Empire Cinema

Freer Street,
Walsall, WS1

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Additional Info

Previously operated by: Clifton Circuit

Architects: J.H. Hickton, Ernest S. Roberts, Roland Satchwell

Firms: Satchwell & Roberts

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The Empire Cinema was built on the site of Walsall’s Temperance Hall by Mr T. Jackson no relation to another T. Jackson who had opened cinemas in Walsall and went bust.

The opening programme on 28th August 1933 was “Letting in the Sunshine” starring Albert Burdon and directed by Lupino Lane, supported by “Slightly Married” starring Marie Prevost. Designed by architect J.H. Hickton, it was built by the Bloxwich building firm J&F Wooton. Seating was provided in stalls and circle levels. The cinema was equipped with Western Electric projection equipment, later in 1954 changed to BTH.

Clifton Cinema (Walsall) Ltd., merged interests with Alexander Cinema “Lower Gornal” Ltd . This bought Kenneth Jones into Clifton and was made General Manager of all the Clifton Cinemas. In 1939 the Clifton Cinemas chain took over the Cinema De Luxe Walsall and renamed it Classic Cinema.

In 1954 the Empire Cinema became the first Walsall town centre cinema to have a 20th Century Fox authorised CinemaScope installation complete with Four Track Magnetic sound. The first CinemaScope film was Richard Burton in “The Robe”. The Clifton company went to town on the cinema, and refurbished to a high standard with a new proscenium, festoon curtains, new presentation lighting and a 30ft screen. Renovations were carried out to the plans of architectural firm Satchwell & Roberts.

The Empire Cinema was closed and sold 24th October 1964, the final film was “Cleopatra” starring Elizabeth Taylor. It was demolished in February 1965, and Debenhams department store now stands on the site.

Contributed by Mike Blakemore

Recent comments (view all 4 comments)

CaptainC on November 8, 2018 at 11:30 am

Well recall the Empire as as huge, impressive theatre even though it was part of the smaller Clifton chain and located in a side street. As kids we usually did the rounds of Walsall’s seven cinemas, particularly durng rainy schhol holidays. Strangely, some of the films shown e.g. Ivanhoe and Bridge on the River Kwai, were already several years old when we saw them. My son-in-law’s father was projectionist there up to closure. He told me about the arrangement with a local music shop to supply the records for the interval music.

Mike_Blakemore on November 9, 2018 at 5:54 am

CaptainC Clifton owned some 130 cinema most of ABC Cinemas in Birmingham including ABC New Street were leased off Clifton. They also owned 7 Odeons around the country and were principle shareholders in all Built Odeons. from 1954 after the major refurbishment was the most modern equipped cinema in Walsall until it was demolished For a number of years The Empire Played the Fox Cinemascope release in Walsall as They were the only cinema to have Real Cinemascope. Only the Rosum and the Avion outside of the town centre had it.

CaptainC on September 24, 2019 at 12:16 pm

And stereophonic sound! As the hoarding at the end of Freer St used to proclaim. Thanks for the info Mike. I shall now have greater respect for the memory of Clifton. I always assumed that Rank and ABC were the big boys and Clifton was purely local. I was only aware of the Beacon and Clifton at Great Barr in addition to the Rosum and Empire in Walsall. Although, seeing as I was only 12 when the Empire closed, I was always simply a customer, never a student of the subject.

Mike_Blakemore on September 6, 2023 at 7:47 am

I found out recently that “The Walsall Theatre Company” had a financial interest in “The Clifton Cinema (Walsall) Ltd., which included as well as The Empire The Classic Walsall and "the Alexandra Lower Gornal. When the WTC sub let their Theatres to ABC William Andrews its General Manager moved over to manage "The Empire” So it seems WTC had a finger in all except “The Picture House” Walsall.. (The one that burned down.. Twice"

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