EARBY was once home to three cinemas, moving pictures being so popular that local people invested their money into the new entertainment. Bob Abel, chairman of the Earby and District Local History Society looks into this important part of the area's social history.

AN important piece of Earby’s social history deals with public entertainments - one major element being the arrival of moving picture shows to the town.

Cinematography was developed in the late 19th century. In 1891 the Edison Company developed a prototype Kinetoscope for showing moving pictures but only viewable by one person. The first to present projected moving pictures to a paying audience (cinema) were the Lumière brothers in December, 1895 in Paris.

At first, itinerant entertainment companies brought a blend of cinema and live entertainment to halls, fairgrounds, village halls or anywhere where there was a room which could be darkened. Earby’s Victoria Institute, The Coronation Hall and The Weavers Institute were all used as venues for travelling picture shows in the early years of the twentieth century as well as during the Earby Feast, held in the summer.

The earliest reference found for cinema in Earby is in the July 6 1901 edition of The Era. “Earby Feast …will have R Layland’s Cinematograph…”

The Craven Herald for November 5, 1906 reported: “a travelling company in charge of Mr Oswald Dyke has appeared at the Victoria Institute this week. The principal feature of the entertainment being animated pictures produced by means of the Cinematograph. There have been crowded audiences each night.”

When the Coronation Hall was built in 1911/12 it too was used and eventually became the Cosy Cinema.

The popularity of cinema was increasing and in 1911 there was sufficient demand to justify the erection of a purpose built cinema in Earby.

In November 1911, plans were submitted to Earby Urban District Council (EUDC) by the Barnoldswick Picture Palace Company for a cinema to be built on New Road in Earby.

This proposal came to nothing, but in 1913 plans were passed for Frederick Siegel to build a cinema at the end of School Lane, and the Empire Electric Theatre Palace opened in August, 1913.

From the name and like most similar operations a mixture of cinema and music hall type entertainment was offered.

Mr Siegel was an Austrian immigrant who had already built a cinema in Shipley and was also planning one in Ilkley. Many Earby people invested in the Earby scheme, with the Craven Herald reporting on the opening that:“Even Earby has not lost the “picture” craze as was evidenced by the crowds of people who attended the performance on Monday night at the new Empire Theatre in Earby under the management of Mr Howe, late of Keighley. The company is styled The Earby Empire Co Ltd and quite a number of the town’s people have an interest in it financially. It is a very imposing building and a nightly performance is to be held increasing to two on Saturdays. It is most tastefully decorated and luxuriously furnished.”

By 1917 there were three cinemas operating in Earby, The Cosy, the Weavers Institute as well as the Empire.

At first the enterprise was successful but the coming of the World War One had a detrimental effect on Earby’s Empire cinema and many other of the smaller enterprises and by 1919 the company went into receivership.

The cinema and its assets were sold on and it reopened with Dick Hutchinson from Cross Hills being appointed as manager.

The Empire and Cosy Cinemas were now under the same management and in 1927 another change of ownership occurred. James Scrivner took over the two cinemas having previously run the Cinema Picture Hall in Brierfield. Under his management the first talkies came to Earby in the late 1920s. but even into the 1930s some live entertainment was featured.

During the heyday of the Earby Operatic Society the Empire hosted the annual performance devoting a whole week to the event.

In 1936, Albert Beaty joined the staff at the Empire as a projectionist and continued his association with the cinema until closure in 1916 by which time he had been promoted to manager.

1938 saw another change in ownership when Scrivner sold out to Matthew Hartley and Sons, based in Barnoldswick, for £5,000. They already owned the Majestic and Palace cinemas in Barnoldswick, the Plaza in Skipton and had a part interest in a cinema in Tadcaster.

Harry Hartley managed the cinema until 1940 when his brother, Fred, died and he had to take up the reins of the whole business and Tom Cope was appointed as manager at Earby.

During World War Two the Empire was used for showing many public information films about the war and its progress and also for fund raising events for the war effort.

The 1950s saw cinema audiences beginning to dwindle. The popularity of television had the biggest effect particularly when the cost of financing the purchase of a television set reduced.

The writing was on the wall for the Empire and in 1960 the cinema closed its doors for the last time the final film shown being “Follow a Star” starring Norman Wisdom.

What was to happen to this iconic building in such a prominent position in the town. Ideas floated including converting it into swimming baths, a retail outlet and even a coal storage depot. Eventually it was purchased as an extension to Wardle Storey’s factory.

In 1983, the premises were sold on to Earby Company, Ace Case; but in 1996 a disastrous fire engulfed the building and it had to be demolished. So an iconic edifice that had stood in Earby for over 80 years was no more.

Ace Case built a replacement and to remember the old cinema a blue plaque was placed on its successor , Albert Beaty, being the last manager, was guest of honour at its “unveiling”.

A talk on the history of the Empire Cinema will be given on Tuesday September, 18 at New Road Community Centre at 7. 30pm. It will also see the launch of the book, The History of Earby’s Empire Cinema. Copies priced at £5 plus £1.50 post and packaging can also be ordered from Earby and District Local History Society website: info@earbyhistory.co.uk or by telephoning 01282 812599.