Our Patch 2
The Arcadia Picture House
The Arcadia cinema was situated at No. 16, Lewes Road, Brighton. It had its many good times but also it suffered plenty of bad times. During the war years and shortly after it had a nickname of ‘The Flea Pit.’ I have no idea why?
I used to frequent it fairly often and I never came out scratching or ever found a flea on my body. It was probably the cheapest cinema to visit in Brighton, which was the main reason I used to go there. If I had another penny (old money) and a film was showing that I wanted to see then I would go to the Duke of York’s cinema at Preston Circus. Of course that applied to the Arcadia, I wouldn’t go if there wasn’t a film I wanted to see. The Duke of York’s was a penny dearer to go in than the Arcadia but after a while I believed that The Arcadia put up their price and added on another penny. I would only go with a mate, it wasn’t the sort of place you took a girl too although plenty of girls did go there. If you were taking a girl friend to the ‘pictures’ then you would almost certainly go to the regent cinema or possibly the Astoria cinema. Both were better class cinemas than the Arcadia.
The Arcadia Cinema opened in 1910, on a site that had previously been occupied by stables. The stables housed the horses of the bus proprietor, Walter Tilley, a very famous individual who started the original bus Company in Brighton. Tilley ran a bus service from the Steine to Lewes Road Army barracks and also to the bottom of Stanford Avenue. Sadly he was put out of business with the introduction of the Corporation tramways in 1901.
The Peoples Palace
In 1907 the site was let to a fairground animated picture operator and then, soon after that finished to a group of small film booths were set up They were supper seeded by a permanent cinema being set up. This cinema was called ‘The Peoples Palace.’ A while later it was re-named ‘The Arcadia and had a number of ‘Variety Acts’ on the stage between the films. It is alleged that Harry Houdini, the famous escapologist appeared there on one occasion, but that hasn’t been verified.
Arcadia cinema closed in 1957 and the Building was bought by the Brighton Co-Operative Society. It was later that it was rebuilt and then became ‘The Brighton Trades and Labour Party and became a social building, a club with a bar serving the usual drinks that you get in a public house and light snacks.
They had a good darts team and after I set up a Police darts team at John Street Police Station we used to play them both ‘home and away.’ We were both in the ‘Fryco’ Darts League. That was before the troubles with the IRA.
Then all social visitors were checked as they entered John Street Police Station. Eventually all social visits were stopped coming in. There used to be a ‘side door’ into the police Station which a lift would take you to the Social Club on the 4th Floor and that was closed and locked. The darts team eventually packed up.
The flee pit
Like always there are people with memories of The Arcadia Cinema; Peter Field writes he used to visit the cinema in the 1950’s when the popular name was ‘The Scratch.’ Ray Barontini said that he used to ‘bunk in’ at the back through the toilets; that way he didn’t pay.**
Robert Green stated that he used to visit the Arcadia in the 1930’s and used to pay a penny for 4 ounces of nutty toffee and two pence as being the entrance cost to go in. He enjoyed Bill Boyd as ‘Hopalong Cassidy.’ He states that he was never infected by the ‘little creatures.’ But remembered staying in his seat and watching the film again.
Chris Troak remembered visiting The Arcadia, which was known as ‘The Fleapit.’ Terry Lever states that he remembers living in a ‘just about liveable bombed out house’ in Henry Street, in those days he paid ten pence to go in, hat is if he couldn’t get in around the back through the toilets. The wooden seats in there left a lot to be desired, but Mickey, our pet dog, didn’t mind when he came along too.
Harry Atkins states he remembers an usherette walking up and down the Ailes with a ‘flit (DDT) spray, this was in order to kill the fleas.
The last word goers to Bob Munro who states that he remembers standing up to let someone pass to a vacant sat and when he sat down again – the whole row of seats collapsed, as the place had become quite dilapidated by then.
Researched and written by David Rowland