Grangemouth Electric Theatre/Picture Palace

Zetland Place

Albert Henry Faulkner, a native of Birmingham, moved to Leith around 1906 and set up a small projection booth in Jane Street.  In 1909 he built his first permanent cinema (believed to be the second in Scotland), a corrugated iron structure at Broxburn.  From 1907 he attended the annual Grangemouth Show which was held in the East End Park (Zetland Park) as reported in the Falkirk Herald:

An excellent series of entertainments is being given on the showground each evening by Mr Faulkner.  The pictures are thoroughly up-to-date, varied and amusing, and above all are shown with an entire absence of flickering.  At each performance a short programme of vocal music was submitted, and singing competitions are announced for next week” ). 

(Falkirk Herald 28 September 1907, 5

Competitions of local talent were to become a hallmark of his stay.

In 1910 he moved his projection booth or picture-drome into a wooden hut, attracting much attention:

Since Mr Albert Faulkner has located his picturedrome in East End Park (at the showground) it has continued to provide capital entertainment to crowded houses.  At both performances each evening an excellent selection of pictures are thrown on to the screen, both dramatic and humorous.  By way of variety, Duncan Wright, Scotch Comedian, gives some original impersonations with a touch of Scotch wit, and Harry Fowler delights with renderings of popular songs “the Singing Shoe-Black.”

(Falkirk Herald 20 August 1910, 5). 

The singer was presumably a black and white minstrel.

In May 1911 Faulkner’s Picturedrome at East End seems to have become a semi-permanent feature, run on the two houses a night principle.  At the end of that month he ran a film showing the recent fire at the Empire Theatre in Edinburgh, the burning stage, the place where Lafayette’s remains were found, the funeral procession, and the wreath bearing the inscription “The Last Act”.  Lafayette was a famous magician who was killed in the fire and a sad reminder of the dangers of such halls of entertainment.  For the Portonians it was a tantalising taste of recent events from beyond the district and Faulkner was to become the mainstay of this form of news.  June 1911 saw him screening the weekly Pathé Gazette, which that week included the opening of the Scottish Exhibition at Kelvingrove Park.

Illus: Grangemouth Old Parish Church, c1950.

The year before this the Caledonian Railway Company had bought the old Parish Church in Zetland Place so that it could enlarge its railway network right up to the building.  The congregation built a larger and more ornate church in Ronaldshay Crescent and moved into it in June 1911.  Immediately Faulkner negotiated a lease of the empty building from the Railway Company and work started on site in the first week of July to convert it into an electric theatre.  The refurbished building was opened on 28 August 1911 by Dean of Guild Marshall. 

The ceremony having been completed, an excellent programme of pictorial items, interspersed with variety turns, was submitted for the company’s entertainment.  The selection of pictures was such that it was equally representative of both the dramatic and humorous element, the various objects being vividly portrayed.  The pictures were entitled “The Courier of Lyons”, “The Gypsy” was coloured.  “A Child’s Judgement”, “The New Stenographer”, “Going to Hear the famous Baritone”.

The old parish church had been designed by Alexander Black in 1865 and its conversion to a cinema was planned and supervised by Malcolm & Robertson, architects.   Ample stage accommodation was provided for variety acts along with retiring rooms for the artistes.  The pews in the back part of the gallery were removed and tip-up chairs installed, while in the pit the seating at the back was also taken away and replaced by plush-covered seats on a sloping platform.  The ventilation of the building was also improved and the interior nicely decorated to present a bright and pleasing appearance, enhanced by the introduction of electric lighting.  Lavatory accommodation was inserted to the south end.  The fireproof operating chamber was situated clear of the auditorium in the room behind gallery, where there was also an office for the manager.  Fire precautions were essential.  Doors for ingress and egress were fitted with “panic” bolts and a 3ins cast iron water pipe was led from the main to a fire hydrant and hose on the property.  The principal contractors were: mason work – James Primrose; carpenter and joiner works – Peddie and Grosart; plumber work – A Taylor & Son; plaster work – James Russell; electric light – Mr McIndoe.

Faulkner kept on good terms with the Railway Company and in June 1912 held a benefit performance at the Picture Palace in aid of the Orphan Fund of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants which raised £11.  This became an annual event.  He was very interested in the common good and the premises were often given free of charge to enable charities to gather funds.  In June 1912 he also gifted a silver medal with a gold centre as a prize in the Grangemouth Children’s Day competitions, and a few years later donated the “Faulkner Cup” for the boys.

1911 and 1912 were frenetic years for Faulkner and he established electric theatres in Grangemouth, Stenhousemuir and Bonnybridge.  He lived at 52 Talbot Street in Grangemouth and was very much part of the community.  It therefore came as a surprise to him when he learned in October 1912 that Grangemouth Town Council had been promoting the use of the Town Hall as a cinema and was considering an offer of let.  Faulkner arranged for his solicitor to meet the Council and offered £50 for the cinematographic rights of the Town Hall from 1 October to the following 31 March on the understanding that the Town Council would not let the hall for such purposes.  The Council agreed to inform the intended tenant that they would not precede with that let.  The Council continued to let the Town Hall for other purposes, except that Christmas and New Year when Faulkner made use of it for the larger audiences attending over the festive period.

AH Faulkner always kept his premises up-to-date in order to retain his audiences and in March 1913 he obtained permission from the Caledonian Railway Company to reconstruct the Grangemouth Picture Palace.  It was as well that he did, for that summer a rival cinema appeared on the scene in the form of the Empire Electric on Station Brae (later called La Scala).

Faulkner continued to support the Grangemouth Children’s Day and in 1914 had a matinee performance in aid if its funds at which he showed a film of the previous year’s gala.  Several artistes generously performed for free.  The outbreak of war that year came as a shock to many and Faulkner’s Picture Palace played its role in keeping spirits up.  In September a Sunday performance of sacred music was held in the theatre on behalf of the local Prince of Wales Fund.  In October a “go-as-you-please” competition was started to allow local people to show off their talent and to win prizes.  It was so popular that it ran for over a year and again knitted the venue to the community.

Other wartime recipients of the favoured use of the hall were the Red Cross, Soldiers’ Comforts, Motor Ambulance Fund, Winter Comforts for Soldiers, Wounded Soldiers, Grangemouth Dock Guards Comfort Fund, Queen Alexandra’s Nurses, and so on.  Faulkner fell foul of the recently introduced black-out restrictions on 24 April 1916 and was fined 7s 6d for failing to sufficiently obscure the light of the hall at 9.15pm.  The biggest of all the wartime events was held on Christmas Day 1917 when no less than 700 children, the sons and daughters of local soldiers and sailors, were entertained at Faulkner’s Picture Palace, with catering by the Central Comforts Committee.  The number of children who called for tickets exceeded expectation as on the last occasion only about a half that number had attended.  Owing to the large turnout it was not found possible to supply gifts of wearing apparel, as on former occasions.

Faulkner’s Picture Palace continued for several years after the war, but in 1920 AH Faulkner took over the La Scala and the old premises were let go.

Grangemouth Parish Church I                          SMR 990               NS 926 821

G.B. Bailey, 2021