THE towns across East Lancashire were quick to embrace the new craze for moving pictures which began at the turn of the last century.

The cinema as it later became known was a popular release for the thousands of mill workers who had turned the area into one of the country’s leading industrial powerhouses.

Most towns boasted large numbers of picture houses and claims are often made that Blackburn actually had the first cinema in the country.

Much as we’d like this to be true, it’s sadly not the case.

Local historian Eric Nolan takes up the story.

He said: “I remember this was claimed for many years; however it was not so but like the Loch Ness Monster, publicity was made of it for cunning business purposes!

“The very first cinema in England was the Kineopticon, opened in London on March 21, 1896 by Birt Acres at 2 Piccadilly Mansions at the junction of Shaftesbury Avenue and Piccadilly Circus. It showed a series of short silent films but was destroyed by fire shortly after opening.

“In the same year on September 28, the first moving picture show opened in Blackburn at the Lyceum Music Hall in Market Street Lane.”

Never Never Land in 2005, originally the Lyceum Music Hall

Never Never Land in 2005, originally the Lyceum Music Hall

The Lyceum later became known to modern revellers as the home of Never Never Land and C’est La Vie nightclubs

In 1996 the British Film Institute issued a blue plaque to commemorate the centenary of the Lyceum.

Although the Lyceum had shown moving pictures a decade before, two other Blackburn cinemas laid claims to being the first cinemas in the country.

“The Victoria Assembly Rooms on Eanam Bridge was converted to a cinema around 1907. It was not far from the Alexandra Cinema in Dock Street, with both claiming to be the first cinema in the country,” said Eric.

“By 1927 the Victoria Cinema was managed by the Charnley family and was renamed Charnley’s Pictures. About 1941 it was re-named the Victoria Cinema.”

The Victoria continue to show films until 1960 when subsidence caused by a sink hold beneath the building led to it being demolished, the site becoming a car park.

“The cinema building in Dock Street is claimed to have started in 1906 but because it did not open until three years later when other purpose-built cinemas had also sprung up. It was initially called Pendleton’s Picture Palace after the brothers who built it,” said Eric. “It was often known as Penk’s, a nickname which lasted for decades.”

By 1917 James Ainsworth and son-in-law John Hudson had taken over the cinema and renamed it the Alexandra Picture Hall.

Just two months later James Ainsworth hung himself from one of the hall’s balcony supports.

Reports of the inquest said he was said to have been “worried … about the picture business”. Tragically, business was described as “good”.

By 1927 the cinema had become the Alexandra Picture Theatre. It continue to show movies; in 1954 under new ownership, it underwent a major refurbishment with a new sound system being installed. Like many cinemas it would become a bingo hall in 1963 and was demolished after a fire in 1998.

With thanks to Eric Nolan whose research originally featured in an article for the Friends of Blackburn Museum