CultureHistory & nostalgiaLocal

Old cinemas in Bow and Mile End

At one point there was as many as 33 cinemas in Tower Hamlets, but the majority of the small independents are gone now. It’s hard to believe but there were four cinemas in just Bow and Mile End at one point, all since closed. Luckily a few precious photographs of these picture houses still exit.

Black and white photograph of the Ritz Cinema in 1897
The Ritz Cinema in 1897

Old Ford Picture Place (The Ritz Cinema), St. Stephen’s Road

The Old Ford Picture Palace opened on 16th November 1910. In 1937, it was re-named the Ritz Cinema. After Cinemascope was installed in the mid-1950’s, the seating capacity was reduced to 440. Programming old films, the Ritz Cinema was closed on 16th June 1961, with the 1955 film ‘The Road to Denver’ starring John Payne. It was converted into a bingo club, but this was not to last long as the building was destroyed by a fire one month later on 8th July 1961. The remains were demolished and housing has since been built on the site.

Black and white photograph of the outside of Genesis cinema 1970
Outside of ABC cinema (now Genesis) 1970

ABC, 93-95 Mile End Rd, now Genesis

The iconic building was opened in 1848 as a pub that later turned into a musical hall. After a fire a few decades later, it turned into a theatre called Paragon Theatre of Varieties and had stars like Charlie Chaplin and Laurel & Hardy performing in it regularly. In 1912 it was finally opened as a cinema and in 1999, after 10 years shut, Odeon was rescued and re-opened again as Genesis.

Odeon cinema Mile End 1974
Odeon cinema Mile End 1974

Odeon cinema, Mile End

The Odeon Mile End opened in 1938. It was designed by Andrew Mather and featured a distinctive Odeon style tower. The auditorium was both interesting and attractive with large decorative painted floral panels on the side walls close to the proscenium. Despite extensively remodelled in 1968, as ticket sales fell, the cinema was eventually closed in June 1972. It reopened as the Sundown Venture in September 1972, but was closed once more in January 1973. It remained closed until 1975 when it reopened briefly as a cinema specialising in Bollywood films. However, eventually it eventually closed permanently in 1978 and sat empty until it was demolished in May 1984 to make way for an office and residential block.

Empire, Roman Road

The Empire Picturedrome opened in 1912 and it was only a few decades ago that it fell into decline. The iconic white washed walls had only a few letters left when it closed in 1959. Does anyone remember their box office – the little window which opened directly to the street? This cinema was also called the Bug Hole. They screened out of season films that were not very popular. Today, there is nothing left of that old cinema.

Regal Cinema 1978
Regal Cinema 1978

Regal Cinema, 156 Bow Road

Originally on this site was the Three Cups public house. In 1855, they built the Bow Music Hall, then known as Marlow’s Music Hall.
It was rebuilt in 1892 as Eastern Empire Theatre. In 1899 operated as the Palace Theatre from 1903 until 1917, then was briefly re-named Tivoli Theatre from 1917 until 1918.

In 1923 it was rebuilt and renamed as the Bow Palace Cinema. Rebuilt again in 1935, it was reopened as the Regal Cinema. Closed by German bomb damage during World War II, it was repaired and re-opened in 1947 with Sally Gray in ‘They Made Me A Fugitive’ and ‘Big Business’.
The Regal Cinema was closed on 11th January 1958. The building was demolished in 1960 and is currently a modern housing development.

Old Vogue cinema on the corner of Burdett Road and Bow Road 1954
Old Vogue cinema on the corner of Burdett Road and Bow Road 1954

Vogue Cinema, 560 Mile End Road

Located on the corner of Mile End Road and Burdett Road, the Electric Theatre was opened in 1910. It was designed by architects Saville & Martin and was operated by United Electric Theatres Ltd.  In 1918, it was re-named La Boheme Cinema, and had a banqueting suite and cafe attached in an adjoining building. By 1937, this had been converted into the adjacent dance hall/ballroom. The cinema was re-named Vogue Cinema in 1940. It was badly damaged by German bombs in 1942 and its ruins were eventually removed in a road widening scheme of Burdett Road.
The former dance hall/ballroom remained untouched, and from the late-1970’s, through to the mid-1990’s operated as a gay disco named Benjys.

People's Palace Cinema
People’s Palace Cinema

People’s Palace Cinema, Mile end

It was opened by Queen Victoria on 14th May 1887. It burnt down in 1931, however the façade was retained and today forms the main frontage to the Queen Mary College of the University of London. The interior decorations were designed in a lavish Art Deco style by noted cinema architect George Coles.
The People’s Palace was closed in 1954, and was subsequently taken over by the adjacent university. It is now known as the Great Hall for the University, and serves a multifunction use, and is occasionally open to the public when concerts and special events are held. It was designated a Grade II Listed building by English Heritage in February 2009.

Find out why Genesis was voted the UK’s favourite cinema here

Your local news is at risk

Tabitha Stapely

Tabitha Stapely is the founder of Social Streets C.I.C, a not-for-profit media company using journalism to strengthen communities, particularly those in disadvantaged or neglected areas. Prior, Stapely was a writer and editor for national titles including The Telegraph Saturday Magazine, Elle and Red magazines.

7 thoughts on “Old cinemas in Bow and Mile End

  • If the Regal was demolished in 1960 this is clearly not a picture of it. The date does not appear to be correct anyway as the films on the bill were not released until after that.

    • Looks very much like Regal Kingston Upon Thames

  • Gavin McGrath is Most definitely right, that is Not ” The Regal Cinema ” in Bow Road, —- Memories of going to ” The Regal Cinema ” in the very early 1950’s are some of the happiest of my life, !!! I remember being taken there in 1954 to see ” SHANE ” with Alan Ladd, and when I was 8 years old, I was So desperate to see John Wayne in “The Searchers ” and after being told I was not old enough to be let in, — ( it would have been the cheapest seats , right up the front ) !!!!! I waited out-side , and when the programme started, But Not the main film, the uniformed door man was no where to be seen, So, out of sheer desperation , I silently entered the Foyer , and ducked under the cashiers Till and very quietly open one of the doors on the far side of the Foyer, I crawled on hands and knees to the middle seats, and to my absolute surprise —– NO ONE HAD SEEN ME !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Or if they had, they decided to let me stay, after watching ” Pearl @ Dean , and the ” Kiorra Orange Juice ” advert, —–I was about to have the MOST THRILLING two hours of my entire life, ——– its a Saturday afternoon, and I’m about to see —– John Wayne & Jeffery Hunter in ——– “The Searchers ” !!!!!!

  • No, it’s the former Empire/ABC located at 93-95, Mile End Road. Still open as a cinema called Genesis.

  • The photo of the Vogue Cinema shown on your site was taken before WW2. The caption should also read The corner of Mile End Road and Burdett Road. Badly damaged in normally stated 1942 but more likely 1941 during the London Blitz, it was pulled down some time before 1955 and its uneven concrete foundations remained for many years before Burdett Road at that point was widened. The pub opposite was gutted by fire (1941) and its shell remained boarded up for many years.
    A photo of the bomb damaged cinema can be found on the internet.

  • I used to live on Ewing Street, just off Burdett Road. It was demolished for “slum clearance” and no longer exists.

    Happy memories of the ABC cinema, in 1968 (or possibly 1969) my two sisters and I were taken to a screening of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and when we left the cinema the car from the film was parked outside! We also watched “The amazing Mr Blunden” in 1972, taken by our Nan. Happy days.

  • The road on which the Empire cinema stood was called Green Street before it was renamed Roman Road.

    I remember the derelict site of the Vogue remained for quite some time with a white, or maybe it was silver, screen painted on the end wall.

    I seem to remember another cinema almost opposite the Peoples’ Palace which was bombed during WW2 and was not rebuilt.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.