These are the notes of an interview made by Nicholas Butler who interviewed Mr Cecil E Riches of 54, Canwick Grove, Old Heath, Colchester in the mid 1980s as part of his research for his book “The Story of Wivenhoe”. These notes have been re-typed by Ann Jones from Nicholas Butler’s original notes and posted here by Frances Belsham.
What Mr Riches told Nick Butler.
I came to Wivenhoe in 1929, but not sure what part of the year. Previously spent 7 years as apprentice to a joiner in Suffolk.
Looked South from Peck’s Garage and saw that some demolition work was going on. Cedric Peck was just a little older than I. We were both motorcycle mad. The garage in those days was purely petrol and oil, but they had a car there which they used to do a bit of town work. There was a bus. The Silver Queen had arrived, it had solid tyres. (For more about the Silver Queen click here). You held your breath up and down Clingoe Hill. No such thing as overloading – people were sticking out of it anywhere.
We helped to run a cinema with a colleague in Halesworth, that was where we learned about cinema projection. The talkies were looming in the distance. I wanted to get into them. The talkies were phenomenally expensive to install, so at Wivenhoe there were only silent films. I heard of the Wivenhoe cinema through an uncle of mine. It looked as if the joinery business wouldn’t last in Suffolk and times were dodgy. It seems that the cinema probably opened early in 1929. (Jack Hatch might know) Used to go round on my motorcycle on Thursdays and take round printed bills which came from Wilson’s of Leicester, the well-known theatrical printers. Took them to pubs which were given complimentary tickets. It was being developed all the time. We had a nice set of stage tabs. The ceiling was made of wood. It was in the old Oddfellows’ Hall which later became a clothing factory. A sloping floor was put in for the cinema. Very well adapted. A little orchestra pit. Can’t remember any live music. Had a panatrope. BTH British-Thompson-Houston a twin turntable affair. Rice-Kellogg loudspeakers behind the stage. Played records, I imagine that people lent records. The woman who used to do that was either Grace Chancey (who married a young fellow called Chaney and they had the Greyhound), or Zena Durrell, between them they ran the panatrope. The Manageress of the cinema was Deecee Bishop, her father kept the Grosvenor Hotel. No name…just Wivenhoe Cinema. Little kiosk affair in front of the building was put up while I was there. I think the kiosk was facing the entrance, two globes on pillars on either side, I installed them, was asked to wire them up, I used old cable, they didn’t last very long. Electricity was supplied by a firm called Barrells. Timber merchants up at The Cross near The Flag.
I, think that what closed the cinema was the return fare to Colchester. It was 3d return to St Botolph’s by rail.
We opened on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, I think those were the days. Every Saturday there was a kiddies matinee.
We used to make our own electricity. A little engine in a building attached to the main building.
A man called Carter, a builder of Elmstead Heath, did a lot of work for us. Put in the main wooden ceiling, general decoration.
Used to take the money to the Plough Hotel in Colchester, opposite St Botolph’s station. That was where the governor lived. His name was Parkin.
Parkin landlord of The Plough, a strange looking man, looked like Peter Lorre. A little bit scared of him. The other people. Game. Had a motor tyre business off The Plough. The third man was Colonel Bell. Funny man, liked to bend his elbow, wore a furry trilby hat, physically, very upright.
I thought things were a bit dodgy.
I lodged with a Mrs Service of 10 Manor Road. Spion Kop. Houses standing in the mud. Her husband had been something to do with Sir Thomas Lipton’s Shamrock. Dear old lady, in her front room which was never used, she had a beautiful round table, on it were 12 beautiful alabaster ornaments, little birds with candle holders.
On Saturdays we always had fish and chips for dinner, she used to send the little girl next door down for them. The chips were put in the oven in the newspaper in which they came wrapped. I went to lunch at 1pm and there was newsprint on the chips. I used to put chips in my pockets and dispose of them on a neighbouring allotment on my way back to the cinema. Allotments backed on to No 10.
One day on the train up to Colchester I met a young lady of the name of Dot. Lived on Anchor Hill, one of the girls I knew in Wivenhoe. I put the money in a canvas bag on the rack. That is the cinema takings. Left the takings on the rack when I got out. Luckily managed to double back and get the bag and take it to The Plough.
We took perhaps £5 to £6 in a night. My wages were 50/-d a week. Paid £1 a week for my lodging. Sent money away to my widowed mother. I was the eldest son.
Generally it was Deecee Bishop who locked up. One night I was particularly asked to lock up. Being conscientious I had a good look round. I went into the office, which was in the left front corner of the building where they kept the sweets. We sold sweets, cigarettes, chocolates and monkey nuts before and during an intermission which may have lasted about 10 minutes. No crisps, which had not been invented, nor ice-cream as there was nowhere to keep it. The office had a wooden dado three feet high. Wooden floor. Piled around the dado from the fire to the cupboard where the sweets were kept was all sorts of rubbish. I moved it from the fire. This was going to be an Insurance job.
When I left Wivenhoe an opening occurred at the Empire Cinema on the Mersea Road. And that’s where my Wivenhoe experience ended.
I married in July 1932. In November 1932 went to Leicester, to another cinema. Helped to install the talkies at the Empire. I think it was late 1931 to early 1932. First film shown was one called Dynamite. 72 hour week. Talkies had to be rehearsed.
Projection box in Wivenhoe. Stringent regulations. Films very inflammable. Elevated. Entrance from a side entrance. 10’ square made entirely of concrete. Fireproof door was made of 2” teak. Jack Hatch used to re-wind the films.
Great character down there at the time. George Mitchell. A sister called Mrs Richardson. A prominent Wivenhoe councillor. George was an ossbod. He had a boat. Used to disappear for days at a time. Once borrowed a motorbike without permission. My motorbike was a Douglas twin cylinder 350cc RT 3544. Could do 60 mph.
We showed two feature films, a first and a second and a fill-in. Paul Gimber (he was a cameraman), who wrote for the Gaumont Mirror, a magazine, came down to photograph Garrison House for the magazine.
Programme would last from 7 to 10pm approximately. Good value for money. A lot of it had to be cranked through. You could add to the fun depending on how fast you cranked. The projector was a very Heath Robinson affair. I’ve cranked hundreds of thousands of feet of film. Twin projectors, both motorised. The belt was a tiny piece of leather like that used on a sewing machine. Jack Hatch and I were projectionists.
I used to know King, a man who brought round fish. He could throw his voice…”Oh excuse me there’s somebody waiting for me up the road”.
I was a little bit scared of the outfit.
Parkin disappeared, nobody ever knew where he went.
Did some electrical wiring at Wivenhoe, to earn money. I used to clean up the cinema in the mornings. Had to look after the engine. To make electricity for the arc lamps inside the projectors. Got in the fuel for it. 25-30 amps per arc. The mains – of the electricity circuit provided by Barrells at The Cross – couldn’t cope with that.
Barrells provided the electricity supply for Wivenhoe.
The engine was a Capel twin cylinder engine. Had a handle with which you started it. One day the handle flew off into the rubbish patch beside the cinema.
First programme 6.30pm, probably. Saturday matinee 2.30pm probably.
I would project Hatch would re-wind.
Jack Hatch was about 5 years younger than I. I was 21.
The films were collected by Film Transport Ltd. Rough old truck. Run by Harrison and Ives. We got a notification: “When you finish this film you will send it to such-and-such a place” films were therefore not returned to a depot. This firm worked all night. Rolls of film in a tin, Had to put them on to spools. Could stick two rolls together. Amyl acetate. But you had to divide them afterwards.
One of the major cleaning jobs was getting up the monkey nuts and fag ends.
Did all sorts of other jobs in between times. Picked up a bit of cash.
Jack Hatch 2975
Ernie Chamberlain had some money in it. Strange man, a little bit aloof, had a lot of money. Lived up Rectory Hill somewhere. Walked about with a briefcase. Nobody knew where he lived. Not a mixer.