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Joy of Cranleigh – The Vanished Buildings – October 2019

Most of the Vanished Buildings of Cranleigh featured in the magazine during this year disappeared long ago, but the Regal Cinema closed only in March 2002. Newcomers to Cranleigh may be surprised to know that there was a cinema here so recently, while other readers remember it with affection and regret.

It seems that films (silent, of course) were first shown in Cranleigh just before the First World War in a barn near the Railway Hotel (now the Cranley Hotel) on the Common. The projectionist was Mr George Pirie, the baker whose shop was nearby, now called The Old Bakery.

The Regal Cinema in 1996

By 1915 films were shown in a hut with a corrugated-iron roof, behind the tobacconist’s shop of Ernest Lanchbury in the High Street, on the western side of Warren’s building yard (now M & S). It is said that his wife provided appropriate accompaniment on the piano – a skilled art. Belgian refugees from the First World War who had been staying at Oaklands used the ‘Cinematograph Hall’ to give a concert in that year as a ‘thankyou’ for the kindness shown by the people of Cranleigh. The ‘welcome back’ lunch for returning servicemen was held here on Peace Day 1919, with Mr Lanchbury generously foregoing the income from a film performance. By 1921 he was showing films regularly on Wednesday and Saturday evenings, and the building was called the ‘Central Hall’.

A list of the films shown in December 1930 (when it was called the Central Cinema) shows how ‘talkies’ were replacing silent films. The cinema was now open every evening from 6.00 to 10.00, with tickets costing 6d, 8d, 1s 2d and 1s 6d. It even opened on Christmas Day!

The cinema’s programme for December 1930 (courtesy of Mike Rackley)

Soon there were moves for the ‘Cranleigh Picture House’ to be replaced by a purpose-built cinema. Sir Eric Bonham of Knowle dug the first turf in April 1936 and the Regal Cinema was ready by the autumn. Sited on the Common, at the corner of East View Lane, it had a contemporary design and seated 395 people.

The opening ceremony had to be delayed by a week, but Lady Bonham duly performed it on October 30th. The first film to be shown was ‘Rhodes of Africa’, starring Walter Huston. A lavish souvenir programme accompanied the opening.

Advert in the Cranleigh Parish Magazine, December 1951

The Kinematograph Weekly ran an article on the Regal in December 1936, and called it ‘The ideal kinema’. It is ‘a pleasing little building in the main street of the village’, and ‘the latest type of Gaumont projectors are installed.’

When World War 2 broke out, Cranleigh received a very large influx of evacuees from London. The Regal rose to the occasion over Christmas 1939 and put on special matinees for children – local children one day, and the evacuees the next – all paid for by the Village’s Christmas Cheer Fund.

The Regal’s programme in December 1965 (from Round About Magazine, courtesy of Mike Rackley)

The programmes for selected years in the 1950s and 1960s show that Cranleigh people could watch films that became classics within walking distance of their own homes.

The cinema survived several disasters, including being flooded three times. Mr Bernard Tonks bought it in 1978, at a time when the business was struggling. It was open only three days a week as a cinema, and the rest of the time served as a bingo hall. Within 18 months he had returned the Regal to being a full-time cinema. Star Wars ran for four weeks in 1977, while ET ran for seven in 1982.

The cinema after the 1968 floods : the caption reads ‘Chocolates! Ices! Life Jackets?’ (Cranfold Life, courtesy of Mrs Audrey Sayers)

In the early 1980s, Farnham, Godalming and Haslemere all lost their cinemas. The Regal, however, was refurbished in 1986 and managed to continue.

Sadly, eventually the Regal could no longer resist the national trend for small cinemas to become uneconomic. It was forced to close in March 2002. Within a month, the building was demolished. Flats were built in its place, with the name of Pavilion House, after the nearby cricket club pavilion, replacing Cranleigh’s much-missed cinema.

Pavilion House, 2019 (site of Regal Cinema)

The Cranleigh History Society meets on the second Thursday of each month at 8.00pm in the Band Room. The next meeting will be on Thursday October 10th, when David Latimer will speak on ‘Parson Woodforde: the diary of a country parson’.

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