Town Hall Cinema

Church Street,
Charlbury, OX7 3PP

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In Charlbury, a market town about six miles north of Witney, in West Oxfordshire, the Town Hall, despite its name, was never a municipal building. It was, in fact, a corrugated iron meeting room and lecture hall which had been built by the Quakers at the bottom of the garden behind the Royal Oak public house.

Francis and Mary Jeffs took over as caretakers of the hall, and lived in the Royal Oak, from around 1938. The following year they converted the hall into the Town Hall Cinema.

Mr Jeffs built a lean-to projection room behind the stage, and ‘turned the hall around’, so the stage provided a raised viewing area with the best seats. The walls were rebuilt with concrete blocks, but the roof remained of corrugated iron, which drowned out the soundtrack during heavy rain. Two Kalee projectors, and an RCA sound system, were installed.

Originally there were moveable seats, but later on the auditorium floor was raked, and re-seated with seats from a bombed-out cinema in London.

CinemaScope, as such, was never installed, but the Town Hall Cinema did have its own ‘widescreen’ system (precise details not known). However, it did not screen ‘X’ certificated films - because Mr Jeff’s mother in law wouldn’t let him!

Inevitably, as the 1950’s came around, audiences began to dwindle. The long queues from the 1940’s were replaced by, sometimes, single-figure attendances. Mr Jeffs put the cinema up for sale, but received no offers. Eventually, the November 1960 programme included the notice that “The management announce with regret that the cinema will be closed after December 3.”

This already depressing situation took a tragic twist on Friday 6th January 1961. When Mr Jeffs, who was also a county councillor, failed to come home for tea, his daughter Daphne went to the cinema to look for him. On the front door she found, in chalk, “Fetch the police.”

Breaking down the door, she found her father hanging from a 15ft high beam. A close friend talked about the “death blow” that Mr Jeffs had been dealt: Television.

The Town Hall Cinema was subsequently demolished, while the Royal Oak pub closed in 1980 and is now a private residence.

Contributed by David Simpson
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