere of panic and havoc within the membership, prompting a hasty decision that a cinema would have to be built in the village and be owned and operated by the Workmen’s Institute rather than anyone else, which might have affected the fortunes and very existence of the Institute.
In 1925 the Committee instructed the architect, Mr Webb, who had designed the Workmen’s Institute itself, to draw up detailed plans and cost the new venture which would be known as the New Hall with seating for 650. The New Hall should include seating in the stalls and a gallery together with a large stage and dressing rooms. Mr Webb informed the Committee that the costs for the new building had increased significantly because of the time that had lapsed since his initial plans and costs had been refused.In 1925 the Committee instructed the architect, Mr Webb, who had designed the Workmen’s Institute itself, to draw up detailed plans and cost the new venture which would be known as the New Hall with seating for 650. The New Hall should include seating in the stalls and a gallery together with a large stage and dressing rooms. Mr Webb informed the Committee that the costs for the new building had increased significantly because of the time that had lapsed since his initial plans and costs had been refused.

The cost of constructing the New Hall would be in the region of £7,000. The Workmen’s Institute held reserved funds of around £1,200 that would be used towards the project with additional funding expected from the national Miner’s Welfare Fund together with a promised advance from the Co Operative bank. Unfortunately, times were changing and neither the Co Operative nor the Miners Welfare Fund was enthusiastic over funding the project. Meanwhile the Committee had approved a local contractor, Theo Matthews of Fleur De Lys for the task of building the New Hall and building work started immediately, March 1925. 

With limited funding through the generosity of the Tredegar Iron and Coal Co and an increase in charges for the use of the Institute’s meeting rooms and the top floor function room, the Institute was able to continue with building the new project.

In August 1926 the Miners Welfare Fund eventually agreed to assist with funding the venture. The Committee were now in a position to purchase the necessary screen and a Power No. 1 projector to enable the new hall to screen films. A projection room was built at the rear of the gallery balcony to house the projection equipment. 

A local schoolboy, D.L. Jones was appointed as the assistant projectionist for a token wage of 5 shillings per week, with three local girls employed as attendants to manage seating and the box office. The girls were paid 12 Shillings a week with dresses and protective aprons provided at cost by the Institute.
On the 2nd of November 1927 the cinema opened its doors for its first public performance with the film APRIL SHOWERS. Prior to the public opening a matinee was screened for local schoolchildren. 

Officially the New Hall was known as Oakdale Workmen’s Hall but was more commonly called the Picture House. Film shows were very popular with full houses at weekends and record attendances for popular attractions of the time such as BARBED WIRE, CHARLEY’S AUNT and BEAU GESTE. The cinema opened with a full in house orchestra to accompany the films. To save on operational costs the full orchestra was dismissed two months after the cinema opened. A Madame Templeman was appointed as a replacement for the original orchestra to provide musical accompaniment to the silent films on screen.

By 1931 the cinema recorded its first but substantial drop in attendance and revenue, resulting from the popularity of sound films that were being played in the nearby cinemas of Blackwood, Newbridge, Tredegar and Crumlin. The Committee reacted swiftly agreeing to install sound at the Picture House. The Gaumont Company were awarded with the contract and sound was installed on the 29th May 1931. Unfortunately the new sound system failed just four months later, forcing the venue to return to presenting silent films while the sound system was repaired. Two 35 MM projectors 

In 1935 projection and sound at the Picture House was upgraded and the interior was given a modern upgrade. By 1938 there was rising tensions throughout Europe and the threat of war. In February 1939 an air raid warning siren was erected on the rooftop of the Picture House, manned by ARP wardens. The Picture House and Workmen’s Institute were again redecorated shortly after the end of the war.

The last regular performance of a film at the Picture House was in late 1969 although Saturday morning matinee’s for children continued through the sixties and early seventies, usually a CFF programme or a feature length film starring Norman Wisdom, Laurel & Hardy or the three stooges, a little later colour adventure movies such as Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts and the St Trinian series were shown on a Saturday morning to a rowdy crowd of local kids. Children from around the village would be there for the popular Saturday Morning Matinee regardless of what was showing.

Bingo became a popular attraction at the Picture House for a while, once the regular film performances had ceased operating. By the early seventies big bingo clubs with big prize money offered to the winners in nearby Blackwood were attracting bingo players from Oakdale. In 1973/74 the Committee secured funding through the brewery that allowed them to remodel the former Picture House for use as a social club with a stage and sprung dance floor. The new venture included direct access from the adjoining Workmen’s Institute itself. The venue became popular for dancing, cabaret and special occasions such as weddings and Christmas parties, the conversion from cinema to a multi-function hall with bars provided the Institute with a much larger entertainment hall than the original Lesser Hall located on the top floor of the original Institute.

With the decline of the local industry and the closure of the coal mines the Workmen’s Institute lost all of its valuable finance and revenue, leaving the venue unable to recover to their former glory that it had enjoyed for many years. The Institute and former cinema closed in 1987. The buildings were acquired by Islwyn Borough Council who had devised plans to demolish the buildings for the development of the site to sheltered housing for the elderly.

At that time the Museum of Welsh Life at St Fagans, just outside the city of Cardiff, were looking for a good example of a public hall type building to be erected on the museum site. The original Workmen’s Institute was dismantled brick by brick and transported to the museum and re-erected. Regretfully the Picture House Cinema was considered to be too large for the designated site assigned to the Institute and sadly the old Picture House was demolished.

The Oakdale Workmen’s Institute is a fine example of its type and was opened to the public on Saturday the 14th October 1995 on its new site at St Fagan’s Welsh Life Museum in Cardiff, following an opening ceremony performed by Neil Kinnock {European Commissioner for Transport}, the then MP for Oakdale and former leader of the Labour Party.