The Picture Playhouse, Beverley – a History 1

The Picture Playhouse as most Bevelonians know, was formally a “Corn Exchange” in fact the Playhouse site and buildings have quite a long history of serving the needs of the people of Beverley.

It appears that the area of the site was the main medieval meat market from around the 14th century, a permanent building to house the Butchers Shambles was erected there in 1753, designed by Samuel Smith, this building bore the Arms of the Beverley Corporation. In 1825 part of the Building was converted into a Corn Exchange and in 1834 another section was made over to a Butter Market.

The present building in red brick with terracotta decorations was designed by Samuel Musgrave and erected on the site in 1886 as a Corn Exchange, Butter Market and Baths, with porters accomodation. ( The contract from the corporation was “for less than £2000” ). From 1904 to 1906 it also served the community as an Infants School with over 100 pupils, then used as a venue for evening classes in Technical subjects, many society and public meetings have also been held there throughout the history of the premises.

Ernest Symmons, Cinema proprietor and prolific film maker.
Ernest Symmons

Moving pictures were first shown in the Corn Exchange early in 1911 by Mr Ernest Symmons & his partner Mr Holderness, so successful was this endeavour that they applied to the corporation for a long term lease and so was born the “Beverley Picture Playhouse” . Although the Picture Playhouse was now a Cinema, it still held live entertainment, much of it in aid of local events and charity, e.g. this concert, and it was still a Corn Exchange! corn being traded there up until 1947. The Playhouse was also a base for a prolific film production company, recording events of both local and national importance and making documentaries.

After the death of Mr Symmons in 1957, his widow Thelma kept the cinema going, but with the advent of Television, cinema audiences were in decline over the whole country, in an effort to save the Picture Playhouse Mrs Symmons introduced Bingo in 1962, but despite diversifying the final Film show during her reign was held in 1963.

For most of the 1970’s Beverley was without a commercial Cinema, although a film society was formed at the Picture Playhouse in 1972 and ran until 1981. The Picture Playhouse reopened as a commercial Cinema in 1982 and has shown mainstream films, and hosted live music events ( Pop, Rock, Jazz, Folk ), comedy acts, and even a national radio show, right up until 2003.