275 Wellingborough Road,
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Previous Names: Prince of Wales, East End Picture Palace, Abington Park Picture Palace, Abington Picture Palace, King's Picture Playhouse
It is not certain when the Prince of Wales’ Playhouse opened at the junction of Wellingborough Road with Monks Park Road, but on 10th May 1910 J. F. Bentley took it over as the East End Picture Palace. Whilst the 1910 Kelly’s Street Directory lists it as the Abington Park Picture Palace, a programme of the time has it as Abington Picture Palace, showing Bentley’s Pictures, so there is a certain vagueness about what it was called at any particular time. He renamed it King’s Picture Playhouse. It offered private boxes, each seating 5 patrons; probably a left-over from its theatrical origin.
Bentley sold it in February 1913 and, by 1919, named King’s Picture Playhouse, the proprietor was G. H. J. Dawson. Still under Dawson’s control in 1922, the resident manager was G. J. Lester, offering a continuous programme with 2 changes weekly and seats from 5d to 1s 7d.
Closure came in 1929, but the cinema re-opened in 1931, presumably as the Plaza Cinema and after the KYB was published, as it is not listed for that year. By 1941 the theatre was in the hands of W. Harris and F. Faulkner, of the Kingsthorpe Ritz Cinema, from which office it was booked. Prices were then 7d to 1s 9d with continuous programmes and a daily matinee. Midland Super Cinemas were in control by 1947, and Myer and Sidney Cipin had added it to their Northampton portfolio by 1949 (joining the Ritz Cinema and Tivoli Cinema). In October 1954 it was equipped with CinemaScope & stereophonic sound featuring “The Robe” with Richard Burton. The projectors were Westar machines and arcs, coupled with Westrex sound installed.
Contemporary reports suggest certain economies at the Plaza Cinema, ranging from hand-winched curtains to home-made footlights in aluminium ice-cream crates. The projectionist, reputedly, lived on site.
1969 was the end for films. “Her Private Hell” and “The Virgins” played for 4 days from Sunday 13th July, whilst James Garner in “Grand Prix”, billed prominently as having stereophonic sound, saw things to a close on the 19th July 1969. Bingo took over for a while, but when this transferred to the former Regal Cinema. The Plaza Cinema was converted into a House of Holland store, before becoming a Budgen supermarket. Today, with a completely reconstructed façade and gutted interior, the building is a branch of Lloyd’s TSB. From Monk’s Park Road, however, the fly tower and stage end are clearly visible, betraying its theatrical and cinematic ancestry.
The local paper alluded to reports of staff working for House of Holland experiencing ‘ghostly occurrences’, perhaps associated with the one-time live-in projectionist?
(Northamptonshire Records Office holds some documents: within the F. H. Allen projects archive ‘Plaza/Prince of Wales Northampton 1931-33’, within the Northampton Borough Council Archive/Watch Committee Minutes (Cinema Licensing) ‘Plaza, Wellingborough Road 1950-58’)
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