The hidden history of Sneinton’s art deco cinemas

The hidden history of Nottingham’s golden cinema past: we delve into Sneinton’s art deco buildings
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When it comes to cinemas, Nottingham has had more than its fair share of silver screens. While there were plenty in the city centre, many smaller venues sprung up in the surrounding areas to cater to different communities including Bakersfield.

The art deco building that once housed Rio cinema is still visible today standing near Tesco Supermarket. It was built in the late 1930s which was a boom time for cinema thanks to the introduction of sound. Sneinton, for a brief period, had two very successful cinemas.

It started with The Dale Cinema in 1932 which was built at the junction of Sneinton Dale and Hardstaff Road. The stylish building was built using local labour which couldn’t have come at a better time given the financial difficulties the country faced at this time. Unemployment figures were soaring with over 15 per cent of Nottingham’s workforce out of work.

The cinema tapped into local life, especially during the war as the directors rewarded five Sneinton ex-prisoners of war with £5 cheques. The men were being treated in hospital after their safe return home after one was shot down over Germany and another captured in Crete in 1945. The presents, which were presented at the cinema, also included a bouquet and a puppy.

Despite being located in Sneinton, the cinema was pitched at a wider audience thanks to a car park and capacity for 1,500 patrons. It only lasted about 25 years as television sets moved into the home in the fifties, cinemas began to close. The Palace on Sneinton Road had already shut in 1945 but The Dale finally followed in 1957.

The Rio cinema opened in nearby Bakersfield to offer new cinema to the surrounding growing estates such as Carlton. The Rio Cinema was built for Sam Graham’s Levin Circuit and opened in September 1939 with Dick Foran in “Hearts of the North”. It was designed in an Art Deco style by architect John Tait who was working out of the office of architect Reginald W.G. Cooper. It had one screen with 980 seats.

The circular building of the former Rio cinema in BakersfieldThe circular building of the former Rio cinema in Bakersfield
The circular building of the former Rio cinema in Bakersfield

Amazingly, the grand cinema only took five months of construction to open on what had previously been, a wasteland. With a short introduction, the cinema was officially open to the public on boxing day.

The cinema was also the scene of a police chase in 1950 after a policeman heard a noise and went to investigate. He arrived in time to see two men throw an attache case over the wall which was later revealed to be full of sweets stolen from inside the theatre. The men spotted the policeman, and took off running but were caught by PC Lancaster.

While the haul wasn’t a large one, as the men only got 4 worth of goods, they were later charged with a string of robberies from different cinemas across Nottingham. Not only that but one of the men, who was a driver at an engineering firm constructed the break-in tools at his place of work in preparation for the robberies. The men had forced the exit door open and the door retaining bar dropped from the wood.

This sadly wasn’t the last time that the Rio was hit by theft as an ex-cinema assistant was sentenced to two years after stealing £40 in cash and £90 in cigarettes in 1955. As the assistant manager, the man had been in a position to access the safe key and had later worked at a cinema in Beeston where he had stolen £1494. He was later arrested in Dublin where he had fled after the robbery.

Visitor numbers at The Rio began to fall in 1959 and it officially closed its doors in November of that year after the business failed to pick up. The Rio Cinema closed out with Norman Wisdom in “The Square Peg! and “Dateline Nightmare”. It was converted into a bingo club temporarily.

Five years later, it was reopened as a music hall, when Federick C. Woodward applied for a license for the venue in the hopes of providing ‘straightforward family entertainment’ - whatever that was.

The application was met with objections from the Nottingham City Licensing Justices to which Woodward appealed even refusing to open it as a members-only venue. In a newspaper article, he placed high hopes on providing a family atmosphere that recaptured the atmosphere of an old music hall. He said, ‘Whereas a wife might stay at home while her husband went to the pub, she would come with him to the Rio.’

He had also started a petition among locals to gain support for what he saw as a potential ‘asset’ to the community. He said that “I took over the Rio in March, it was appalling. All the windows were smashed, all the piping pulled out...it was really in a shocking condition.”

The appeal was ultimately successful the new music hall, which kept the same name, opened in November 1964 under the city councillor’s entertainment company. It boasted space for 500 people, being fully licensed and waiters who brought drinks during the 3.5-hour shows.

The first signs of trouble were reported in the theatre newspaper, The Stage in 1967. It reported that the Rio was to be named, The Reg Guest Theatre Bar thanks to the performances of the local well-known act, the Reg Guest Trio. The newspaper wrote that licensee Bill Cooke hoped: “to woo an entirely new clientele through the portals of his excellent little theatre bar.” It went on to mention that the theatre had been struggling to afford the ‘astronomical salaries of the stars and that the front row seats had been removed so that artists were forced to perform cabaret style at floor level.

There were also plans to introduce a circular restaurant that year. However, it doesn’t appear that efforts to save the theatre worked as jobs for a new Supasave supermarket began to appear in 1968 and it remained a discounted food shop until 1982. Sadly, the supermarket chain applied for voluntary liquidation with the potential loss of 600 jobs from its 19 stores across the Midlands - including Nottingham.

The former cinema has since been used as a Nisa supermarket, and storage and is now home to Taekwondo classes.