Early cinema in the Isle of Axholme – Colin Lovelace

Early cinema in the Isle of Axholme
Colin Lovelace

My grandfather, John Lovelace, had a cinema in Crowle near Scunthorpe in Lincolnshire, called the ‘Palais de Luxe’ at the Market Hall, shortly before the First World War and opened several more in neighbouring villages like at Epworth (from September 23rd) at the outbreak of war. He ran these until about 1922 when he either sold them or the lease was transferred to Joseph Spivey. In the course of writing up a family history I consulted your web-site and don’t see any mention of my grandfather so perhaps you could amend your records and put him into history! 1

My grandparents were in the Variety theatre and my grandfather, who was by profession an electrical engineer, had been to America in the early part of the century (I presume) where he had seen the use of moving pictures on stage which he then adopted for the act with my grandmother. They were called ‘The Lovelaces, in Illustrated Song’- I have been unable to find much about them but know they were living and appearing in Scarborough in 1907 (see enclosed advert). It was through Carol Langbone of the Lincolnshire Reference Library that I learnt of your society and I’m very pleased to see the good work that you do to preserve an important part of Britain’s cultural heritage.

My father was born at 51 North Street, Scarborough, Yorkshire, April 1st 1907 and registered as John Richard Murphy (although his army records says place of birth: ‘Dublin’ which may be a confusion with one of his parents). At the time his parents were music hall artists who appeared in an act called ‘The Lovelaces, in Illustrated Song’. My father says in a memoir that my grandfather took the Theatre Royal, Scarborough as licensee for three years from December 1903 (though the Scarborough Library can find no record of this) and that my grandmother was the guest artiste for each summer season. At present I know little of my grandfather John except that, according to my father, he was a tough character who treated my father harshly, that he had been in America, was by professional training an electrical engineer who was clever at inventing things and had devised an early form of moving pictures so that they were projected on stage as my grandmother sang from the wings when she was pregnant.

This would seem to have been the case for their appearance in Scarborough because they were performing in the week of March 18th 1907 and my father was born on April 1st! My father’s birth certificate has him entered as ‘John Richard Murphy’ and my grandfather as ‘John Murphy, Electrical Engineer’ so I can only presume that the name ‘Lovelace’ was a stage name adopted by my grandparents although it was the one they used later when my grandfather ran the cinemas in Crowle and other small villages and all my father’s brothers and sisters used the name ‘Lovelace’. Unfortunately I never asked my father about this and I have discovered that only in 1954 did he legally change his name to ‘Lovelace’. My father’s sister Joyce told me that my grandfather had invented a system of mirrors placed at dangerous bends or corners to help prevent road accidents but that he had a partner who had cheated him of the credit.

When my father was a young boy, the family moved to a small town called Tadcaster in Yorkshire and then to Leeds (from where my father ran away to a Mrs Richardson, a lady in Scarborough who had looked after him and his sister Cissie when my grandparents were presumably on tour, and whom he was very fond and regarded as his mother) and then to Crowle just before the First World War where my grandfather became the proprietor of a cinema called the ‘Palais de Luxe’ (Picture Palace). They had quite a large house in Woodlands Avenue (now next to an off-licence according to someone who wrote to my father from Crowle) and from where my grandfather ran several other cinemas in nearby villages, which confirms his engineering ability – having a cinema was rather advanced considering this was before the First World War.

The business must have been reasonably prosperous because he had a car (I have seen a picture of him sitting in it but I don’t know who has that).

During the First World War, my grandfather became a sort of unofficial recruiting agent for the War Office using the cinemas to show patriotic films of the war to encourage young men to go off to fight, and I remember being told by my aunt Joyce, my father’s sister, that he received a medal or some sort of scroll signed by Lord Kitchener (the man on the poster saying ‘Your Country Needs You’) thanking him for his work which was published in the ‘Crowle Advertiser for 21st August 1915:

“Mr. J Lovelace, of the Palais de Luxe, who has frequently exhibited pictures with a view to aiding recruiting has this week received the following communication from Lord Kitchener

War Office
June 1915
Sir, I wish to express to you personally, and to those who have helped you in your recruitment work, my best thanks for the energy that has been displayed by you all in the matter of recruiting. I would ask you to take an early opportunity of urging all able-bodied men in your neighbourhood to come forward and enlist so that they may be trained as soldiers to take part in the war, and help keep our forces in the field at the maximum strength. I shall be glad to hear of any reasons that may be given you by young and suitable men for not availing themselves of the opportunity to see service in the field, where they are so much wanted.
I am , Sir, Your obedient servant, Kitchener”

I think it was my father who told me that my grandfather used to have a bell and stand outside the cinema advertising the films about the war and encouraging men to enlist although there is no mention of this in the local papers.

My grandfather not only showed films during this period but organised a number of musical concerts in which my aunt May, my father’s eldest sister, sometimes danced and played the piano. These concerts were for Nurses Associations, the Epworth Training Corps, the Prince of Wales Relief Fund for which he received a public vote of thanks (September 26th 1914), the Women’s War Relief Association, (for which he was thanked publicly again for “his usual and patriotic manner … (having) spared no trouble or expense in providing a splendid programme of pictures…)”, the Red Cross, and the Women’s Belgian Relief Fund. In October 1917 he was publicly thanked again for raising 16 shillings for the Soldiers Parcels Fund. The strange thing about all this patriotic work was of course that my grandfather was Irish thus showing that only a minority of Irish people at that time were in any way republican rebels – even later as the newspaper file shows, my grandfather continued in the 1920s to be involved in War relief charities and does not seem to have been a supporter of Home Rule or to have been alienated by the rebellion of 1916 and its brutal suppression but I have no evidence of that. (In fact on May 27th 1916 he showed a newsreel ‘Pictures of the Dublin Disturbances’ and on June 9th ‘Pictures of the Rebellion in Ireland’. and one wonders what his and my grandmother’s feelings were about these events given that she certainly had family in Dublin).

The sort of films shown by my grandfather were dramas, Charlie Chaplins, and Keystone Cops comedies and the length of each film reel was given i.e. ’Billie Ritchie in the Avenging Dentist, 1,500 feet’ (Oct 16th 1915). An advert for December 5th 1915 (in ‘Jottings’ in the ‘Crowle Advertiser’ one of the films was The Clue of the Cigar Band, ‘a powerful drama with strong sensational incidents.…There will also be a Chaplin competition in which Mr. Lovelace offers 5/- (shillings) for the best improvisation of this screen favourite in which the audience will act as judge… .a similar competition will be held at Althorpe on Tuesday and at Epworth on Wednesday.’ A week later, a ‘Go as-you Please’ was held with 5/- being offered for the best singer in the audience (a Mathew McCloskey won the Charlie Chaplin prize).
Spy pictures were very popular, such as The Spy, a two-reel drama dealing with the alien enemy within our gates (reflecting the contemporary belief that German spies were everywhere – none of course were ever found!) On February 12th week, again The Deadly Model ‘a drama showing the German Spy System in London.’

During the First World War, while my father was still at primary school, he and his younger brother Jim worked for my grandfather, cleaning the cinemas and collecting the heavy rolls of film from the station. The late nights this involved often caused my father to fall asleep during his lessons but he had a sympathetic teacher who allowed him to sleep sometimes in the school during the day. For January 1916, the advert stated that all films were Non-Flammable and that films would be shown Monday to Saturday with a change of programme each night with two shows on a Saturday, so no wonder my father was so tired at school!

The sort of films about the war were presentations like Lord Kitchener’s Visit to the Front (March 25th 1916 – Kitchener drowned soon after that) A Son of France, ‘depicting the difficulties and dangers of trench fighting and French soldiers under present conditions’ (April 1st 1916) Secrets of the Air ‘a soul-stirring drama of the present day that will have you spellbound right to the finish’ (22nd April 1916 – I suspect my grandfather wrote these descriptions for the paper). The adverts for the films sometimes reflected war-time problems – the programme for November 25th 1916 was changed because the scheduled film about Christopher Columbus had been ‘lost on rail’. In the week of December 9th 1916, it was announced that ‘There will be no pictures on Monday night owing to the entire oxygen supply being required for other purposes”. The supply of oxygen seems to have got worse by the end of the month because on January 13th 1917, the newspaper announced that “The Crowle Picture Palace will be open as usual on Saturday at 7 and 9 o’clock…having got a small supply of oxygen it will now be open every Saturday night” (which must have meant financial losses for my grandfather). Sometimes my grandmother sang at the cinema, for example that same December week in 1916, he showed East Lynne and ‘Mrs Lovelace will sing at each house ‘When Other Lips’.’

On January 13th 1917, there was a report in this paper which shows how early it was that films were attacked for having a bad influence on people! A boy had burnt down a stable and when prosecuted had said he had been flogged by his boss. In defence his lawyer had argued, “The lad had received extravagant ideas from the pictures”. Later in 1917, my grandfather appears to have introduced dancing during the week as well as the ‘Go as You Please’ competitions, which I imagine were sort of fancy dress shows.

In May 1918 my grandfather appears to have been ordered to go to work in a munitions or steel factory (directed war work) because in the paper for July 20th 1918 there is an account of a meeting of the Crowle Military Tribunal before which he appeared to appeal (perhaps he was called up because he was an engineer). The report says: “A cinema proprietor (48 years old) applied for conditional exemption. He was married with seven children (two of them in France). He had collected as much as £175 per year entertainment tax for the Government free of charge and had averaged over £3 per week in tax during the current year; (This was a relatively large amount given that the average weekly wage of a farm labourer was about 10/-a week, thus my grandfather was earning a large amount of money from his cinemas at that
time); He had also shown films and slides (transparencies)for the Government, a topical budget for the Ministry of Information and War Savings and other slides, all free of charge. If he was taken away the shows would have to be closed down. In reply to Alderman Stephenson, the applicant said that he had the offer of work of national importance at Scunthorpe (where there was a large steel works and other industrial companies) and was willing to arrange to work part-time – six months exemption to do 3 days per week on work of national importance.” So my grandfather must have worked in Scunthorpe for a few months at least until the war finished in November, but the cinema in Crowle continued with two shows on a Saturday and clearly one reason he received his exemption was that the cinema was a very useful place for Government messages to be issued. For example “on Monday next, August 5th (Remembrance Day) the Prime Minister’s Address to the British people will be read out at 9 o’clock at the Palais de Luxe”. And on Oct 12th 1918 a film, The Life of Lord Kitchener.

In the November 16th edition of the paper, there is the somewhat laconic statement in the ‘Jottings’ column: “So the Great war is over and we have won.” Saturday’s edition had the following large advert: “National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers, Crowle and District Branch Wreath Fund Statement of Accounts: Miss M. Lovelace, Sale of Flags £1 13 9d.” (This could have been my aunt May or my aunt Cissie whose real name was Marjorie).

Later that month the cinema was now open Monday, Tuesday and Saturday although how many went is uncertain given that the November 30th 1918 paper announced that Crowle schools were to be closed for two weeks because of the influenza outbreak.

My grandfather continued to run the cinemas until about the early twenties when I have accounts of his programme and activities of my grandmother also in the local paper (which I have not finished researching). For example the ‘Crowle Advertiser’ reports on June 28th 1919, that the Epworth Demobilised Soldiers held a tea and entertainment and that “after tea the soldiers were joined by comrades from other parts . . . with a contingent from Crowle who were conveyed in motor cars and other vehicles, the arrangements for which had been duly carried out by Mr. J Lovelace. Mr Attack presided over an entertainment which was held in the evening when songs were rendered by Mrs J. Lovelace… a vote of thanks was accorded the Crowle vocalists, Mr Lovelace responded and it was stated that a similar function would be planned to entertain the Epworth men.” In late July, my grandfather organised a ‘Confetti Dance’ in the Market Hall in Crowle, 250 people were present and “a vote of thanks was accorded Mr Lovelace who organised the dance and for (allowing) ex-soldiers and sailors free entry.”

In late October, a concert was organised in the Market Hall for the St. Dunstan’ s Home for the Blinded Soldiers and Sailors for which the local priest Fr. Esser painted the scenery and my aunt May danced in ‘The Butterfly Dance’ and ‘Daddy Longlegs’ and “Mr Lovelace kindly supplied and manipulated the limelight for several of the items which was very effective”. Curiously (and I think typically knowing the rather imperious character of my aunt May) the paper published a letter from ‘Miss M. Lovelace” in early November referring to the above concert:

Dear Sir, I beg to inform you that I alone trained and instructed the children for the concert. I also found all the music and made all my own dresses except the wigs. A small company of children including myself, promoted the concert, except the dance which was given after the concert was over. I wish to tender my very best thanks to all those who gave me their assistance to make the concert a success,
Yours faithfully, May Lovelace, Woodlands Avenue, Crowle, October 30th 1919.

She continued to give concerts — there is an item in ‘Crowle Advertiser’ for April 17th 1920
“Concert: The expectations of being treated to a good rousing concert brought to the Market Hall (Crowle) Wednesday evening an unusually large audience. Miss M. Lovelace was charming in manner and voice in her song ‘I’ve Got the World In You’… Miss Lovelace (also) threw her charm into ‘My Heart Goes With You’…”

Perhaps as a sign of financial problems but certainly indicative of previous prosperity, my grandfather put an advert in the April 10th 1920 edition of the ‘Crowle Advertiser’: For Sale: Baby Grand Piano. Broadwood, full compass, tricord… in splendid condition. Apply Lovelace, Crowle, Doncaster.

My grandfather continued his involvement in charity work concerned with ex-soldiers well after the First World War as there is a report in the ‘Crowle Advertiser’ for May 7th 1921 of a meeting of the War Relief Committee which was considering whether the fund should be wound-up or continued. The local doctor, Dr Alexander said there was still considerable distress in Crowle amongst widows and orphans and among men who had lost limbs. My grandfather seems to have queried this and asked if there were any other causes of distress and then the discussion moved to the erection of a memorial as 400 men had served in the War. My grandfather said he thought some of the fund’s money should be handed over for the erection of a memorial but “I am not in favour of the whole of the money going in one direction.” A sub-Committee was set up to investigate cases of distress.

In the June 4th 1921 edition of the paper, in a report of another meeting of the War Relief Fund committee, there was a discussion about how to distribute the remaining £1 26s of the Fund. This sub-committee reported that there were two cases of distress and recommended paying 10/- shillings per week for each case for one month at the end of which period it was anticipated that the widows would be in receipt of a pension for life. My grandfather appears to have reacted strongly to this saying that “he thought the grant a paltry sum. If there was distress, £2 would not go far. He proposed that £5 in one sum be paid in each case —carried unan.” (That is as far as I had reached in 1986 in looking through the Crowle Advertiser.) At some point my grandfather stopped running the cinemas – my father mentions in his memoir that my grandfather had failed to persuade the owner of the building where he showed his films to carry out necessary work to conform to new fire regulations — and he became a representative for a brewery selling wines and spirits (!) before he died suddenly, I remember my aunt Joyce saying, in his garden (still in Crowle?) in about 1922 in his fifties — I have as yet been unable to obtain a death certificate. I have the impression from what my father has told me that my grandfather drank a lot and left little money, for after his death my grandmother then moved to Doncaster and in the late 1920s was sent to prison for debt which greatly shocked my father, who with his brother, had to pay off the debts at a time when they had little money themselves. (Ironically, during the war, one of the concerts that my grandfather had organised was in April 1915 on behalf of the Epworth Temperance Society to promote abstinence from intoxicating liquor in which my grandfather showed a film entitled The Curse of Drink !

At some point in the late twenties/early thirties, my grandmother returned to live in Dublin at 1, Marlborough Street which was, I think, her family home. I do not know who was living in the house at that time but it is the address given on her death certificate – she was 68 when she died on 30th August 1940. Her name was Marie (Mary on the certificate) Courtney, the oldest of five children and I think her father was a sailor/ship owner who had a boat which he called ‘The Three Sisters’ but which he changed to ‘The Two Sisters’ when Marie left home to go on the stage as a singer.

Joseph Spivey ran the cinema as Crowle Picture Palace, listed as such in 1922, so the change-over was c.1921. Later his two sons, Dick and Bill, took over. At some point the name was changed to Regal. The cinema closed in the 1950s. The building now houses a Tesco shop.

First published in Mercia Bioscope no. 102 February 2007. © text: Colin Lovelace & Mercia Cinema Society




  • 3 Responses

    1. F.Simpson
      F.Simpson at · · Reply

      This is my family history .. I am Cissey / Marjorie’s Grand daughter …. Daughter of her child Marie

    2. F.Simpson
      F.Simpson at · · Reply

      My family history

    3. winston hopkinson
      winston hopkinson at · · Reply

      very interesting. thank you for telling me about it all..lovely cadillac as well..

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