The Kursaal Entertainments Hall: an Edwardian Landmark
by Carol Powell M.A.
In 2015, Mumbles was undergoing a major new development, which will be known as The Oyster Wharf, along the seaward side of the Mumbles Road, but some 125 years ago, another massive redevelopment was taking place. In 1890, the Mumbles Railway Company decided to extend its track from the Castle Hill Terminus (opposite today's Quarry Car-park) via a causeway out across the old Horsepool Harbour to Southend and beyond, culminating in a Pier, which opened in May 1898.
The ground behind the embankment was then filled in with ballast and a row of shops including Lowther's the Chemist (Boots) and Miss Orrin's Post Office, (Coral), a function hall and a fairground (now the site of the tennis courts and bowling green) comprising a figure-of-eight and side shows, were built on some of the reclaimed land.
The Kursaal at Ilfracombe
The function room, known as The Kursaal, was a prefabricated building, which had been dismantled in Ilfracombe and reassembled in Mumbles, opening in August 1906. For over a year it was the venue for Tom Owen's entertainments until it, together with some scenery and seating, was offered for sale by auction on 24 October at the Hotel Metropole in Wind Street, Swansea. The premises was advertised in the 16 October issue of the South Wales Daily Post as containing 'an entertainment hall, measuring 74ft by 45 ft, two dressing rooms, two artistes' cloakrooms, two public cloakrooms plus three rooms on its first floor'. The advert went on to state that ' it had recently been let to Mr Tom Owen, the entertainer on a quarterly tenancy of £100 per annum, he paying the rates and taxes'. For a short time in 1907, the Mumbles Baptists made it their home while awaiting the completion of their new Church on the corner of Newton Road and Langland Road.
By 1910, the Kursaal was advertising 'Skating on its new maple-wood floor at 6d per session'. However, competition was stiff what with Mumbles Pier and Skating Rinks advertising 'a combined first-class ticket on the Mumbles Railway from Swansea plus the use of skates for three hours for only one shilling'. Consequently, the Kuraal had to close. On 9 February 1911, the Mumbles Weekly Press publicised a sale at the Kursaal where its entire stock of confectionery, toys, fancy goods together with 100 pairs of skates were sold off at reduced prices.
The Kursaal, Figure of Eight and Devon Terrace
Marjorie Bowden (nee Jenkins) recalled that 'As we grew older, we used to save 6d all week to go out to the skating rink on a Saturday afternoon; we could do anything on them then — waltz, two-steps and play touch. But it had to be closed, as it did not pay. So they sold the skates for 2/- a pair and my youngest brother went up and bought a pair each for my sister and myself. So after school, all us Southenders would go up and down the road from the station to the Ship and Castle on them.'
Following its closure and re-letting to Mr. Frank Darwin at an annual rent of £125, a later owner Mr. W. Pile sold it by auction in March 1911 to Mr. Alfred Andrews a fish and game merchant of Mumbles for £1,257.
By 1912, the Kursaal was in business again, but now known as The Mumbles Cinema when it was showing the 'Latest and Best Pictures' such as Dick Turpin and A Real Bunny Comedy and the seats plus afternoon tea cost 3d, 6d and 1/- for the adults. Grafton Maggs recalled that 'It had a tin roof, which although excellent for acoustics had obvious disadvantages with heavy rain, hailstones and the proximity of the Mumbles Train. However, being a small cinema with no upstairs, these distractions only added to the feeling of cosiness and security and created an enchanting atmosphere'.
Esther Flowers Edwards recalled that 'We only had thru'pence a week, which we spent on going to the pictures usually on a Saturday. Tu’pence to go in and a penny to spend! We watched Richard Bartholemew, Pola Negri, Pearl White, Charlie Chaplin and John, Lionel and Ethel Barrymore on the big screen.
For Easter 1919, 'an exceptionally attractive series of pictures has been secured for the Patrons of the Mumbles Cinema.' These included 'Two little Imps doing their bit' which featured Jane and Katherine Lee (the famous Fox sisters); a further episode of a two-part comedy entitled 'The House of Hate'; plus Mutt and Jeff and the star attraction, Carmel Mayer in 'Nobody's Wife.'
In 1922, The 'New' Cinema, pictured above and built on the same site, opened to the public.
In the late 1920s, Woodrow Honey, who had first worked at the Regent in Newton Road before transferring to the Mumbles Cinema, commented that. 'I worked in the projection booth with Herbert Dix. Before the programme started, I organised the paratrope: I was the equivalent of the modern disc-jockey, providing non-stop music, as the audience assembled. One tune that sticks in my mind, from those days, is ‘Turkish Patrol’. As the projectors were running, we were always on the look-out for a sign – a circle and a cross in the top right-hand corner, which was a warning signal that we needed to change reels. I used to go to Lowther’s (now Boots) to buy pear-drops, because those were what we used as sticky ‘glue’, to join films together!'
Grafton Maggs remembered that 'Each cinema presented two programmes a week, spanning Monday to Wednesday, Thursday to Saturday with matinées on Wednesday and Saturday. Every programme had a double feature, supported by news, trailers, cartoons e.g. Mickey Mouse, Felix the Cat etc., or a short comedy e.g. Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chase etc. A matinée would start at 2 00 and finish at 5.30 — three and a half hours of entertainment for 3d! Before the advent of the continuous programme, the cinema would close for cleaning and ventilation and reopen at 6.00pm'.
The building was knocked down and in 1939, The Tivoli opened on the same site.
Known as the 'Tiv' it is fondly remembered by many of us, who patronised it in the 1940s and 1950s and by the younger generation who remember it as an amusement centre.
In the near future, the site will take on another guise as part of the new Oyster Warf.'
Tivoli Amusements Centre, June 2012
The Tivoli, Sept 2015
Powell, C., Once Upon a Village, 1996
South Wales Daily Post, 27 October 1907
Mumbles Weekly Press, 2 March 1911, 17 April 1919
South Wales Evening Post, 2 September 1939, 8 May 1945.
Memories: Marjorie Bowden, Esther Flowers Edwards, Woodrow Honey, Grafton Maggs.
The Kursaal at Ilfracombe: Ian Meyrick.
The Kursaal, The Figure-of-Eight, Fairground & Devon Place c1910: Lent by Mr Bill Harris of Mumbles Road, from The Mumbles News , Jan-Feb 1974 No. 63
The Mumbles Cinema 1922: West Glamorgan Archive.
The Tivoli Amusements Centre: John Powell. June 2012, September 2015.