This is the last of thee articles that David Evans has spotted in the huge Gerald Reece collection that have really interested me and are very much worth a share – they are from a very much lost local history book by noted author and historian Ned Williams about local cinemas, and give the most complete history I’ve ever seen of the picture houses of the area – including Walsall Wood.
Today’s article covers the Palace Cinema, Walsall Wood – affectionately known as ‘The Blood Tub’ – and possibly the most warmly remembered of the three local picture houses.
The Palace stood win Brookland Road, Walsall Wood, where Lee Court is now.
The following article and the two previous ones you can find here for the Palace, Brownhills and the Regent, Brownhills are from a book I’ve never managed to obtain a copy of, and I last saw change hands for upwards of £30: ‘The Cinemas of Aldridge and Brownhills’ by Ned Williams, published in 1984. Gerald had kept copies of the articles and I feature the third here, about The Palace Cinema in Walsall Wood.
The book was published by Uralia Press, of 28 Westland Road Wolverhampton with the ISBN of 0 946406 07 3 – do get a copy if you can. I pay tribute here to the immense cannon of work by Ned Williams, a truly remarkable author and researcher.
THE PALACE, WALSALL WOOD
When one looks for written documentation of the life and times of the little cinema in Walsall Wood one could almost be persuaded it never existed, but in the memories of local people it still survives and can be recalled in amazing detail. Thus it has been impossible to track down the precise opening or closing date of the Palace although the names of the people who worked in it are clearly remembered.
One published history of Walsall Wood claims that the Palace opened in 1924 but I think it was really in business long before that. The ledgers of a Birmingham film-renter, Britannic Films, record the regular renting of films to Messrs Nicklin and Barker of Walsall Wood Picture House from September 1916 to January 1918. As relatively few cinemas opened in the middle of the First World War it could be guessed that the ‘Picture House’ in Walsall Wood opened before the War, or in 1915 by the latest. Like the Palace in Brownhills, dating from the end of 1912, it was a corrugated-iron building, sometimes more evocatively described as a ‘tin shed’. It stood in Brookland Road, opposite the gates of the cemetery, not far from the Walsall-Lichfield Road that had become the main thoroughfare of the community.
Dolly Hood, bom in 1902, lived in Brookland Road and saw the cinema being built on the land where she once played. She worked at the cinema as a cleaner for many years and was first engaged by the Mr. Nicklin mentioned above. She can remember the cinema being acquired by Miles Jervis.
The early history of the Palace becomes a little clearer with the arrival of the Jervis family. (Previously mentioned in the chapter about the Regent, Brownhills). Miles Jervis I was established in the market hall at Chasetown, which had originally been converted to a cinema by his brother, Ted Jervis. Tom Jervis was successfully running a cinema at Heath Hayes. Suddenly the little cinema at Walsall Wood came on the market. Miles Jervis I and Tom Jervis formed a partnership to acquire it, presumably doing so at the end of the First World War. One of the earliest rate books relating to Walsall Wood that still exists records, that, in 1919, the ‘Picture Palace’ was owned by the ‘Jervis Brothers’.
Subsequently Miles Jervis I bought out his brother’s interest and then, while still running the Palace, set about building another cinema at Sankey’s Corner, Chase Terrace. According to Miles Jervis’ son the cinema was sold to Enoch Simpson but the story told by the entries in the rate books shows an interesting variation to that sequence of events. The 1928 rate book lists Edward Jervis as the proprietor, but we can almost be certain that he had been running the Palace, Walsall Wood earlier than that. Bill Hatton left school to start working for Edward Jervis at Walsall Wood in 1924. He is certain that no other member of the Jervis family was associated with the Palace at that time.
At this stage I will have to introduce the Hatton family. They lived in a row of houses in Jobern’s Brickyard and Mrs. Hatton also worked for Mr. Jervis at the Palace as a cleaner. Every Thursday she scrubbed the building clean from top to bottom. Joe Hatton found work at the Palace as an operator and general assistant. (For a time the operators were Mr. Beard, and his son, two miners from Chasetown who cycled over to Walsall Wood every night).
Jim Hatton became the doorman — and apparently bought himself an impressive uniform in which to carry out the task. As a school-leaver young Bill Hatton assisted in a very general way. He used to collect and deliver the films to and from Birmingham and shunt the films around between Walsall Wood and the cinemas at Heath Hayes and Chasetown. The three cinemas could share three two-day programmes. Later Heath Hayes and Walsall Wood shared serials and when there were two shows a night this created intense work. The serial had to be shown at the end of the first house and the beginning of the second house at the Palace between its screenings at Heath Hayes! Bill Hatton also assisted the Jervises in setting up and taking down fairground rides. While helping Edward Jervis build the Regent (see previous chapter) he still managed to work during the evening at the Palace.
After opening the Regent it seems that Edward Jervis managed to persuade Enoch Simpson to buy the Palace. Enoch Simpson was in business in Brownhills. It is thought that he was at first involved in selling insurance. However, he is most frequently remembered as a proprietor of a garage. He had three sons, Enoch, Edgar and Ernest, and a daughter, Edith. Thus some people recalling the cinema distinguish between ‘Old Enoch’ and ‘Young Enoch’. He certainly took a very personal role in running his cinema. Patrons can remember him taking the money in the pay box, and carrying the takings in a bulging Gladstone bag out to his car at the end of the evening to drive back to Brownhills. In 1930, when the Palace’s existence is first recorded in the Kine Year Book, Mr. Simpson boasted that it could seat 1100 patrons. This is an amazing figure compared with the 1948 figure of 330 and the 1955 figure of 285. The benches that formed the front rows must certainly have been well-packed in Mr. Simpson’s time!
From the mid twenties to the early thirties, admission to bench seats was 2d, (children Id). Behind them, plush seats could be obtained for 4d. At the back of the auditorium a few rows of more luxurious seats formed a gallery — a step or two up from the cheaper seats. Patrons in the gallery paid 6d. (at crowded shows ‘extra’ seats were borrowed from nearby houses!)
During the thirties Mr. Simpson was still assisted in running the Palace by the Hatton family Bill Hatton cycled between Heath Hayes and Walsall Wood with the serials during that period, and occasionally sold 4d tickets from a small pay box reached by a side entrance to the auditorium. The cheaper seats were reached by this side entrance. These patrons had to make their way down the side of the auditorium in a passage between the cinema and Mr. & Mrs. Bacon’s house next door. They also had to sit within earshot of the gas engine generating power at the back of the cinema. Some of the power was used to illuminate two arc lamps that lit up the front of the cinema.
The cinema’s popularity spread beyond the boundaries of Walsall Wood. People from Clayhanger would walk along the railway line to come to the Palace. Of course the Saturday afternoon matinee performance was for children and on many occasions a funeral would be arriving at the cemetery opposite while the young folk of Walsall Wood were making an incredible noise in the cinema. Jim Hatton would try to quieten them down by shouting out that a funeral was in progress! Children were admitted to the matinee for one penny, but if they bought a special ticket for two pennies they were also allowed to attend a Wednesday afternoon ‘after-school’ matinee that started at about 4.30p.m.
Bill Hatton’s driving work, particularly long distance jobs, began intervening with his part-time work for Mr. Simpson and eventually his brother, George, took his place. This perhaps explains why some Walsall Wood residents seem to have confused memories of which brother they are recalling.
While Enoch Simpson was running the Palace, Harry Russell reappears in the history of local cinemas.His first encounter with the business had been at the Palace, Brownhills, but his second encounter was at Walsall Wood. He came along to operate the non-synchronised music provided towards the end of the silent period — staying, in fact, until the Gyrotone Sound System was installed and the talkies came to Walsall Wood.
Some time later Enoch Simpson approached Harry Russell again and asked him to do the film-booking and to assist in running the place. During the Second World War Harry was assisting Enoch, and was occasionally relief operator for George Davidson at the Avion, as well as making himself responsible for film transport. At the end of the War he was General Manager of the Aldridge Cinema Company, running both the Avion and the Dale, Willenhall. Almost immediately his association with the Palace, Walsall Wood, was renewed when the company took over the Palace from the Simpson family. By this time Enoch had passed on and ‘Young Enoch’ and Ernest Simpson were concerned with running the Palace. Technically the Palace was run by the Walsall Wood Cinema Company, of which the directors were Leslie Brain, Harry Russell and a Mr. Nightingale.
About 1940 Jeff Collins left school at the age of 14 and started working part-time at the Palace, his first duty being to tear tickets in half as patrons entered the auditorium. Like many other people who worked in the local cinemas, he worked at the Walsall Wood Colliery by day. He progressed to the operating box, learning the trade from an operator who was a railwayman by day. Later he assisted Harry Russell and finally became chief operator himself at the time Harry went to the Avion. When the Palace was taken over by the Avion directors, Jeff Collins was put in charge of the place. Even then, looking after the Palace remained a part-time job, and Jeff Collins found his Monday lunchtime was fully occupied with dashing to the bank with the cinema’s weekly takings! Towards the end of the cinema’s life, Jeff’s wife, Dorothy, worked in the pay box. Other men from Walsall Wood Colliery or from the brickyard took their turn in the operating box, including Alan Clift, Malcolm Corfield, Roy Dukes and Terry Gill, one of the last lads to be trained at the Palace. Roy Dukes recalls the curtains that could not be opened automatically from the box – the operator had to leave the box to manually open them before each performance.
Another operator who assisted Jeff Collins was Ray Hudson, he was also a gentleman that worked in more than one of the cinemas described in this book. Ray had worked part-time at the Avion during the War, with Charlie Turner and knew the Avion at the time of George Davidson’s strict management. While at the Palace, Ray witnessed an amusing incident involving George Hatton in the latter’s capacity as ‘chucker-out’. One night a Customs and Excise officer came to inspect the tickets. He approached George Hatton saying, ‘I believe it’s possible to get into this cinema for nothing’. While saying this he strode into the auditorium and sat down — but not for long: George Hatton followed him in and then bodily threw him out!
In keeping with the obscurity that surrounds the precise dates in the Palace’s history it has been impossible to make a dated account of its post-war history. At some stage the Palace closed and endured a fairly extensive re-building programme that probably lasted about six months. Some say the work was prompted by a projection room fire. Others say there was a fire but it was not the cause of the rebuilding programme. It also seems that there were plans to drastically rebuild and enlarge the Palace. The new projection box was sited with this in mind. The rebuilding that did take place changed the projection box and replaced the original timber frontage of the cinema. The contractors were the Hardy Brothers of Aldridge, one of which went on to become a prominent local house-builder.
A new brick frontage was built and apparently the local Magistrates seized the opportunity to be fussy about a number of matters at the Palace before renewing its licence. It was also an opportunity to modernise the equipment. The old Kalee 6 projectors were replaced with Kalee 8’s and the old Gyrotone sound system was replaced with BTH. This change of equipment is recorded in the 1951 Kine Year Book suggesting that the rebuilding took place in 1950, but there is also reliable evidence that it took place in the summer of 1951! The strange thing is that after all these improvements the Palace never seemed to recover from its period of temporary closure. Business never returned to what it had been, but nevertheless the Palace continued showing films right into the sixties, and the Palace outlived the Regent in Brownhills, but closed its doors before the Avion.
It seems that the Palace closed in 1964. Jeff Collins remembers that business was good during the final week and that they probably closed with a Tarzan film, but the precise date of this event has again slipped away without memories or documentation to name the day it happened. The building was not immediately demolished and seems to have stood empty for about three or four years. Planning permission could not be obtained for any alternative use of the building. At the end of 1967 the Palace was included in the sale of the Avion and Dale, Willenhall, to Robert Gillette. The Midlands Electricity Board has a record of removing the electricity supply in August 1968, and this probably marks the demolition of the building. The land was sold again and today a small block of flats stands on the site, known as Lee Court. Perhaps it should have been called ‘Blood Tub Place’.
This remarkable material has have been very generously supplied by the great local historian Gerald Reece, and beautifully prepared for posting by the wonderful David Evans for blog readers to enjoy.
I thank Gerald and David for yet another remarkable article – you are a very wonderful and generous gentlemen.
Gerald Reece, like the author Ned Williams is of course a talented and superlative local historian, now resident in Devon, who wrote the seminal work ‘Brownhills – A walk into history’ upon which this blog stands.
If you have any thoughts or questions on the The Palace (Blood Tub) or any other cinema in Brownhills, please do share them – comment here, find me on social media or mail me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Thanks.