This week we are going back further in time to complete the story of Marlow’s various cinemas.

Before the Picture Palace was built at the end of Spittal Street the only chance Marlovians had to experience the newly invented “Moving Pictures” was in a tented Bioscope that visited the town at the time of the street fairs.

Most stalls and amusements were set up in the Causeway, High Street or West Street, but the main picture above is in Spittal Square, possibly the only place to accommodate such a large structure.

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This is a photograph I have printed before, in rather poor quality, but I was recently very pleased to obtain this slightly clearer framed original, captioned 1903, at which date any films shown would have been very basic (“Animated Photographs”) and of course silent.

This was the date of the last street fair, ended on police orders due the huge amount of disorder that occurred including drunkenness and looting.

On the right you can see the original Cross Keys pub projecting into the road, obviously the reason it was demolished and replaced when Chapel Street was widened.

The same fate happened to the cottage on the corner opposite, although the stately “Grape House”, just visible on the left above the tent, survived until the 1950s.

Further along Chapel Street the hanging sign of a long-forgotten pub – the White Hart, can be faintly seen.

After the street fairs had ended the tented Bioscopes were allowed to continue to visit, but moved to Crown Meadow, now Riley Park.

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The two lower pictures show Alf Ball & Sons “Lyceum Bioscope” and I think that Alf might have been the proprietor of the Bioscope in the main picture, although no signs are visible.

The first lower postcard is captioned as being in Crown Meadow with the roofline of The Crown just showing on the left.

The second is the same show but a picture taken when they moved on to Banbury, and includes Alf’s “Dancing Girls” who no doubt created a bit of a sensation in early 1900s Marlow.

Magnification of other signboards shows admission prices of two pence and three pence, and something that would definitely not be seen today – “Admission and seating for all classes”.

Alf Ball was one of the best-known showmen of that era and there are many pages about him that can be read on the Internet.

Here are a few extracts:

“Alf Ball was born in 1864 into a family who travelled and lived around Hull.

His father William Ball was a travelling auctioneer and his children followed him into the travelling life under a variety of occupations.

Alf began travelling with a shooting gallery, and later presented boxing shows in his booth.

He married Elizabeth Cannard of Bedford and in 1883 they had a son, William Alfred, whilst in Stafford.

“Their show was a two-wagon show with a barrel organ on the front.

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In 1897 Alf Ball followed the example of Randall Williams and started to exhibit moving pictures.

He used his old show and changed the name to The Great American Bioscope Animated Pictures.

The old trumpet barrel organ was later replaced with an 87-key Gavioli.

Professor Alf Ball, as he titled himself, bought his bioscope exhibition to Oxford St Giles Fair in the September of 1899 and was again present in 1904 when he exhibited in the company of five other bioscope proprietors, which included Thurstons and Twigdons.

In January, 1906 Alf Ball took delivery of a new Burrell engine (2788) ‘Alfred the Great’.

At this stage Ball was based at High Street, Deptford. In 1907 a new show with 110 key Gavioli was supplied by Savages, known as the Lyceum Theatre of Pictures and Varieties.

The carved work was described as Louis XIV style, and the front was 33’ 4” wide and 16’ 8” high.

The show continued to travel until 1914 when the decline in popularity of the bioscope shows caused them to disappear from the fairground.”

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That concludes our columns relating to past Marlow cinemas, but, as regards the future, it was Councillor Suzanne Brown, being interviewed on Marlow FM, who first broke the news over 18 months ago, that an Everyman Cinema was being planned in the Steamer Trading premises, formerly the Crown Hotel / Market Hall.

The plans are still ongoing, although obviously severely delayed by the pandemic.

I would certainly look forward to watching a film seated on a comfy sofa with a beer in my hand, although very few new productions hold much appeal for me these days.

Contact Michael at or 01628 486571.