Grand Theatre

Market Place,
Abingdon, OX14 3HG

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Additional Info

Previous Names: New Cinema, Grand Cinema

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Grand Theatre

In Abingdon, Oxfordshire, in 1884, the Corporation acquired the Oxford Arms and the Plough and Anchor Inn as a site for a Corn Exchange.

The competition to design the building was won by Charles Bell, an architect better known for designing Wesleyan Methodist chapels.

His winning entry envisaged a building 48 feet wide by 85 feet long consisting mainly of a large hall with a gallery at one end.

The foundation stone was laid by the Earl of Abingdon, the town’s High Steward, on 11th August 1885, and construction was completed within a year.

The building was of brick with stone dressings in an Italianate style. There was a double-arched entrance, and the statue of Ceres which dominated the pedimented façade was donated by the town’s MP and member of the council, John Creemer Clarke, who had been a staunch supporter of the project.

The official opening of the Corn Exchange, on 29th April 1886, was performed by the mayor, Mr Alderman Morland.

In 1887 a licence was granted for the performance of stage plays. Plans were prepared in 1891 to enlarge the stage and re-arrange the dressing rooms to form cloakrooms at the entrance and improve access to the gallery by providing two staircases.

The Corn Exchange became a focal point in the business and social life of the town. It could seat more than 600 people as a venue for entertainments, concerts, plays and the new moving pictures.

On 1st April 1919 the main hall opened as the New Cinema, with two programmes each week, each running for three days.

By 1922, the by-now renamed Grand Cinema, with 500 seats, was owned by W. Annison, with F. Nimsey as the resident manager.

However, films only formed one part of the entertainments on offer - which even included a grand cycling competition! So presumably a raked floor was never installed.

At some stage, presumably as live shows began to predominate, the Grand Cinema was renamed the Grand Theatre.

During World War II a large ‘barometer’ was fixed to the façade allowing patriotic town folk to salute their efforts in raising funds to buy a Spitfire.

However, post-war planners decided that the Corn Exchange was standing in the way of a traffic-free, pedestrianised shopping precinct, and it was duly demolished.

However, in 1966, it was replaced by a new community facility, Abbey Hall - which itself became a cinema in 2018 (see separate Cinema Treasures entry).

Contributed by David Simpson
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