Thursday, 3 December 2009

The Picture House, Barnes

Sometimes you pass through a street on several occasions, and don't notice a painted sign. That was the case for me with this one. I even had several pictures of the building but failed to spot there was something written by the street corner. After all the name of the venue, Byfeld Hall, was already engraved in stone. Why should there be anything else? And then, on a rainy day, while travelling on a bus that passed nearby, I happened to look down Church Road and suddenly realized there was a painted sign I hadn't taken a clear picture of. That was three months ago, and last week I finally made a little detour on my way to the supermarket to capture it.
Built possibly by J. Harrison (although the name of Arthur Osborne has also been mentioned) Byfeld Hall opened in 1906 as a venue for meetings, plays, music and dancing with a capacity of 500. In 1910 Byfeld Hall received its first cinematograph licence. It opened with a documentary about the funeral procession of Edward VII, which had taken place a couple of days earlier. This experience didn't last for long though and the venue soon reverted to its original purpose. However with attendance and revenues declining it became in 1923 the Barnes Picture House. The management team must have got it wrong though, and two years later Byfeld Hall was reopened as the Barnes Theatre by Philip Ridgeway. The producer staged two adaptations of Thomas Hardy's works, Tess of the D'Ubervilles in 1925 and The Mayor of Casterbridge in 1926 as well as five Russian plays by Chekov and Gogol directed and designed by Fyodor Fyodorovich Komissarzhevsky. Yet once more the operation ran into financial difficulties and the Barnes Theatre closed in 1928. For the next 25 years Byfeld Hall was mostly used as a cinema under a variety of names: the Barnes Cinema Theatre in 1928, the Ranelagh between 1930 and 1940, the Plaza between 1943 and 1951, and finally the New Vandyke between 1952 and 1953. In 1960 the building was purchased by Guild TV and transformed into a film studio. Nevertheless it was with its subsequent owners that Byfeld Hall became one of the music industry's most famous places.
Indeed in 1965 that building with a troubled financial history was bought by Cliff Adams and Keith Grant's Olympic Sound Studios. One year later they moved their recording studio from London's West End to Barnes. The Rolling Stones were among the first artists to record their LPs there. The Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, David Bowie, The Eagles, Eric Clapton, and many others came to Barnes during the studio's heyday. The history of the Olympic Studios in Barnes was narrated by Pierre Perrone in an article for The Independent shortly before its closure on 30th January 2009.

The exterior of Byfeld Hall is of red brick dressed with stone in a Dutch baroque style. Until the early 1960s, a cupola on columns topped the corner tower on which the sign for the Picture House is painted. Originally the ground floor housed several shops. Their Edwardian windows were replaced by dark opaque-glazed ones when the studios were totally rebuilt and the exterior refurbished in 1989.


If this sign was painted in 1923 by the Barnes Picture House, it must have been boarded up by subsequent cinema operators keen to advertise their name rather than that of their failed predecessor.

Location: Church Street / Picture taken on: 26/11/2009

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