Cippenham’s Cinema

The six month old Commodore Cinema, 20 May 1939

Cippenham has only ever had one cinema. Originally named the Commodore it opened its doors on 30 November 1938. A stone’s throw from Everett’s Corner, it was situated on the Bath Road at the east side of the junction with Stowe Road. It dwarfed other buildings in Cippenham Green at 90 by 180 feet with a height of 68 feet. Reflective of late deco trends, its orthogonal concrete pillared frontage had a simple elegance, distinct in appearance from the other cinemas in the district. The plain, mainly brick façade of Slough’s Granada which also opened in 1938 looked bland by comparison. The Adelphi, being more representative of the fashion at the start of the decade, presented a considerably more opulent appearance, and was arguably the most attractive.

The Commodore was built at a cost of fifty thousand pounds by the Manor Park Construction Co., which had been responsible for the nearby housing estate of that name. The development contained a ballroom (boasted to be the largest in the country) at ground level, above which was the auditorium and café – a typical arrangement for a cinema of the era. The auditorium with its seating capacity of 1500 was designed to host live entertainment in addition to cine projection. It possessed a 45 feet wide proscenium and a 17 feet deep stage which was equipped with a Lafleur (Hammond) electronic organ. Backstage, four entertainers’ dressing rooms had been provided.

The filmed opening night ceremony was presided over by the Mayor of Slough, E. T. Bowyer and was attended by 600 people including other local dignitaries and film artists from the nearby Pinewood and Denham Studios. A telegram from the actress Valerie Hobson wishing the cinema well was read out by the cinema manager. In contrast, the Granada’s opening night earlier the same year was presided over by Leslie Howard and telegrams were received from Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Clarke Gable and Bette Davis among other great names. Perhaps this was an early sign of how things would be, for although Cippenham’s cinema measured up on facilities it never enjoyed the same level of success as its nearby counterparts. Films shown on the opening night were Start Cheering and Mad about Music.

The Commodore stayed open through the war putting on a film billing that was changed bi-weekly and dances every Tuesday and Saturday. A reminiscence can be found on the internet from someone who remarked how nice it was to see the cinema lit up in neon once again after the war had ended. In October 1949, the cinema was purchased by the Essoldo circuit and from then on it was known as the Essoldo. Through the fifties, its weekly dance was popular; nicknamed Dollies – although nobody can remember how the name came about. As a cinema, however, the Essoldo never seemed to show the films that people wanted to see. Perhaps being further from the centre of Slough it couldn’t attract the numbers to justify more costly cinematic offerings. Many people today have memories of watching films in the fifties at the Granada, Adelphi and Ambassador in the Farnham Road, but few can remember going to the Essoldo.

The Essoldo Cinema in Cippenham circa 1957

At the start of the sixties, the Essoldo was occasionally a music venue for bands. For instance, Mick Dee & the Jaywalkers are documented to have performed there 15 April 1961. Although not a recognisable name today (or even back then) at times their line-up featured one future member of the Animals and two of Deep Purple. As a music venue in this era, however, the Adelphi considerably outshone the Essoldo. The Rolling Stones, Walker Brothers, Roy Orbison and many other rising stars of the sixties performed at the Adelphi. The Beatles played there on two occasions.

Eventually the Essoldo ceased to operate as a cinema and other uses were found for it. It was certainly used as a Bingo hall in the sixties and early seventies – which was a common fate for cinemas as the success of television increasingly impacted on cinema going. Once again, however, the Essoldo was outdone by the Adelphi, with it’s glitzy ‘Las Vegas’ atmosphere and higher stake games. It is known that at some time there was a hairdressing salon in the Essoldo, and that it was used for dance lessons.

Alternative Night in Cippenham, 1982

Flyer from 1982 advertising a motley selection of bands appearing on Thursday’s Alternative Night at Libertys

For some time in the early seventies the Essoldo’s doors were closed completely, but near the end of the decade the ballroom was converted into a snooker hall. Snooker had been growing in popularity since being televised and the new Herald Snooker Club appeared a successful venture although it is difficult to find anyone with memories of what it was like. Around this time the building frontage was altered to create separate entrances for the snooker club on the left and the upstairs on the right. The auditorium was converted into a discothèque night-club named Libertys. The club did well and its mainstream ‘soul nights’ on Friday and Saturday were often filled to capacity. Patrons enjoyed opening extensions to 2 am at a time when late licenses weren’t common. Libertys was a cut above other clubs nearby such as Henry’s or Studio 1, having a spacious layout with large dance floor and a balcony. The décor was sumptuous and there were ample plush seating areas. Less mainstream music tastes were also catered for earlier in the week with nights for rhythm & blues, heavy rock and metal, futurism and new romanticism.

Essoldo Demolition

Captured by an A-level photography student from a rear garden in Stowe Road, 1986. The moment a demolition worker loses his footing.

After a few years, Libertys began to flag in popularity and the name was changed to Shoes. The whole building finally closed down. It was demolished in 1986 and a Jaguar car showroom was built in its place. Many people, spanning generations have fond memories of nights spent there.

Aerial image source: Britain from Above. www.britainfromabove.org.uk

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10 Responses to Cippenham’s Cinema

  1. Freda (Swan) Loeding says:

    I took ballroom dancing lessons with Bill and Rose Phillips. They taught ballroom dancing for years. We loved going to Saturday morning pictures at the Essoldo in the late 50’s. I worked for a short time as an Usherette on weekends. While I was working we had a small fire and I had to help evacuate the customers to safety. We even made the news in the Slough Observer. One of my greatest memories was seeing Gone with the Wind at the Essoldo. It was the only cinema that could handle that big of a screen. The lines were so long with people wanting to see this spectacular film.

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    • Christine Taylor says:

      I did too Freda, ballroom dancing and Saturday morning pictures. I remember you from Westgate School, I started there in 1958 when it first opened. I was Christine Marsh then.

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  2. Carol Morgan (nee Wood) says:

    I went to the Saturday morning cinema and learned ballroom dancing at the Essoldo in 1958 with Bill & Rose Phillips. On 30th June 1961 I went on my first date with Dennis Morgan (now my husband of nearly 54 years), and we saw Carousel. We used to go to the Essoldo regularly and also the Granada and the pop shows at the Aldephi. Most youngsters went to these places and it kept them off the streets.

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  3. Christine Taylor (Marsh) says:

    Like Freda, I too had ballroom dancing lessons at the Essoldo and went to Saturday morning pictures there. Loved Cippenham, still do although I live near Aylesbury now, but I often visit as my best friend (of 60 years) still lives there near Asda. I went ot Westgate School, my how it has changed, went to the 40th and 50th reunions, great memories shared there.

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    • Nigel Furlong says:

      Hello Chistine.

      I to went to Saturday morning picture. The talking camel?
      Westgate as well. 1963 -67
      Lived in Moreton Way. Went back there30 years ago and only the park near the motorway was able to rememeber.

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  4. Rick Hall says:

    No mention of the coffee bar, where you could get “frothy coffee” in see-through, “Pyrex type” shallow cups and saucers? Much loved by the “Mods” and “Rockers” as a meeting place.

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  5. David Heycock says:

    I grew up in Chippenham through the 1950s and the Essoldo was our local cinema. We had many great memories built there particularly the early Disney movies.
    The cinema was famous for Saturday morning flicks and for one shilling you gained entry with enough change for an ice lolly on a stick. These sessions showed 10 or 15 short films featuring cartoons and cliff hanger super hero series. Each week finished with some hero about to go down to some calamity or other and you had to be sure to be there the next week to see how he got out of it.
    In the early 60s the cinema was used as a bingo hall with the open outcry system and I got a job as a runner. I blew a whistle when someone called out ‘Bingo’ and then had to gather their card and run it up to the compere who would ratify the call and announce the prize. During intermission I sold drinks and ice creams from a tray strapped around my neck.
    The Essoldo was a place of magic for me and now after more than 60 years I remember it like it was yesterday. I even dream of it sometimes.

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  6. David Morris says:

    Remember seeing “The Robe”” in the early 50s.
    The Essoldo was the first cinema in Slough to have CinemaScope with full Stereophonic sound. Wonderful experience.

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  7. Christine Taylor says:

    I lived in Moreton way too, number 60 on the corner by the bus stop. Moved to Slough in 1966.

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  8. Phil says:

    The nightclub was called Alexanders around 1980/81. Roy Stewart used to DJ and it had a great Phoenix arcade game!

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