Changing Croydon: Theatres and Cinemas

By - Thursday 20th June, 2013

Anne’s series continues with a look at what Croydonians have been able to sit and watch in darkened rooms over the last 40 years

We rarely went to the cinema in the ’70s. There was the Classic Cinema in Brighton Road, South Croydon, which opened in 1971, showing classic Hollywood films, but this closed in 1973. The one we visited most was the ABC cinema in London Road, Broad Green, which was turned into a 3-screen cinema in 1972. In 1986 it was re-named the Cannon, but it eventually closed in the early 2000s.

The other one I remember was the one in Crown Hill – another 3-screen Classic Cinema, which was renamed the Oscar Cinema and later the Focus Cinema. Unfortunately, this one closed in 1982. Another cinema I really liked was the ABC in Purley, which closed in 1986. I think fewer and fewer people were going out to see films and the cinemas may have been losing money. The temptation to stay in and watch television may have been too great.

Photo by Jim Linwood. Image used under Creative Commons license

Gone, but not forgotten: the Warehouse Theatre. Photo by Jim Linwood. Image used under Creative Commons license

We had two theatres – the Warehouse Theatre in Dingwall Road and the theatre we visited most – the Ashcroft, which had comfortable seating and easy parking. This is still with us, fortunately – as Tom Black found out in this review a few weeks ago. The Warehouse was known for its commitment to new writing, while Youth Theatre was also an important feature. I went to a number of plays there, which were very enjoyable.  The Arts Council Grant was withdrawn in 1984, and then the London Borough of Croydon and the GLC agreed to replace the grant, but funding was eventually withdrawn and the Warehouse was placed into administration in 2012 with debts of £100,000.  It was a sad loss for Croydon.

The Studio @ Matthews Yard hosts more unusual productions like the ones we had at the Warehouse

In between the 1970s and now we had the David Lean cinema – a small, intimate, art house-style cinema which showcased the best of British film and World cinema, as well as classic re-releases. Sadly, this closed in 2011.

What do we have now? For theatre, as mentioned, we have the Ashcroft Theatre and we also have The Studio @ Matthews Yard which hosts more unusual productions like the ones we had at the Warehouse.

As far as films are concerned, the choice is huge. A campaign to Save the David Lean Cinema has been established. In the meantime, their films are being shown at The Spreadeagle pub next to the Clocktower, as well as occasionally at the Shirley Community Centre. They will also be showing a film as part of the Purley Festival next week. The Fairfield Halls also show a limited number of films under the David Lean Banner. Matthews Yard, just off Surrey Street, is showing films too, with choices that are slightly more off the beaten track. Matthews Yard is a great venue, very friendly and with a nice café serving good food.

With ten screens, there is a lot to choose from and, although the majority might be action films which are of no interest to us, there are often films that we may have been waiting a while to see

For the more popular blockbusters we have the Vue Cinema in the Valley Park Leisure Complex, which has several screens and is very popular. There is plenty of parking and various eateries in the area. We don’t go there, as a rule, because the other Vue cinema (Grants, in the Town Centre) is a lot nearer for us. We receive an email from them every week, with all the cinema listings. With ten screens, there is a lot to choose from and, although the majority might be action films which are of no interest to us, there are often films that we may have been waiting a while to see. The seats are incredibly comfortable, with a lot of leg room and one can also pay a little extra for VIP seats. The nice thing about going to see films there is that we can always pop into Matthews Yard for a coffee and see some of our friends.

So – although we have the same amount of theatre as we had before, there is certainly a lot more cinema, although there are fewer unusual films, which are now shown in  Matthews Yard and the screenings organised by the Save the David Lean campaign. As far as the ‘popular’ cinemas go, the older ones only had three screens. The newer ones have ten. I think that is a vast improvement.

What do you fancy seeing in the next few days? Will it be a play or a film?

Anne Giles

Anne Giles

I grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the daughter of an Anglo-Argentine mother and English father. I went to an English school and worked for a British company out there before coming to live in the U.K. I spent many years teaching Spanish in adult education in various centres in Croydon Borough and have got to know so many different areas – North and South. We have been living in Selsdon since 1989 and I love it. I feel passionately about Croydon and have spent many years writing blogs – firstly for the Croydon Advertiser, then the Croydon Guardian, and eventually my own blog entitled “The Good Life in Croydon”. I am very much involved in the community, attending regular meetings with the Croydon Community Police Consultative Group and am also a member of the British Transport Police PACT (Police & Community Together) Team.

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  • Neil Spellings

    Great review Anne!

    If you’re a fan of British comedies, in particular Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the Grants View in Croydon are holding a triple-bill on July 18th of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and their new movie The Worlds End.

    Book online here

  • Anne Giles


  • George Harfleet

    The cinemas of Croydon were wonderful in the 1940s and 50s, especially the DAVIS THEATRE, demolished and replaced with zilch!! The Hippodrome in Crown Hill, the Palladium on corner of Scarbrook Road and Surrey Street, The Savoy in Broad Green, the Granada in Thornton Heath and many others.
    However, MY favourite was the cosy little CLASSIC in South Croydon. ‘Twas in the darkened back row of this much loved cinema. 1951 – and with my arm gently draped around Stella’s shoulder we kissed and then, to my great joy, she guided my hand to her lovely firm breast. Joy unlimited. Never to be forgotten moment. Alas poor Stella has left this wicked world but she remains forever in my heart and soul.

  • Anthony Miller

    The Safari was Croydon’s best cinema. Situated in West Croydon next to what were then Croydon’s premier meat markets (sorry, I mean nightclubs) the Cartoon and Sinatras …it was eventually put out of business by Grants. What it lacked in upkeep (let’s just say some of the floors were sticky) it made up for with dirt cheap prices. It was also ahead of its time in letting people smuggle in booze from the off licence over the road. Many of the lower rungs of the society had also figured out ways to get in to the cavenous building without paying at all via the many fire escapes and what appeared to be some interestings drugs deals could be seen to be taking place in some of the isles by those who didn’t turn enough of a blind eye.

    Memorable screenings included

    a Harry Potter film during which the film snapped three times as the aging projection equipment struggled to destroy several thousand pounds worth of positive.

    The much hyped Blair Witch Project which had an ending so lame it was loudly booed by the audience who demanded refunds

    and Gladiator. My particular favourite. Enjoyment of this film was initially reduced by some youths at the back of the cinema who had procured one of those lazer things and annoyed the punters en masse by pointing it all over the screen. The evening became much more entertaining however when a mature black woman got so annoyed by this she strode down the back of the cinema and gave them a physical beating that made Russell Crowe’s antics down the Colosseum seem comparatively tame. They then sheepishly removed their bruised bodies back out towards London Road.

    The Others – I watched this film in screen 4, the smallest screen where the film was back projected onto the cloth. The seats in screen 4 were notoriously flimsy and if you sat too far forward they would actually break. During this screening I think at least 4 of West Croydon’s more portly residents managed to break the seats with their posteriors.

    Vue is nicer but more expensive yet still suffers like the Safari from never ejecting annoying punters. I dont know how anyone sane can let an under 5 into a 12 even if it is legal. Still, it’s all about the money.

    I also have fond memories of Sundays at the Safari when all the Indian people would go to the Bollywood screenings dressed in their best Sunday Saris and elevate the dour dark painted 1920s interior into something almost cultural.

  • Farouk

    Hello Anne
    I recall going to a cinema, although everyone I knew called it The Pictures in those days, within a bus ride of Shirley Oaks, in 1959. It seemed like a very modern town/village to my young eyes. Any idea where that cinema might have been? There was also a small memorial gardens nearby.

    • Anne Giles

      I am afraid I have no idea. I was living in Argentina then and didn’t come to England till 1966. I came to Croydon in the early 70s.