Getting into the Cora to watch Flash Gordon

Wheatsheaf junction in 1951 showing The Cora.
Wheatsheaf junction in 1951 showing The Cora.
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Until the 1960s just about every suburb of Sunderland could boast its own picture hall.

One area of the town, Monkwearmouth, actually had two, and they were just over 300ft apart.

The Roker Cinema in Roker Avenue.

The Roker Cinema in Roker Avenue.

They were The Roker and The Cora.

Philip Curtis, of the Sunderland Antiquarian Society, looks back at their heyday.

Ah the memories! The days of the old picture house actually date to before most of us were born.

Of the two in Monkwearmouth, the Cora was the oldest.

The Cora was unusual in that the cheapest seats in the very front stalls were simply benches. They were very much like old school forms and the gentlemen’s toilets were situated outside, with access via the front stalls

Philip Curtis

It was opened in 1907 by James Tindle as The Wheat Sheaf Picture Hall.

But just four years later in 1911 the name was changed to The Coronation Picture Palace to mark the Coronation of George V that year.

However, it did not take long before it became known simply as The Cora.

The Cora was one of the smallest cinemas on Wearside and was known fondly among locals as ‘the flea pit’, a name which seems to have its origins after its temporary closure in 1930 by the local health authority.

The Cora Picture Palace in Southwick Road.

The Cora Picture Palace in Southwick Road.

But to be fair, a few of the other suburban picture halls in the town also carried this nickname.

The Cora re-opened shortly afterwards with talking films and carried on right until 1959, by which time it was being run by James Tindle’s widow, Margaret.

The Cora was unusual in that the cheapest seats in the very front stalls were simply benches.

They were very much like old school forms and the gentlemen’s toilets were situated outside, with access via the front stalls.

No-one seemed to mind this as outside toilets were in most of the homes in Monkwearmouth.

The prices were also cheaper than the cinemas in Sunderland’s town centre.

In the 1930s, a cheap night’s entertainment could be enjoyed at The Cora for 2d or 3d (1p in today’s money) whereas the Regal in Holmeside charged two shillings, or ten pence in today’s money.

Of course, The Regal would be showing the latest films whereas the Cora would usually be showing films which had been out for months.

Not far from the Cora, stood another cinema which was called The Roker.

This opened in Roker Avenue on October 15, 1915, and it was under the same management as The Villiers, which could be found on the other side of the town.

In the Roker’s early years, each film was accompanied by music which was played by a 10-piece orchestra.

And during the 1920s, Friday nights at The Roker were ‘trial nights’ when local amateurs could perform on the stage between the showing of the films (seemingly a little like Britain’s Got Talent).

It was felt that The Roker was a little classier than The Cora but didn’t compare with the cinemas in the town centre.

Like the Cora, in 1931, The Roker was modernized and converted to sound.

The first talkie film which was shown there was Sally and it starred Marilyn Miller and Joyce Brown.

In the 1950s, Saturday afternoon at the Roker was for children and the cinema was regularly packed out with youngsters to watch serials like Flash Gordon and Hopalong Cassidy.

Cartoons which were shown included Mighty Mouse and Popeye. This was held on Saturday afternoons as the large cinemas in the town centre usually held their children’s clubs on mornings of the same day.

They were far more organised with community singing and birthday celebrations.

Many Wearsiders will no doubt be able to recall one club song which began as follows:

‘We come along on Saturday morning

‘Greeting everybody with a smile.’

Can you fill in the rest of the lines?

The Roker outlasted the Cora by two years and closed on April 8, 1961. The film which finally brought the curtain down was Darby O’Gill and The Little People.

The growth in the popularity of television brought to an end all Wearside’s suburban cinemas but the memories linger on.

And we would like you to share them with us.

Can you recall The Cora, The Roker or the Saturday children’s clubs?

If you can cast your mind back to any of these, of any other cinematic memories to share with us, email chris.cordner@jpress.co.uk