Picture houses, ah the good old days! The anticipation of seeing the latest blockbuster film on the big screen. Rows upon rows filled with people, amid plumes of cigarette smoke and beer bottles clinking under plush velvet seats! It really is the stuff of legend.
Many will remember it as the thing to do - getting dressed up and heading to the flicks with your sweetheart. Many Armachians will recall The Ritz Cinema and The Cosy in Armagh and The Savoy in Portadown. Many a ‘snog’ or two was had in the back row… so we’re told anyway!
The Ritz Picture House was known for its royal treatment of patrons, complete with plush seats set on cast iron feet and velvet curtains. Originally, built for the Union Cinemas chain, it was taken over by the Associated British Cinemas (ABC) chain (not the Council) and ultimately closed its doors in 1980. We hear it found a new lease of life at one stage as a roller-rink, memories of skate dates are also very welcome!
Who remembers the minor’s matinee club when the youngsters of the time would have packed the house out on a Saturday afternoon? And Auntie Margaret?
A sad day indeed when this gem was demolished to make way for the Market Place Theatre and Arts Centre - not that the Market Place any less than a very worthy successor on the site!
But is it the same nowadays? It’s all a bit modern - then again, everywhere was modern at a time. Maybe we look back through nostalgic eyes! But it has to be said, there was a certain decadence to the ‘picture palaces’ that we seem to have lost along the way.
Maybe you were an usherette selling your wares? No popcorn back then!
We can’t help but wonder what memories were lost with the building. Maybe you have a story you can share with us, we’d love to hear it!
Today, many of the old picture houses across Co Armagh have either fallen into disrepair, or have been put to different use - where Armagh Picture House once stood is now home to Armagh Credit Union. The Cosy, gone; Keady picture house (The Scala or ‘The Flea Pit’ as it was rather un-affectionately known by locals), gone; one you mightn’t have known of – Gilford cinema, once housed in the current library building on the main street! Can you name any others?
They remain an important part of our past and continue to be a reminder of a time when going to the cinema was a special and social event.
This week we joined the Libraries NI team for a nostalgic look back at the old picture houses of Armagh. It was great meet some past employees and cinema goers who shared their own experiences
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Congratulations to Jean Webb you have only gone an won yourself a pair of cinema tickets! (For the Omniplex - not the Ritz) Give us a shout on 028 37 443 043 or call at the office to collect your tickets
Remember if your not in you can’t win !
As aforementioned, the Ritz sadly closed its doors to film-fanatics in 1980. However, according to The Armagh Guardian in December of the same year, it had taken a local business consortium a mere matter of months to transform the interior of the premises to welcome a new kind of reveller.
Rebranded as The Ritz Roller Club, the doors were reopened and the once ‘sloping floors’, now levelled, filled with roller-skate clad disco dancers.
The article describes the club as being the new ‘in spot’ for recreationally deprived teens. Boasting a rink that catered for 400 people, an 800 square foot seating area, pool tables, video gaming equipment and a tuck shop; the club’s ethos was built around providing high-energy entertainment.
It didn’t stop there! The consortium behind the building’s transformation had made the decision to retain some of the cinema’s former glory and had secured plans for a 200 seat cinema to be built above the main hall.
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You mention the Savoy Picture House in Portadown. It was also known as The Catch and was the former home of the Catch my Pal Society and it was in the same premises as Sprotts bacon factory in Edward Street. Portadown had two other cinemas - The Regal and Sommersons. One of the highlights of going to the cinema was to watch the top football matches on Pathe News and the 1953 FA cup final, when Stan Matthews won his cup-winners medal, stands out, the other memory from this match was watching Stan Mortenson scoring a hat-trick for Blackpool. Happy memories.
David Armstrong, Portadown
The Savoy in Portadown was also known as 'The Catch'. It was in Edward Street, also the home of
Sprotts bacon factory. and it was the original home of the Catch my Pal Society. The cinema was one of three in Portadown, the others being the Regal and Sommersons, also known as The Picture House. One of my memories is making sure we were there to watch Pathe News which was the only channel we had for watching the international football matches - I can still hear Raymond Clendinning commentating on the 1953 FA Cup final when Stanley Matthews won his coveted cup-winners medal. And I haven't forgotten that Blackpool centre-forward Stan Mortenson scored a hat-trick that
day against Bolton Wanderers.