The Coop Hall
7 min read

The Coop Hall

This is a transcript of an audio-recording made by my grandfather some time before I was born and uncovered by a cousin of mine decades later in a loft.

Finding these recordings was the first time I heard his voice.

If you right click and save-as you can download ‘The Co-op Hall’ for posterity. Pretty sure my Grandad would be buzzing if you did that

On a particularly cold day last week I stood in the entrance hall of a huge
block of offices awaiting a lift which seemed very reluctant to call, however
temporarily, at the ground floor. Running down the angled corner of the hall ran
two pipes, I strolled over touched them and found them hot. Hot enough to warm
my two hands which closed around them. And as the heat surged through my palms
and fingers, that single simple action turned back the clock for me, back to the
days of my boyhood when to thaw out I would do exactly the same behind the
entrance doors of the local co-operative hall.

The coop was a solid Victorian ediface of Accrington Brick with a huge
lead-lined dome the shape of an inverted wineglass perched precariously on the
edge of the roof. The entrance, where the hot pipes were located, was garlanded
with fruit and flowers in terracotta and the stone steps with a polished
handrail and little brass studs projecting every few feet lead to the hall
itself.

Heavy swing doors with large brass handles opened into a spacious room with
walls coloured a dull green, and woodwork painted dark brown and elaborately
engrained in the fashion of the day. The only light the filtered through to
allieviate the depressing interior came through stained glass windows
decoratively uniformed with a sheaf of wheat, with a scroll inscribed “Labour
and Wait”. And in those days they certainly laboured, and waited for God knows
what.

It’s design may have been unimaginative, it’s decor dull but the old-hall
provided a place – in fact the only place apart from the local school – for
communal gatherings of the villagers of Little Hulton.

Bazars, boxing, bonnie baby competitions, political meetings, miners tanner
meetings – so called because the union gave the colliers sixpence each as an
inducement to attend which went up to a shilling if the meeting was not over at
eight o’clock. The colliers, from whom I feel sure the American senate learned
the art of fillibustering, invariably saw that the meetings terminated at
two-minutes past eight.

Dances and keep-fit demonstrations testified to the floors construction. Many a
wedding cake was cut and many a tear shed over boiled ham and current-cake as
mourners fortified themselves on their dear and recently (about half an hour
before) departed.

The Sweeny-Todds and Mariah Martins or the Frankie Fortisques players brought
gasps of horror from the hall and on the following night, handkerchiefs would be
wrung-out as the slef-same Mr Todd and Miss Martin ground out The Paphos of the
Eastern Limb.

Long before the Repratory Company, in the days before the world had heard of
sliced-bread, ball-point-pens and milk in bottles, when all the trams had
cow-catchers as standard equipment and bacon-slicers belonged to a stage of
mechanisation yet to come, the coop hall was a cinema. And it is in this
capacity, that I remember it best.

Advanced publicity was a hand-written poster displayed on a board outside the
offices. The prices of admission catered for rich and poor alike. The cheapest
cost tuppence ha’penny, front-stalls you could call them, about six rows of
wooden forms which stretched right across the room and on which perched the
youth from the village. There was no half price, but the penny-rush on Saturday
afternoon catered for those unable to pay the full price.

Behind these seats were a few rows of wooden chairs, occupancy of which cost
four pence. Rising gradually on both sides of the hall were the five-pennys,
forms again but covered in a dark brown leather, and in the centre, a smaller
number of select tip-up red plush seats which, at eightpence, were occupied only
by the local aristocracy and by virtue of their office, a liberal sprinkling of
coop comittee members.

Without exception the tuppence-ha’pennies were filled with kids, all of whom
wore clogs. Anyone shod otherwise would have been thought either socially
superior or a bit of a fairy. I had a place next to the hot radiators – back to
the pipes again – underneath the first wheatsheaf window.

Together with the gang I would sit there two rows behind the piano absorbed in
the pictures and eating a carrot, as indeed most of us did. Apples at that time
were too dear, but if anyone was fortunate enough to have one, he had hardly
surreptitiously removed it from under his jersey before he was assailed with
cries of “Corkers!” from the other kids who had spotted the owners move. The cry
was in fact staking the first claim for the apple core before the eater threw it
at some unsuspecting blue-nose in the eightpennies. It wasn’t for the honour of
getting in some target practice that the claim was made, it was to glean from
the core any edible bit of apple that may have still remained.

At seven o’clock the impatience of the audience was finally rewarded when the
caretaker with a long pole turned down the two large gas-lamps at the front of
the stage and the show began. The screen took on the look of a miniature
rainstorm as the reel of film gathered momentum and then finally settled down to
an animated picture, jerky, but by the standards of the day an acceptable
presentation. Harry, a gifted pianist, was at his best when soldiers gallopped
to the rescue of a beleagured garrison. In this, he was accompanied by an ever
increasing clatter and roar of hundreds of childrens clogs stamping in unison on
the wooden-floor. When the stockade had been breached and the indians routed,
the roof re-echoed with the cheers of victory and relief, slowly dying away as
the heroine, Arrowin Bosom, fluttered her eyelids as she lay dying in the arms
of Wallace Reed.

At this stage the film would begin to slow down again, begin to rain and finally
stop. Then followed the usual caption: “End of part one, part two will follow
immediately”. Up went the caretakers pole, on came the gas-lights and Amy – the
chocolate girl – daintily yet bravely walked the plank between the
tuppence-ha’penny and the fourpenny seats with a tray of Cadburys ha’penny,
penny and tupenny bars.

“Naa children, let yer elders ‘ave a bit a quietness!” would cry the caretaker,
using a bit of gentle persuasion as he batted his cap on a youthful miscreant in
the second row. A derrisive whistler at a safe distance from the caretaker was
saved from retribution as part two started with the usual light shower. On went
the caretakers cap, up went his pole, down went the lights and we were off again
to see Wallace Reed finish his bit of snogging befroe the eyelashes fluttered to
a full stop never to flutter again. And so it went on, lights on lights down as
one part succeeded the other.

Throughout the picture season which was during the winter only, many a heroine,
bound by a villain to a railway track, was rescued in the nick of time. Banditis
tiptoed along the tops of trains, Tom Micks rode his horse down perpendicular
cliffs and William S Hearts gun belched smoke. Charlie Chaplin skidded round
corners and Fatty Arbuckle, with his enormous girth, squeezed through the widest
of doors. Ben Turpin threw custard pies with un-erring aim, belying his
crosseyed vision and many a daughter, carrying a shawl-wrapped baby was cast
into the snow by an outraged finger-pointing father. Houdidni would escape from
a cast-iron box at the bottom of the ocean and Elmo Lincoln the mighty terrified
not only the audience but all the lions in the jungle as well.

The suspense built up by the weekly serial was always shattered, when, at some
critical moment the film would suddenly be cut short and you were invited to
“Visit this theatre next week for part seven of The Broken Coin”.

Eddie Polo, The White Shirted Cowboy and Heroine Cora were popular characters
among the many serials discussed with unfeigning regularity in the playground at
the local school. The Clutching Hand and The Purple Domino come readily to mind.
The kids however were always brought back to stark reality of life, when,
promptly at nine o’clock – inbetween probably part five and part six of the big
film – a notice was flashed onto the screen which read: “Cinematograph Act of
1916: All children under the age of sixteen, unless accompanied by a parent of
guardian must now leave this hall”. Scores of heads would turn from the
tuppence-ha’pennies in the direction of the fourpennies and fivepennies
searching for a would-be temporary guardian or sponser to adopt them until the
show was over. The unadopted, and they were the large majority, then rose from
their seats and left perhaps a few boos, a whilstle or a cat-call but that’s
all. I wonder what would happen today.

I was a Saturday night regular although sometimes I was fortunate enough to
manage another visit, and a free one at that. Next door to the cottage where I
grew up, there lived a dear old lady, as I was about ten or eleven she could
have appeared quite ancient – probably about fourty or fifty but no matter. She
looked to all ‘world like one of the homemade cottage loaves she and her
contemporaries used to bake, she was round and brown, silver hair and
gold-rimmed glasses, behind which her blue eyes twinkled merrily. She was my
adminssion ticket to the pictures.

Sitting on her left in the fivepennies, I worked my passage by reading, as
quietly as possible, the film captions into her good left ear. This was not
unusual, quiet murmerings in the hall came from readers such as me. At the time
it was so prevelant as to be meaningless and now in retrospect I realise how
large were the number of adults of that decade that could neither read nor
write. As I reeled off the words she would shake her head sadly at some
tear-jerking line, nod in emphatic agreement with the heroes avow to do the
villian and laugh uproariously at some quotation which supported the comical
situation being screened at the time.

This then was the old coop hall – resaurant, meeting place, theatre and cinema.
Someone told me the other day that it is now a nightclub, well p’rhaps someday I
may call. I wonder if there’s a table near my radiator behind the piano, there
could be, but there will certainly be no-one eating carrots, or will there be
the stamping of clogs. Nor will anyone aged sixteen be told that at nine o’clock
they must all go home.

Indeed they will in all probability be just arriving.