On Staplehurst Road, to the north east of Hither Green station, and now part of the Old Biscuit Factory development, is a rather elegant building next to the shops. Over the years it has been put to a variety of uses, but originally it was a cinema, as the OS 25” Map, surveyed in 1914 shows.
The Globe Cinema opened on 27th November 1913 with a capacity of around 700 and included features that audiences had come to expect of the cinema – tip up seats and a sloping auditorium (1). It was one of a quartet of cinemas that spring up in Hither Green and Lee in the late Edwardian period, perhaps the golden age for the growth of the cinema. The others were the Park Cinema, on the corner of George Lane and Hither Green Lane, and a pair on Lee High Road – the Imperial Picture Palace near Lee Green, and the Lee Picture Palace on the corner of Bankwell Road – Running Past covered the last of these a while ago, and will no doubt ‘visit’ the others at some stage.
The proprietor was Ethel Mary Smith; she was the landlord of The Green Man Hotel (see picture below) on Blackheath Hill. She was originally from Seaford in Sussex and was married to Charles Smith who was a Bermondsey ‘boy’ and was an insurance agent – he seems to have been the Managing Director of the firm behind the cinema (2). The earliest reference to Ethel at The Green Man was in both the 1911 Kelly’s Directory and the census of the same year. The 1914 Kelly’s had her still there but she had moved on by 1917. What happened to her after that is unclear, if only she had had a less common name ….
Presumably the Smiths felt that a cinema was a logical extension of the existing trade at The Green Man and the new inhabitants of Hither Green would want to come to the pictures. Whether it was competition from the other cinemas, poor bills or poor management, the cinema clearly struggled from the outset – it was put up for sale and temporarily closed on 16th February 1914, only 10 weeks after opening. It was sold at auction in April 1914 for £2,500 (3).
The cinema re-opened on 23rd April 1914 as the Playhouse, opening with the 1913 film Spartacus (source for poster here)
The licencing authority, the London County Council, clearly had concerns about the cinema; probably centering around fire safety and refused to grant another when the licence expired at the end of May 1915. While the Playhouse struggled for another few weeks, using non-flammable films, the request for another licence was refused and it closed around 19th July 1915. There were further unsuccessful attempts after the closure to get a new licence, the final attempt being in February 1916.
After closure, the cinema was taken over by what was to become Criterion Biscuits who seem to have already been on the site in the buildings behind the cinema (see the map above); this has already been covered by Running Past in one of the very earliest posts on the blog.
Photograph by David Simpson – made available on creative commons
The auditorium is no more; it was demolished as part of the development of the Old Biscuit Factory although is visible in the photograph above just before the building work started, however the front of the building remains. It is currently vacant – the original intention was to create a restaurant after it had finish being used as the sales base for the site. There was a convoluted, but ultimately successful attempt to change the use to a mixture of residential on the first floor and retail on the ground – but as of July 2016 it still appears vacant.
- Ken George (1987) ’Two Sixpennies Please – Lewisham’s Early Cinemas’ p40