The Village Cinemas
Located directly across from the old parish church in New Street (now demolished and replaced with terraced houses in 2006) stands the village’s first picture house, built around December 1914, and now operating as a small commercial business unit.
Known as ‘The Palace’, the cinema was thought to be designed by Victor Wilson, seating 600. The cinema was under the management of Harry Kimm, who organised not only the film shows but also a variety of entertainment such as Harman, the dancing musician and the local Silverband. Serials such as ‘Perils of Pauline’ and films including, ‘Red Circle’, ‘The Black Box’ and ‘The Master Key’ were said to have been among the first shown there. In October 1915, a 12 year old boy from Stonehouse was charged with breaking and entry. The judge in condemning the boy’s action, blamed the picture house, which the boy was said to frequent, stating; “He saw how it was done”. The Palace was sold at auction for £1060 in March 1918.
Probably the first film to be screened in Stonehouse was ‘Quo Vadis’ in the Public Hall, as an educational feature. The first recording of ‘moving pictures’ in Stonehouse appears to be in April 1898, taken from the Hamilton Advertiser:
“A large audience turned out on Tuesday night to witness a cinematograph exhibition in the Public Hall. A large number of views were thrown on the screen, but whether it was owing to defective films or the machine itself, a kineoptoscope. the living photographs were very indistinct, and failed to give satisfaction. Perhaps the most interesting pictures were some photographs taken by the x-rays, notably the skull of a living soldier, showing the position of bullets. The exhibition was under the management of Mr Wm. Grant, of Talgarth, South Wales, and the illuminant used was the Ethoro lime-light”.
It wasn’t until January 1937 that the ‘Rex’ was opened in Argyle Street by the owner, John Edward Sheeran. The picture house was furnished with a chandelier and mahogany panel fittings, including a staircase, from the German ship ‘Homeric’. The newspaper extract below gives a report on the opening of the cinema.
January 23rd 1937
New Cinemas First NIght.
Full homage was done to what can be genuinely termed Lanarkshire’s King of picture houses, appropriately named ‘The Rex’, when it was opened on Thursday night, and a crowded house appreciated and admired this splendidly fitted up structure. Roomily seated to accommodate 750 persons, what was once the concert hall of the “Homeric”, has been transformed into on of the finest cinemas for its size in and no doubt out of the county, and Mr Sheeran may indeed feel proud of the achievement. Film fans will find nothing left to be desired regarding sound equipment and the F.I. (Film Industry) outfit has to be heard to be appreciated. No doubt many will avail themselves at an early opportunity to go, to hear and see what has been a long felt want in the village, and which now having become such a splendid reality deserves every encouragement.
The Homeric which was launched as ‘Columbus’ on December 17th 1913, in Danzig, construction was held up during the first world war and was not completed until 1920. After the Second World War the town of Danzig was renamed Gdansk when it was reclaimed by Poland. The ‘Homeric’ is said to have been built for the Kaiser in the expectation of him winning the first world war. Ceded to Britain in 1919, she was sold to the White Star Line and renamed the ‘Homeric’. Weighing 34,351 tons she was refitted and completed by 1922 by Harland and Wolff. Her maiden voyage was on February 24th 1922, sailing from Southampton to New York as a cruise ship. The ‘Homeric’ had the distinction of being the largest twin screw ship in the world at the time of her launch. Unfortunately she was too slow at 18 knots for Atlantic crossings and was refitted to improve her speed with her coal burners converted to oil. In 1924 it was decided that her third class passenger capacity was too large and deemed unprofitable. She was still too slow at 19.5 knots and the new liner the ‘Oceanic’ was announced as her replacement in 1928. In 1930 her passenger and crew capacity was 523 first, 841 second, 314 third class and 625 crew. In 1932 came her final Atlantic voyage, thereafter she cruised in the Mediterranean out of British ports, and in the winter operated West Indian cruises. In 1934 the ‘Homeric’ became part of the merger between Cunard and White Star. In 1935 she was withdrawn from service and laid up off Ryde, Isle of Wight. Sold for scrap in February 1936 for £74,000 she was broken up by Thomas W. Ward at Inverkeithing where her interior furnishings were dismantled and transported by 14 wagons to Stonehouse Railway Station.
John Sheeran was a showman by trade, originally dealing in slot machines before it was outlawed. He invested his savings in the Rex picture house, which cost £1400 to refurbish. The evolution of television, put an end to this era and the picture house was redeveloped for business use
The Rex proved very popular especially during the war years with the first picture shown being ‘It happened one night’ starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. At this time the seating prices were 6D for the front stalls, 9D for the back, 1/3D for the front balcony and 1/- for the rear balcony. During the war years the Rex was also used for war fund cabaret performances. Sir Harry Lauder was the chairman of this committee and was a ‘regular’ in entertaining audiences and wounded soldiers. Mr Sheeran was a founder member of the committee, raising over £1700 for local soldiers. He died in June 1967 at the age of 73. Many celebrities graced the Rex including Will Fyffe CBE on Sunday 21st February 1943. The Rex was the only stage on which Harry Lauder and Will Fyffe appeared together on the same bill.