J & A Cinema
St Chads Parade,
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Believed to have been founded around 1870, until the 1950’s Kirkby, six miles north-east of Liverpool, was a quiet, rural village - even though the railway had arrived in 1848, the East Lancashire Road (A580) added connections to the big city in 1935 and industrial development was being considered prior to the outbreak of World War II.
By the end of the war, Liverpool had suffered a great deal of damage from the Blitz. In addition, much of its remaining housing stock was poor and considered to be slums. In an effort to improve these conditions, Liverpool Corporation began a policy of buying land in the surrounding areas and moving industry and people to newly developed ‘over-spill’ estates. This process culminated with the purchase of 4,070 acres, including the land comprising Kirkby, from the Earl of Sefton in 1947 for £375,000.
Large-scale development began in February 1950 with the construction of the Southdene neighbourhood, with the first houses finished in 1952, the 5,000th in 1956 and the 10,000th in 1961. A population of 3,000 in 1951 swelled to over 52,000 by 1961, making it the fastest growing community in the UK.
Such vast growth caused many problems, not the least of which was that the construction of local amenities had not kept the same pace. For example, the first shops were not built until 1955 and the first public house was not opened until 1959. However, Kirkby Industrial Estate was steadily expanding to become one of the largest in England until, at its peak in 1971, it provided employment for over 26,000 people.
The J & A Kirkby Entertainments Centre, which included a 1,300-seat bingo and social club, opened in the town centre on 21st November 1975. The same company, Nottingham-based J & A Entertainments, also provided the town with its first picture palace when, on 4th January 1976, the twin-screen J & A Cinema opened with “Paint Your Wagon”, starring Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood.
Unfortunately, the cinema appears to have struggled from the start. According to former chief projectionist Dave Parr, who moved to Kirkby from the Albany Cinema, Maghull (see separate Cinema Treasures entry) the cinema “was quite well done” but it seems the proprietors initially thought that people mainly wanted to see sex and horror films, and later on they did better business with more mainstream offerings (he mentions “Love Story”, starring Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw, and “Gone With The Wind”, starring Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh as doing particularly well, so ’re-runs' and ‘classics’ must have been part of the programming in the late-1970’s).
Despite this apparent resurgence, in early-1980 one of the screens was closed. The seating capacity of that screen is not known, but the Cinema Theatre Association’s 1980 ‘Directory of Cinemas’ records the by-then single screen as having 195 seats.
Sadly, losses continued, at over £400 per week, with some screenings attracting fewer than half a dozen patrons, according to general manager Peter Rich. So the cinema closed for good on 1st August 1982, with a (hopefully crowd-pulling) double bill of “Star Wars” and “The Empire Strikes Back”, both starring Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill.
It is believed the bingo club continued to trade, and was eventually acquired by Gala. That closed, “due to external factors”, on Thursday 9th March 2017. The lease was about to expire, but the prime “external factor” was the proposed re-development of Kirkby town centre. That is set to include a six-screen multiplex, for which Reel signed on in April 2017. The plans for that were finally approved in November 2020.
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J&A sold the bingo operation to Granada Bingo initially becoming a Gala Club upon the merger with Coral in 1991. Closed in 2017 for town centre redevelopment, the club was on Telegraph Way.