The village of Llanhilleth was within easy reach of Abertillery and Ebbw Vale, even so the village was not without its own cinema. The small but vibrant village was home to a wide population of industrial workmen and their families. The village supported the very popular Miners Institute, a large structure that dominated Llanhilleth together with the purpose built Playhouse Theatre/Cinema on the High Street.
Originally to have been named the Hippodrome theatre, the Playhouse, as it was eventually named, opened towards the end of 1910.
Construction work started in 1909, it was quite a task preparing the ground for the new structure, the valleys are riddled with underground tunnels that form the coal mines, Llanhilleth is no exception so for construction a suitable location was needed in the town centre. A suitable location was found at the top end of Llanhilleth hill, where the ground was solid rock, the area needed to be cleared so it was blasted to make way for construction of the theatre on the solid rock. Using the rock foundations it was believed that the theatre would last forever.
Electricity in the area was still in its infancy during the construction so a generator was installed in the basement to provide the necessary electricity for the theatre. A local businessman installed the electrical wires and switches throughout the theatre.
Early productions at the Playhouse Theatre consisted of local touring plays, school productions and local opera productions, all proved to be popular, drawing respectable audiences.
During the early years The Playhouse Theatre remained exclusively for the use of live shows, the nearby Workmen’s Institute generally screened the popular films of the day, which were popular but silent films only, until sound arrived in 1927, Sound films reached the valleys in no time and became a very popular attraction to the communities in the industrial valleys.
By 1930 the Playhouse was equipped with projection equipment together with sound, the original stage facility was retained allowing the venue to screen popular films and continue to offer live stage shows from time to time.
Films were a great success at the Playhouse Cinema from 1930 through to the late 1960s. The introduction of Television throughout the valleys reduced cinema audiences considerably although there was still an audience for film, but by now there were a great deal of purpose built cinemas throughout the valleys with most towns offering three or four cinemas with up to two changes of programme a week, creating a healthy choice of films in comfortable cinemas al within a short distance of travel.
With audiences faltering the Playhouse took action and converted to use as a bingo hall in the sixties. Bingo had become highly popular throughout the valleys following Government legislation, making it legal.
For a short time Bingo presented the Playhouse with a new lease of life. By now the venue was beginning to decay and maintenance and restructuring costs were considerably high. Just like with cinema, Bingo had become a popular pastime with one, if not two bingo halls in most towns competing alongside social clubs and workmens institute’s, leading to the closure of the once popular Playhouse.
The closed venue fell into considerable disrepair, it was then discovered that subsidence from the mining shafts underneath the venue affected the structures foundations, although built on rock to add strength to the building it was deemed to be unsafe, with the rock foundations weakening. With the building crumbling and the danger of falling masonry combined with the high level of certainty that the building could collapse, the local authority ordered that the former Playhouse should be demolished
In 1930, some kind of dispute arose. Annie Maud Riseley appeared in court on eleven charges on July 21st 1930. The exact detail is unknown although the defendant was a film programmer at the Playhouse in addition to venues in Abertillery, Bargoed and Tredegar.
Visitors with memories, information or photographs of the venues listed on this web Page are encouraged to contact the web master using the email address linked on the main index page. Of particular interest would be interior photographs of the auditoriums, foyers, public rooms. External facade photographs and programmes are also most welcome.
The other venue of entertainment in Llanhilleth was the impressive and commanding Edwardian style Miners Institute. Construction started in 1904 with the then popular sportsman, runner Tom Arthur opening the new venue in May 1906. It is also thought that Robert Baden Powell was present for the opening.
It was common in most Towns and Villages in the coal mining areas of South Wales for a community building to be constructed through financial contributions paid by miners.
The Llanhilleth Miners Institute, in common with others in the region was built as a community venue for entertainment, leisure and education. Featuring public rooms for community meetings, reading rooms or library and a large hall, usually for multipurpose use, that would be configured for dances, stage shows and music performances or concerts. A bar would be included or added a short time later as well as snooker and games rooms.
The Miners Institute was built locally, surprisingly using American designs, this was not exclusive to the venue in Llanhilleth, a number of Workmen’s Halls in the valleys used similar designs.
One exclusive addition included in the Miners Hall of Llanhilleth would be a full size indoor swimming pool.
Although not built as a cinema the Miners Hall converted the main auditorium for the screening of films. Usually this would be propaganda type films related to the communist lifestyle that had taken grip of Eastern Europe, in particular parts of Germany and Russia. These films were popular attractions and considered to be educational. The films promoting the Socialist movement would also play to good audiences.
Commercial films were also screened in the cinema, booked by the elected Miners Committee, formed of members of the Institute, or Stute as it was more affectionately known as.
In 2005 Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council took the decision to fund restoration to return the venue back to community use. With the restoration completed the former Miners Institute has been returned to use as a cultural arts centre.