A short tribute to the Manders family and the Palace Cinema
Adrian Tharme 2008
The Palace Cinema
Cooperage Yard Development
The wonderful 1988 Italian film, “Cinema Paradiso“, had a special resonance for villagers. Central to the film was the important part the local cinema played in the lives of residents of an Italian village. It was a very similar story in Lochwinnoch for generations of locals from the 1920’s till the 1960’s.
In Calder Street, on the ground now occupied by Cooperage Yard, stood our very own
“Cinema Paradiso“. Owned and managed by the Manders family it was officially called “The Palace“. However, to everyone in the village it was affectionately known as “Johnny’s“.
The story of how the village
cinema came into existence goes
much further back. The Manders,
who brought "Hollywood to
Lochwinnoch" , were a branch
of a travelling circus family
whose story is told in
" The Illustrated & Descriptive
History of Manders Menageries
& Shows" published under the
auspices of the Fairground
Society. By the 1830’s James
Manders had built up three
businesses, the "Royal Menagerie", the "Grand Star Menagerie", and the "Royal Waxworks" all of which toured the UK.
A popular exhibit in the latter was a tableau of the Last Supper which was contained in its own box-van. Moving Pictures were added to the waxworks exhibition and the first showing was at the Newcastle Christmas Fair in 1899. The show was then renamed “Manders Royal Waxworks & Edison’s Electric Animated Pictures“. The man who introduced this exciting innovation was John Manders ; the “Johnny“ after whom the Palace Cinema in Lochwinnoch would later become known.
They built the Palace Cinema on the site in Calder Street in the early 1920’s. The Scottish Screen Archive held in the National Library of Scotland records this as 1923 but Fulton Barclay, employed as a projectionist in the early days and today living in Dalry, suggests that it may well have been a little earlier.
Johnny brought the show to Lochwinnoch after the end of the First World War. The tent, shown in the photograph above, was set up in the area now occupied by the War Memorial in Harvey Square and a era of cinematic entertainment for the village began. Johnny, his wife Polly and their sons, Johnny, Jimmy, Tommy and Billy decided to settle here and end their involvement in the travelling tradition.
The photograph on the left shows the original building on Calder Street. The projection room was originally accessed from the foyer but the introduction of stricter fire safety rules resulted in an external staircase access being built. This was the only major change to the cinema. In the era of "silent movies" an accomplished pianist was needed to play the film score. Manders found a musician with the necessary talent here in the village.
Mabel Lunney, a Cockney lady married to a local man, was employed to provide the musical accompaniment.
A link to the family’s past was in evidence up till the 1950’s. One of the magnificently carved wooden caravans for which circus folk were renowned was parked in the area behind the cinema and was home to Polly Manders, Johnny’s wife. She had been a trapeze artist and had found settling in one location difficult. To help in the transition she lived in the caravan. On her death the caravan was burned in accordance with the tradition of travelling circus people. However, one of the wooden panels is known to have been removed before the fire was lit and may well still be in the possession of someone living in Lochwinnoch today.
Just as in “Cinema Paradiso“, THE PALACE provided wonderful evenings of entertainment for the village with full programmes of Pathe News, cartoons, travelogues, B films and main attractions. A printed programme of forthcoming films was available from local shops and posters advertising the “big films“ were displayed outside the cinema and on various sites throughout the village. For over four decades THE PALACE played to capacity audiences and really was the entertainment fulcrum for villagers of all ages. Johnny wouls walk up and down outside the cinema shouting either;
Roll Up, Roll Up only a few seats left
They are sitting like milestones in here
The impact of television on cinema attendance began to be felt in the early 1960’s and to offset this bingo was introduced on some evenings. For a while this helped cross-subsidise the film shows but eventually even this failed to make the business economic.
Sadly, THE PALACE closed in 1970 ; the last film was “Circus of Horrors”. Three tickets from that last evening are held in the Community Library Archive having been kindly provided on “permanent loan” by Linda Kerr. The site was sold to the local Coal Merchants, George Paterson & Sons and then demolished to make way for the Cooperage Yard housing development.
To Lochenyochians of the cinema era there was only one name which should have been used by the Council for the new development – MANDERS PLACE. It would have been a worthy tribute to a family which had made such a huge contribution to village life for over 50 years.
This article formed the basis of a programme in the BBC Radio 4 Series, “Making Local History”. Presented by Vanessa Collingridge and broadcast in May 2008 it examined how the cinema came to rural areas. The story of “The Palace" was thought to be illustrative of that process across the UK.
Footnote 2 :
The following appeared in the Paisley & Renfrewshire gazette on 14 June 1947.
THE LATE MR JOHN MANDERS : It was with much regret that the news was learned of the death of Mr John Manders which occurred on Friday last week. Born in Chorley 77 years ago he belonged to a well known family of show people and claimed to be among the first, if not the first, to show animated pictures over 50 years ago. He started in Scotland at Stewarton in a tent and moved to Lochwinnoch 35 years ago where subsequently he built the present picture house. A gentleman of the highest integrity, he was respected and esteemed by all. In tribute to him a friend “R.J.B.” writes – “ Johnnie” as he was familiarly known to young and old was an outstanding figure in our midst. We shall always visualise him in his broad-brimmed bowler hat, Gladstone collar, heavy gold chain and with that immaculately trimmed and waxed moustache. Born and bred a showman, he retained to the last the best principles of that company. After he had given up show life for the cinema he could not resist the old habit of pacing up and down in front of the cinema announcing the attractions for the evening. It was in his blood ; he could not resist doing it. Another feature was that no matter what happened “the show must go on”. He took no part in public life but he held firmly to the principles of his early training and had a deep-rooted respect for law and order, the church, and the State.
P.S. The “R.J.B.” was Bell the Banker.