Stenhousemuir Picture Palace

Main Street

The craze for roller skating swept the Falkirk district in the first decade of the 20th century, but by 1911 it was largely over.  A purpose-built wooden building had been erected to the south of the Main Street in Stenhousemuir near the Point – and called the “Larbert Skating Rink.”  It had opened in December 1909 but closed just two years later.  It measured 110ft by 45ft externally and had retiring rooms, a refreshments stall, and ample spectator accommodation.  The floor was of maple, as was usual for such venues.  Although it did not have a presence on the street frontage, it was ripe for conversion into a cinema and late in November 1911 Albert Faulkner of Grangemouth bought it.  After conversion work and redecoration, it opened on 29 January 1912.  That night there was an act by RM Strathmore, a popular Scottish comedian, with his dog and concertina.  The film was about the Delhi Durbar showing the principal events of the King’s visit to India – a reminder that cinemas were to become the main source of news.

Illus 1: Extract from the 1917 Ordnance Survey Map showing the “hall” to the south of the Plough Hotel (National Library of Scotland).

This mix of variety and film continued for almost two decades with local artists performing from time to time.  Clubs and societies in the area were often given the free use of the premises to raise money for deserving charities.  The Larbert and Stenhousemuir companies of the Voluntary Aid Detachments were particularly active (see Calatria 35 – Hospital Provision in World War 1) and vied with each other in their fundraising activities.  Both used the Stenhousemuir Picture Palace before the First World War broke out, courtesy of A Faulkner.   Faulkner had a special interest in the National Union of Railwaymen’s Orphan Fund and Sunday concerts were held here and at the Empire Theatre in Grangemouth.  During the war money was collected for a number of good causes, including the Red Cross, Soldiers’ Comforts, Prisoners of War and so on.  So much money was raised in the cinema at Stenhousemuir that a local man wrote a short poem which the management made into a slide and displayed on the screen in April 1918.  The first verse went:

“Said Little Will to Kaiser Bill-
“I swear by Royal Albert,
If British money turns the scales,
I’ll blame it all on Larbert.”

There were six verses in all, in each of which one word was missing and this the audience was requested to supply.  Great enthusiasm prevailed, and by the time the verses were shown for the third time the words were all supplied!

As Faulkner had an interest in other cinemas he appointed Thomas Bishop as his manager at Stenhousemuir.  Bishop married Faulkner’s daughter, but in June 1916 enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery.  He was gassed in France on 22 July 1917 and never recovered full health.

Charitable causes continued after the war.  In October 1923, for example, there was a grand concert for the Redding Pit Disaster Fund.  By then Faulkner’s daughter, Mrs Bishop, was running the Stenhousemuir cinema.  It was during her management that two reels of films mysteriously went missing in 1929.  Eventually they were tracked down to a fourteen year old boy who had a small cinematograph machine of his own and had stolen them, concealing the theft from his parents by cutting the films into short pieces similar to the strips that he had been given by them.  Although the films were recovered they were of no further commercial use.  One of them was part of a serial film which could not be replaced in the country, causing havoc with scheduling elsewhere.

1929 was a landmark year for the Picture Palace.  L B Truman was appointed as manager to run a new building which was opened on 23 December by Mrs Beckett, Gilmerton.  It now had a main entrance off Main Street – described as “a beautiful doorway of Canning Ware”, that is to say that it had a frame of speckled enamelled steel.  Its impact was, however, diminished by building two large shops with a dwelling house above as part of the frontage – the front being built of stone with a green slated roof. 

Illus 2: 1947 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

Above the Canning Ware frame was a moulded arched pediment containing the words “THE/ PICTURE/ PALACE” and recessed within the frame were four doors to give ample access.  This entrance led to a large foyer at one end of which was placed the staircase to the balcony.  The large auditorium, which had seating for over 700, had a barrel-shaped ceiling divided into panels with main ribs at the principals.  The walls were also panelled having an ornamental frieze.  The proscenium had large and rich mouldings with an ornamental panel above, the relief being picked out in gold.  There was a small stage and space for the orchestra so that variety shows could be staged.  Suitable retiring rooms and lavatory accommodation were naturally provided.  The operating, rewinding, and generating rooms were all entered from the outside of the building, and music was provided by a special transmission of gramophone records from a chamber beside the operating box to cones on either side of the screen.  The cost was between £7000 and £8000, and the architects were Messrs Wilson and Tait, Grangemouth.  The contractors were: mason and brickworks – J Murdoch & Co, Larbert; carpenter and joiner works – Mr H Bain, Larbert; slater – Mr J Westland, Camelon; plaster and cement work – Mr D Macnair, Falkirk; plumber work – Mr J Mitchell, Larbert; electrical work – Allan & Mayes, Falkirk; painter work – Mr A Glegg, Larbert; glazier work – Daniel O’May, Falkirk; steel work –Kelvin Construction Co Ltd, Glasgow; heating work – Mr S D Murray, Pitt Street, Glasgow; ventilating work – Climax Ventilation & Heating Co, Glasgow; upholstering work – Mr W Munnoch, Howgate, Falkirk.

Illus 3: The Picture Palace, Stenhousemuir.

It was now called the “New Picture Palace” and its opening coincided with the conversion of the cinema at Stenhousemuir to sound.  With the advent of talkies at Faulkner’s Picture Palace in Stenhousemuir, John Hope, who had played the piano for the silent pictures for nearly twelve years, no longer had a role.  The proprietors, Mr Faulkner and Mrs Bishop, along with the manager LB Truman and the employees, marked the occasion by presenting Mr Hope with a gold-mounted fountain pen.

The materials from the dismantling of the old skating rink were then put on sale.  The items included give a fair idea of the nature of the original building – 3,000ft of 6ins by 2½ins battens, 3,000ft of 3ins by 2ins battens, 600 square yards of 5/8 ins sarking, 300 square yards of weather boarding, 350 square yards of maple flooring, 250 square yards of 7/8 ins tongue and groove flooring, 200 square yards of ½ ins tongue and groove lining, 10 Belfast roof couples of 45ft span.

The 1930s was a good decade for cinema owners and attendances were large.  New films were being produced in large numbers and films overtook variety in popularity.  Nevertheless, the local community turned out en masse for the performances of local groups.  These were usually held on a Sunday when the cinema would normally have been closed.  By prior agreement with the council and the church, the Faulkners also showed films on Sundays for special occasions.  In March 1937 they put on a grand picture show in aid of an Old Folk’s Treat for the Coronation.

In the Second World War the Picture Palace was an important part of the war effort, as it had been in the First.  It screened propaganda films, news, and government announcements, as well as continuing with the fundraising.  On 19 April 1942 Sir Harry Lauder appeared on behalf of the local Comforts Fund.  He must have visited almost every other cinema in the country!  A month later it was announced that until further notice the programme at the Palace would be on a two, instead of three, change basis – a minor inconvenience caused by the war.

Coming out of the war the manager of the Picture Palace, Mr CM Winton, was able to indulge in his hobby as an amateur radio operator and helped to reform the Stirlingshire branch of the Incorporated Radio Great Britain.  In 1950 Robert Reid took over as manager.  He had joined the Regal in Falkirk as chief operator sixteen years earlier, spending the last four as assistant manager.  The reason for his appointment was that the Picture Palace in Stenhousemuir had just been acquired by Fife Entertainments Ltd and became the Palace Cinema.

Illus 4: The shops which formed part of the 1929 frontage remain, but the cinema entrance to their left has gone. 2021.

The Palace Cinema was still open in 1966 but closed shortly thereafter.  It was the Top Flight Bingo Club by 1985.  More recently, the entrance and auditorium have been demolished, but the shops remain.  Modern flats have been built on the site of the auditorium.

Stenhousemuir Picture Palace              SMR 2222       NS 8680 8287

G.B. Bailey, 2021