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Theatres and Cinemas Part 2

The second part of our story on Kirkcaldy's theatres and cinemas brings into focus the custom-built cinemas that provided the town with an exceptional number of screens per head of the population. Some of the picture houses had short runs - the history is punctuated by changes in fashion, fortune and ownerships - but others became well-established for generations.

Palace Cinema.jpg


From the earliest days of the silver screen right up to the current era of digital technology, the medium has informed and educated as well as entertained. 


The social and cultural importance of Kirkcaldy's rich cinematic history cannot be underestimated, and perhaps explains the strong passions evoked by the apparently terminal demise of 'the pictures'.

The Palace Cinema

Theatres and Cinemas Part 2
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Kirkcaldy - it's Theatres and Cinemas Part 2

The second  part of  “Kirkcaldy's Cinemas and Theatres” is the subject of this month's Object. The majority of the cinemas featured were built after the passing of the 1909 Cinematograph Act, whose licensing requirements led to many halls abandoning film shows and to the subsequent rise of the purpose built cinema.


From the end of the First World War, Kirkcaldy started to see this growth in cinema building, reaching its climax in the 1930s.


The 1914 issue of the Kinematic Year Book was consulted to verify that no halls had been missed out in Part 1. This was the first edition of this valuable book and was an amazing collection of everything relating to cinemas and film making. It covered every aspect from the necessary equipment, listing the manufacturers and, most importantly, the locations of cinemas. Whilst the intention was verification that nothing had been overlooked, in fact, the opposite was found to be the case. Kirkcaldy was credited as having a picture house  by the name of Green's Picturedome which was actually in Leven!


A short lived and little known hall, the St. Clair Cinema, was unearthed in Rosslyn Street operating between 1913/14. It operated from a wooden building with seating for circa 300.  Showing silent films, it was run by the Cororkin family who were also talented musicians and had formed a dance band which regularly advertised for engagements in the local area. This particular hall was highly praised for its cleanliness and the quality of its screenings.  The wooden building was consumed by fire in late 1914, was never rebuilt, and the family emigrated to America. The actual site remains something of a mystery but it was situated next to a rag-store. Only one such store could be traced in that period so a “best guess” is all that can be done – for the moment!


The Palace had been opened in Whytescauseway in 1913. It was built as a theatre but quickly moved to the silver screen. The Palace was well designed, having as its architect J.D. Swanston, who had been heavily involved with the King's Theatre some years earlier. The Palace boasted a tea room amongst other features which also included its iconic dome. It most certainly added to the architectural quality of Whytescauseway, situated as it was, close to the new Sheriff Court. It was the second cinema in Kirkcaldy to introduce talkies. This picture house was destroyed by fire in 1946 and for many years the site was used as a car park. Many readers may remember it as such with the walls surrounding it being those of the long gone cinema, although far reduced in height.


The Rialto opened in 1924 occupying  an excellent site on the High Street. The entrance featured an arcade with shops and it also had a well appointed tea room – which was advertised as serving dainty teas! A.T. Mays, the travel agents, certainly operated from the arcade. Who can remember the public telephone kiosk in the entrance passage? It featured a concertina style door to avoid accidents when being opened from the inside.  The entrance was lengthy as the auditorium itself was built behind the High Street and reached down towards the Esplanade. With the cinema's hours of operation the tearoom was used as an evening meeting hall for various groups and societies. It went through a number of owners and name changes, most notably the Gaumont, but in 1974  was burnt to the ground. The blaze was one of the most spectacular seen in Kirkcaldy for many years. Whatever Kirkcaldy may be short of – it is not spectacular blazes!


Part of the Pathhead Halls had been used to show films  until the late 1930s. It had been operated by a Thomas McKay almost single handed until 1924. Later in the early 1930s it was run by the Carlow brothers two of the most recognised names in Kirkcaldy's cinematic history.  Another cinema, The Palladium, operated from Rosslyn Street. It was housed in a former church hall and for most of its life was run by the Leishman family.  It was the  eventual opening of the Rio and the Carlton with their modern  luxurious surroundings that sounded the death-knell for both. Although now demolished, many readers may well remember it in its new guise as a carpet store – but the name is escaping us. Can any reader help?


Both the Rio and the Carlton were conceived by individuals, rather than conglomerates, which was true of most of the town's picture-houses. In terms of seating, the Rio was the town's largest cinema and the Carlton found major fame after it ceased showing films – hosting a 1963 concert by the Beatles. Both were ultimately destroyed by fire, but  only after they had ceased to operate as cinemas. The Rio in particular is of interest as the gentleman who planned and built it had started life as a coach builder in Crieff. In addition, he operated a pleasure steamer on Loch Tay which was towed to the Loch from Perth Harbour by steam tractor. The Carlton was conceived by and built for the Carlow brothers who had moved from their activities in the Pathhead Halls.


The Raith in Links Street was the last to be opened and  was a “sister” cinema to the Carlton. Again, it was the Carlow brothers who built this cinema, with Frank managing the Carlton and William the Raith. From first to last the two picture houses never left their hands. Both tended to show the same films as audiences, at the time, normally remained local for their entertainment.


The full narrative gives more details on each  and is enhanced by photographs, advertisements and snippets from publications of the time. In particular the adverts for the forthcoming films is a nostalgic read. It can be reached via the icon on this page and is well worth a visit.


All a far cry from today when the Kings and the Adam Smith Halls are the last Kirkcaldy bastions for filmgoers.

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