How Bingo Saved the Picture Palace in North Yorkshire

11 May 2023

The history of bingo is a long and varied one. Its origins can be traced back to the 16th century, when a form of the game was played in Italy. However, the modern version truly began in the US during the 1920s. Originally called “Beano”, the game was played at fairs and carnivals. 

Bingo as we know it today didn’t arrive in the UK until the 1960s. But it nevertheless captured the general public’s imagination, quickly becoming a popular pastime up and down the country. And North Yorkshire was no exception. 

A common practice during this period was to convert cinemas into bingo halls. At the time, movie-going was in steep decline with the general public due to the advent of television. As a result, cinema owners endured low visitor numbers. So, to find new ways to stay afloat, many proprietors looked to bingo, converting their premises to cater exclusively for number-daubing. 

This rather shrewd strategy provided a new lease of life for these old buildings, many of which might otherwise have become abandoned or demolished. Today, a lot of these old venues continue to be popular destinations for bingo fans in North Yorkshire. Here’s a run-down of three former picture palaces in North Yorkshire that have or still run bingo nights. 

Capitol Theatre, Scarborough (Mecca Bingo)

The Capitol Theatre Scarborough on Albemarle Crescent was originally built as a cinema in the early 20th century. At the time, it was one of the largest and most modern cinemas in Scarborough.

As the popularity of cinema declined, the Capitol Theatre faced an uncertain future. However, in 1966, the building was converted into a bingo hall. This conversion involved significant changes to the interior of the building with the original cinema seating removed and replaced with tables and chairs for bingo players. The stage area was also converted into a space for bingo callers and the projection room repurposed as an office.

The Capitol Theatre bingo hall continued to be a popular destination for players for many years. Today, it remains a bingo venue, operating under the Mecca brand.

The Pavilion Theatre and Ballroom, Whitby

The Whitby Pavilion Theatre and Ballroom is a historic building located on West Cliff. The building was constructed in the late 19th century as a music hall and was one of the largest and most impressive entertainment venues in the town. It featured a large ballroom, a stage area for live performances and seating for over 1000 people.

By the mid-20th century, the popularity of music hall had declined and visitor numbers dwindled. Happily, in the 1950s, the venue was purchased by the local council, who recognized its historical and cultural importance. The building was refurbished and modernised and in 1960 was reopened as the Whitby Pavilion Theatre and Ballroom.

It quickly became a popular destination for live entertainment in the town and hosted numerous events over the years including concerts and theatre productions. During the 1970s and 1980s, the ballroom area of the building was converted into a bingo hall, 

Clifton Bingo Club (formerly Clifton Sedgley), York

The Clifton Bingo Club is a historic Georgian building that opened in late 1937. After serving as a popular cinema for many years it was purchased by the Mecca Organisation in the 1960s who converted the venue into a bingo hall. 

The Clifton Bingo Club quickly became a popular destination for bingo fans in York and the surrounding areas. 

Over the years, the building underwent several renovations to modernise the facilities and accommodate the needs of bingo players. However, the historic character of the building was largely preserved including an assortment of original features such as the outer foyer with its art deco style. 

The club continues to be used as a licensed bingo hall and continues to attract traditional bingo fans. 

The above venues are just a few examples of the adaptive reuse of historic buildings in North Yorkshire. There are scores of similar establishments found throughout the region whose continued existence owes a great deal to an age-old gambling game.  

Despite the dominance of online bingo, the land-based version still thrives in this part of the world.

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