Memories of golden age of Sunderland’s silver screen sought

The Grand cinema at Ryhope.

The Grand cinema at Ryhope.

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Memories of a Wearside picture house which was almost destroyed by fire during the Great Depression are being sought.

The former Grand Cinema at Ryhope is to be moved brick by brick and rebuilt at Beamish, as part of the museum’s new 1950s Town.

Old Ryhope - Beamish staff will be at Ryhope Carnival this Saturday to collect cinema memories.

Old Ryhope - Beamish staff will be at Ryhope Carnival this Saturday to collect cinema memories.

An appeal has now been launched to track down memories of the building and Geraldine Straker, a Remaking Beamish project officer, said:

“Maybe you worked at the cinema as an usherette or in the projection room, or perhaps you can remember going there. We’d love to speak to you.”

The Grand was built at St Paul’s Terrace in 1912 and owned by Ryhope Grand Palace Theatre Company. Isaac Womphrey served as the first manager.

Some 21 years later, when fire swept through the building on May 9, 1933, Isaac was still in charge - and helped firefighters bring the flames under control.

The fire had a good hold, and flames were leaping the full height of the building. But the firemen were soon masters of the situation.

Sunderland Echo, May 1933.

He was, however, left baffled as to how the blaze started and told the Echo: “There can be no question of it being caused by the electric light fusing.”

Smoke was spotted billowing from the cinema at 1.45am by Ryhope miner William Nicholson, who rushed to the nearby police station to raise the alarm.

Sergeant Gant used a poker to break open the cinema’s doors, but ended up summoning Sunderland Fire Brigade after being forced back by a cloud of thick smoke.

“The fire had a good hold, and flames were leaping the full height of the building. But the firemen were soon masters of the situation,” reported the Echo.

Old Ryhope.

Old Ryhope.

The blaze caused damage estimated at £3,000, after ruining the loud speakers of the “talkie apparatus” as well as scenery, the screen and stage.

Within a year, however, the 910-seat cinema was back in action - and it continued to entertain Ryhope residents until well into the 1960s.

Old Ryhope.

Old Ryhope.