History of the Bonington Theatre in Arnold

The Bonington Theatre in Arnold is named after Richard Parks Bonington a painter of the English school who was born and raised in Arnold. Details of Arnold famous son can be found by following the link.

The present theatre is the second to bare the name. The original theatre stood on a site on the corner of Nottingham Road and Arnot Hill Road, opposite St Albans Road , just on the edge of the main shopping area.

It was the first purpose built theatre and cinema in Arnold being known initially as the St Albans Picturedrome.

At the time this theatre opened, the library, the building with the central tower, was on one corner and the theatre with its ornate balustrade was on the other.

The architect was Mr W H Higginbottom who had offices in Arnold and Nottingham and was at that time chairman of Arnold Urban District Council.

The client for the project was a fellow councillor and land owner Mr Joseph Wardle of Brentwell Farm.

The work started on building in September 1912 and was completed in 13 weeks with the grand opening on Boxing Day the same year.

500 people attended the opening which consisted of” The Wedding Present “ supported by a travelogue, several shorts and slap sticks and a short stage show.

Prices were 3d and 6d (1.25p and 2.5p in today’s money) for this you could get two shows nightly and 2 changes weekly. Although initially designed as a cinema, from the start it had a 50/50 program of film and live shows.

The films were of course silent at this time and a single pianist provided the music.

Saturdays mornings were the children’s time with films and live shows, competitions and contests.

In 1929 the theatre was extensively altered and rebuilt. This was carried out in a unique way with a new outer shell being built around the old theatre, to the design of the architect George F Greenwood.

This work enabled performances to continue until the majority of the work was completed.

The object was to construct a full stage with flies, dressing rooms and full stage equipment as well as up date the cinema side for the new talkies.

The new building remained closed for only 10 weeks while the final transformation took place including the installation of a balcony.

This work resulted in the seating capacity being raised to 1000.

The new theatre and cinema licence were granted on Friday the 31st of January 1930 and the building renamed the Bonington.

The balustrades had now given way to columns in the Greek style as shown in the below picture.

The new theatre still offered the same program of live entertainment which it mixed with films. The reopening program consisted of “The Singing Fool” with Al Jolson and the stage show was headed by The Hengler Brothers and the comedian Jimmy James.

During the 1930s stage shows were just as popular as films with artists such as the Four Asttounders, Johnny Walters, and his wonder dogs, the Great Bingalee, The Johnson Brothers, The Rego Twins and Billy Merricks revue Ace High.

Pantomimes appeared regularly including Humpty Dumpty, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Dick Whittington.

Al Wright’s circus performed there and brought three elephants with them who walked from the railway station, then at Daybrook, to the theatre.

Modern cinema came to Arnold on Boxing Day 1931 when the talkies graced the screen at the Bonington for the first time.

After the war in the 1950’s Cinemascope was installed, and some limited refurbishment carried out.

Films like The King and I and Carousel were staged but the theatre slowly declined.

The Bonington however continued to provided the people of Arnold with entertainment until it closed its doors for the last time after its final production, the showing of the film “Nowhere to Go “ on the 30th of March 1957.

For a while it was used as shops and storage and in 1959 it was sold.

It was finally demolished in April 1963 and a new block of shops, in the typical 60s style, was built in its place.

Today the site is occupied by an Italian restaurant and a Motor parts shop with offices over head..

The modern Bonington theatre dates from 1982 when the present Leisure Centre was built. There was a lack of performance venues in the area at this time, and so it was decided to incorporate a theatre into the Arnold Leisure Centre complex.

After a gap of nearly 20yrs the Bonington Theatre was reborn to live again, the people of Arnold again having live entertainment, this time on High Street at the opposite end of Arnold.

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