Bingo Hall History – The York Clifton

Cinema architecture fan and photographer Ian Grundy turns his attention to the Clifton Bingo Club in York, to give us an in depth look at its changes in use and special features.

Author: Ian Grundy

An Elegant And Restrained Cinema

The final addition of the Golden Movie Age to be built in York was the Clifton Cinema. It was built for Mr J Predergast and Mr Mawson, and was built to the designs of Frederick Dyer. It is a very elegant and restrained building, with echoes of Georgian style, highly suited to the genteel suburb of Clifton. The same team were also responsible for the Rialto Cinema on the other side of the city. That was a much larger theatre which also became a bingo hall (finally under the control of Mecca), but the Rialto has been demolished and replaced with purpose built facilities for bingo.

The exterior of York's Clifton Bingo

The exterior of York’s Clifton Bingo

The Clifton opened on 17th November 1937 with the film “Edge of the World” starring John Laurie, Finlay Currie and Campbell Robson, directed by Michael Powell. It seated 1,150 in the stalls and balcony. Despite the relatively small size of the cinema it was equipped with a 2 manual Compton organ which was first played in 1938 and was removed in the early 1960s. Ticket prices ranged from 7d to 1/10d (3p to 9p), considerably cheaper than the city centre Tower Cinema which charged 1/- to 3/- (5p to 15p) but a cut above the Regent Cinema Acomb who charged a very modest 6d to 1/- (2-½p to 5p). How times change!

The old cinema stage and book sales area

The old cinema stage and book sales area

Like all cinemas and places of public entertainment, the outbreak of war on the 3rd September 1939 resulted in immediate closure, but 6 days later this emergency order was lifted as the authorities recognised that maintaining morale was vital. Opening times were restricted to the hours between 2:00pm and 10:00pm, they were required to be completely blacked out when required and evacuation procedures had to be organised. Because of their solid steel and concrete construction many of the super-cinemas, like the Clifton, were considered a safe place to be in the event of an air-raid!

Glass doors at York's Clifton Bingo

Glass doors at York’s Clifton Bingo

The war years proved to be an especially busy time for many cinemas, and the Clifton was no exception. In the absence of television the newsreels shown at cinemas were the only opportunity for people to see events unfolding, – albeit a few days later. The reels of film were often shared between a number of cinemas and ferried around the town by a bicycle courier to be shown at each venue.

The bar area of York's Clifton Bingo

The bar area of York’s Clifton Bingo

In the 1950s the Clifton was equipped for Cinemascope: this was achieved without major structural alteration, but in a time of declining audiences nationwide, the writing was on the wall! The Clifton survived longer than many of York’s cinemas but on 17th October 1964 the final film, “Valley of the Eagle” was screened. Still under the control of Mr J Prendergast, now MBE, the Clifton had served film-goers well over its twenty-seven years of operation.

Inside York's Clifton Bingo

Inside York’s Clifton Bingo

Family Run Bingo Club

It was immediately converted into the Clifton Bingo and Social Club, but very little change has been made to the building. The doors give entry to the outer foyer; where (following a major refurbishment in 2006) the effect is warm, light and welcoming. The features of the foyer have been highlighted in neon and original 1937 doors with leaded light glasswork lead to the spacious inner foyer which once led to the stalls seating. Here the space has been opened up and now contains the drinks and food bars serving the ground floor bingo players. The former seating has been removed and tables and chairs now occupy the floor, all giving a good view of the unaltered proscenium arch just in front of which the caller holds court. The Clifton had a small stage, sometimes used for variety, and this has now been equipped with a few more tables.

The rear of the club looking towards the stage

The rear of the club looking towards the stage

Going back to the outer foyer, there are two staircases leading to the balcony waiting area and the former café and ballroom, also now converted to a bar. In the former circle the steppings have been built out to provide more room for tables and chairs. Many former cinemas do not bother to improve this area, leaving the cinema seats as they were, but the Clifton has been made more comfortable throughout. At the rear you can still see the projection portholes through which the films were beamed to the screen!

Looking towards the balcony from the front of the club

Looking towards the balcony from the front of the club

The outside wall of the Clifton is becoming famous due to the “Banksy” style of artwork adorning the wall. Some people viewed it initially as graffiti, a form of vandalism, but there is a overwhelming consensus over the last decade that the work adorning the Clifton’s wall is considerably better than that, and it is proving an attraction in its own right. The paintings have been changed on several occasions and are highly accomplished creations.

Art work on the outside wall of the club

Art work on the outside wall of the club

The Clifton has, in 2008, played host to the bingo enthusiasts for considerably longer than it screened movies. From the start it has always remained an independent hall both for films and the game, and is currently run by Jeremy Prendergast, grandson of the original owner! It remains a warm, friendly and comfortable place for the bingo players of the centre and west of York.

Clifton Bingo and Social Club
52-54 Clifton Moor

YO30 6AW

Tel: 01904 623680

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