THE opening of St George's Hall, York's 'latest and largest' cinema on a Monday in early March, 1921, was quite an event.

The Lord Mayor Alderman E Walker and his Sheriff Mr HS Anderson were there for the ceremony, as were dignitaries from the York County Hospital, to which the whole of the first day's takings were presented.

Fairfax House, the building in Castlegate which housed the cinema, wasn't exactly new. It had been built in the early 1700s for a wealthy York lawyer, and some time after that has been converted by Lord Fairfax into what is sometimes described as the 'finest Georgian townhouse in England'.

But by the end of the First World war it had fallen on hard times.

Then a new venture, St George's Hall Entertainments, was formed. With the help of subscriptions from the citizens of York, it converted the Georgian building into a cinema, with oak-panelled walls, stalls and a circle, and with a large ballroom and café on the first floor.

The silent film screened on that opening day was Three Men in a Boat. This was 'cleverly produced and acted by a company of first class artistes,' noted the York Gazette of March 12, 1921. 'It was greatly enjoyed and appreciated by large audiences'.

In a short speech expressing his delight at the opening of the new cinema, the Lord Mayor said he was particularly pleased that it was a 'venture by his fellow citizens, and not by a company from some other town'. He was 'proud that there were gentlemen of such enterprise' in the ancient city of York, he added.

The new cinema didn't remain long in the hands of local people. It changed ownership several times through the 1920s, and by 1929 belonged to the Gaumont British Theatres chain.

But it remained a popular local cinema - one which on occasion also staged staged live variety shows - for many years, before eventually being closed in 1965. Today, following a major restoration in the 1980s, it is the headquarters of the York Civic Trust and is run as the Fairfax House museum of Georgian life.

We featured the cinema briefly in a recent Saturday column on the York Civic Trust plaques. Michaela Dobson, the civic trust's officer manager, dug out some wonderful photos of the cinema in its heyday, which we weren't able to use in that column. So here they are.

They included one of a photoshoot at the cinema's ticket kiosk in 1951, in which one of the models was her own mother-in-law, Marjorie Kenyon, then a teenager of 19. "They were modelling clothes for Leaders fashion shop opposite Leak and Thorpe in Coney Street!" says Michaela.

The photograph provides a lovely glimpse of what the interior of the cinema once looked like. Other photographs supplied by Michaela include one of the cinema's commissionaire, a smartly-uniformed man who would have greeted cinemagoers on arrival. There's also a photograph of the cinema's staff - among them the ice-cream seller with a tray of ice creams.

Michaela also sent a selection of old press cuttings about the cinema, together with some extracts from an oral history project in which people talked about their memories of St George's Hall. Between them, they provide a vivid picture of the lost picture house. Here are a few extracts:

From the Yorkshire Evening Press of Monday, January 15, 1940

"That York has some splendid amateur entertainers was proved by the concert held in St. George's Hall, York, last night, in aid of the Royal Naval War Amenities Fund. The show was arranged by the manager of the cinema, Mr. A. S. Clifton, who, besides acting as compere, put over three widely different songs. Thelma Mortimer, only 14 years old, was full of pep and personality in her song and dance number. Her tap dancing was especially pleasing."

From the Yorkshire Evening Press of Wednesday, October 27, 1965, recalling a very special screening in 1948

"When the St George's Cinema, York, showed a documentary film called The Birth of a Baby in 1948, people were fainting all over the place.

'I had been warned what to expect', said manager, 59-year-old Harry J Cowlrick, 'and so arranged for the Red Cross and St John Ambulance Brigade to be present in force. We had about 20 fainting cases a night – not among the women, mark you, but among young men. We used to prop them up at the back of the stalls while they were coming round.'"

From the Yorkshire Evening Press of February 2nd, 1962

"An account of a disturbance so persistent that the police had to be called to the St George’s Cinema, York, to control youths 'up and down like a lot of monkeys' was given to a York Juvenile Court by a 71-year-old cinema attendant. The attendant, Mr Norman Bruce Gregory, said that the boys were in one party, sitting in the two front rows 'alternately one row and the other'. They were banging the seats, changing from row to row, running up and down the aisles and 'making a row.' When he repeatedly ordered them to be quiet they sat back and laughed at him."

Memories of the cinema from an oral history project

Mrs Willis: “When you went into George's if you went to the better seats you queued from Castlegate in the foyer, which was the way leading up to the dance hall and then you would wind a crocodile and you went round and in like an 's' shape and then paid and went in. If you were in the cheaper seats, you queued down a passage at the side and it was very, very cold because you weren't really in the proper building."

Mrs Armstrong: “St George's was very popular in Castlegate. It was very handy. The only snag was that you paid for your ticket at the box office. You thought you were going straight in but they directed you around two or three passageways waiting.”

Mrs Manners-Travers:.“I forgot to tell you about St George's, the lovely dances there at the side of the cinema. We went up the steps and into this entrance hall and there were these stone steps up to the dance..."