Hebden Bridge’s Picture House cinema first opened its doors in 1921 and is one of the last civic owned cinemas in Britain. Originally boasting over 900 seats its first screening was a double bill of Torn Sails and The Iron Stair, with the Picture House rapidly becoming the main place of entertainment for the weavers, mill-workers, and other residents of Hebden Bridge and the upper Calder Valley. It has been in use as a cinema ever since.
In the late 1960s, when many of the mills had closed, the Picture House nearly suffered the fate of so many town cinemas and was very close to becoming a carpet warehouse. It was saved for the town by the actions of the then Hebden Royd Urban District Council who purchased the Picture House from its private owners for the sum of about £6,000. The cinema passed into Calderdale Councils control with local government reorganisation in 1973, and CMBC oversaw a subsequent refurbishment in 1978, removing half of the seats and leaving the current 492 seats with their often praised generous legroom.
In 1999, the future of the Picture House again appeared to be at risk when the site was earmarked for development. A strong community campaign Friends of the Picture House rapidly mobilised and following a mass lobby of the Calderdale MBC full council in July 1999 the development plans were rejected, and the future of the Picture House secured. As one campaigner put it at the time, “I speak of ‘Our’ Picture House… it has become part of our heritage.”
Since then the Picture House has blossomed, as one of the very few cinemas in Britain under municipal ownership. Under enlightened management, audiences have grown. Typically, between 15 and 26 films are shown each month, and the programming deliberately caters for all tastes, ranging from mainstream Hollywood to art-house and foreign language films. It is a vital facility for both the young and old.
2012 saw the transfer of the Picture House back to Hebden Royd Town Council (the body that replaced Hebden Royd Urban District Council) who originally took the Picture House into civic ownership in the late 1960’s. Since then there have been many significant upgrades and improvements to the cinema, the most important of which has been the installation of digital projection, ensuring the Picture House can continue to screen the latest film releases for many years to come.