A report regarding the history of silver screen cinemas in Watford in the Watford Observer was not entirely accurate.

The report says the Carlton cinema in Clarendon Road opened in 1921, however, if fails to mention that the Carlton cinema building didn’t start life as a cinema. In 1910 the Watford Theatre and Skating Rink Company began building a roller skating rink adjacent to The Palace. This cost £3,253 and opened in 1910.

The Clarendon Road roller skating rink was very popular and included games of rink hockey, regular dances and demonstration skating. By 1913 the building was no longer being used for roller skating and was now converted into a ballroom and the building re-named Palace Ballroom. It advertised “popular and jolly dance with a full orchestra Monday’s, Wednesday’s and Saturday’s, plus popular whist drives on Tuesdays and Thursday’s”.

Read more: When Al Jolson helped make cinema history in Watford

Before the arrival of Watford’s purpose-built silver screen cinemas, short films were already being shown at Watford Public Library back in 1898, the 1,700 capacity Agricultural (Clarendon) Hall in 1900 and at the newly opened Palace Theatre. In May 1911 Watford’s first purpose-built silver screen cinema opened. “The Cinema Palace” opened at 143 High Street, replete with 500 tip-up seats and room for another 200. The first programme featured a film, The Easter Eggs, plus footage of the unveiling of a statue to Queen Victoria and the visit of the Kaiser.

The Cinema Palace closed in February 1915. But the first of the seven well-known cinemas to serve the public for fifty or more years was the Electric Colosseum / New Plaza in St Albans Road, which opened in 1912. This was followed by the Central Hall (Regal/Essoldo) in King Street (1913), The Empire at the top end of Market Street (late 1913), Clarendon Road’s The Super (Carlton) (1921), The Plaza (Odeon) by the pond (1929), 100 yards further down from the pond was The Odeon/Gaumont (1936) and then The North Watford Odeon on St Albans Road (1937).

The beginning of the end of Watford’s seven purpose-built silver screen cinemas happened in 1957 with the demolition of the Electric Colosseum / New Plaza in St Albans Road. By 1969 only three of Watford’s silver screen cinemas remained, the Odeon/Gaumont, The Super (Carlton) and The Empire. (I enclose a photo of the beginning of the end for Watford’s purpose-built silver screen cinemas.)

From 1911, and for many decades afterwards, the silver screen was the dominant form of entertainment, with the public flocking to them in their thousands, seven days a week. This was the onset of the golden era of the cinema.

Ernie MacKenzie

Gammons Lane, Watford