I first came across the Tolmer by chance at the beginning of March 1967, during one of my Sunday morning photographic walkabouts. I wandered by chance into Tolmers Square and there it was. The garish fairground colours of its frontage made an irresistible contrast with the dingy greys of the surrounding streets and I quickly took the picture on the left.|
Although I had not seen the cinema before, I knew of its existence from a friend who had actually patronised it. The Tolmer was a notorious fleapit and in any case Tolmers Square, tucked away in the backstreets behind North Gower Street, seems to have been an unlikely location for a cinema of any kind.
The origin of the Tolmer was an interesting one. It was built in 1863 as the Tolmers Square Congregational Church and for the first 4 or 5 years after its conversion to a cinema in 1924 it still had the original church spire, which was eventually removed. The first owner was George Smart, his manageress being a Mrs. Hodges. The seating capacity was quite large at 1,050.
The building suffered bomb damage during the war and in 1944 it was bought by a company called New Tolmer Ltd., owned by the Pomson family, who continued to run the cinema in the traditional fleapit manner - a double bill of "U" and "A" films that had seen better days, changed midweek, with yet another double bill on Sunday only.
My picture shows that that week in March 1967 kicked off with Cincinnati Kid and Inside Detroit from Monday to Wednesday, followed by The Singing Nun and Apache Uprising from Thursday to Saturday. The owners of the two cars seen parked outside the cinema were getting ready to show the Sunday one-day-only films, Snipers Ridge and 9 Days to Rama . And in case the customers came reeling back punch-drunk for more, cards either side of the doors advised them that The Long Ships and Girl Hunters were waiting in ambush for them for 3 days from the following Monday. And all for an admission charge of only 2/- (10p) for the stalls and 3/- (15p) for the circle ("Pensioners & Children at Reduced Prices").
But by then the Tolmer, like many another cinema, was already struggling and becoming increasingly run down. In May 1972, just over five years after my picture was taken, the Tolmer closed its doors for ever and then, with the rest of Tolmers Square, was demolished. The Square was rebuilt as a not unpleasant little close that has weathered well, trees and foliage helping to soften its Seventies-style chunkiness. There is a pub, a wine bar and even closed-circuit TV surveillance - but of course no cinema.