100 years ago…

This week (Wednesday 4th December) marked the 100th anniversary of the opening of  St Andrews’ first purpose-built cinema, The Cinema House. If you wanted to watch films in town at this point, you would have to go to the ‘tin tabernacle’ – a former Roman Catholic Church that was literally dragged a mile across town from The Scores and repositioned in less civilised surroundings next to the slaughter house off James Street – and which since 1910 had shown films three nights a week (and had roller skating the other nights!).

The Cinema House was opened by Provost John Herkless, a former Divinity Professor (and later Principal of the Uni). Herkless and the Town Council had already rejected plans for the Cinema House as he felt that the cinema would be better placed in a less conspicuous street and that the new building ‘might impair the ancient character of the old street’. In the end, Herkless was apparently won over by the argument that cinema could serve as a ‘place of education’, imagining cinema now as a tool for educating the youth of St Andrews. This argument may have seemed somewhat less convincing as Herkless stepped inside a picture house for the first time and watched the cinema’s opening programme, which included the feature Lorna Doone and, most popular of all, a comedy entitled ‘The Amateur Plumber’.

While The Cinema House closed in 1979, we might see in its formation – and the initial challenges it faced to fit within the town and University – a starting point for Film Studies in the town.

Tom Rice