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The story of Ryhope’s 1912 Grand Electric Cinema, from its plush beginnings to becoming the latest exhibit at Beamish Museum

There is great excitement at Beamish Museum at the moment with the news that the former Grand Electric Cinema from Ryhope is to open there following a brick-by-brick removal.

Sunday, 13th March 2022, 4:55 am

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The “new” exhibit is scheduled to open in October 2022 and will be a justifiable source of pride to Ryhopeans. The museum can receive up to 750,000 visitors in a year.

Here is a little more about the cinema, which later became a bingo hall.

Whereas today Sunderland has a single, very swish multiplex, for much of the 20th century there were cinemas dotted all around Wearside - with varying levels of grandness.

The former cinema in 2016 when it was being used to store cars. Google maps.

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People of a certain vintage can still name and rate them; from the Art Deco splendour of the Odeon on Holmeside, to the Millfield Cinema on Hylton Road – the Milly – generally regarded as a “flea pit”. Ryhope had one of the better venues.

Officially called the Grand Picture Palace Ltd, the cinema stood at the junction of St Paul's Terrace and Ryhope Street South. It opened on December 16, 1912.

The cinema had seating for 910 and a stage which allowed cine-variety; live entertainment between films. In about 1930 a WE (Western Electric) sound system was installed and the place was re-named the Grand Theatre. Posh or what?

Jack Taylor was born in Ryhope in 1909. Aged 21 he was paid off from his job as a blacksmith and followed a natural career path, becoming a projectionist at the Grand. This coincided with a pivotal moment in cinema history.

The site of the Grand Electric Cinema in March 2022.

Jack later recalled: “I was paid 10/- a week and it rose to 25/-. I was there when the first talkie was shown. It was Al Jolson in The Singing Fool.

“Geordie ‘the bugger’, who was a terrible loud talker, was there shouting his mouth off saying that you couldn’t possibly make a picture talk. When it did he was speechless.”

People who mange to know nothing and everything at the same time are not unique to the social media age.

Bob Brown had memories of sitting in the “tanner end” in the late 1940s watching Roy Rogers, Hope & Crosby, Charlie Chan and more.

Inside the former cinema.

He recalled: “Two ounces of sweets or some liquorice root and a seat in the tanner end was more than a trip to the pictures. It was a passport to heaven.”

By the 1960s cinemas globally had been financially hammered by television. The Grand Theatre was no exception and, like many such establishments, was converted into a bingo hall.

There was good news and bad. Sunderland had one fewer cinema, but the building was preserved. For another example of this, pop into Mecca Bingo on Holmeside where the Art Deco interior is as striking as it was when it opened as a cinema in 1932.

Sadly, the Ryhope bingo hall eventually closed too. The building was used from 1997 to store cars and their parts before owners, Angela and Gary Hepple, donated it to Beamish in 2015. Dismantling began in September 2020.

Staff outside the Grand Electric (plus policeman) in about 1920.

Soon it will reopen 15 miles from its original home in Beamish’s 1950s Town. With any luck Ryhope’s Grand Electric cinema could still be in use in another 100 year’s time.:: Our thanks, yet again, to Philip Curtis of the Sunderland Antiquarian Society

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