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Local History

Local history

Children in the cinema in the early 1900s

BFI Posters, Stills and Design

The rise and fall of the cinema is one of the most dramatic stories in the social history of the last century. In 1900 there were almost certainly no purpose-built cinemas in Britain. By 1940 there were over 5,500 and going to the cinema was the main form of leisure activity for the majority of the population. What people went to the cinema for, as C. Day Lewis once said, was ‘cheap, enthralling, escapist entertainment’.

The surroundings were, for most people at that time, luxurious, but also communal, not private: the whole audience laughed together or cried together. The moment’s pause in a big cinema at the end of a powerfully moving drama was exactly the same as in the theatre.

Then came an almost equally rapid decline.  By 1985, 80% of those cinemas were no longer showing films and had either changed their use or been demolished. This rapid decline means that, to most young people today, a film is something hired from a video shop or seen on TV. Yet the great cinema-going generation is still alive; many cinemas are actually still standing.

In the last few years there has been a considerable revival in the number of people going to cinemas. This situation makes the cinemas and cinema-going habits of the past a particularly fruitful topic for investigation by pupils.

This online resource offers a range of materials to support such investigations in the school curriculum.  There is a brief illustrated history of cinemas and suggested tasks concerning oral history, model making and map work.  The Gallery features all the images from the illustrated history so they can be shown to pupils on an interactive whiteboard.

This resource fits well into the following areas for teaching History to upper-Primary level pupils:

  • Local history study
    Aspects of the local area that have changed: sport and leisure
  • Victorian Britain
    Impact of changes to work and transport: seaside holidays and entertainment
  • Britain since 1930 Impact of social and technological changes: impact of domestic appliances in the home; radio, cinema, television

Pupils will be learning political history alongside social and cultural history and be taught:

  • about the ideas, beliefs, attitudes and experiences of people in the past
  • to recognise that the past is represented and interpreted in different ways and give reasons for this
  • how to find out about about the events, people and changes from a range of sources
  • to communicate their knowledge and understanding in a variety of ways