Historic York home that was once a cinema and dance hall

Hannah Phillip  in front of opening credits of The Scarlet PimpernelHannah Phillip  in front of opening credits of The Scarlet Pimpernel
Hannah Phillip in front of opening credits of The Scarlet Pimpernel
THESE days a museum guide is likely to welcome visitors to Fairfax House but once it was common to be greeted by an usherette or an ice cream seller.

The York historic home, now a museum, is marketed as the “finest Georgian town house in England” but not so long ago it was a popular cinema where film fans settled down to watch the latest movies on the Big Screen.

Next month it will pay homage to those glory days when the house, known as St George’s Hall in the days when it was a cinema and dance hall, will host a Silver Screen Festival. The annual event will this year focus on the Georgian age with classic greats such as Tom Jones, Mutiny on the Bounty, Pride and Prejudice, A Tale of Two Cities and Frenchman’s Creek, bringing drama, rollicking adventure, poignant romance and unbridled intrigue.

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Hannah Phillip, Director of Fairfax House said: “Through the festival our aim is to mark Fairfax House’s former life as St George’s Cinema and a period that played such an impactful role in the house’s history.

“It is, after all, not only a period that many will remember, but also an era that is tremendously important in York’s heritage, when the city’s eleven cinemas played a huge part in everyone’s lives.”

The Silver Screen Festival is part of the museum’s wider aim to explore Fairfax House’s rich ongoing history beyond the eighteenth century and ties in with a major project to capture oral histories of people who remember St George’s whether as a cinema, dance hall, fitness studio or something else entirely.

Ms Phillip said there are plenty of recollections of happy times spent on the back row and even talk of double seats that were in demand in the cinema from courting couples.

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She said they have managed to interview a former projectionist at the cinema but were keen to speak to others with memories of the cinema to create a lasting archive.

Fairfax House, formerly a residential address, became a cinema in 1919, when it was transformed into one of the city’s best known places of entertainment and was in use as a cinema for almost fifty years.

“York has this really amazing history of cinema,” Ms Phillip said.

“It was something that people did a lot and there were a number of cinemas so its a period when they were built a lot.”

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She says York was a “burgeoning city” in the 19th Century and early 20th Century with its links with the chocolate and rail industries and there was a great interest in attending cinema which offered a release from everyday life.

The venue was not just used for cinema however with entertainers also performing. Records show George Formby’s niece and daughter were among the performers playing the ukulele and singing.

The oral history project has already begun and aims to collect as much information as possible to record for future generations. A team of volunteer interviewers have actively engaged in gathering memories and have succeeded in turning up fascinating new details, such as dog competitions that used to take place in the dining room as it is known today.

Fairfax House will play host to The Georgians on Silver Screen between February 2 and February 8. It will open with a gala night screening of The Scarlet Pimpernel, which was shown at St George’s Cinema in 1947.

Visit the website: www.fairfaxhouse.co.uk for more information.