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The Crossgates Picture House

The local history section of the central library in Leeds holds many interesting items relating to the history of the cinema in the city, including the share prospectus issued by The Crossgates Picture House Limited. This document provides a picture of the expectations of the theatre owners going into business.

The issue of 10,000 ten per cent cumulative participating preference shares at £1 each and 100,000 ordinary shares at £1 each opened on 29 November 1919 and closed on 8 December 1919. The directors of the company are listed as Richard Charles Oldham, a dramatist from Scholes (he worked as a scenic artist and wrote pantomimes at the Grand Theatre), and two insurance brokers – Owen Arthur Jepson of Ben Rhydding, and Arthur Gawthorp Thomas of Knaresborough, the company secretary.

The site of Picture House in Crossgates is land leased from the North Eastern Railway Company, with a lease agreed for 21 years beginning 4 July 1919. The 1911 census cites a population of over 13,000 for the area, but this information is almost 10 years out of date by the time of the issue. The crucial development is the purchase of land adjacent to the site leased by the Picture House directors by the local authority for the erection of 2000 houses under the municipal housing scheme. The directors observe that there are no similar entertainments in Crossgates – although there are plenty of cinemas in Harehills and Leeds city centre to the west – and that there is growing demand for a picture house. They state that the Crossgates Picture House will be the ‘sole properly constituted place of amusement and entertainment for the district,’ and that their aim is to provide ‘first-class entertainment at popular prices.’ The use of the phrase ‘properly constituted’ may imply that there are some ‘improperly constituted’ places of amusements and entertainment in the area. I have not, however, found any reference to illegal picture shows in Crossgates. The architect engaged to provide ‘a thoroughly up to date building, well ventilated and arranged on modern lines throughout and lighted by the company’s own electrical plant’ was J.P. Crawford. Crawford designed many of the early picture houses in Leeds, and was almost single-handedly responsible for the design of picture houses in the city between 1914 and 1930. The total cost of construction (including furnishings, electrical, appliances and equipments) was estimated to be £9000. This is roughly the equivalent of £340,000 in 2009.

E. Rudland Wood was employed as a consultant, and he is listed as an electrical and mechanical engineer as well as being the manager of two well-known cinemas in Yorkshire. It is his testimony that appears in the prospectus to reassure potential investors that the earning capacity and expenditures included are ‘well within the figures they should attain.’ It is the estimate of earnings and expenditures that is the most revealing part of the document. The income of the Picture House is estimated to be £364 (£14,000 in 2009 prices) per week if it were full to capacity at each performance, and to be £158 (£6,000) per week if attendances were ‘moderately average.’ The definition of ‘moderately average’ is the Picture House being one-half full during winter and one-third full in the summer. This would provide an estimated annual income of £8,250 (£310,000). The working expenses of the Picture House are estimated to not exceed £85 (£3,200), or a total £4,420 (£170,000) per year. The annual return for investors with preference shares that paid a dividend at 10% is £1,000 (£38,000); and, once other costs are taken into account, the director’s estimate of the total annual expenses is £6,220 (£240,000). This would leave an annual profit of £2,030 (£77,000).

The Crossgates Picture House opened on 5 August 1920 and closed on 16 May 1965. Unfortunately, it is not known if the share issue was successful. Nor do we have access to the company’s accounts to see if their estimates of revenue and expenses were accurate.

An image of the Crossgates Picture House in 1937 can be accessed from the Leodis website here.  The Leodis website provides a detailed photographic history of Leeds, and has many photographs of cinemas in the city and the surrounding area along with the recollections of many people who attended these cinemas. There is also a great picture of Louis Le Prince’s 16-lens camera. The home page for the database is here.

N.B. The conversion of 1919 prices to 2009 was performed using the widget at