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How can we re-invigorate this art deco masterpiece?

The Longford Essoldo on Chester Road looks like a relic of a time long past
Longford Cinema

The Longford Cinema, also known as The Longford Essoldo, The Top Rank Club, and affectionately nicknamed “The Cash Register”, is a historic landmark in Stretford, Manchester.

It sticks out like a sore thumb on Chester Road and looks like a relic of a time long past. Something which could have appeared from space.

Will we ever see it in use again?

The answer looks unlikely at the moment, but, never say never.

The Longford Essoldo

The Longfor
The Longford Essoldo – photo credit: Manchester libraries

It’s a beautiful building, designed by Salford born architect Henry Elder and epitomised the height of Art Deco fashion when it opened its doors on 12 October 1936.

Its distinctive frontage, shaped like a cash register, was a unique representation of the business aspect of show business.

But it has been left to rack and ruin and is in a sorry state today.

The History of the Longford Essoldo

The Longford Essolo
Photo credit:

In the late 1930s, Manchester businessmen Harry Jackson, Arthur Jackson and Ernest Newport embarked on an ambitious project to construct a new Super Cinema in Stretford.

Already owners of Stretford’s Picturedrome Cinema and other cinemas in neighbouring areas, they purchased a site on Chester Road, demolishing a terrace of Georgian shops to make way for their vision.

It opened on 12th October 1936.

It was a seriously busy road, so it was really in the perfect spot to pick up punters and this was reflected in ticket sales. It was a roaring success.

Check out the amazing history of the building by journalist Dean James Adshead below:

The main entrance, resembling a cash register flanked by phallic symbols

The striking and explicit frontage motifs are believed to represent his belief that the film industry of the day was primarily concerned with money and sex.

Foyer murals, designed by Frederick H. Baines, depicting contemporary cinema scenes, and each with 10×6 feet are thought to survive behind removable coverings.

This was amongst the first of Elders’s cinemas and is the only survivor.

The design was a dramatic departure from the theatre influenced cinema planning which prevailed at the time, and acknowledged the different spatial and technical requirements of wide screen cinematography.

Construction was undertaken by local firm Normantons.

Upon completion, the Longford Cinema represented a revolution in cinema design.

Equipped with modern amenities such as soundproofing, under-seat heating, and air-conditioning, it provides a luxurious movie-going experience.

The interior boasted Venetian Marble flooring and tangerine and silver-blue art-deco designs, along with a stage for theatrical performances. It was the first building in Britain to be illuminated by neon tube lighting.

A cinema and theatre

Operating as both a cinema and a theatre, it accommodated large audiences in its stalls, balcony, and café area.

A car park was provided for patrons, accessed via Trafford Grove.

During World War II, the building served various purposes, hosting Sunday concerts featuring stars like Julie Andrews and providing shelter to the Hallé Orchestra after the bombing of their original venue.

In 1950, the cinema was purchased by the Essoldo Circuit, renamed The Stretford Essoldo and continued to operate until the rise of television led to its closure in 1965.

Lucky 7 Bingo Hall (1965-1986)

Lucky 7 Bingo Hall

The cinema shut in 1965, coinciding with the meteoric rise of bingo.

Its fate was sealed. New owners the Ladbrokes Group decided to revamp the building and so the Essoldo became the Lucky 7 Bingo Hall.

Although when we say revamp…. well you can check out the decor for yourself in these images.

The bingo hall closed in 1986.

Lucky 7 Bingo Hall
Look at that interior!

In 1979, the widening of Chester Road resulted in the demolition of the front portion of the building, leaving it with an unbalanced facade.

The Rank Group acquired the site in 1986, reopening it as The Top Rank Club, but declining profits led to its closure in 1995.

The Top Rank Club (1986-1995)

Top Rank Club

Following its twenty-one year history as the Lucky 7 Bingo Hall, new owners the Rank Group continued to use the building as a bingo hall, renaming it the Top Rank Club.

In 1994, English Heritage granted the bingo hall Grade II listed building status, with their report giving a further insight into the state of the original features.

The murals remained behind removable coverings, with little of the original plan disturbed. But again, another absolutely hanging interior.

The circle stalls, projection room, upper floor bar and cafe area above the foyer all remained intact. However, by 1995, the Top Rank Club was forced to close its doors due to a fall in profits and, unlike previous times, there were no further plans for the building upon closure.

Despite various proposed redevelopment plans, including conversion into a gym, health club, or student hub, the building has remained vacant since its sale in 1997.

Listed by English Heritage in the mid-1990s, it stands as a testament to Stretford’s cinematic and architectural history, awaiting its next chapter in the future.

How did The Longford Essoldo used to look?

How can we restore this former gem?

Not much has happened since 1997.

There have been quite a few planning applications that were mainly concerned with phone masts and other machinery being attached to the building.

In October 2020, there were some hopes that the site could be rejuvenated, as a planning application went in for additional heating and ventilation for the auditorium itself.

This was granted in December that year. You can read the report by clicking here

There were no suggestions of why this work was needed on the building, but there were rumours at the time it could be fit for ‘artistic roller dance use’ once the work had taken place.

There was also some talk about windows being opened up in 2020, having been boarded up since the close of the building.

Several people who had been to the site suggested that the windows looked brand new, but it’s unclear as to why.

In 2019, Stetford Mall held a cinema pop-up called The Spirit of Essoldo with immersive screenings.

The building currently remains in private ownership.

What should be done with the Longford Essoldo site?

Photo use and information has been used by kind permission of Matthew Vass-White who runs the Longford and Essoldo Cinema Stretford website. You can find that by clicking here

They also have a great Facebook group which you can find here

What do you think should be done at the site? Let us know.

Did we miss something? Let us know: [email protected]

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