My favourite place is St Ann’s Wells Gardens and imagining George Albert Smith and Laura Eugenia Bayley running the pleasure garden with a monkey house, fortune-teller and magic lantern displays. They also built the second film studio in the UK at St Ann’s Wells Gardens and were pioneers in early filmmaking known for comedies and explored the possibilities of special effects.
Jess’ story about St Ann’s Well Gardens has been included in the walking tour at Brighton Festival 2022. You can read and listen to the other 11 stories that have been included by clicking here.
As a child I lived with my mum and my brothers in a small house opposite the back door of the Duke of York’s Cinema. It’s nothing much to look at, just a shabby-looking emergency exit set into a long concrete-rendered wall running the length of the cinema’s foyer and auditorium. It’s next to the back entrance of the fire station. For all of the beautiful parks and architecture in Brighton I suppose it is an odd place to get misty-eyed about, as it is without doubt one of the more unremarkable and bland of sites in the city.
In the early mid-seventies my mum was an usherette at the cinema, showing people to seats with a small flashlight and selling ice cream in the intervals. She wore one of those old-fashioned uniforms of a short white dress and paper hat. During the school holidays, having no close relatives and no partner, my mum smuggled us through the back door during daytime kids’ performances where we sat all day watching film after film, often on repeat. It was an unspoked agreement between Len, the chain-smoking, hard-drinking manager, and us that this would happen and he would turn a blind eye. I think he had more than a soft spot for my very young mother.
During the early-eighties my late brother Rob was manager of the cinema. It had become a very different place, full of drugs and sub-cultures. He lived three doors up from the cinema back door, in a squat beside the back door of the Unitarian Church. The free entry door was again open to me and I watched films almost every day after school and at weekends. In 1983 the cinema was due to change ownership, and Rob was told that he would no longer have a job. His response was to occupy the building and arrange an impromptu Punk festival with his co-workers. Whilst the police watched the front of the building, instruments and equipment were loaded in through the back door, which was then sealed to anyone but close friends and family. The building vibrated with 24-hour noise for several days before the police entered and evicted the revellers, including my brother.
When the new owners took the building over they hired new staff, including my best friend Ciaran who became assistant manager of, what was now, an arthouse cinema. We watched The Evil Dead on drugs, danced drunkenly to Stop Making Sense at the front of the auditorium and protected the screen during the high spirited showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Often, during the night time the projectionist would show the following day’s film for us, so we would all wander in after the pub, through the back door carrying take-out beers. It felt like home and we regularly slept in the seats, too tired and drunk to get home. Ciaran moved on from the job after a few years of joyous mismanagement.
I don’t get to go through that door anymore, I just have to go through the front with the other punters. But I still feel like I own it every time I visit.
Gordon’s story about The Duke of Yorks Cinema has been included in the walking tour at Brighton Festival 2022. You can read and listen to the other 11 stories that have been included by clicking here.