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Frederick Street Cinema, Killyleagh, Co. Down

As a cinema-loving native of Killyleagh, County Down in Northern Ireland, I was fascinated to discover an article about the Killyleagh Cinema on the ‘CinemaTreasures.org’ website.

I grew up with all of the characters mentioned in the article; and on more than one occasion, was reprimanded by Mr McMurray for my youthful hijinks in the Cinema.

Nobody ever referred to ‘the Cinema’ in those days – to us it was always ‘the Pictures’ or ‘the Flicks’.

Seats in the front half of the building were uncushioned and were referred to by us boys as ‘the boards’. It cost 6d (sixpence) to sit in them; and for those who could afford 1s6d (one and sixpence), the seats to the rear were cushioned. Seats in the balcony cost 2s6d (two and sixpence) and gave the best view of the screen.

Along with the town’s pubs, churches and fish-and-chip shops, the Cinema was the community hub, beloved by all and well frequented six days a week (always closed on Sundays).

I knew the place both as the ‘Picture House’ and later, in the 70’s, as the Baptist Church Hall.

My thanks to David Simpson, whose article below just brings the memories flooding back.

Allan Matthews, native of Killyleagh


Cinema, Frederick Street, Killyleagh BT30

In Killyleagh, County Down, the Cinema opened in February 1933 with “Scandal for Sale”, starring Anna Neagle. It was opened by Harold McMurray, whose drapery store was suffering from the effects of the 1930’s depression and who hoped that the new talkie cinema business would provide a source of ready cash. The stone building, previously used by Thompson’s Butchers, was leased from the Dufferin family for £20 a year for five years, renovated and had seating and projection equipment installed. Projectionist Jack Whitley, who is reputed to have never missed a night in forty years, manned the Ross projectors with their RCA sound system. Power was provided by a large engine purchased from Bangor’s Royal Hotel: it was so heavy that it often needed a few hefty volunteers from the queue to get it started!

Although it was an instant hit, money was very tight and the Cinema owed its subsequent survival, rather ironically, to Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1936. A refugee named Utitz came to Northern Ireland and received a grant to reopen the Shrigley Tannery, providing much needed work for the Killyleagh residents. In the Cinema improvements included the addition of a 40-seat balcony. As with many enterprising managers, Mr McMurray often filmed local sporting and leisure events to show on the big screen. The first colour film was “Wings of the Morning” (1937, starring Henry Fonda and Leslie Banks, the first Technicolor film shot in the British Isles) and the first 3D film was “House of Wax” (1953, starring Vincent Price). Also in the 1950’s a CinemaScope screen was installed.

The Cinema was leased by William McGonigle from Mr McMurray in 1968. He later purchased the Cinema outright, but, not long afterwards, sold it to the Baptist Church and it closed in 1972. In September 2008, when my photograph was taken, it was still a Baptist Church.

Contributed by David Simpson

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