ABC Islington

161-169 Essex Road,
London, N1 2SN

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Associated British Cinemas Ltd., Clavering and Rose

Architects: George Coles

Functions: Church

Styles: Egyptian, French Renaissance

Previous Names: Carlton Cinema

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ABC Islington

Located in the north London inner-city district of Islington. The Carlton Cinema opened on 1st September 1930 with Harold Lloyd in “Welcome Danger”. It was built as a cine-variety theatre for the Clavering and Rose circuit.

Architect George Coles excelled himself with this lavish building which has a magnificent Egyptian style facade dressed in multi-coloured Hathernware tiles. Inside the building the style changes to an Empire style with Egyptian touches in the foyer and then into the auditorium which is a delightful French Renaissance style. Seating was provided in stalls and balcony levels and there was a cafe for patrons which was located above the entrance foyer. The Carlton Cinema was equipped with a Western Electric(WE) sound system. It was equipped with a Compton 3Manual/6Rank theatre organ that was opened by organist Phil Finch. Full stage facilities were included on the 26 feet deep stage and there were four dressing rooms.

The Carlton Cinema was taken over by Associated British Cinemas Ltd.(ABC) from February 1935. It was re-named ABC in 1962. It closed on 5th August 1972 with Reg Varney in “Mutiny on the Buses”. The building was converted into a bingo club which continued for almost 35 years as the Mecca Bingo Club, until closing in March 2007.

It was purchased by a church, and there were plans to create two small spaces in the rear stalls beneath the circle, while the original circle and front stalls would be used for church services on Sundays. The church also planned to reopen as a cinema, using the circle seating area and converting the former cafe area into a second screen. To date, these plans have not been activated.

Church use began in late-summer 2013 using the stalls only. A white sheet cloth material was installed which stretched across from the underside of the circle to the proscenium. This allowed the heating to be retained in the stalls only. The seats in the circle have been removed. By early-2020, the white sheet cloth material had been removed and the auditorium had been re-painted up to its full height, but the ceiling had not been touched. Sheets of white & blue cloth materials were hung from the ceiling in the front of the circle.

It is a Grade II* Listed building.

Contributed by KenRoe

Recent comments (view all 27 comments)

davepring on December 2, 2009 at 10:54 am in carlton islington in the search bar..details below:


Full titles read: “EIGHT PIANO RHAPSODY – Produced by Phil Finch. Filmed at Carlton Cinema, Islington, London.”

L/S’s of the pianists playing their pianos (it’s quite a spectacle). There are several good C/U’s and M/S’s of the pianists (Unfortunately this cataloguer cannot identify them). L/S’s and M/S’s of the audience watching solemnly from their seats.

Issue Date: 23/10/1933 Sound: Yes
Time in: 01:18:11:00 Time out: 01:21:49:00
Canister: PT 187 Film ID: 1090.12
Sort number: PT 187 Tape: PM1090
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Simon Overton
Simon Overton on January 17, 2010 at 10:29 pm

As of this date I am unable to open the

davepring on April 6, 2010 at 10:17 am

Just checked the site Simon and it does work :)

SMorgan on May 22, 2010 at 6:29 pm

The earlier Facebook link wasn’t working for me, this one should:

View link

michaelbrent on October 21, 2014 at 10:14 am

The venue is open as a church and conference venue

michaelbrent on October 21, 2014 at 10:26 am

Could anyone confirm if the proscenium and auditorium ceiling have been altered or hidden, looking at some photographs it certainly was the case and being a listed building had to be restored?

Ken Roe
Ken Roe on October 21, 2014 at 10:45 am

michaelbrent; The auditorium is intact, but only the stalls area is currently being used by the church. The church have built a new ‘proscenium’ in front of the original one. This is a ‘temporary’ structure which can easily be removed. Also, as they are only using the stalls area, a false ceiling made of cloth has been hung across from the front underside of the circle towards the ‘temporary’ proscenium. This too can easily be removed when they bring the circle back into use. It will assist in retaining the heat in the stalls area during winter, and hides the upper levels of the cinema which are still painted in Mecca Bingo colours.

rebno167 on March 22, 2018 at 5:58 am

I am a new member…Very interested to see Davespring “Eight Piano Rhapsody”. My father, now long deceased, was the head projectionist at the theatre during the time it was filmed and recorded. My father was a friend of Phil Finch who regularly used to play the piano at the Carlton and in between breaks they used to play table tennis on the stage. My mother was the cashier.

I have an original 78rpm recording made at the Carlton made in 1934/5 of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue on 8 piano ensemble. I have put it on YouTube (playing it on my lovely 78rpm machine…in my dressing gown!!)

davidcoppock on January 3, 2020 at 8:25 am

The outside of this building was used in the tv series “Endeavour” in the episode “Cartouche” as the fictional Roxy Cinema, set in Oxford(the inside shots were filmed at the Broadway Theatre in Catford).

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