This week our House Through Time is Picture Houses through Time. Following on from Claire Baillie’s Off the Shelf Choice which was a photo of La Scala’s staff we are looking at cinemas in Dumbarton and the Vale of Leven.
The magic of going to the cinema is something that we all take for granted today, but in the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was the newest form of entertainment. The first moving pictures developed on celluloid film were made by William Greene, a British inventor, in 1889. These first films were simple shots of everyday activities. The early 20th century saw the appearance of narrative shorts, mainly comedies and melodramas, which quickly became popular.
Travelling showmen were the first to show early films. Large tents were specifically designed and constructed for the purpose of showing films on temporary sites, usually local common ground or village greens. In West Dunbartonshire, Joseph Wingate was the pioneer of the cinema, setting up a tent on Dumbarton Common.
Smartly dressed man who kept the queues in order outside the Picture House in High Street.
During the early days of cinema, the film used was highly flammable and was a danger to the temporary venues. The Cinematography Act of 1910 required that projection rooms be incorporated into buildings, separate from the auditorium. The requirements of the Act led to the first generation of purpose – built cinemas. In Dumbarton, Joseph Wingate built the first cinema, the Picture Palace and the Palace Picture House, in Alexandria.
The variety halls in many Scottish towns were eager to include films into their variety programmes and many buildings were adapted to allow the films to be shown. In West Dunbartonshire various halls were used to show films including the Burgh Hall in Dumbarton and the Public Hall in Alexandria.
In the early days of 20th century cinema, silent films were often accompanied by orchestral music, the La Scala cinema in Dumbarton had a cinema orchestra. The arrival of the ‘talkies’ in the 1920’s led to the demise of in-house entertainment and a change to the way cinemas were designed.
Cinemas were extremely popular during the mid 20th century, being the most popular form of narrative entertainment.
The whole family could enjoy the show, and they were a cheap form of entertainment. They provided a form of escapism during the Second World War and during the rebuilding of Britain in the 1950’s.
By the late 1950’s, the cinema had lost its appeal, mainly due to the introduction of the television. Over time cinemas in West Dunbartonshire closed one by one and by the early 1990’s all of the old cinemas had closed down, leaving the multiplex cinema in Clydebank as the only operational cinema in the area.

Do you remember any of these cinemas? What films did you go to see? West Dunbartonshire Council Libraries Staff.

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