Last Friday evening I was joined by three other founder members of the now defunct Friends of Abbeydale Picture House charity to attend a memorable event at said Abbeydale Picture House.
The evening was part of the Imperial War Museum’s 100 nationwide performances (Sheffield being their 98th) of the famous 1916 silent film – Battle of the Somme – as part of the First World War Centenary Commemorations.
The four of us arrived at 7.30pm and the evening began with four poems from A.E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad, performed first by voice then by piano and violin. Quite a moving start. This was followed by a long introduction from a representative of the Imperial War Museum who is touring the country with this event. Apparently when the film was first released it was, at one stage, being shown at five separate cinemas throughout Sheffield with the Cinema House in Barker’s Pool showing it at 2.30, 4.30, 6.30 and 8.30pm daily!
The film remains one of the most successful British films ever made. It is estimated over 20 million tickets were sold in Great Britain in the first two months of release and the film was distributed world-wide to demonstrate to allies and neutrals Britain’s commitment to the First World War. It is the source of many of that conflict’s most iconic images and was made by British official cinematographers Geoffrey Malins and John McDowell. It was made in five sections and these were slowly trickled to the cinemas to keep the interest going and boost national morale. The tone was generally upbeat but some scenes were nevertheless very harrowing and conveyed the horrors of war in what was then a very different world. The excellent musical score was by Laura Rossi and superbly performed by the 50 piece Endcliffe Orchestra.
It was wonderful to hear live music once again at The Abbeydale and confirmed what many performers have previously said – that the acoustics here are the best in Sheffield. Especially now that the suspended ceiling has been removed to expose the original domed ceiling.
After the performance we met Nick Potter of the CADS (Creative Arts Development Space) Trust who is leading the latest attempt to restore the cinema to its former glory. He kindly gave us a guided private tour and CADS progress is very apparent in what is a mammoth task. The building now seems to be in good hands and is definitely going in the right direction.
Since the inevitable demise of the Friends of Abbeydale Picture House I have continued to support the various attempts to help this wonderful Grade II listed building and at long last the dreams I had when I first became involved with this iconic cinema look to be coming true. It was an exceptionally difficult and distressing time for us as founder members during our involvement with the ‘Friends’ and unfortunately we were stymied in our efforts by factors which I will not go into. Many of you know the true story as to why our attempts were unsuccessful, why the ‘Friends’ lost so many Trustees and volunteers and exactly who was responsible for the failure. However we have every faith in the building’s ability to survive these ups and downs and the atmosphere inside is now one of openness, warmth, and friendliness.
We rounded off the evening by visiting the Picture House Social which is in the basement of the cinema where the old nightclub and snooker hall used to be. This is an incredibly successful venue and one of THE places to go in Sheffield’s nightlife. We didn’t stop long as being four ‘crumblies’ we stuck out like sore thumbs! Try it anyway, you’ll be amazed by the buzz of the place.
I would urge you to support any events put on at The Abbeydale. They are on the verge of obtaining a full operational licence so there will be many more things to see. Keep an eye on the press and the CADS website as they do deserve our full backing.
This landmark Grade II listed building needs to be put back on the map again, and I think that CADS are just the people to achieve this. Please support them in any way you can.