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Flickering, lost, forgotten: London’s silent picture palaces

zclef7810 June 2014

Hale's_Tours_of_the_WorldWill you come with me to a talkie to-day?

During my second film event of the UCL Festival of the Arts in two days, I was transported back to the origins of cinema in London’s ‘filmland’.  From the bright lights of Leicester Square to the back alleys of Soho, our group of fifteen retraced the steps of early twentieth-century film-goers through Bloomsbury and the West End.

There were a few familiar faces from the previous night’s event Memories of 60s Cinema-Going, all equally curious to discover the hidden stories behind these hitherto innocuous buildings dotted around London.

Led by Dr Chris O’Rourke (UCL Centre for Humanities Interdisciplinary Research Projects) who is researching the social experience of cinema-going in the period of silent film, we began in front of the brutish façade of the Odeon on Tottenham Court Road.

The birth of cinema in London, we were told, was Newman Street, 1894, where private demonstrations of peepshow kinetoscope machines showing a mixture of everyday and spectacular theatrical subjects were captivating 19th century audiences.

From these flickering beginnings, 500 cinemas opened in the London area. Tottenham Court Road alone was home to six including The Majestic Picturedrome, Carlton Cinema and The Court (not the pub) where  The Dominion now stands. Somehow they were all commercially successful, just as today’s Starbucks and Costa manage inexplicably to sell enough Americanos to reside next to each other.

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Dickens’s London, what’s changed since the 19th century?

Katherine Aitchison20 March 2012

This year marks 200 years since the birth of Charles Dickens. So, in the time since he was writing, how much has London really changed?

This was the topic up for discussion at a panel debate hosted by the UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction  on 15 March.

The panel consisted of UCL Quain Professor of English, Rosemary Ashton; UCL Emeritus Professor of Climate Modelling, Julian Hunt and Professor Jerry White (Birkbeck) who has written a number of books describing London through the ages. Each of the panel had their own take on Dickens’s work and how it relates to the changing face of London in the years since his birth.

Professor Ashton kicked off the evening by discussing the London of the 19th century and the relationship between Dickens and Edwin Chadwick (a social reformer who placed huge emphasis on the importance of public health). As far as public health goes, it is clear that London has changed substantially since Dickens was writing; although the poverty he was so concerned about is still visible in some areas, the days of multiple families crowding into one room are long gone.

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