Monday, 12 December 2011

Windsor Theatre RIP

A while ago Mrs B Snr (my mother-in-law, who’s just lovely) told me that she used to catch the school bus from Moseley to Bearwood to go ice-skating. She couldn’t remember exactly where but she knew that it was on Bearwood High Street.

When I found out that Lightwoods Park is going to have its own iceskating rink on the run up to Christmas (very, very exciting!) I wanted to find out more so Mrs B Snr did some digging for me (see, I told you she’s lovely) and she found out that what is now Bearwood Snooker Hall used to be where the ice rink was in Bearwood.

I then went to the Smethwick Heritage Roadshow and found out even more – the snooker hall used to be the Windsor Theatre.

Inspired by finding this out we went to see if we could take any photos which would recapture the building’s splendour. I think we did! What a shame though that such a beautiful building has been so neglected – what a waste.

I don’t think I’m the only person to think so – for more details please click on here and here.

Mary Bodfish, local historian and Chair of Smethwick Local History Society, has written a brilliant article about the Windsor Theatre and there are even more surprises in store.

The Windsor was one of the most distinctive buildings in Bearwood, with its domed roof with the small lantern feature on the top, and the very large clock that projected from the wall. A fan-shaped glass awning sheltered patrons as they came up the steps to the beautiful glass-panelled doors. It was opened in 1930 as a “super picture and variety theatre” as part of the local empire of cinemas owed by local councillor Edward Hewitson. In a clever publicity drive before it opened he held a competition for local people to suggest the name for it and “Windsor” was suggested by a Mr Sankey, whose prize was a pass for permanent free entry.

During the Second World War the Windsor played a tiny but significant role in the victory of the Allies. A short-wave radio receiving station was installed in the roof and a Birmingham ear, nose and throat surgeon, Mr Naylor Strong, who had been an enthusiastic amateur radio operator before the war, was directed to come in regularly and listen in to the Wehrmacht, the German army radio signals , and report all transmission data to Station X, the code-breaking centre at Bletchley Park.

After the war the theatre was re-opened, with variety, and revue, and amateur operatics. Stars performed there such as Winifred Atwell (pianist) and Frankie Vaughn – he was retained for a further week, as news of him spread and he played to packed houses every night, During the 1950s for three years the Windsor housed a repertory company called “Frank H Fortescue and his Famous Players, with Harold Wolfenden as the producer. The company put on 40 plays a year and a pantomime at Christmas. For a short season the plays were filmed for live transmission on television, but this of course was the beginning of the end for almost all live local entertainment and the theatre company folded within a year. Films were shown once again for period again then in the 1960s it was converted to a skating rink, which lasted a number of years before in being converted into a night club in the late 1970s, There I saw the wonderful Dolly Allen, the legendary Black Country comic – of whom it was rightly said “’Er’d mek a slab loff”. Finally, since 1982, the premises have been the Sandwell Snooker Centre.

This is a picture Mary found for us of the Windsor Theatre in the 1930s

Do you remember the Windsor Theatre in its former glory? If so we would love to hear from you so please email us at

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