Main image as work begins and below showing part of the demolition by Nick Haskins
Work has begun to demolish the old Filwood cinema and bingo hall – a once iconic venue which holds fond memories for so many residents in Knowle West.
The Art Deco building which opened in 1938 was built as part of the Filwood Broadway development along with a swimming pool, library and church. It became a full -time bingo hall in the 1980s – and has been left empty since it closed its doors in 1994.
Seating 1,160 people, the auditorium had two levels and over the years concerts and boxing matches were staged there – with local boxing legend Dixie Brown fighting at the venue in the 1930s and American singer PJ Proby performing in 1964.
The now derelict building is being pulled down to make way for 30 affordable homes with community and commercial space on the site – with plans approved by Bristol City Council’s Development Control Committee in January.
Resident Nick Haskins who has been fighting to keep the historic venue attended the council meeting on January 18 in a last-ditch attempt to save the former picture house. He had also taken a survey of residents – showing some 2,000 local people wanted it to remain.
Some of the committee members felt it was regrettable the building would be demolished – and that it had remained empty for nearly 30 years and nothing had been done before – but as planning permission had already been granted in 2019 – they were only able to approve the plans.
Nick (62) feels the cinema, which is an important part of local history, should have remained in the community and been refurbished for its use, including for local young people. And he feels if it had been another area it might have been saved.
His grandfather helped build it and he has heard family stories about how residents came together there to celebrate the end of the Second World War.
He recalls: “…The cinema at that time was an entertainment venue, and the caretaker opened the doors on the evening of liberation, and everyone went there to celebrate. My grandmother loved to sing and got on stage and sang “We’ll Meet Again” and “The White Cliffs of Dover” by Vera Lyn…”
Over the years there have been unsuccessful applications to get the cinema building listed or classified as a community asset. In 2017 local councillors came up with a scheme for the building to be used as storage for a planned pop-up factory on the former garage site next door – but were unable to take it further because the building was too unsafe.
In April 2018 the council leafleted the surrounding area announcing plans to demolish the building and held a local consultation with residents. The leaflet said it was “no longer practical to refurbish the building and bring it back into use”.
The deadline for demolition was pushed back several times over the years, following surveys and work to remove asbestos on the site.
During a consultation on plans for the site last summer, Filwood Broadway Working Group asked if the cinema could be kept and re-purposed or alternatively the historic frontage preserved with a new building behind – or at least provide a mural of the cinema on the new buildings.
This week, with the front of the building covered up, residents spoke about the venue that was once such an integral part of the community.
Stephen Bailey (74) said: “It’s good it is coming down because it’s doing no purpose – but I’m not agreeing with the flats. If they were going to do the inside up it would be better – but no-one seemed to be that interested, so better for it to come down.
“I used to go there in my youth for the Saturday morning sixpenny rush. When it closed at the time, I was sad. It’s a shame really it had to come down. They had the chance when it first closed to use it for something else.”
And Stacia Stokes (39) who could remember the building being open, along with the former swimming pool on the other side of the Broadway, said: “It’s sad really – a bit of an end of an era…”