- Click here to view the National Heritage report that led to Grade 2 lising of the building.
It was in the late 1930’s that Manchester businessmen Jackson and Newport, set their sights on building a new Super Cinema in Stretford. The pair already owned Stretford’s Picturedrome Cinema on the corner of King Street and Chester Road (next to where the Post Office now stands) as well as cinemas in Stockport and Reddish. They purchased the site on Chester Road and demolished a terrace of Georgian shops.
They employed architect Henry Elder to design the new building. Elder’s architecture was the at the height of art deco fashion; the main entrance on Chester Road was designed in the shape of a cash register flanked by two phallic symbols and the side entrance on Edge Lane was surmounted by a third phallic symbol, these represented Elder’s view that the modern film industry was dominated by money and sex. The commission for the work was given to local firm Normantons of Plymouth Grove, Mr Jackson was Clerk of Works and Jack Siddy was night watchman. The internal decoration was done by Holdings of Brooks Bar and included two huge murals to either side of the main stage by famous artist Frederick H. Baines, they depicted ‘Music and Dance’ on one side and ‘Comedy and Drama’ on the other.
The Longford was a revolution in Cinema Design. The building featured; sound-proofing, under-seat heating and air-conditioning. The foyer was floored in Venetian Marble. The Auditorium was decorated in tangerine and silver-blue art-deco designs. The room also contained a stage, which could be used for theatrical performances by various groups including the Streford Amateur Operatic Society.
The building was the first in Britain to be illuminated by neon tube lighting. The arrangement of the business was that the Longford would be used as a Cinema for three weeks of the month and as a theatre for the fourth week. Cinema attendants were forbidden from accepting gratuities. The stalls sat 1400, the balcony sat 600 and the café sat 146.
There was a car park to the rear of the building for free use of patrons, access to this car park was down Trafford Grove. Trafford Grove, which runs in three double blocks along the Bridgewater Canal from St Ann’s Church to the Cinema was built in the 1860’s by Sir Humphrey de Trafford. The Grove was built for Pedestrian access only, the houses having wide front gardens with a narrow walkway between.
Jackson and Newport approached the de Trafford estates for permission to remove the front gardens and put a road between the houses, but due to the tenant’s contracts, this could not be done without the permission of the residents.
The company therefore approached the tenants of the end block and told them that if they agreed to the proposal then they would modernise all their houses and true to their word when the road was completed the Longford Cinema Company installed Bathrooms and hot running water in all the houses which had sacrificed their front gardens
The new Longford Super Cinema & Café was finally opened on 12th October 1936 by the Mayor of Stretford, Alderman Albert Smith. The debut film screened was ‘Tudor Rose’ starring Nova Pilbeam. Entrance tickets ranged from 1s 6d for a seat in the stalls to 3s for a seat in the circle. The Longford Bar & Café occupied part of the first floor, with windows looking out across Chester Road, with comfortable sofas and furniture.
During the Second World War the building was used for Sunday Concerts featuring various stars of screen and stage including a young Julie Andrews and when the Halle was bombed out of The Free Trade Hall in 1940, the Longford played host to the dislodged orchestra under Sir John Barborelli.
In August 1950, the Cinema was purchased by the Essoldo Circuit, who renamed the building ‘The Stretford Essoldo’ and who continued to run the cinema for about fifteen years, however the television revolution of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s knocked the bottom from the cinema industry and the decision was taken to close the Essoldo in 1965.
The building was put on the Market and purchased by The Ladbrokes Company who reopened it as a bingo hall.
In 1979, Trafford Council were widening Chester Road into a duel carriageway and Compulsory Purchase Orders were put on all the buildings nearby. St Ann’s Church and The Bingo Hall were exempt, but were forced to give up their frontal land. The council bulldozers moved in and demolished the front of the old Cinema, leaving the remaining architecture unbalanced and incomplete.
On the 23rd June 1986 the site was acquired by ‘The Rank Group’, who reopened the old cinema as ‘The Top Rank Club’. They were responsible for the painting of the exterior tiled façade in its distasteful primary colours. The building was listed in the mid 1990’s by The English Heritage but due to falling profits The Rank Group closed the Club in 1995 and it was eventually sold in January 1997 to a business man from Sale. Since that date various plans have been put forward for its future including a gym, health club and student hub for a university however nothing has come to pass as yet.