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The Oriel Cinema Lake Street Leighton Buzzard

The Oriel Cinema about 1930
The Oriel Cinema about 1930 [Z1306/72]

The Oriel Cinema was formerly a private dwelling named Oriel House and may have dated to the 17th century. In 1819 Benjamin Bevan published a map of Leighton Buzzard which was enhanced two years later with a reference book showing the owners and occupiers of each property shown on the map. It is not clear whether Oriel House is shown on the map or whether it is an earlier building on the same site - the owner and ocupier was William Robinson Lawford, a surgeon.

An idea of this property can be obtained from an inventory of 1904 [BML10/42/337] which lists accommodation as follows: on the ground floor: a hall; an inner hall; a library; a drawing room; a dining room; two kitchens; a waiting room and a reception room. On the first floor: a bedroom over the drawing room; a lobby over the drawing room; a bathroom and W. C.; a red bedroom; a dressing room; a blue room and stairs. On the second floor: a passage; a work room; a small room and a room facing it. There was a garden outside.

The house was sold by Miss Lawford to a Ben Brown in 1919. In his Bedfordshire Cinemas published in 1981 C. G. Peck described how the Oriel Cinema was created by a consortium of local businessmen and opened on Boxing Day 1922. The opening film was Smiling Through starring Norma Talmadge.

 Oriel programme 1967
Oriel programme 1967

Under the terms of the Rating and Valuation Act 1925 every piece of land and building in the country was assessed to determine the rates to be paid on them. Leighton Buzzard was assessed in 1925. The valuer visiting the Oriel [DV1/R80/60] noted that it was owned by Oriel Kinema Limited and occupied by A. R. Shipman and S. S. King who ran the business. They paid the company a rent of £200 per annum on a twenty one year lease from 25th March 1927. Seating accommodation was:

  • 92 at 6d;
  • 126 at 9d;
  • 217 at 1/-;
  • 105 at 1/3;
  • 120 at 1/6;
  • total 660

The Oriel Cinema about 1980
The Oriel Cinema about 1980

The valuer noted: "Own electricity. Landlord's seats belong to landlord except 120. This cinema has been re-decorated throughout and brought up to date. The best cinema in Leighton, the only other cinema in Leighton is leased by the above to prevent competition [i.e. the Corn Exchange] and is only used occasionally; it is let for concerts etc. at various times". 

Demolition of the Oriel Cinema in 1985
Demolition of the Oriel Cinema in 1985

The cinema was sold to Shipman and King in 1932 and was later bought by EMI Cinemas and its appearance redically changed, the front no longer bearing any resemblance to an old house (see the photographs of 1930 and 1980 above). The cinema closed in 1960 and was converted to a bingo hall in 1972 and demolished in February 1985 to make way for a Kwik Save supermarket. The Litten Tree public house now [2009] stands on the site.

The site of the Oriel Cinema June 2008
The site of the Oriel Cinema June 2008