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BARNSLEY TALES: The Barnsley Alhambra Theatre and it’s mysterious Atlas.

The prestigious Barnsley Alhambra theatre opened in 1915. It stood in Doncaster Road at the corner with New Street, on the eastern approach to the town.

With 2,600 seats it opened as a theatre but became a cinema in 1926. It had three balconies but the top balcony closed in 1939. The magnificent building had a stone facade and columns with windows.

After two years it stood empty until the stalls were transformed into the Top Rankbingo hall in 1960. In 1976 the Vale bingo club took it over and this closed in 1976. It was finally demolished in 1982.

Alhambra Theatre - Credit: John Irwin

I wonder how many of you can remember the giant ‘Atlas’ on the left hand corner of the building? How many courting couples at night or kids queuing to go in the building for the Saturday morning matinee would gaze up at the enormous Titan? It always looked as if it was holding the building up.

The Atlas was originally made by Alfred Popplewell, a stone mason who lived in Waltham Street.

Did you know that George Formby first played his banjo/ukulele at the Alhambra in 1923? He had bought the banjo from a friend for two pounds and ten shillings and quickly learned a couple of songs. For a bet he tried the banjo at the Alhambra.

The Alhambra Atlas - Credit: John Irwin

The reviews said ‘he was dying on his feet-until he played the banjo-and he brought the house down’. On the same night he met his girlfriend Beryl, who was from Castleford, at the theatre.

In 1982 I took my cine camera to film it being pulled down and I particularly zoomed in on the Atlas which had finished up in the rubble on the ground.

Like everybody else in Barnsley I wondered what had happened to it when they built the new shopping complex. John Timmis, who helps me with my research, finally tracked it down.

He rang me on a wet night and said ‘Dave. I‘ve found it. It’s in Wakefield’. We went through and knocked on doors until we hit the jackpot.

It was a businessman called Eric Wilkinson who had got it for ‘nowt’ when he saw it in Barnsley on his way home in 1982.

Queues under the Atlas

He asked the demolition contractors about the Greek Titan and he took it home on his wagon.

Eric is a collector of old memorabilia and told his wife Elise ‘I’ve brought home a garden gnome-all seven tons of it’.

Eric said the weight of it ‘jiggered his wagon up’.

Elise restored it and now it’s in his garden.

Elise has brought the face and eyes back to life but sadly the rest of the figure was destroyed when he had workmen in his garden.

Seeing it again certainly took me back to my childhood and just a thought! Wouldn’t it be nice to have it back in our town?

To watch the film see;-

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