The Carlton, Essex Road - smallerThe Carlton-ABC, Essex Road, Islington
Opened as a cinema in September 1930, closed in 1972 and
became a Mecca Bingo Hall, but closed in 2007 and has remained closed ever since.


What follows is a series of stories about buildings that were originally built for a particular purpose and functioned as such for a number of years. As a result of changing fashion and trends, these buildings ceased to be of use in their original form, but were then transformed and used for other purposes.

The Carlton-ABC, Essex Road - CollageThe Carlton-ABC, Essex Road, Islington

Perhaps cinemas and theatres provide the best examples of such buildings. There were once a large number of Edwardian Music Halls throughout London and an even greater number of cinemas. With the decline of Music Hall, a few theatres were used for other purposes, but most were demolished despite their architectural value. And as going to the pictures decreased in popularity, owners closed the majority of their cinemas. Some of these buildings were quickly transformed into Bingo Halls and remained functional for a number of years while others remained empty and left to decay with eventual demolition and new structures built on the sites.

Now with the apparent decline of Bingo, the future of these buildings has once again come into jeopardy. Fortunately a number of these great halls has been saved from demolition by achieving a reprieve as evangelical churches, public houses and gambling clubs. Sadly most Music Halls feared less well and only two remain in London.

Some old cinema buildings were saved from demolition by transformation for other uses. For example, one became a film studio while others were converted into show rooms and storage areas. However, the most tragic situation that exists is where a building sits for years and slowly decays from lack of use and is vandalised by oafs despite its English Heritage Listing. Meanwhile various council committees and other interested parties discuss the matter ad nauseum in an attempt to battle out a plan for its future while society wait impatiently for a decision.

Similarly, one time grand department stores sit seemingly with no future while others have seemingly fallen from grace and function as temporary sales establishments. But again nothing seems to be known as to their long term use. Old factories, one-time Town Halls of former Boroughs and schools sit empty and also await a future.

But let us not despair completely, for all is not gloom and doom (but let us not forget or pretend – much is!). In sharp contrast to these tragedies, this series of stories is presented to allow the reader to learn of some of the remarkable building transformations that those with insight and soul have made to one-time cinemas, theatres, factories, schools, department stores etc etc throughout London. I only have to think of the restoration of the facade of the old Rex-Essoldo in Bethnal Green Road. Once the cinema was closed, the new owners set about returning the façade to its past glory and achieved their aim to great effect. And fortunately these people were not alone.

Essoldo CollageThe erstwhile Rex-Essoldo, now restored by the owners of Frankle Trimmings.
Original building constructed in April 1913 and opened as Smart’s Picture House; remodeled in 1938 and reopened as the Rex;
became part of the Essoldo Cinema Chain and renamed in 1949; closed as a cinema in August 1964; became a Bingo Hall,
but closed in 1990. Sold to the current owners who undertook the renovation of the facade.

Wickham's CollageWickham’s Department Store, Mile End Road
The Department Store opened in 1927 and closed sometime in the 1960s
The ground floor was used on occasion by various companies, but in the main, the building has remained empty.


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4 thoughts on “HOLD ON A MINUTE…….DIDN’T THIS USED TO BE …….?

  1. david rudiger

    Many thanks for your wonderful website which I came across ‘accidentally’!
    What memories it evoked. I was born in 1942 in Lessada Street, Bow where our house backed on to the Regents Canal. Unfortunately one of Hitler’s bombs wiped out most of the street (My Paternal Grandad was killed) and we were moved to Bonner Road, Bethnal Green right opposite the London Chest Hospital, where I lived until I married at St. James the Less church in 1963.
    The Viccy park was our second home in all seasons and all weathers. I also spent too much time in the Essoldo along with my mates! my aunt took me to the Hackney Empire every Monday night where I saw such ‘stars’ as Cheerful Charlie Chester, Arthur English, Max Miller and many ,many more.
    My Primary School was Bonner Street CP. My dad was a docker working in the bonded warehouses of Haig’s Whiskey.
    We moved (my wife and I) to Milton Keynes in 1975. I have been back to BG a couple of times and still have one Sister-in-law living there, but unfortunately it is a place I no longer recognise – nothing stands still I know, so thanks again for your website which reminds me (and no doubt many others) of a very special place and very special people.
    David Rudiger

    1. Charles Post author


      Very many thanks for taking the time to write and share your thoughts and memories. They are much appreciated.



  2. Greta

    I needed to thank you for this excellent read!!
    I certainly loved every bit of it. I’ve got you bookmarked to check out
    new stuff you post…

    1. Charles Post author

      Greta: Thank you very much for posting a comment. I hope you find other things to interest you on this website. Regards. Charles


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