Bo’ness Electric Theatre

Clydesdale Hall, Corbiehall

The Electric Theatre stood immediately to the east of the Clydesdale Hotel (later Seaview House) at Corbiehall.  A dance hall with a maple wood floor to its rear was let for social occasions.  Like the hotel, it was owned by Councillor John Jeffrey.  It was made of wood and fitted internally with the finest pitch pine and mahogany and had a seating capacity of 400.  An advert appears in the 30 December 1910 issue of the Linlithgowshire Gazette proclaiming a great New Year attraction at the Electric Theatre with a “splendid series of dramatic, instructive and amusing pictures.”  It appears to have been opened for a night before the official launch at the end of that month for a night dedicated to raising money for the Lancashire Miners’ Fund.  At the beginning of February 1911 Rosie Auld of London, a popular contralto and pianist, was engaged for a week to supply incidental music and render songs at the intervals.  She was so well received that she remained for three years.  Performances were at 8pm every day except Saturday when there was a 3pm matinee and performances at 6pm and 8pm.  The 6pm showing was a no smoking event “to give Ladies and Non-Smokers a privilege” (Linlithgow Gazette 3 February 1911, 1).  Singers and comediennes also frequently appeared on the bill.  For Fair Day in 1911 there were hourly performances, with changes of film at each.  Problems arose in the winter of 1911 when church organisations in the town conducted an agitation against Sunday entertainments.  They presented a petition to the Town Council in which they stated that a cinematograph entertainment was taking place at the Electric Theatre every Sabbath which, despite being advertised as sacred, was distinctly secular and that charges were made for admission.  The Council decided not to close the cinema.

Harry Harris was appointed as the manager and the hall was advertised as the most cosy in the town.  There was an obsession at this time for the free circulation of air and the management told its customers “we take this opportunity of drawing attention to the ventilation of the above theatre.  We have now installed large electric fans whereby the place is rendered the coolest and most comfortable hall in Bo’ness  Hall cleaned and disinfected regularly.”

In August 1911 a plan to erect a small gallery extension at the back of the Electric Theatre was approved by the Bo’ness Dean of Guild Court.  This stretched across from the hotel to the gable of the tall building to the east and was given a red tile roof.  The stage was enlarged, which allowed the 40 strong Grangemouth Choir to perform there in February 1912.  In March that year a new projector was acquired and effected a noticeable improvement “on the clearer and steadier pictures produced.”   It reverted briefly to the “Old Management” in April 1913 before Robert R Broome took up the post.  Under his management the theatre continued to flourish and in September 1913 its name was changed to the Coliseum.

Coliseum, Seaview, Corbiehall

In September 1913 it was showing a wide selection of films.  Mr Jeffrey was still the owner, Robert R Broome, manager, Madame L Leister musical directrix, and James Ainslie the regular operator.  The building was cramped and did not meet new regulations and so James Thomson, architect, was commissioned to prepare plans for a new cinema on the site.  The proposal was to remove the frontage and retain the hall as an entrance, erecting a larger hall behind it to seat 1200 to 1400 people.  In the meantime, the Coliseum continued to operate and in March 1914 it showed the hand-painted version of “Quo Vadis” – it had shown the original just two years before.  Like the Hippodrome it too showed films of the Children’s Fair Festival film which, in 1914, it boasted was 700ft long (Linlithgow Gazette 24 July 1914, 1).  However, when the First World War erupted it put all the plans on hold.  At the beginning of November recruiting teams from the 7th Battalion Royal Scots based in Blackness Castle made appeals from the platform for volunteers and quite a few young men came forward.  The cinema showed authorised government films of the war, such as the local battalion in camp.

The use of the old building could not continue and in March 1915 the Coliseum management urgently asked Bo’ness Town Council for a let of the Town Hall.  The provost responded with a first offer of terms – 10% of the total drawings, 10s per week for the hire of the piano, and light as per the meter.  This must have been declined, for a second offer was made for 25% of the drawings with a minimum charge of 5s per night for the hall and 7s 6d per night for the light and piano.  At the same time John Jeffrey submitted a plan to the Dean of Guild Court for the conversion of the existing picture hall into a shop and garage with a hall over the same.  The application was approved subject to amendment of the entrance and exit to the hall.  The building was taken over by George Ainslie and Sons as a motor garage.  In November 1922 it was completely destroyed by a fire that had originated at the rear of the hotel (Linlithgow Gazette 3 November 1922, 3).

Coliseum                                 SMR 2221                   NS 9973 8156

G.B Bailey (2021)