Tring has enjoyed a cinema in some form or other since the end of the 19th century. With help from our friends at Tring Local History Society and WHERE ELSE we’ve found out more
The very first mention of a cinema in Tring was when, in 1897, the first motion pictures were reported as having been shown at The Victoria Hall on Wednesday 8th May in the Bucks Herald.
In the following years, cinematograph pictures (moving pictures) took place occasionally, but it wasn’t until 1912 that the first cinema was reportedly opened in Tring by a Mr P.J. Darvell of Chesham. It was called The GEM. Known as a ‘picture palace’ in those days, the GEM was located in the Unity Hall at number 60 High Street, above the Co-operative – where Olive Limes is currently based.
It was such a success that, four years later, Darvell acquired a site for a purpose-built cinema on Western Road, and construction began in July 1916. It provided seating for around 400 people.
The new GEM opened on 1 August 1916. During the War there were many servicemen posted in the town, which helped to keep the cinema busy. But afterwards, the population returned to its peacetime level of round 4000, and by 1920 it was likely that the cinema closed its doors – although the company wasn’t wound up until 1922. In February 1924 the land was sold at auction; it became a garage, a bus depot, United Dairies, and is presently the Royal Mail sorting office.
That said, part of the demise of the GEM can be attributed to the rise of a rival cinema that opened at almost exactly the same time – three days earlier, in fact – on 29 July 1916, on Akeman Street. The New Cinematographic Theatre, known as The Empire, was a purpose-built cinema seating 250 people with a small balcony for a further 64.
In August 1931 the Empire was renamed The Gaiety, and it continued under that name until 1937.
But there was already a threat from another rival: The Regal.
In December 1935, a plan was submitted for a purpose-built cinema on the Aylesbury side of the church house on Western Road. By August that year, construction began, and the opening was announced for October.
It was a large cinema, seating 500, and cost around £12,000 to build. In 1943 it was bought by the large ABC circuits, making it the first ABC cinema in Hertfordshire – and one of their smallest.
Sadly, it didn’t fare well though, and closed its doors suddenly on 15th February 1958 after a three-day run of Gunfight at the OK Corral. The high rates of Entertainment Tax were blamed for its demise.
In the 1960s the Masque Theatre Company briefly took over the lease of The Regal, with plans to convert it into a theatre. But they struggled from the off, finally declaring bankruptcy in 1966. The building wasn’t demolished until the end of 1978.
And that was that for Tring Cinema lovers – until the arrival in 2015 of the pop-up Tring Cinema.
A joint venture between Tring Together and Tring Design, with the aim of returning cinema to Tring, the first event was an open-air showing of Grease with a self-built 5mx2.5m screen. Epsom provided the projector and Tring Brewery a 200w sound system. Thanks to sponsorship from local business and the Tring Arts Trust, Tring Cinema now has a home at the Nora Grace Hall with proper tiered cinema seating and a bar, although it continues to hold open-air screeenings during the summer.