Corn Exchange Cinema

1 Bondgate Within,
Alnwick, NE66 1SF

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Functions: Housing

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Corn Exchange Cinema

In Alnwick, Northumberland, the Corn Exchange opened in 1862. By the 1880’s, it was being used for a wide variety of purposes and, in 1886, the Moore Brothers (printers) and the Sanderson Brothers (grocers) commissioned the necessary work to enable theatrical productions to take place. After a trial run of variety shows in November 1886 the formal Grand Opening took place in late-December.

It is thought that film shows were first presented in 1908. The Corn Exchange Cinema wasn’t listed in the 1914 Kinematograph Year Book, but it was in the 1927 edition (at least). The proprietor and manager was J. H. Sanderson, there was one show nightly and three changes of programme each week.

By 1931 a Western Electric (WE) sound system had been installed. By 1940 the seating capacity was being given as 670.

The Corn Exchange Cinema closed in May 1963 with “The Fast Lady”, starring Leslie Phillips and Julie Christie.

The building re-opened as a bingo hall - but its days as a picture house were far from over.

In March 1982 the town’s operating cinema, the Playhouse, closed down (see separate Cinema Treasures entry).

Eddie Poole, whose company, E. H. Poole and Sons, ran six cinemas in Scotland, stepped in, and converted the Corn Exchange back to film shows.

The Corn Exchange Cinema re-opened on Good Friday, 17th April 1987. The first films, in separate shows, were children’s favourite “Bambi” and “Crocodile Dundee”, starring Paul Hogan. Initially there was stalls seating for 250, but the refurbishment of the balcony followed soon after, increasing the seating capacity by another 100.

The opening weekend was a great success, with sell-out shows being reported. The Corn Exchange Cinema continued to report good business, but the controlling company collapsed in 1990, blaming a combination of the World Cup, good weather and poor films.

This, of course, had a knock-on effect, and the Corn Exchange Cinema closed on Thursday 26th September 1991, with “Dying Young”, starring Julia Roberts. For a while, bingo had been reintroduced, part-time. That had ceased in the summer.

(Happily for the town’s picturegoers, the Playhouse was able to re-open in 1992.)

The Corn Exchange’s owner, Colonel Bill Sanderson, whose great-grandfather had helped to erect it, reluctantly put the building up for sale.

In 1992 plans were submitted to convert the building into a nightclub, but that did not go ahead. In 1996 there was a proposal to re-open it as a private members' club, then, in 1997, the town’s New Life Mission church expressed interest in converting it for their purposes.

None of these schemes went ahead. In 2012 pub chain J. D. Wetherspoon expressed interest, and were keen to undertake a £2m refurbishment. However, this turned out to be a long, drawn-out saga, and, in November 2016, issues over land transfers and other wrangles with Northumberland County Council led to Wetherspoon losing interest.

The Grade II listed building has subsequently been converted into a number of apartments.

Contributed by David Simpson
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