Picture this – new-look pub will pay tribute to former cinema

Oriel Cinema, Leighton Buzzard
Oriel Cinema, Leighton Buzzard

A £230,000 refurbishment of a Leighton Buzzard pub will give it a star-studded feel as it pays homage to the town’s first purpose-built cinema which once stood on the site.

Formerly the Litten Tree, the new-look pub on Lake Street will re-open on February 25 as The Picture House.

Oriel Cinema, Leighton Buzzard

Oriel Cinema, Leighton Buzzard

Run by the Stonegate Pub Company, the revamp has brought with it 12 new front and back-of-house jobs.

The pub’s general manager, Donal Hartnett, said: “The pub sits on the site of Leighton Buzzard’s first cinema, and as such we wanted to give a nod to its history with its new name.

“We’ve collected some fantastic Hollywood memorabilia which gives the pub a star-studded feel.

“As part of the refurbishment new booths are being installed and will be available for customers to reserve.

“A perfect spot for a night out enjoying cocktails with friends, the booths will also be ideal for groups to enjoy prime viewing of live sporting events.”

Local businesses leaders and residents have been invited to join Donal for a celebratory reception to take a sneak preview of the pub ahead of its official 7pm launch on February 25.

Guests will be treated to a glass of bubbly, a selection of nibbles from the new menu and live music from local band Cojones, who will be performing songs from the movies.

As well as hosting a number of regular event nights throughout the week, including darts and pool leagues on Mondays and Tuesdays, the Picture House will also introduce a Movie Night on Sundays, during which customers can enjoy a themed quiz and the showing of a classic film.

The Oriel Cinema in Lake Street, was the first purpose-built cinema and the fourth venue offering film shows in Leighton Buzzard.

It opened on December 26, 1922. It was so-called because it originally retained the projecting oriel windows façade of Dr Edward Lawford’s town house, from which it was converted.

Oriel Picture Theatre was built by A. E. Dawson for a consortium of local businessmen including Steve Young, the local bookmaker, and Ben Brown and his brothers. Its design was based on a London West End theatre. Later, in the early 1930s it was given an art deco façade.

Its auditorium held 550 stalls seats on a cinema floor which sloped some 3ft or 4ft down to the screen, plus a balcony of 326 circle seats.

There was a lot of heavy smoking in those days and it was sometimes difficult to see the picture through the ‘fog’ of cigarette smoke. Usherettes came round spraying disinfectant from time to time.

The Oriel Cinema musicians played for up to five-and- a-half hours per night and advertisements claimed “the orchestra is second to none in Bedfordshire”.

As well as accompanying silent films, they played during intervals and violin solos were included.

Jack Brotherton led from the organ, with Rose Rowe on piano, Margaret Drew on violin, Lawrence Inns on drums and Fred Groom on trumpet.

Fred Groom, who learned to play bugle and trumpet during the First World War, was in great demand during the 1920s to play fanfares and ‘the last post’ to accompany newsreels showing the unveiling of war memorials around the country. The Oriel closed on the January 15, 1972 when it became a bingo hall. A plaque commemorating it is on the current building.

(by Paul Brown of Leighton Buzzard Archaeological and Historical Society)