Bingo remains one of Britain’s favourite pastimes and during the latter part of the 20th century, bingo halls became part and parcel of national identity.
However, not all of our most spectacular bingo halls were built as such, with many harboring previous lives as cinemas or theatres.
The advancement of home entertainment – from televisions in the 1950s to streaming services today – helped bring about the decline of cinemas. And ever since their peak in the 1930s, cinemas have been closing at a faster rate than they have been opening.
Thankfully, the passing of the 1960 Gaming Act allowed Bingo to come to the rescue of some of the finest pre- and post-war buildings in the country.
Man alive! Here’s (number) 5 of the best bingo halls in England.
1. Top Rank Club (now Mecca Bingo), Kingstanding, Birmingham, West Midlands
Designed by Harry Weedon, this building was originally built as a cinema in 1935, when the Odeon brought the lights of Hollywood to the good people of Birmingham.
The building showcases the best aspects of art deco architecture. With its sleek linear appearance, the wonder of Hollywood would have felt even closer.
Sadly, the cinema closed in 1961, but its listed status and conversion to a bingo hall has preserved the building for generations to come.
2. Gala Bingo Club, Ealing, London
Although it allowed Bingo to come to the rescue of struggling buildings, the 1960 Gaming Act was also a major factor in the demise of the cinema, with many forced to adapt to changing times.
Some were turned into dance halls, concert halls, and bowling alleys, while others saw the success of bingo halls and tried to incorporate it into the cinema – operating as a cinema for a few nights a week and a bingo hall for the rest.
The Gala Bingo Club in Ealing was built as a cinema and was previously a social club prior before becoming a bingo hall.
3. The Spanish City, Whitley Bay, Tyne And Wear
The Spainish City opened in 1908 as a theatre.
At the time, Whitley Bay was a seaside town attracting large numbers of tourists. The building became a dance hall and in the 1920s was one of the major dance venues in the country.
In 1961, the Spanish City was converted to a bingo hall, but despite initial success, was struggling by the 1990s and closed. Fortunately, the venue reopened in 2018, allowing this magnificent building to continue to be enjoyed.
4. Gala Bingo, Wandsworth, London
This former cinema is Grade I listed and has been described as ‘a world class cinema, without doubt the most lavishly decorated interior of any cinema in Britain and among the most lavish in Europe’.
But once again, it was the conversion of the building into a bingo hall that saved it.
The cinema was closed in 1973 and re-opened again three years later as a bingo hall. Now that’s some Grade I bingo!
5. Dreamland, Margate, Kent
The theatre in Margate was built in 1923 and named the Dreamland Cinema when it opened in 1935. At the time, the design was the first of its kind.
The cinema was enlarged in the mid 70s and by this time included a theatre.
However, the theatre proved unsuccessful and was converted into a Bingo Hall – meaning that at this point, bingo had not replaced cinema directly and both were available at the same time.
What have we missed? Let us know your favourite bingo halls in the comments below.