The Carnegie Library and Penistone Town Hall

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Town Hall 2014This page is mostly focussed on our town's centrepiece public hall which was described upon its opening as "Penistone's Coliseum." We also take a look at the Carnegie Library (which later became the Berneslai top office), a 'new' library replacing it in 1966, other parts of the building and the Town Hall's rival 'Assembly Hall Cinema' near St Mary's Street, which was burnt out and closed down in 1923.

Did you know Penistone once had two competing cinemas; that Penistone Town Hall has two beautiful stained glass panels high up on the ceiling; that the Proscenium Arch carries the Penistone Coat of Arms; that the Good Friday flour ceremony was held on the Town Hall steps, that the hall has a sprung floor for dancing, or that the balcony was out of bounds for years because of safety concerns? It's all in here, somewhere. Also take a look at the spooky goings-on over the years

Before our Town Hall was built, an Assembly Hall off St Mary's Street had been used for public meetings but its conversion to a cinema as 'The Assembly Hall Cinema' left that role unfulfilled. A new Penistone Town Hall would do the job and much more.

It had been described as the new Assembly Hall for reasons explained below, the new Town Hall was built with a stage and proscenium arch to make it suitable for more than political meetings. With a 500-seat capacity, a proper stage and a proscenium arch, it could also be a theatre. With its sprung floor it could also be a dance hall. See the original plan below, from Penistone Historic Archives. This graphic is from the 1915 Penistone Almanac.

Penistone Town Hall Opening

The hall's new role as cinema came along in 1915, to become generally known as 'Penistone Town Hall Cinema', for most of the last century. As you read on, you will discover some fascinating history of the Town Hall and some unexpected uses. It all started with the Carnegie Library in 1913. Enjoy!

Barnsley Relocates Penistone Town Hall
Advert for Town HallBut first a quick note about the Town Hall name. Penistone is proud to share with Huddersfield the tradition of calling its grand public hall 'The Town Hall' - because that is what they called it when it opened, that has always been its name over the years and that is what some older people still call the hall.

Penistone Town Hall has always encompassed the functions of a village hall but on a much bigger scale. All of the old concert and film programmes over the years have called the big performance hall - 'Penistone Town Hall' - which means that my assertion is correct.

In many other cases, such as in Barnsley and typically in the USA, the name of 'Town Hall' is frequently synonymous with 'Administrative Centre' but Penistone's administrative centre is located at the St John's Community Centre on Church Street, with the Town Clerk's office, the Financial Administrator and two PTC Secretaries (see PTC). So BMBC's usage fails on that point too.

However, Barnsley Council is currently in charge and it has re-drawn the map to suit its own purposes rather than ours. And now, if its operatives say 'Town Hall,' they mean either the Council Chamber next door or the former Berneslai office at the top of the building, which had been Penistone Carnegie Library before that. That one is peculiarly odd as the actual Town Hall was built the year after the Carnegie Library opened. Yet again, BMBC is wrong!

To my patient and possibly sceptical reader, you may readily confirm all of the above by referring to Penistone Almanacks in the Library or by visiting the Penistone Archive. 'If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing right.'

The 'Carnegie Free Library' and Penistone Town Hall
The availability of books has always been one of the best and cheapest ways for ordinary people to educate themselves. Towards the end of the 19th century, a movement started in the UK to promote book-reading and self-education. This led to the gradual establishment of public libraries throughout the land. Although reading takes many forms in the modern age and libraries have additional activities and services, they are still among the most important public buildings of any town as a resource of learning, entertainment through book-reading and local history preservation.

Penistone Library can be traced back to a Reading Room in the 1880s but the actual 'Carnegie Free Library' building did not open on Shrewsbury Road until 1913. It had been purchased partly by public subscription from Penistone area residents (on the rates) and partly by a generous grant of money from Mr Andrew Carnegie. This was in the days of Penistone Urban District Council.

Mr Carnegie was a great Scottish-American philanthropist and steel magnate who generously used his wealth towards the construction of free libraries throughout the USA and UK, to improve the public education. Mr Carnegie seldom receives the recognition that he so richly deserves, when you consider what benefits book-reading and the free exchange of ideas can confer upon any forward-looking population.

He was a great enabler and our town has much to thank him for but it also took the will of the local population to make the Library and Town Hall happen. Mr Carnegie died 1919 in Massachusetts, USA. One hopes that a Penistone road might one day be named after him in recognition of his work. (Listen to Andrew Carnegie talking). It is not clear whether Carnegie had been approached by local officials or if he had discovered Penistone through his steel connections, but his contribution seeded these results:

What a huge improvement to our town to spin off from the Library? The new Town Hall had elevated the status of our town as an attraction to visitors for miles around. We must not overlook the self-esteem it would have conferred to a small town which was little more than a village at the time. We already had the railway, a busy livestock and retail market and now a grand multi-function hall. Penistone was riding high.

You will notice Penistone's coat of arms displayed prominently on the plans. It can be found on the proscenium arch (currently obscured by curtains) and elegantly carved into the tall Chairman's chair in the Council Chamber. An identical chair can be found in Penistone church, but engraved with '1915' above the coat of arms and 'Penistone Union' below. As a matter of interest, Penistone Town Council agreed in Sept. 2014 to (re-)employ the Penistone coat of arms on its official documents.

Town Hall Building

A Busy Building
The Paramount is well-used, with some activity every day, but it might not be obvious that other parts of the Town Hall building are also kept busy. Students of Sheffield University doing a survey on behalf of BMBC were led to believe that the rest of the building was not in use at all.

Taking 2017 as an example, Penistone Town Council, PTC sub-committees, Penistone Area Council (BMBC councillors), Penistone Ward Alliance and other meetings take place in the Council Chamber each month. The first committee of the Penistone Armed Forces celebrations also took place in the Council Chamber (with one member bringing in fish and chips). The top offices are also in daily use and the Masonic Hall has been in regular use ever since its inception in 1914. The top office has a collection of information leaflets but is not normally open to the public.

The postal address of the whole building complex is 'The Town Hall' but it is in several separate sections. From left to right in the picture above, these are: The Town Hall proper (now called the 'Paramount), Masonic Hall (set back and above), Council Chamber (usually via the third door, turn left inside), some minor rooms and the Carnegie Free Library which became the Berneslai office when the Library closed, accessed from an entrance around the top (currently used by BMBC employees). Further around the top end is the old red-brick Caretaker's House.

Grand Opening of the Town Hall, 1914
A grand ceremony opened the new Town Hall in 1914, performed by Alderman E Woodhead, JP, of Huddersfield. On rising to declare the hall open, he said that he hoped that " ... the building would be a kind of 'Open sesame' to all that was good for the town". Penistone was in the West Riding under the WRCC and much more connected with Huddersfield than now.

CinemaAlso on the platform were: local council vice-chairman Mr E Wood 'in the chair', the Mayor of Huddersfield, Alderman Blamires, JP, Alderman JP Hinchliffe, JP, of Denby Dale, Mr H Hinchliffe, CC, of Bullhouse Hall and Dr ACJ Wilson, JP. Local councillors attending were: EL Ferrall, G Knight, WH Topham, TE Denison and other Council members in audience. It is not entirely clear whether the opening event was open to the general public but, being a grand new public facility, one might have expected it to be. The cost of the public hall and adjuncts came to about £3,004 and the Council offices, etc., around £1,009.

Dr ACJ Wilson, JP, had taken a keen interest in the scheme from the beginning and gave a most interesting history of the premises. The architect for the Town Hall was Mr Henry R Collins and he presented Alderman E Woodhead with a beautiful gold key at the ceremony, bearing the inscription: 'Penistone Council Offices and Town Hall opened on October' - The year must also have been inscribed but it was omitted from the Penistone Almanack report of 1915.

MasonicA new Masonic Lodge was also opened in 1914, adjacent to the Town Hall. The Pengeston Masonic Lodge No. 6933 was established in 1874 before moving to its new location (also Wharnecliffe Lodge). The Pengeston Lodge still uses its own variant of the Penistone coat-of-Arms (see right). Looking at the plan below, the Masonic Hall is not shown but is situated in the central part above of Rates Office, Surveyor's Office and Clerk's Office. From the outside, it is the higher roof.

The Town Hall and Library Plan
This plan below is from the Neville Roebuck Collection, which is the core of Penistone Historic Archives,. A lintel above the former Library door is inscribed with 'Carnegie Free Library.' Stained glass monograms in the doors are marked 'AC' for Andrew Carnegie. (Details from Penistone Almanacks, drawings from Penistone Archive). From the start, the name of 'Town Hall' was always applied to the main hall rather than the 'Council Rooms' and Library part of the building.

Plan of Building

The ceiling of the Town Hall has two beautiful stained glass panels which had been covered for many years. It was later painted black to make it fully opaque. It is possible that nobody in living memory will have seen the stained glass in its full glory. There used to be a large wooden-framed clock facing the audience on right side wall by the stage, similar to one at the old Spring Vale school. The original capacity was said to be 550, which did not include the balcony but the Town Hall plans claimed an audience capacity of 500. The current Fire Safety capacity is 360.

History Timeline
This looks at developments in the Public Library, Council Offices, The Masonic Hall, Assembly Rooms Cinema, 'Penistone Town Hall Cinema' (aka Paramount Theatre) and advancements in film technology. Many of the details here were drawn from local almanacs, web sources and a wonderful pamphlet in the Local History section of Penistone Library, called 'The History of Penistone Cinemas' (plain blue covers) by Stuart R Smith, using research by Clifford Shaw.

Public Libraries Act:

The Public Libraries Act 1850 (13 & 14 Vict c.65) was an Act of Parliament which first gave local boroughs the power to establish free public libraries. It established the principle of free Public Libraries which could provide facilities for self-improvement through books and reading for all classes. There had also been a fear that they might become centres of agitation by politically-motivated people and that they would lead to an increase in taxation. The Act was updated several times in the years following.

The 1870 - 80s
Technical Advances

The first photographic analysis of motion was captured by the British photographer, Eadward Muybridge (Wiki - formerly Edward James Muggeridge), in 1872. He had emigrated to the USA as a young man. He used 24 side-by-side cameras using glass plates and triggered sequentially to make instantaneous photographs of a galloping horse. The railroad magnate, Leland Stanford, had hired him to prove that all four legs of a horse were at times off the ground simultaneously. This he demonstrated at the Royal Institution in 1882.

The professional photographer, William Friese-Greene (BFI biography) of Bristol, invented a moving picture camera (Patent no. 10131) which he used for the first time on 15th November 1889, recording the comings and goings of London's Hyde Park. He was a prolific inventor and even patented an early red/green colour film process in 1905, called the Biocolour. He made his fortune in the field of printing but spent everything on his inventions and ended up dying in poverty.

Although several inventors had attempted to create incandescent light bulbs, the London inventor Joseph Wilson Swan (Wiki) was first to demonstrate his light bulbs to an audience of 700 in February 1879 (months before the prolific American inventor, Thomas Alva Edison (Wiki), was able to demonstrate a reliable bulb). It would appear that Edison and Swan were both doing similar work at the same time but Swan demonstrated his first and developed a method to prevent the bulb from blackening. Swan's house was the first in the world to be lit by electric light and powered by a hydro-electric generator. History tends to credit the more famous, and American, Edison with the invention of the light bulb.

The American inventor, George Eastman (Wiki), was making plate film from around 1880. By 1885, he perfected the first transparent roll film for photography, which was a major breakthrough. His business amassed a great fortune under the Kodak name. The roll film opened the way for Thomas Alva Edison (Wiki) to improve his kinetoscope, which displayed moving pictures in the style of a 'peep show' or 'What the Butler Saw'. Edison's requirement for perforations on the edge of films became a standard which continues to this day.

As always, Edison grabbed the limelight but the UK had its own inventors. Having discovered that Edison's Kinetoscope patent did not apply in England, the London scientific instrument-maker, Robert W Paul (BFI biography), made his own version of the Edison Kinetoscope and exported machines all over the world. He also invented a cine camera. The difficulty of projecting an image on to a screen for a theatre audience was the next challenge. In February 1895, Paul demonstrated a clear 7ft square moving picture being projected from a 40ft long piece of film. Others followed Paul's progress and the Anglo-American film producer and distributor, Charles Urban, projected moving pictures at theatres using what he called the Bioscope.

Film as we know it was now the new technology of the day, using hand/clockwork or motor-driven cameras at a rate of about 20 frames per second. The standard later became 24 fps, as it is now, which might explain why old films appear to be speeded up.

Early 1880s
Penistone Reading Room

A reading room was established through the efforts of John Ness Dransfield, location unknown. This is anecdotal but supposedly supported by newspaper clippings in Penistone Historic Archives. Reading was equated with learning and good schooling. By 1900 there were 295 public libraries in Britain. 

Decision to Build a Library
The first official suggestion to apply to the steel magnate and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie of Skibo Castle, for money to build a public Free Library building in Penistone.

Monday 29th September 1902. Public meeting in the Girls' National School to consider if Mr Andrew Carnegie's offer of £1,000 for a Public Free Library in Penistone should be accepted. The following resolution was proposed by Dr ACJ Wilson JP CC and seconded by Mr GAB Lockley. It was accepted unanimously: "We, the inhabitants of Penistone, in public meeting assembled, thank Mr Carnegie for his generous offer, and pledge ourselves to use our utmost efforts to raise the necessary £500 in order to take advantage of such offer." ('Penistone Reflections' gives Thursday 29/9/1904 but this date comes from the 1904 Almanack. See the note below the next item).

Adoption of Libraries Act in Penistone

24th October 1902. First 'Conversazione' held in St John's School (the current Community Centre), to consider raising £500 for the Free Library Scheme. A poll was taken to decide if the Public Free Libraries Act 1892 ought to be adopted by Penistone. A 'Conversazione' is 'a scholarly social gathering held for discussion of literature and the arts'. Details from 1904 Penistone Almanack, referring to 1902. Note that 'Penistone Reflections' gives the date as 29th September 1904 but, as it was published in the 1904 Almanack, the meeting must have occurred before publication.

Raising Funds

Local fund-raising towards the new public building started around this time. Mr Carnegie's grant was agreed but on condition that Penistone adopt the Free Libraries Act and put £500 towards the costs of building. Reference to 'The Free Libraries Act' refers to 'The Public Libraries Act' which started in 1850 (13 & 14 Vict c.65) but was amended several times (See History of the Act). Local rates added 1d per pound towards the build, as this was the maximum rate which could be under the Act.

13th March.
A 'Social' was held in Penistone Wesleyan Schoolroom to raise money towards the Free Library Fund. This was in a rear room at the old St Paul's chapel, used for a Sunday School within living memory before its demolition in the 1970s (replaced by St Andrews Church). On 19th March 1903, Councillor Derry of Sheffield and Mr Samuel Smith, chief librarian of Sheffield Free Libraries addressed the public in St John's School on the subject of free libraries.

'Animated Pictures' were shown in the rival 'Assembly Rooms Cinema' (near Stottercliffe Road) by showman Harry Bamforth of Holmfirth. It was a sporadic event, with Jasper Redfearn following in 1905. Bamforth's of Holmfirth had made many short films 1898 - 1900 and later 1913 - 1915, having started with lantern slides for display in Electric Picture Palaces and travelling shows. Bamforths later became well-known for their saucy seaside postcards. The Assembly Rooms had been converted from a gas appliance showroom and was known also by the name of 'Unwin's Rooms'.

This was a time of continuing innovation in moving pictures. In November 1903, Léon Gaumont demonstrated his first sound film to Société de Photographie in Paris. Even before this, in 1899, an experimental three-colour system had been patented and projected by Edward Raymond Turner, who died suddenly in 1903.

'Acis and Galatea'
(Concert) - Weds 14th Nov., 7.30pm, Assembly Rooms.
'Acis and Galatea' by Handel has been regarded as the pinnacle of pastoral opera in England. This was performed by an un-named Augmented Band and Chorus. The principals were: Mrs Dorothea Hemmings, LRAM, Soprano (Sheffield); Mr Alfred Clegg, Tenor (Dewsbury), and Mr Hugh Ashton, Baritone (of the Manchester Concerts). The pink poster had 'Doors open at 6.45pm' and 'Carriages at 10pm' but did not show the price of admission. From Mrs D Crossland's collection.

A 'High-Class Concert'
- Weds, 20th Nov., 7.30pm, Assembly Rooms.
A concert by Penistone and District Choral Society, with: Glees, Part Songs, Madrigals, etc., by the Society's Chorus.

Site Chosen for Penistone Library
Sheffield Shrewsbury Hospital Trust offered a site in Shrewsbury Road for the new public building on condition that the local council adopt it as a public road. (From Penistone History Group archives). On approaching the Local Government Board, Penistone Urban Council was told that they could not build the public building without themselves first acquiring the powers of a Parish Council, which being only a formality, they did (date uncertain).

Cinema Legislation
Around 1908 there had been cinema fires resulting in loss of life which led to the Cinematograph Act 1909 (9 Edw.7 c.30 and see updates). This brought cinemas under local authority control in an effort to increase fire safety and it gave local authorities the power of inspection. Licencing became mandatory because of safety concerns and for emergency egress.

Films of the era used a highly-combustible cellulose nitrate base which, under the great heat generated in projector lamp housings, was easily ignited and could set theatres ablaze. Early cinemas were highly susceptible to fires. Films were now required to be projected from a fire-proof chamber. Stricter building regulations were generally introduced for public entertainment halls.

As the Act did not regulate the content of films, local authorities set their own rules. Films which were acceptable in some areas might not be considered unsuitable in others. Indirectly, the Act led to the eventual formation of the British Board of Film Censors, later re-named as the British Board of Film Classification. According to BBFC History, 'Statutory powers on film remains with local councils, which may overrule any of the BBFC’s decisions upon appeal.'

Assembly Rooms Licence
- 28th December.
In the modern age, you can still find the old Assembly Rooms building near St Mary's Street roundabout. Walk towards Julie's Cafe and you will see a red-brick building on the left with what looks like port-holes. On its far end, you can make out the shape of a projection room. The first building on the right was the former Railway Station and a second one (now demolished) was an Engine Shed.

It is not clear when the Assembly Rooms was converted from a gas showroom and then later to a cinema ('Penistone Picture House') or exactly when it started showing films but it received the necessary licence imposed by the Cinematograph Act 1909 this year, as complying with regulations to operate as a cinema. The 'Cinema in Penistone' pamphlet by Clifford Shaw remarks that there had not been any publicity for the opening of the Assembly Rooms as a cinema (blue pamphlet in Local History box, Penistone Library). It might be interesting to discover why.

The lessees were JT Hawthorne and GF King at this time, who also had cinemas in Holmfirth, Skelmanthorpe, Slaithwaite and Ossett. This suggests that they operated in rotation and that films might only be shown once or perhaps twice a week at each venue. In any case, the Assembly Hall was in use for other entertainment, such as those listed above.

Library Plans

Plans for the Carnegie Free Library were submitted by Mr HB Collins of Barnsley to Andrew Carnegie for approval. An additional scheme to add the Town Hall and other rooms for council use was also discussed at the time.

Funding a Public Hall - 5th Nov.
An application to borrow money Mr. E Leonard, P.A.S.I., Local Government Board Inspector, held an inquiry at Penistone into the application of the Urban District Council for power to borrow £3,500 for the erection of a Public Hall and Council Offices in Shrewsbury Road.

Plans for the new Public Hall
- 18th March.
Tenders accepted for building Penistone Town Hall and Council Offices as follows:- Mason and brickwork, Mr. MH Mellor, Penistone, £1,885 10s.; joinery, Messrs. J Hawley & Sons, Penistone, £1,260; plumber, Mr. F Tinker, Penistone, £368 5s.; plasterers, Messrs. G Beard & Sons, Penistone, £227 2s. 5d.; painters, Messrs. A Bagnall & Sons, Ltd., Shipley, Bradford, £60 8s.; total £3,801 5s. 5d.

Plans and Loan Approved - 26th May.
The Local Government Board approved plans and tenders for a new Town Hall and Council Offices, with Masonic Hall, and gave their sanction to a loan of £4,100.

Penistone Free Library Opened - Saturday 21st June.
The Carnegie Free Library and Reading Room was completed on Shrewsbury Road, built partly from public subscription (on the rates referred to above) and with a £1,300 contribution from Andrew Carnegie, which had been increased from the original £1,000. Eleven years after it had been first proposed, it was officially opened by the Earl of Wharncliffe. Opening hours were:

Before Shrewsbury Road had been adopted and improved, the rather narrow Church Street had been the main through road. 1913 was the start of construction of Penistone Town Hall, the adjacent Committee Rooms (Council Chamber) and Penistone Masonic Hall, built on to the lower part of the new Carnegie Free Library.

Penistone's Coliseum Begins
- 31st October.
Penistone Town Hall, Masonic Hall, Council Chamber and Meeting Room was completed this year as a continuation of the Carnegie Free Library. The opening ceremony was performed by Alderman E Woodhead, JP, of Huddersfield (see full details below). The cost of the public hall and adjuncts totalled about £3,004 and the Council offices (Council Chamber), etc., an additional £1,009.

Prior to this, the 'Assembly Rooms' near St Mary's Street had been used for any public meetings but its later use as a cinema appeared to deny its use as a meeting place, leading to the new Town Hall (see the graphic at the top).

As this was in the early days of the Great War, the Town Hall also became a venue for fund-raising activities, such as dances. A concert on Saturday, 28th November raised £30 in aid of the 'Relief of Belgian Refugees Fund'. Artistes were: conjuror Mr WF Gilbert of Chester and humorist Mr Harry Lawton of Wolverhampton (Penistone Almanack, 1916). In a different style, a children's concert from Spring Vale Council School was a great success in December. The programme of operettas were 'The Toy Shop' performed by the infants and 'A Royal Jester' by the elder scholars.

The new Town Hall had other uses too. On 9th December 1914, the first inquest was held there. This was for the death of 82 year old Mrs Charlotte Mitchell of Spring Vale, who died as a result of a fall.

Renewed Assembly Rooms Films
- January.
No doubt with an eye on a possible rival cinema starting up in the Town Hall, a renewed advertising campaign started for films in what they were calling 'Penistone Picture House.' The schedule had been sporadic at best, although the onset of war would have had its effect. After about five months, the films stopped but would return later. Mr Will Parfett was billed as Manager in 1913-14, but he left the Picture House or the rival Town Hall Cinema when it started in November. The Assembly Rooms Cinema had been advertised as 'Penistone Picture House' at this time, for obvious reasons, but the name did not really stick.

Nightly performances started at 8pm, with Saturday performances at 2.30pm, 6.45pm and 9pm. The programme would have a main film (not more than about ten minutes) and a Pathé News or comedy feature or serial. Films would be changed on Mondays and Thursdays. Tickets were 3d, 4d and 6d. One wonders how they stretched out the showings, with the films being so short, but we could make a guess here. We must remember that they were silent films accompanied by piano, so it is highly likely that performances would have included music sessions and perhaps a sing-along. In fact, the Assembly Rooms had been popular for music concerts for several years before the Town Hall was built.

Steelworkers' Meeting - 20th March.
A mass meeting of steelworkers took place in the Town Hall, addressed by Mr M Humberstone and various union leaders. This was in the time of Cammel-Laird steelworks on Green Road, which later became David Brown's (1936).

Town Hall Let for Films - August.
The Town Hall was let to Mr Joseph Owen Jesson after the Council licenced the Town Hall for 'Cinematographic entertainments', conditional on its availability as a Town Hall for other local events and public meetings (which still pertains) and the first projectionist was Mr T Lee. Of course, early films had no sound-track in those days but there would have been musical accompaniment by Mrs May Bust on piano (a detail from Penistone Mayor's speech of 2014).

The first 'high-class concert and pictures' event was held on Friday 20th November 1915, described in the Penistone Almanack (see graphic below). According to a historical account at the BBC, which has several inaccuracies, 'The two opening shows in 1915 raised over £20 for wounded soldiers in the Penistone, Thurlstone and District Nursing Association'. See the BBC page.

The balcony was deemed to be not up to safety standards by the West Riding CC licencing authority and remained off-limits to the audience, which could number 550 in the stalls, until it was altered in 1924, at the expense of Penistone council. The regulations were because of a high incidence of cinema fires as a result of the highly flammable films of the day illuminated by very hot lamps. The balcony audience would have required a good fire exit.

Cinema Starts - Nov
The existing 'Penistone Picture House' (Assembly Rooms) now faced direct competition from the new council-backed Town Hall Cinema, which would have two regular film showings each week. Tickets prices were 3d and 9d (In modern money, a shilling or 12d = 5p). From the 1916 Penistone Almanack, an entry referring to 20th - 21st November 1915:

November 1915 - Penistone Almanack.

Soldiers Recruited in the Town Hall
As the Great War gathered pace, Penistone Town Hall was also used to recruit more soldiers as Headquarters of the Holmfirth Parliamentary Division Recruiting Committee, 'For men attesting under Lord Derby's scheme for the war.'

The 'Derby Scheme' used door-to-door visits encouraging men to 'attest' or promise to serve if called upon, with a promise that bachelors would be called to serve before married men. The 'Derby Scheme' was insufficient for recruiting enough cannon fodder and single men aged 18 to 41 were conscripted from January 1916. This was still not enough and married men were also conscripted in May 1916.

Return of the Assembly Rooms Cinema

The Great War was drawing towards its end. Advertisements for film performances in 'Penistone Picture House' restarted during the Spring and Summer of this year. The manager was Miss Beatrice Harris. Tickets were: 4d, 5d and 8d, which now included an entertainment tax. Film serials running at the time were:

Assembly Rooms Cinema Refurbishment
- 26th May 1919.
After the renovation, the Assembly Rooms Cinema re-opened with Moses Rawson as Manager. Following the upheaval and losses of the Great War, the opening show had been to raise money for a Penistone War Memorial to be erected outside Penistone Church (see 1924) and it included a variety act. A free children's matinee was shown at 5pm the same day. This cinema continued (possibly sporadically) for another four years until its demise in 1923.

Bulging Gable
PosterA bulge had appeared in the gable end of the Town Hall and repairs were called for. The local council also chose to have work done to bring the balcony up to the WRCC's safety requirements at the same time. The hall was also redecorated. Reconstruction and enlargement started in July 1924 with H Slater as architect, costing a total of £1,200, but with the lessees paying towards it.

Demise of The Assembly Rooms Cinema
- Thursday 12th July.
Competition between Penistone's two picture palaces came to an end this year. 'Penistone Picture House' met its untimely end when fire gutted the building, leaving only the walls remaining.

The last film shown was 'Love at the Wheel' (1921). According to IMDB, it was a film about a sacked foreman who set up his own car business and won a race. The players were: Victor Humfries, Pauline Johnson, Leslie Steward, Annette Benson, Arthur Claremont, Clare Greet, A. Harding Steerman and May Price.

Town Hall Building Work - Balcony Made Safe at Last

The gable end of the Town Hall developed a noticeable bulge and building work became necessary. It made sense to improve the Balcony gallery area at the same time to comply with the WRCC's safety standards and, at last, to actually allow an audience make use of it. The balcony had been deemed unsafe for ten years and was out of bounds to the public. The architect to improve the building was Mr H Slater and the cost of all the work came to £1,200.

It had been a busy year in Penistone, if you take a look at the History Timeline for 1924. The church clock was replaced this year and a second face fitted to overlook Shrewsbury Road for the first time. Also, the new Penistone War Memorial was unveiled this year. The Penistone Almanack of 1925 has the following item, referring to 14th July 1924.

July 1924 additions

'Grand Popular Concert' (first of a series) - 7.30pm, Weds 5th November 1924.
From the start, Penistone Town Hall had been a theatre and dance hall, then a film theatre from 1915. Penistone and District Musical Society performed 'The May Queen' by Sterndale Bennet. Conductor was Mr A Harley. Artistes: Miss Ida Bloor, Soprano, Mr Joseph Green, Tenor, Mr Ernest Platts, Bass, Mr Melvyn Roebuck at the Piano. (This item from Mrs M Marsh's collection).

Public Meetings
Public meetings were also held in the Town Hall as a Public Assembly Hall. Random examples in Penistone Almanacs: The 70th Annual Parochial Gathering, Wednesday 7th January 1925. A little later, Mr George Lansbury, Labour MP, spoke to the masses there on the subject of 'Nationalisation of Mines', Sunday 1st February 1925, in connection with the formation of the Penistone Branch of the Labour Party.

Cinematograph Films Act 1927

The 1927 Act (see Parliament) was designed to halt the decline of the British film industry, at a time of declining British film audiences. It was trying to counter Hollywood's perceived economic and cultural dominance by promoting similar business practices among British studios, distributors and cinema chains for the limited time of ten years.

The 1927 Act made it compulsory for every film renter trading in Great Britain to provide a quota of British films, to increase yearly from 7.5% in the year ending March 31st 1929, up to 20% by 1938. Exhibitors were also required to show a quota of British films, starting from 5% in 1928 and increasing to 20% by 1936. It was generally regarded as a failure. Cinematograph films entering Great Britain were subject to import duties: raw stock (blank film) one-third of a penny per linear foot; positive film, 1d per foot; negative, 5d per foot.

Until 1929, most films had been silent and most were from America. European countries were increasing their output, however, with the arrival of talking films and this provided an opportunity for British producers to regain lost ground. As an example of film output around 1930, taking an annual production of 1350 feature films, 750 would be produced in America, 200 in Germany, 140 in Great Britain, 130 in Russia, 60 in France and 70 in all other countries.

Technical - The Talkies?
Penistone Mug from Hallmark Card ShopMany people believe that the first 'talkie' film had been the 'The Jazz Singer' (1927). Yet several inventions to synchronise sound to moving pictures had preceded it perhaps three decades earlier, such as the Synchroscope, Chronophone and Cameraphone. Most of them did not have the funding or resources to be commercially viable and many gifted inventors ended up in debt or subject to ruthless patent litigation.

'The Jazz Singer' was regarded as the first feature-length 'talkie' film to be distributed in 1927 but was not shown in Penistone at the time. The film used the Vitaphone system with four gramophone discs for 'Sound on Disc' and very similar to a French system nearly thirty years before. It was silent with captions for the most part except for songs and ad-libbing. None-the-less, it was hugely popular at the time in America (where the history is written) and caught the public imagination as the technological breakthrough which would herald the demise of silent film. Al Jolson's first words to be heard in the film were: "You ain't heard nothing yet".

The Vitaphone disc system had a limited recording time and was subject to synchronisation problems if a disc was damaged or nudged in the projection room. A better method had been invented long before Vitaphone using an optical 'Sound on Film' track, which allowed perfect lip-synchronisation but did not have the financial backing to succeed until much later. Then it became the standard until digital methods appeared in modern times.

In the 1900s, Léon Gaumont's Chronophone had projected film on to the big screen and he used the French equivalent of the phonograph and two large horns to amplify the sound. There was no electronic amplification in those days. Even before that, around 1895, Thomas Edison played music on his cylinder phonograph with a continuous film loop in his Kinetophone. It was a coin-operated machine for one person at a time. Kinetophone Parlours were set up across America and even in London's Oxford Street. The 1920s were the early days of radio ('Wireless' in those days) and its improving technology was useful for the development of cinema, with microphones, amplifying valves, loudspeakers, photocells and other developments available and becoming increasingly affordable. The expanding electricity supply in the UK played no small part in the process of invention and take up. Further UK Cinema History can be found at the British Cinema History site.

Glen Cinema Fire Disaster
- 31st December.
Even after various changes to the law for fire safety in cinemas, 71 children died in the Glen Cinema fire disaster in Paisley, Scotland. Around 900 children had gone to Glen Cinema to see the new cowboy film 'The Dude Desperado', as their mums cleaned up at home ready for the New Year. A film reel caught fire, filling the hall with black smoke. The children panicked and stampeded to get out, leading to 69 being crushed and 40 injured. The final death toll was 71. Ironically, the projectionist managed to extinguish the fire.

The Nitrocellulose film of the day had been highly flammable and the cause of the fire. People (mostly children) rushed the exits, only to find that they either opened inwards or were locked to prevent unauthorised entry. The cinema has been inspected that same day by the local fire service and pronounced safe. This had been the worst cinema disaster in UK history.

After this the tragedy, picture house inspections became compulsory and the Cinematograph Act 1909 was amended so that emergency exits opened outwards and had push bars for a rapid egress.

The 1930s
Advert for filmsPenistone cinema projectors at this time were two British Thomson Houston (BTH), Type A, with carbon arcs and 20 minute reels (see the Regal Group site). BTH was a large engineering and heavy machinery company which made a wide range of products including steam turbines, electric motors, power generation equipment, Mazda radio valves, a two-valve wireless, aircraft parts, naval parts, cinema sound and cinema projection equipment. In 1937, Frank Whittle's Power Jets company built the world's first prototype jet engine at the BTH works in Rugby but BTH also made domestic appliances under the Hotpoint name and BTH film projectors, which were installed in Penistone's Town Hall Cinema. See Grace's Guide.

Talkies Arrive in Penistone

Fifteen years after he had started, Mr Jesson continued with a six-year lease to show films in the Town Hall Cinema, at a rental of £300 a year for the first three years and by negotiation afterwards.

'Sunny Side Up' was the first talkie film shown in Penistone, with a run time of just over two hours. It was made by Fox Film Corporation and premiered 3rd October 1929 at the Gaiety Theatre in New York City. It laid claim to being the first original musical talkie for the silver screen. Up to this year, films at Penistone had been silent except for a piano accompaniment. The title song from the film will be familiar to many people, as in '(Keep Your) Sunny Side Up'. On the poster: 'William Fox Presents Sunny Side Up. The screen's first all-talking, singing, dancing musical comedy (etc.)'

The film starred Janet Gaynor as Molly Carr (who sang and danced to the title song) and Charles Farrell as Jack Cromwell. They had been the top screen couple in the early 1930s and were romantically involved with each other at the time of the film. They were making the transition from silent to talkie films with some success. She was barely 5ft tall, while he was 6ft 2in but they had a noticeable chemistry between them.

Janet Gaynor had appeared in many films in the 1920s and 1930s (mostly uncredited) but was aware of her vocal short-comings and arranged to avoid musicals in future. She had all but retired but appeared in 'The Love Boat' TV series in 1981. Charles Farell is best remembered for his teaming with Janet Gaynor in twelve screen romances between 1927 and 1934. He retired in the late 1940s but made an appearance in the popular US TV series 'My Little Margie' (1952).

Technical Advances:
This was a Fox Movietone film, which used a variable-density optical soundtrack based on the 1920s Phonofilm system developed by American inventor Lee deForest, rather than the variable-width optical soundtrack which became the standard for later years. In fact, either type could be played back on the same projector, provided the frames per second were similar. This 'Sound on Film' method ensured accurate lip sync, unlike the Vitaphone system used in 'The Jazz Singer' which played the soundtrack from four special gramophone records which could easily 'jump a groove' and lose synchronisation.

Most of the film was black and white except for one sequence, 'Turn up the Heat', which was coloured using a tinting process and called 'Multicolor'. This was rather an erotic sequence with Eskimo girls dancing as the temperature rose and igloos melted, to be replaced by palm trees and skimpy clothes. Unfortunately, that appears to have been lost and can only be found in black and white now. Camera techniques were evolving at this time from the static angles of the silent era and this film used such as tracking crane shots to make it more interesting and immersive. See Wikipedia and IMDb.

At this time, Penistone's cinema had BTH projectors. Then as now, the film changed on Thursdays but sometimes the films were not being shown when the hall was used for theatrical or other purposes. Each year had a regular theatrical booking by Penistone and District Amateur Operatic Society, which was the forerunner of the current Penistone Centre Stage. Films were usually advertised in the Penistone district news.


The Town Hall was renovated again and more comfortable seating was fitted.

1939 - 1945
The War Years:

Films were not shown in the Town Hall during the War years of 1939 to 1945 but Friday night dances had continued and were popular. Penistone Operatic Society returned to the Town Hall stage after the War in 1947.

Penistone Urban District 'Salute a Soldier' Week - Friday 7th July to Saturday 15th July.
A big event during the Second World War. A leaflet from Charles J Gillis, implored the public to buy National Savings Certificates towards a target of £50,000, to help the war effort.

People of Penistone,

A year ago I appealed to you on the occasion of 'Wings for Victory' week when you so generously invested monies well above the target figure of £50,000.

Once again Penistone Urban District is called upon for a major effort and with military operations proceeding on unprecedented scale I ask the people of Penistone to lend every ounce of support during 'Salute a Soldier' week, July 8th - 15th.

(Signed) Charles J. Gillis, Chairman, Penistone U.D.C.

The message had not included the date of the Friday Town Hall dance, for some reason. As an aside, the leaflet referred to the Council Chamber as distinct from the Town Hall. Further evidence (if ever it that was still needed) that 'Town Hall' was synonymous with the now-called Paramount theatre hall. The 6d souvenir programme included a list of 'Names of Members of HM Forces resident in Penistone Urban District on enlistment' and shorter lists of the Missing (two from Thurlstone), Prisoners and deceased.

Official Selling Centres, open during the week for buying the certificates and stamps, were:

'Entertainments' for 'Salute a Soldier' week:

Town Hall Concert

Tickets for these concerts were sold by: O Lockwood, R Proud, EB Broadbent, Mrs Eyre, T Lee, AE Savile, Mrs Jubb, W Harrison, T Wadsworth, JH Wood and W Chapelle. Someone might find names such as these interesting for genialogy purposes.

Sunday Openings

A public meeting was held to consider allowing the use of the Town Hall on Sundays. The majority said 'No' and this remained the situation until 1961. Also in the late 1940s, the UK Government had become again concerned about Hollywood's domination of the film industry and a lack of finance for British film production. It altered the quota system accordingly. American film producers were able to circumvent the rules to some extent by having studios in the UK.

The 1950s:
Radio was reaching a peak and television was becoming more popular, especially when ITV started in 1955. These outlets threatened the film industry which went into another decline. By 1958, eight million UK households had television licences and many of the film studios were closed or sold to broadcasters.

Technical Advances

Following quickly on the success of 'Cinerama' wide screen format (not in Penistone), 'CinemaScope' was invented this year using special anamorphic lenses on the cameras to distort (squash) wide pictures into the frames of a standard film. A cinema projector fitted with a similar lens could project the film as wide-screen, with a theoretical maximum aspect ratio of 2.66:1 (nearly 2½ units wide to every unit of height). The first film using this wide-screen format was the religious epic, 'The Robe', which was a huge box office success. All things considered, CinemaScope was a great breakthrough and eventually every cinema would have had anamorphic lenses (one on each of a pair of projectors) to use this widescreen format with a standard projector.

In contrast to CinemaScope, its forerunner Cinerama had required three synchronised projectors to throw images on to a curved screen, which limited its widespread implementation to just a few cinemas in the UK. The three images had a slight overlap, producing a slightly brighter band down about a third of the way on each side of the screen. The fixed angle of each lens also prevented the use of zoom lenses. The 'sweet spot' best viewing area in the auditorium was also somewhat limited.

The 1960s:
The Town Hall had (and still has) a 'sprung floor' for dancing, which is currently wedged up. Local council workers had to remove the rows of seats before each dance night and re-fit them afterwards. Cinema was generally in decline during this decade as television and later colour tv was assuming a greater part of people's lives. BBC 2 started its colour service from December 2, 1967. Many cinemas closed during this period but Penistone cinema had been able to soldier on.

End of an Era

Late this year, and after 45 years, Mr Jesson ended his lease to show films in the Town Hall, after objecting to the use of the hall for a pantomime. It is likely that it conflicted with, or reduced, his film showings rather than any objections about the production. Film audiences had been declining at the time and Mr Jesson was reluctantly making way for other entertainments, such as the very popular dances, which must have required plenty of down time to remove and replace the rows of seats. The pantomime might have been the 'last straw'.

Sunday Films
- 4th June.
Films were not shown on Sundays in our area until they were authorised on 7th May this year. From 4th June, Mr George L Edwards took over from Mr Jesson as lessee. He was also manager of the Theatre Royal in Manchester and he employed Rodney Byrne as Penistone Town Hall Cinema Manager. The opening week showed 'Saturday Night and Sunday Morning' (See IMDb), starring Albert Finney, who was still acting up to 2018 in such as the Bourne films. The Town Hall was also redecorated this year. Bingo started on Friday and Saturday afternoons from 25th November and proved to be popular.

Film showings in the Town Hall appeared to be sliding into disarray and the programme of films became erratic. Adverts stopped being shown from July. Financial difficulties appeared to be behind the malaise and a writ was served to recover arrears of £312. Ouch.

Re-opened under PUDC
- 8th May.
Penistone Urban District Council (PUDC) took over the management of the Town Hall Cinema and it re-opened on 8th May 1963, with films shown on Saturdays, Mondays and Tuesdays, and children's 2.30pm Saturday matinees. Better films were being shown under the PUDC management. Mid-week bingo re-started mid-week but lasted only a few weeks. Mr A Hinchliffe was taken on as part-time manager. He resigned in 1967, mostly because of the controversial showing of 'Fanny Hill', which had the reputation of being obscene.

1966 PlaqueNew Library
- 30th March.
Penistone Carnegie Library went on the move. A purpose-built Library was constructed next to the old St Paul's chapel (now St Andrews' Church) on High Street and the lending library moved in from Shrewsbury Road.

The old Reading Room (for daily newspapers and journals) persisted for perhaps a year or two longer in a small building behind the Town Hall, thence into obscurity and oblivion. It has been speculated that the Reading Room had been retained as a contractual device to retain a Library presence close to the original site and possibly fulfill some sort of contractual obligation to Andrew Carnegie's original grant for a library in Penistone. The new Library was officially opened by County Councillor S Palmer of the WRCC.

Saturday Film Matinees
Children's Saturday matinees in the Town Hall were very popular around this time, with a programme of cartoons in the 'Saturday Club', and starting (from memory) at around 2pm. They came to an abrupt end amidst what was said to be an acrimonious dispute between compére ('Uncle' somebody) and management. There was also talk of a children's Christmas fund that would never be paid out. The matinees never restarted.

Part-time manager of Penistone Town Hall Cinema, Mr A Hinchliffe resigned this year, mostly because of the controversial showing of 'Fanny Hill', which had the reputation of being obscene.

Mr F Herton takes over as part-time manager of Penistone Town Hall Cinema.

Some talk doing the rounds about the Town Hall being closed down. This would not be the only time this happened.

Conquest by BMBC
Penistone's assets were appropriated by (or possibly gifted to) Barnsley MB Council under the 'Local Government Reorganisation' Act of 1972, which came into force this year. Barnsley took control over our Town Hall and quickly raised the hire fee for various organisations which held functions there, making it prohibitively expensive and many of them simply dropped out. Around this time, the popular dance nights also came to an end. This might have been partly because control over the necessary manpower to remove and replace the seating had moved to Barnsley. The sprung dance floor was chocked up for perhaps the last time.

Mr Steve Tales (ex-Sheffield University technician) was taken on as part-time Cinema Manager. He would later become the full-time Cinema Manager in 1978, responsible for all aspects of the running of the Town Hall.

Penistone Town Council and other Parish Councils were now reduced to 'advisory' status and would often (usually?) be ignored. After the local government changes, old documents and other archive materials which had been stored in the building were sent to Barnsley Council archives, which the late Councillor George Punt had described as "A shambles." Cllr Punt had been tasked with tracking down the deeds to the buildings, to legally establish the original ownership to the sceptical Barnsley Council of its day. Unfortunately, the deeds could not be found. One explanation was that there had been a fire in the archives but local people were (and continued to be) somewhat unimpressed.

New Projectors

These were changed to two Gaumont Kalee, Type 20, for improved efficiency and reliability (see the Regal Group site). Of course, projectors were fitted in pairs to facilitate a smooth transition as the reels were changed over. The projectionist was more than a button-pusher in those days. It is likely (to be confirmed) that they were fitted with the Kalee Varamorph lens, which had three magnification settings to accommodate different aspect ratios. These were: 1.38 for Rank's Anamorphic VistaVision, 1.5 for Paramount's Anamorphic VistaVision and 2 for CinemaScope and others. It had not been unusual for the film to break down and the audience reaction was always the same - foot stamping. You can download the Kalee Projector manual (pdf) from Film-Tech (under the Warehouse section).

Advert for Town HallThe BBC Gets it Wrong
According to the BBC, the film projector had been powered by carbon arc lamps until this year. The BBC page has other gnawing inaccuracies:

It's not just the BBC who gets it wrong. There has often been some confusion about the earlier 'Assembly Hall Cinema' near St Mary's Street. At one time, Penistone had two cinemas. Yes, Penistone Town Hall has been used at times as a Public Assembly Hall, but it was never 'Converted from an Assembly Hall' as some sources such as Barnsley Council insist. The history and usage of Penistone Town Hall is well-established and well-known locally, without any misleading help from Barnsley.

New Manager

Steve Tales was appointed as Manager and was to continue for more than two decades. It was usual at the time for two films to be shown, with a second feature short first film (lasting perhaps half an hour), which might typically have been Pathé News or something from the RAF, British Railways or something industrial. After an interval and the ice cream trolley, the main film would be shown. When the programme was reduced to just the main feature without an interval, they lost sales and income.

Intermission Troubles
Steve re-introduced the intermission into each film but the Society of Film Distributors (SFD) discovered this and threatened to stop providing films unless he ended the intermissions. Once again, Penistone had became newsworthy, but this time in a 'David and Goliath' story with the SFD as the baddy Goliath. The local community was happy with the intermissions. Radio Sheffield's Roger Kilner broke the news and the story reached national TV and newspapers. It was even included in The Big Issue. With the overwhelming support of the public and media for the 'David', the SFD backed down and intermissions were restored. See also 1999.

Early 1980s
The Communications Hub
(The CB Evening)
This was a time when CB Radio was reaching its peak of popularity and a special evening of CB films was arranged by the Manager Steve Tales, who himself had been an enthusiast. 'Convoy' had been a popular film at the time and had helped to spark off the CB phenomenon in the UK. Unfortunately, the evening did not attract many 'Breakers'. During the interval, an audience member with a portable CB radio struck up a conversation with 'Road Runner', a hillside farmer in his tractor and working in the fields. The manager must have been listening in, as he unexpectedly piped the conversation through the PA system, to everyone's delight (and possible embarrassment).

Penistone Town Hall Cinema re-decorated once again.

Cinema Metro Ticket

Metro - An Unloved Name

Under the control of Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, the (largely unloved) name of 'The Metro' was imposed upon the former Penistone Town Hall Cinema, presumably to reflect the 'Metropolitan' part of their own name (they were in charge and wanted us to know it). Control over booking the films moved from Brian Megson in Barnsley to the Penistone Cinema Manager of the time, Steve Tales. Under its new 'The Metro' name, the first film shown was James Bond in 'The Living Daylights' with Timothy Dalton in the starring role.

The theatre also received new permanent seating this year, ending the era of dances for all time. The 'sprung floor' with large steel springs was designed for dancing but, with the demise of the dances, the springs were chocked up by wooden wedges to make the floor more stable. The nearby Community Centre became the new venue for discos and dances.

New Hospitality Room

In November, a bar licence was granted and the side room made into a cosy area to relax in before and during intermissions of a film or theatre performance. Cinema Manager Steve Tales became the licensee. Barnsley MB Council's Catering Services had previously managed the food and drink side of the operation. A good range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks and snacks became available. The foyer continued to supply the usual pop, sweets and the traditional popcorn. At first, alcoholic drinks were only available for '18' films but this was extended later.

BuffetBuffet Organist at play

It's Ours Again
- And another Refurbishment
The Metro Cinema reverted to local control under Penistone Town Council from 2nd April this year, although still officially in the ownership of BMBC, who had appropriated Penistone's assets in 1974 under the Local Government Re-organisation. It would appear that the Town Hall is actually leased to Penistone by BMBC, with the next lease renewal due around 2018. New seats were again fitted throughout the theatre at around this time. As before, every second seat had a small ashtray attached. Indoor smoking was still legal and quite normal during film performances, right up to the turn of the century. This often led to a fug in the hall which showed up in the projection beam. 'Secondary smoking' had not yet been invented. A law in July 2007 made it illegal to smoke in all public enclosed areas and workplaces.

The Organ Arrives
- and a New and Better Name
The 'Mighty Paramount Theatre Organ' was installed. It had been built for the 3,000-seat Birmingham Odeon cinema in 1937, was restored in the 1950s and removed in 1988 to 'The Regal' in Oswestry. The Regal closed in 1994 and Blackpool Tower organist Kevin Grunhill bought it from them. After careful restoration, it was installed in Penistone with due ceremony. The theatre was renamed the 'Penistone Paramount', which was a vast improvement on the unloved 'Metro' name. In November, the first live football match was shown in the Paramount. This was England versus Scotland in a qualifying play-off for the 2000 European Championship. Other matches would be shown from time to time until someone threw beer at the screen, causing damage. Then they ended.

Intermission Troubles Again
Once again, the Intermission came under attack by the Society of Film Distributors (SFD) (see 1979 above), who again threatened to stop supplying films if it continued. The Paramount was resolute and now considered taking it to the European Court to settle the matter. Penistone MP Michael Clapham said the situation had become 'daft'. The SFD backed down for a second time and intermissions continued as before. The SFD was later 're-imaged' (renamed) as the Film Distributor's Association (FDA), in 2002.

console console

Technical Upgrades and the First Compton Organ Concert

The Westrex projector was fitted with Dolby stereo sound along with the necessary sound equipment, and a new wide screen was fitted. Total seating was reduced to 346, of which 128 were in the Circle (balcony). The first organ recital at the Paramount was held in November. See the Cinema Organ Trust site and the Organ page on this website.

Take a look at a BBC 'Where I Live' archived page, outlining a visit to the Town Hall. Its historic details are not very accurate; for example. it says that the theatre had originally been built as a library. Of course, the library was next door and co-existed with the Town Hall for five decades. Ignoring a few erroneous details, it is still an interesting article.

'Heartlands' Premiere

Actors Michael Sheen and Mark Addy came to the Paramount for the world premiere of the low-budget film 'Heartlands'. The local folk singer Kate Rusby had pressed for the premiere to be held at Penistone, after being involved in the film's music.

BMBC to Sell the Town Hall Building?
Barnsley MB Council had more than once declared an ambition to sell off the building, having assumed ownership via Local Government Reorganisation Act (enacted in 1974), possibly for it to be demolished and the land re-used for housing. This year, Penistone Town Council and the local community were forced to oppose Barnsley MB Council's plans to sell off the venue, with demolition as a distinct possibility.

It was suggested by 'people in the know' that the lucky accident of the Masonic Lodge being attached to the same building might have have protected it from disaster. BMBC does not have any powers over the Masonic Hall, which sort-of sits above and behind the council rooms and cannot be detached from the main part of the building. Penistone has not always enjoyed a happy relationship with its Barnsley lords and masters (other than being its alleged 'Cash cow').

A Mighty Fall-Out

An unseemly dispute arose between the Penistone Organ Trust and Penistone Town Council, which turned our town into a national laughing stock. The dispute had started as a trivial matter about how visiting coaches were being (legally) parked outside the Paramount. It soon evolved into a stand-off and an example of small-mindedness and intransigence.

The fall-out reached ridiculous heights when the Organ Trust was actually locked out of the building and preventing routine maintenance tasks. It led to some quite embarrassing publicity for our town in all of the national daily newspapers (such as the Daily Telegraph, The Times and The Star). 'Locks were then changed on the doors and the council and Cinema Manager said that because of harassment and intimidation of staff and volunteers, recitals had been suspended.' It was reported on national television news and the story even reached as far as Australia.

In a fine effort at damage-limitation, Penistone's MP Mick Clapham asked The Rt Rev Stephen Platen, Bishop of Wakefield, to intervene as an independent arbiter - but he was politely refused (See Huddersfield Examiner). Our local council is always public-averse, as a legacy from when it had much more power, but its attempt at secrecy only made matters worse at a time when most local people knew what was happening anyway.

They did not know how to handle this level of journalistic scrutiny and came across as an example of intransigence, pettiness and heavy-handedness in a small matter. Penistone's 'grapevine' has always been remarkably efficient and, sooner or later, the lid would always come off any local can of worms. Later, after the dust had time to settle, the council licked its self-inflicted wounds and held a private meeting with the organist to assess his claim for loss of earnings. He was duly compensated out of public funds by an undisclosed amount.

The 90th Anniversary of Films

This was the 90th Anniversary of films being shown in the Town Hall (the rival 'Assembly Rooms Cinema' had preceded the Town hall Cinema by at least a decade). The Manager Steve Tales put on a very fine and informative exhibition on the stage, with display boards, running films and a display of projection and other equipment. These photos give a taste of the event, with a projector and spooling platter. There was plenty to see at the exhibition and it was well supported by the public.

ProjectorReel WinderProjector

The projector on display was a Lanterne Cinémeccanica CX21H, which you can view in more detail on the French-language Projectionniste site. It is possible to download the Service Manual (pdf) but in a foreign language. The projector used a 1.6 kW xenon bulb with air-blast cooling. For an interesting demonstration of film winding using a platter, take a look at a 15-minute Youtube video, which is not from Penistone.

YFA Event

Brian Barnsley took over as manager this year. A special Yorkshire Film Archive (YFA) event took place in November 2008. An organist played before the YFA films were shown and a YFA commentator explained details about the old film clips. The first clip was of a train, from the 1880s. The presenter referred to his pleasure in being 'In Barnsley' on three occasions and was met with a certain coldness from the audience each time. We could forgive his poor grasp of geography; he had come from York. It was a good show.

Going Digital

This was the start of a new wave of modernisation, involving a new Dolby sound system with BOSE speakers and a satellite dish installed in 2013 to stream live events from such as The National Theatre in London, to reach its conclusion in 2014. £86,000 was spent on digitising the theatre in the major upgrade. The old column speakers at each side were replaced with more modern types. Soon after, films would only need one digital projector and could be distributed digitally on something like a Hard Disc Drive cassette, with a dongle-like device to control the number and times of showings.

The old film projectors had become redundant. The projection booth did not have room for a pair of the old projection equipment alongside the new digital 2k Christie projector. Film projectors needed to be in pairs for reel-changing but digital projection needed only one device to play a film continuously (except, of course for the intermissions).

Centenary of the Opening of Penistone Town Hall

Fully digital showings of films and live events from distant theatres were now possible. Also film distribution by satellite was possible, although normally distributed by encrypted hard disc drive. New seats and foyer carpets were planned. An October facelift of the frontage was made ready for the Centenary Celebrations (see picture further down this page). The actual Centenary Event was a notable and grand affair, described in detail below. It had the Kirklees Mayor, the Penistone Mayor, florid speeches, era-related sandwiches, organ music on the Compton organ and a fine medley played by Thurlstone Brass Band. It was attended by local councillors, dignitaries and Penistone MP Angela Smith. The local 'Community Radio' Penistone FM ignored the occasion!

Centenary of Films in Penistone Town Hall

This was to mark the historic milestone of films being first shown in the building on Friday 20th November 1915 (have a look at that entry, above). A much larger Centenary Event had originally been proposed but it had been scaled down. A week of special films from different decades played in a bitterly cold spell in November. The event was given minimal publicity (it was not even in the Paramount leaflet) and was badly attended. For the film centenary event, see below.

New Equipment for the Paramount - (From PTC MInutes, May 2015, pdf)

Lease Extension Applied For.

From Minutes (pdf) of the PTC Leisure and Amenities Committee (Held 8th Feb. 2016, IT Room, Community Centre):

The BMBC Estate Manager confirmed in correspondence with PTC that Barnsley Council had no objection to extending the lease of the Paramount. In order to extend the lease, the current lease would need to be terminated and a new lease granted, to expire in April 2029. It was said at this meeting that a new lease arrangement might open the door to the Town Council obtaining funding for a new cinema screen from a cinematographic body; the existing one having a degree of wear and tear. Furthermore, any lease extension would be conditional on BMBC meeting certain requirements and, upon satisfaction, would subsequently require the approval of a full Penistone Town Council meeting. (The grant of lease being extended was achieved in 2017).

50th Penistone Library Anniversary

2016 was a 50th anniversary of the 'new' Library which had continued the facility after the Carnegie Library closed in 1966. The week was marked with a series of events, including a Launch Event with fine speeches, a buffet, General Knowledge quiz and book-signing. It was attended by library officials, local councillors and the MP Angela Smith. One event was a talk by the nonagenarian historian, Cecil Hallas, who had been a popular Gents' hairdresser in Penistone before his retirement. A rather good (and somewhat familiar) historic timeline went up on a library wall and there were interesting historic displays on show. This event was well-publicised and well-attended by the public.

BBC Report - British Libraries in Crisis
Penistone did well to keep its Library, given that one in four libraries in the UK have closed in the previous six years, with the loss of around 8,000 library staff. Where libraries have been under threat, nationally around 15,000 volunteers have kept them going. In fact our Library thrives as one of the busiest in the Barnsley Borough. Now in its 50th year in its current location, Penistone Library had expanded to include the Internet, job-search assistance, computer courses, genealogy courses, a readers' group and more, keeping it right at the heart of the Penistone district community. See the BBC's Libraries Report.


This was more than the usual lick of paint. It included a brand new screen and new mechanism to hoist and contain the screen, as it is rolled up during theatrical productions. When the retro-reflective screen is not needed, for such as a play, it is wound up into a box above the stage. The earlier box was open at the top for a line of dust to accumulate on the screen. The new arrangement protects it better. According to a Penistone Town Council Precept meeting (Feb 2014, pdf) the new screen cost £10,000, presumably including fitting and ancillaries.

Silent Film Special
Saturday 14th October: In a very full theatre, Buster Keaton's 'The General' silent film was shown and accompanied by Jonathan Eyre on the mighty Compton cinema organ. This had followed on from the first hour of happy organ music performed by Elizabeth Harrison, which was also well-received. Penistone is one of the few remaining places in this country where a silent film with accompanying organ music is still possible (and with an interval and beer).

'What's Your Penistone'
Sunday 15th October. Enthusiastic Architect Masters students from Sheffield Uni held an event in the Market Barn to seek ideas from the public to improve on the town and particularly its three main focal points: the Railway Station; the Town Hall Building and the Market Barn. This was part of BMBC's 'Principal Towns' project, which had some funding available to encourage economic regeneration across the borough, with Penistone being one of the 'Principal Towns.' The idea was to bring fresh eyes into the town and pick up on its weaknesses and strengths.

The students had some good ideas of their own, such as improved signage and better access to assets such as the Market Barn and Trans-Pennine Trail. They also proposed converting parts of the Town Hall building into a second cinema and a community area with snack bar or cafe. Various acronyms and names were invoked under the 'PenistoneLive' heading (an offshoot of Penistone Area Council).

It had been a good effort with good intentions and conducted under poor weather conditions, but they did not appear to have been properly briefed by Barnsley Council (this, in itself, was informative about what Barnsley really understood about Penistone). They had a weak knowledge of Penistone and did not know that the Council Chamber was in active use, nor even that Penistone had its own Town Council. They at least brought some youthful enthusiasm to the Market Barn - and a bicycle machine. Their history was inaccurate, such as the Town Hall being 'Converted from an Assembly Room' (it has been a theatre and dance hall with a stage, right from the start). Perhaps they had been reading the inaccurate BBC website.

They thought that the Council Chamber was 'Only used once a month'. They did not know about PTC meetings, PTC sub-committees and Penistone Area Council (their own mentors), holding meetings in there. The Armed Forces Day committee had also been meeting in there, complete with fish and chips.

Penistone Library Under Threat.
Towards the end of 2017, BMBC held a Public Consultation on the borough's Libraries in order to save £250,000 from their libraries budget. A minimally-promoted questionnaire appeared, with content based on a 2016 Libraries Consultation which had serious flaws. In the 2016 effort, Question 17 had a choice of locations where library services might be farmed out to, such as pubs and churches. There being no box to tick for 'None of the above,' it was impossible to complete the survey on-line without agreeing to one of their off-loading options. Such is politics.

Paramount Lease - After much preparation work by our (unpaid) Town Councillors and much foot-dragging by Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, the lease to Penistone Town Council for Penistone Town Hall (Paramount Theatre) was extended for a further 25 years. The lease renewal had originally been expected early in 2018.

Some significant upgrades had been held back until the lease had been sorted out. Intended improvements include a cinema projector upgrade to 4k DCI standard, new LED stage lighting (higher efficiency and cooler running), updated Box Office computers, general lighting improvements, re-upholstered seating and a major re-modelling of the Bar area to create a long bar down the window side. After many years of disuse, the stained glass panels in the ceiling are also to be cleaned and back-lit lit with LED panels which would be dimmable with the room lighting. Penistone's Coliseum will gleam.

2015 Centenary of Films in the Town Hall
To mark this local historic moment, films were shown during the centenary week which had been popular during their time, including a silent 1920s film. This was originally going to be a much bigger event with an exhibition like in 2005 but it was scaled back (possibly because of adverse weather).

Publicity for the week had been weak and fellow customers were heard to remark to that effect. It appeared to have relied on a Barnsley Chronicle article a fortnight before. A poster went up outside the Paramount for passing pedestrians but the event was omitted from the Paramount's 'What's On' leaflet and there were few posters around town. I remarked that: 'Even a church jumble sale would have had more publicity'. Few people attended, although the bitterly cold weather would have been a factor. Even so, the Penistone community saw it as an historic event.

These films were shown in the Centenary week of Sunday 15th to Sunday 22nd of November 2015:

The 2014 Town Hall Centenary
The grand event took place Friday 7pm, Friday 31st October 2014 by 'invitation only' and was intended to replicate the opening ceremony of 1914 as closely as practicable. BBC TV Look North sent out a team to interview the Manager Brian Barnsley in the morning and that went very well. They also returned to report live in the early evening.

News Blackout
This website was the only source to inform the community about this event before the day. Both the 'Community Radio' and the Paramount's own 'What's On' booklet performed a news blackout before the event. The visit by the Look North team had been arranged by a local resident unconnected with the event. A Google search revealed nothing about it before it happened. Ed Elliot (Penistone reporter for Barnsley Chronicle) followed it up with an excellent and informative article, covering the centenary event itself and Town Hall/Library history in some detail. Some of Ed's work found its way to this page.

A Landmark Event
It had been a well-organised, joyous and friendly occasion with around 160 people attending and went very well. Glasses of champagne (or similar) were offered to guests upon arriving as Kevin Grunhill played the Mighty Paramount Organ for perhaps twenty minutes, in an increasingly animated and absorbed fashion. An old lady had laughingly described him as 'A Man Possessed', as in a Hammer Horror film, but I prefer 'Absorbed'.

100 years celebration - not clickableTown Hall 2014

The invited audience included three Mayors, dignitaries, people with a connection to the Town Hall such as thespians, history group members, Town Hall staff, council officials and a few councillors. Two previous Cinema Managers were also present. Penistone and Stocksbridge MP Angela Smith also attended and was herself attended by a small group of admirers, perhaps in the hope of glory rubbing off, but she did not make a speech.

The Speeches
The first speech was by Penistone's Mayor of the time, Cllr Steve Marsh, who had the audience in the palm of his hand with a very well-crafted speech. He covered the Town Hall's milestones, going in some detail to the opening ceremony of 1914 and remarks made at that time. He referred to a description from 1914 of the hall as 'Penistone's Coliseum' and that it would be an "Open sesame for all that was good for this town." He also described features of the hall, council offices next door, landmark film moments and how it had been supported by the public, through good times and bad. He concluded by saying how it was a much loved part of our town and quite unique, with its half time intermissions for a drink. The Mayor Cllr Marsh concluded by calling upon the rapt audience to raise their glasses to the Town Hall for the next 100 years. The audience willingly obliged and applauded appropriately.

The 1914 opening event (see below) had the Mayor of Huddersfield, Alderman Blamires, JP, as one of the guests of honour. The 2014 equivalent was Mayor of Kirklees, Cllr Ken Smith, who made a brief but effective speech echoing the sentiments of the Penistone Mayor. He responded to Cllr Marsh's speech with: "That sounded like a plea for home rule for Penistone!" He described how a century earlier the country was walking innocently into an awful tragedy for the four years of the Great War, and that the same happened twenty years later in the Second World War but that the Town Hall managed to carry on functioning. He concluded with his thanks and said that he was "Grateful to have the opportunity to bring again the good wishes from the people of Kirklees to the town and particularly this enterprise in your wonderful venue." He too was well-received.

Barnsley's Mayor, Cllr Tim Shepherd, followed on with the observation that, "When coming on third, it's best to leave the speech in the pocket." He had lived in our area and referred to his political career starting on Penistone Town Council. He had regularly enjoyed being a visitor to Penistone Town Hall and had proudly attended the 1996 world premiere of 'Brassed Off' in Penistone. He continued by wishing all the best for the next 100yrs and: "... hoped to be around for a good few of them". With that, he thanked everyone and received good applause.

The Manager Brian Barnsley also spoke about the Town Hall's history and films which had been shown. He referred to the two former Managers in the audience and their years during difficult times. He mentioned an old lady in the audience who had been coming to the theatre for eighty years and was still going strong. After a brief round-up of coming theatrical events, he brought the audience to attention by calling upon the band to play the National Anthem, in accordance with old cinema tradition, and was applauded for his effort. Thurlstone Brass Band was in fine form and went on to perform some inventive medleys themed upon events in each decade of the centenary, including elements of the French and Russian National Anthems.

A munificent buffet, appropriate to the style of 1914, was opened and a splendid time was had by all, with a very worthy "Well done" to all concerned.
See the Cinema Tour section for Paramount views behind the scenes.

The Old Carnegie Free Library
LintelThese are the original Library Opening Times, from the 1915 Penistone Almanack:

In 1966, the Lending Library was moved to a new purpose-built building on the High Street but the 'Reading Room' (newspapers and journals) was relegated to a small building behind the Town Hall for a time. The space liberated by the move was taken up by council offices for council services, public information and a social housing contact point.

The old 'Carnegie Free Library' rooms went through many changes after being taken over as a council facility and a new 'accessibility' automatic door was fitted at the top wall. Just beyond the door is a small red-brick building which for a time was occupied by Penistone & District Community Partnership, and East Peak Innovation Partnership, which is more or less the same thing. This had been the caretaker's home at one time.

Council Chamber
The pictures below show how the current council chamber is furnished with an elegant wooden table and framed pictures of council members. The public can visit this room for Penistone Town Council meetings 7pm on the third Monday of each month, excepting August. Many years ago, the council met in the board room of the Union Workhouse, Netherfield, which was later used by the Grammar School sixth form before being unceremoniously demolished for the new school.

Council Chamber
Lintel carving
Council Chamber
Cinema Picture

It is a little-known fact that there is a tunnel storage area under the Town Hall buildings with record books and documents going back centuries. When local historians asked to see some old known documents, the Barnsley archiving system could not find them. It is likely that the Town Hall deeds were among them.

The Town Hall has been a great asset to our town and continues to enjoy great popularity in the area. Now with surround sound, digital projector, bar and conference facilities. Major film releases are shown soon after their national release and occasionally on the actual day. Unfortunately, its future is not certain as its lease runs out in a few years and it is common knowledge that Barnsley Council would like to sell it off. Moves are afoot to decide its future.


Back Top Home Samuel Palmer (1805-80): 'Wise men make proverbs, but fools repeat them.'