Time Out Living gallery heading 1901: Living at the Time of the Census Living in 1901
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Entertainment

At the pictures
In 1901, the film industry was still in its infancy and many of its early products now seem to us to be amateurish. Local entrepreneurs, such as Sagar Mitchell and James Kenyon (who were based in Blackburn at the turn of the century), made 'local films for local people'. These have been described as social records of late Victorian and early Edwardian life. Filming groups of workers leaving their factory or workplace could guarantee a local audience, all anxious to see themselves in a 'moving picture'.

Films were shown at fairgrounds, music-halls, village halls, private parties, and even disused shops. Purpose-built cinemas, known as 'electric palaces' or 'bioscope theatres' did not appear until about 1904. One turn of the century viewer, George Pearson, recalls his first show:


A programme of film - link to an enlarged version


It was outside a derelict greengrocer's shop. The hawk-eyed gentleman on a fruit-crate was bewildering a sceptical crowd…His peroration was magnificent: 'You've seen pictures of people in books, all frozen stiff. You've never seen people come alive in pictures, moving about natural like you and me. Well, go inside and see for yourself living pictures for a penny'…[inside] The tin apparatus burst into a fearful clatter, and an oblong picture slapped onto the sheet and began a violent dance. After a while you discerned it was a picture of a house, but a house on fire. Flames and smoke belched from the windows, and someone mounted a fire escape, little human figures darted about below, and then… Bang! Everything ended. The light went up. The show was over. Exactly one minute. I had been to the cinema.
(
from Rachael Low & Roger Manvell's The History of British Film (1948).)

Watch a film clip Enter the 1901 cinema to view film clips. 

Electrophones and music halls
The electrophone was a telephone-based service that allowed subscribers to listen in to concerts, theatrical performances and even sermons in fashionable churches, either at home or at listening-in points. This now almost-forgotten predecessor of radio - or even the internet - was available in 1901 to those who had the money to pay for it. It ceased to be viable in the 1920s, partly due to competition from the wireless.

'In the electrophone salon' - link to an enlarged version

The performances broadcast on the electrophone included those from music-halls, which were still very popular in 1901. For those who lacked the time or money for 'regular' theatre, the music-hall variety show provided a cheaper and simpler alternative. As H. Chance Newton, writing in George R. Sims' Living London, remarked, the audience:

…can take or leave the entertainment at any hour they please - the programme given being, of course, everything by "turns" and nothing long. Besides all this - and it is an important factor - there is the chance of enjoying a smoke, a luxury prohibited in all theatres run under the Lord Chamberlain's licence.

In December 1901 the Hackney Empire in east London was opened as a music-hall; it survives today as a theatre. Pubs were also important venues for relaxation and entertainment.