The village of Crumlin has a familiar story to that of many other towns and villages in the heart of Industrial South Wales. A once prosperous place with a busy centre benefiting from the local bus interchange Crumlin’s fortunes changed with the decline of the coal industry.
Famous for its spectacular railway viaduct built between 1853/7 and featured in the movie ARABESQUE. The viaduct linked the railway between two mountains and was truly a magnificent piece of Victorian steel engineering. At 62 meters high and spanning 46 meters from mountain to mountain the viaduct was dramatic. The viaduct was demolished during 1964.

Although a small community, Crumlin boasted the Empire Cinema. Another cinema was also thought to be operating during the early days of cinema entertainment in the valleys.

Nowadays Crumlin is famous as being the home of a famous branded noodle, which is made close by in a purpose built factory.
OPENED: 1912 CLOSED: 196/5  SEATING CAPACITY: 600. OPERATOR: UNKNOWN   PROSCENIUM 21FT  SCREEN{S} 1 DEMOLISHED
EMPIRE CINEMA
Hillside.
ABERDARE
Welcome to an affectionate appraisal and tribute to the cinemas that entertained us in the South Eastern industrial valleys of Wales.
UPDATED - 2013
CRUMLIN - As remembered by Phillip Walkley & Heather, Pops Granddaughter.
Welcome to an affectionate appraisal and tribute to the cinemas that entertained us in the South Eastern industrial valleys of Wales.
UPDATED - 2015
Thank you to Phillip Walkley for additional information and knowledge of the Empire Cinema. text.

Thank you to Heather (Pop's Granddaughter) for photographs and additional information.
Originally a vaudeville theatre, the Empire was converted for cinema use between 1912 and 1914 as the public’s hunger for big screen entertainment grew throughout the valleys. The Empire was a sizeable building and included a snooker hall on the floor above as well as a large family flat for the proprietor and another smaller flat further along the frontage, above the shop units that featured on Hillside. The shops below consisted of a Gents Outfitters, Barbers, Green Grocers, Paper/Sweet Shop, Grocery Store, Butchers, Bakers, Fish & Chip Shop.

The Empire was an independent cinema operated by an E. Ruddick in 1936, often referred to as the Dicks picture house by locals in the area the cinema was equipped with a Kalee projector, sound was added in the mid-thirties. 

Mr Headly Roberts owned the Empire and upon his death, the cinema business was left to his wife then upon her death she left it to the Catholic nuns based in Blackwood.

By 1940 the Empire was in the hands of a local character, Mr Albert Victor Whitaker who is believed to be a sole operator of this cinema for some time. Oddly enough, Albert Whitaker assigned the task of booking films for the Empire to Jackson Withers, his main competitor who operated many of the cinemas in this area of South Wales. Jackson Withers had set up offices in Cardiff and was the programmer for many cinemas in the valleys, including those venues in competition with his very own cinemas.

The cinema offered continuous performances from 5PM on a Monday, Thursday and Saturday while on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday there would be one show at 7PM. There was no performance on Sunday’s, this was common in Wales and much of the UK until the introduction of controversial legislation that allowed cinemas to open on Sundays.

With a 21 foot wide proscenium the stage itself was 18 foot deep. Two dressing rooms were provided behind the stage. With seating split on two levels offering 400 seats in the stalls and 200 in a small balcony.

Although known locally as the Dix the venue was also known by some as the Cinemascope was installed at the Empire in late 1954, one of the first venues in the area to do so after the larger cinemas in nearby Abertillery and Blackwood. Sections of the square proscenium were sectioned out on either side to facilitate the installation of the much wider Cinemascope screen.

The first Cinemascope film to be screened was “THERE’S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOWBUSINESS”, which ran for a six day engagement followed by a run of “THE ROBE”. Although a small venue in competition with a large number of bigger and more luxurious cinemas in nearby towns the Empire ran the best films, usually after the Jackson Withers cinemas in nearby Blackwood.

Sadly the introduction of Cinemascope did little to save the Empire and By the late 1950’s the old cinema switched to bingo one night a week, bingo was a great success and the venue extended its bingo offering in 1964 to three days a week. With the decline in cinema attendances throughout the valleys, bingo became a fulltime business at the Empire. Bingo had already been introduced to most cinemas throughout the valleys, becoming popular, it was very competitive with various venues offering big jackpots.
Even so, bingo at the Empire became a great success, it was run for the local Crumlin Cricket Club, with funds made from bingo enabled the cricket club to purchase their own ground at Rhiw Farm, Crumlin. 
The Empire became a family concern with Betty Whitaker, daughters Nora and Irene running much of the business for over forty years. Nora married Capt. Harry Hatherell who was the club secretary for the local cricket club that eventually became an attraction at the Empire and brought in the much needed revenue that allowed the Empire to continue trading. Harry Hatherell became the bingo caller at the Empire. Billy Durrant {a keen photographer and part time fireman} was the cinemas projectionist and all round handyman. Other staff members included Stella Woosencroft and Nina Shepherd. Characters like Pop, would never be seen without a Castella cigar in his hand. 

Eventually the cinema and bingo operations closed during the mid to late seventies.

While the appearance of the former Empire cinema had fallen into a poor state of repair during its use as a cinema and more so during the years that followed as a reasonably popular and successful bingo club, following its complete closure the cinema remained standing albeit unused through to the 1990s becoming an eyesore that was a concern to the residents and local authority. The structure was becoming unsafe, forcing the local authority into applying some minimal but urgent remedial repairs to prevent the venue collapsing altogether. Eventually the site was purchased by the local authority and The Empire and all the shop units were demolished as part of a road widening scheme in the late 1990s. 

Nowadays there is no evidence of the Empire cinema being in Crumlin. Few of the younger generation now living in Crumlin know that there was once a cinema or even a bingo club in the prime position of the village. Astonishingly even some members of the local authority have no knowledge that the Empire stood in the main hub of the community.

Pops Car, advertising a coming attraction. Mr & Mrs (Pops) Whitaker. Bottom of Hillside, Empire would have been at the left hand side.
Other cinemas in Crumlin, included Pitt’s Picture Palace / Palace Cinema and the Coliseum. 

Pitt’s Picture Palace used to be a known travelling moving picture company that appeared in many valleys towns during the early days of film. 

The known, second picture house in Crumlin, either Palace or Cinema was a little further down the road from the Empire which was located in the centre of Crumlin, alongside the main shops and businesses.


Any information on the Palace, Coliseum and Pits is warmly welcome.