Monday, November 3, 2014

Cheltenham, Gloucestershire

The ladies, vanishing

At some point in the last couple of weeks – I’m not sure exactly when the last bricks tumbled – Cheltenham’s former Odeon cinema, long closed, was finally demolished. It was a rather plain building, on the cusp of Art Deco and modernism in style, and had served the town for decades (first as the Gaumont Palace then as the Odeon) before a more up-to-date cinema opened in the town. It then lay empty for several years and it seems to have proved impossible to find a new use for the building. I blogged about it back in 2008, when I wrote:

It’s an undistinguished Art Deco building, with the redeeming feature of these two naked women tangled in celluloid high up on the façade. Most passers-by see only the boarded-up entrance of the cinema, steadily becoming more and more of a blot on the townscape. I’d lay odds that most of them never notice the silver ladies, two of several reminders of the unregarded past of a quiet Cheltenham side-street.

These relief panels are by Newbury Abbot Trent, a prolific sculptor who produced many war memorials. He was the brother (or, according to some sources, the cousin) of the cinema’s architect, W. E. Trent. The panels are the kind of thing that often adorned cinema buildings of the 1930s, although they were often carved in stone, with a more neutral surface than the shiny metallic finish of these Cheltenham examples. Such sculptures often show female figures – always glamorous, often naked, sometimes, like these, with exaggerated proportions – and were meant to entice us into the magic and seductive world of the cinema, at a time when only a tiny minority had television and cinema-going was a regular weekly recreation for millions. When they were new, shiny, and properly lit, they would have reminded film-goers and passers-by alike of the magical, flickering world inside. It’s a shame they are no longer there.

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Postscript 2018 I can somewhat belatedly report that these reliefs have been preserved. They are now displayed, at ground level, fittingly on the rear of the town's more recent cinema. Here they can be well appreciated and also entertain passing drivers on Chletenham's notorious inner ring road. I have been in a traffic queue next to them several times. 


The Vintage Knitter said...

Very sorry to see this building go. I used the visit it in its 'Odeon' capacity many times and always admired its architecture and the two ladies on the front.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Indeed, VK. A Facebook friend has just asked me if the figures are being preserved by anyone. I must admit I've not heard anything about this. It would be great if they were kept, but you'd need a lot of space or another suitable building.

Anonymous said...

The BBC reckons that demolition started in mid-August. See

But another more local source suggests it was mid-September. See (lots of pictures of half-demolished buildings and rubble in that and related articles)

I understand that the silver ladies may not be original - see the discussion here:

But it seems that the developer was required to preserve the silver ladies as a condition of the planning permission - see

Philip Wilkinson said...

Anon: Thanks for all the links. I'm surprised that the BBC thinks demolition started in mid-August. I've been passing the building quite often over the last couple of months, and there didn't seem to be anything going on back then. But perhaps what they meant was that the go-ahead for demolition had been given and the 'invisible' preparation for it had begun.

A friend confirms that the ladies are meant to be preserved as a condition of planning permission (original or not, they're surely worth preserving), but is not sure where they will end up - the developer is said to be actively seeking a new home for them.

Chris Partridge said...

The Trent brothers also collaborated on the Gaumont in Victoria, now the Apollo Theatre - see

Chris Partridge said...

They are original, whatever Councillor Wart says. A picture from a newspaper of 1933 shows them clearly, albeit faintly. See:

Philip Wilkinson said...

Chris: Thank you. It did seem to me likely that reliefs by N A Trent on a cinema by W E Trent would be original, and it's good to see this confirmed in the picture. The Apollo Sculptures are charming too.

Joe Treasure said...

By the age of 16 I could count on the fingers of one hand the films I had seen in an actual cinema – they included The Sound of Music and A Hard Day’s Night (family outings on holiday) and a Norman Wisdom double-feature that my mother took me to see at the Cheltenham Odeon when I passed the 11-plus. I can’t now remember what else. But I do remember that the day I reeled out of my last 0-level exam, I went to the Odeon in the afternoon and saw Dustin Hoffman in a film called John and Mary, because that’s what was showing – an unprecedented indulgence. The Odeon became more familiar to me after that. The last film I ever saw there was The English Patient in the late 90s. Leni and I were sitting in the front row. A drunk wandered down the aisle and stood for a while, arms out, sand-dunes projected against him. Then he staggered to an empty seat beside us and began treating us to a running commentary. ‘That’s bollocks, that is…’ After a while the manager crept down to ask him to be quiet. Then two policemen arrived and escorted him out to shouts of concern from the audience. ‘Don’t hurt him… he isn’t doing any harm.’ Ah, Cheltenham, I thought – my home town.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Joe: I saw Gandhi, when it was first released, in this cinema. The house was packed and we were the youngest people there. It felt as if those with memories of the Raj (though they did not, I think, call it that) had turned out en masse, and Cheltenham's reputation as the home of retired colonels and colonial administrators was not entirely unjustified.