Cinematopia: UK picture palaces


The Odeon Guildford was a relatively plain brick building, built into the hillside at the top end of the High Street. It had illuminated classical-style friezes above the main entrance - a design theme echoed within the auditorium. The friezes had a rather playful quality about them: rather than showing actual classical scenes, for example, one showed a saxophonist with a couple dancing. Originally, the brickwork was patterned and there was ornate patterning in the four vertical recesses of the front facade: the impact of this faded over time. Conspicuously absent, however, were the architectural features common to the burgeoning Odeon circuit. In fact, it looks nothing like other Odeon cinemas of the period, which were most usually finished in white or cream faience and more often than not had a tower or fin.

A casual observer might therefore be forgiven for concluding that this was not an "original" Odeon at all, but a later addition to the chain - a Gaumont, perhaps. This assumption would be completely false. When the cinema opened on 13th May 1935, it was one of the earliest of the original Odeon chain. It was designed by the renowned architect Andrew Mather who went on to design the flagship Odeon Leicester Square, amongst others. The friezes and interior design were by J Raworth Hill.

There are two possible explanations for the lack of usual Odeon features. First, that the conservative town of Guildford simply wouldn't allow a modernist building to be constructed. However, evidence would suggest that other local authorities with potentially more to lose, such as York, didn't seem to find too much objection to a sensitive modern design. Second, it is possible that the original plans for the Odeon Guildford were finalised before Oscar Deutsch began his close interest in the distinctive architecture of his buildings.

* The Odeon Story - Sherwood Films

The large single screen was tripled in the 1970s and subsequently subdivided further in an attempt to maintain profitability. In any case, the building closed after Odeon opened a nine-screen multiplex at the other end of town in the mid-1990s and remained empty for a number of years. It was demolished, along with the shops beneath it, in 2004, to be replaced by a mixed-use building. The four classical friezes were preserved, given a good clean (they needed it) and appear now in the entrance lobby to the new building.

1949 (© Odeon Cavalcade):
Odeon Guildford - 1949 (Odeon Cavalcade)

1972 (© Odeon Cavalcade):
Odeon Guildford - 1972 (Odeon Cavalcade)

Odeon Guildford - 2006


The former Cannon Guildford became a nightclub in the 1990s. It is currently (November 2006) standing empty awaiting demolition to make way for the Friary Centre development.

It's surprisingly hard to find information online about any of Guildford's old cinemas. However, Mercia Cinema Society surveyed Guildford's cinemas in their publication on no less than three occasions - so the information must be out there somewhere...

Cannon Guildford - 2006 Cannon Guildford - 2006

* 2006 daytime photograph was shot on behalf of Cinematopia by Andrew Gale. With grateful thanks.

West's Picture Palace

Guildford's first cinema opened in the Constitutional Hall in 1909. The building later served as a second-hand bookshop and now sells furniture.

West's Picture Palace Guildford - 2006 West's Picture Palace Guildford - 2006

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This page last updated 24th November 2006.