Sunday 10 September 2017

A very vintage day out

I've been to Stockport for the day. Nothing new there, but for once I wasn't hatmaking. I had expected it to be a short visit, but it turned into much more.

The original plan was to finally go to the Vintage Village, a vintage fair held in the covered market hall. Even though it's been held every month for several years now, I'd never been. Initially I wasn't sure if I'd be going this time either, as I realised on the train over that I'd forgotten to bring a map. Despite the fact that I've been to Stockport several times for non-hat-related things, I don't know it very well at all; in fact the only places I recognize are the Hat Museum and the brewery (the latter purely as a landmark, I might add). So I set out from the station in what I thought was the right direction, and hoped.

Found it! The market hall

I had a good look round the fair, and bought some (more) vintage patterns, then on the way back to the station I called into HatWorks to buy some brim wire. As you do. I was chatting to Sue, one of the lovely staff there, and she mentioned that the Plaza cinema was open as part of Heritage Open Days. So off I went.

The Plaza

The Plaza is a magnificent Art Deco cinema; opened in 1932, converted to a bingo hall in 1967, and lovingly restored to its 1930s glory this century. To see lots more photographs of its construction and history, click here.

Much of the original Egyptian-themed décor was simply boarded over when the bingo hall conversion took place.

'Egyptian' in a loose sense of the word

Part of the foyer, with original doors and seating

Other items, such as the carpets, sweets stand and booking kiosk were recreated from photographs.

The sweets kiosk, with rather less elegant contents than in the original

The ticket kiosk isn't used, but does have a period telephone

One item which had survived almost unscathed was the magnificent Compton organ with its illuminated glass panels.

The organ when not in use

The organ pipes are actually behind the large panel to the right of the picture below. The panel on the left has nothing behind it.

Lit up, along with the illuminated orchestra pit rail

View of the auditorium from the Circle

On the first floor is the café restaurant, with its original Lloyd Loom furniture.

The café

The Plaza is a theatre as well as a cinema, and the backstage area was open for the Heritage Open Day. Because the whole building is built against a cliff (Stockport rivals Edinburgh for hilliness), backstage is actually underground - during the Second World War one of the directors temporarily moved his family into the dressing rooms when their home was destroyed in a bombing raid!
Sadly they didn't let me in here

At the other end of the building, right at the top, is this very narrow door.

Clearly projectionists had to be thin

This was the way to the projection room, also open for the Heritage Open Day. Up here are two 1948 projectors, rescued from a skip and restored. Two were needed because a reel of film only lasts 20 minutes, so a movie would consist of several reels, played seamlessly on alternate projectors.

The projectionist explaining how films were shown

The projectors are still used for 35mm film, but most modern films are shown on the modern digital projector just visible through the door on the right. Doubtless more efficient, but far less romantic!

Even more amazing was the last projector in the room; the 1928 'talkie' projector. The thing at the bottom which looks like a record player - is a record player, of sorts. The sound was separate from the film itself; on a big shellac record which had to be cued up to the film, was very fragile, and wore out after it had been played 40 times. Unsurprisingly, it wasn't long before this technology was replaced.

The 'Peerless' projector with Vitaphone turntable

I had a fabulous time going round the Plaza, and my short visit turned into a very long one. A huge thank you to Sue for telling me about it; I would have missed a real gem otherwise.

Image © Stockport Plaza


  1. Wow, that old cinema is amazing!! I'm so glad you found out about it so we could all enjoy it too. I absolutely love the organ and all that Lloyd Loom furniture. I would've been tempted to stuff one of those chairs up my jumper! xx

    1. It's fabulous, isn't it? The only problem is that, courtesy of the organ recital, I've had, "Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside" playing in my head ever since! xx