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Post by Stanley » 25 Jan 2013, 06:14


As many of you will have realised, The Majestic complex and Matt Hartley it’s builder have fascinated me for years. Built in 1914 it must have been one of the first integrated leisure complexes in the country and over the years more and more information has popped up. I think it’s about time we did a proper update and gathered all this material together.

Matthew Hartley is a bit of a mystery. I said this once to one of his surviving family and they agreed that he was a ‘bit of a character’. I think this might have been putting it mildly, I can’t find any concrete records for him and am beginning to suspect that he used another name in his early days. Whatever, I’ll tell you what I think I know about him. As I often say, further research may alter things but this is where I stand at the moment.

Matthew Hartley was born in Colne. His first business venture seems to have been a pie and pea shop at the top of Colne. He became involved in the building trade and in the 1870s I think he was living in Marsden Heights at Nelson, he is reputed to have built several houses there. He seems to have gone walkabout around this time and turns up in Barlick sometime about 1900. I suspect he was in Blackpool in these lost years because I am assured that the family legend about him standing on the foreshore at Blackpool and throwing his last penny in the sea so he could say he started again with nothing is true.

What is certain is that he did attend the sale of effects at Thomas Ward’s breaker’s yard at Morecambe and bought a lot of fittings from the ex White Star liner which he incorporated into the Majestic which was completed in 1914. Large amounts of panelling and fittings came into Barlick by rail and went into not only the Majestic but the families various houses in the town. The pay box in the foyer was the old Purser’s office.

The Majestic contained a cinema and a ballroom which doubled as a roller skating rink and a billiard hall with 14 full sized tables on the first floor. The cinema was in the centre and when it first started was gas-lit but with a generator powered by a small gas engine which supplied power for the arc lamp for the projectors. Walt Fisher said this was on rails so it could be moved from one projector to the other when they changed reels. Later a larger engine and generator were added to light the whole of the building. Both engines were in a room behind the cinema screen and they had their own gas producer in the same room, drove the generators with leather belts and were looked after by Harold Hartley who lived on Ellis Street. There was also a gentleman’s club, the entrance to this was in Fernlea Avenue next to the library. I’ve been told that it wasn’t unknown for people to play cards for money in there. There were shops on the front of the building on either side of the stairs leading up to the foyer of the cinema.

As well as the Majestic Matt built Station Chambers and the shops opposite the Majestic. He built six lock-up shops on the site where the Post Office is now. I also think that he had a hand in building the block on the corner of Albert Road in 1906 that now houses the Occasion and two other small shops with accommodation over the top.

By 1928 Matt had also bought the Gem cinema in Skipton, which he re-named the Plaza. It was in this year that he sent word to his son Harry who had migrated to Niagara Falls that there was a job waiting for him at home managing the new acquisition. Harry came back and became manager, he met his wife Olive there in 1930 and was married in 1935. There was a rival cinema in Skipton owned by a man called Morrison and called the Morriseum. This later became the Odeon.

On the 11th of November 1940 M Hartley and Sons Limited presented a silver gilt chain to the Urban District Council as Chairman’s Regalia in memory of Mr Fred Hartley’s service to the Council. Matt Hartley himself was a councillor from 1920 to 1922. The story in the family is that at some point Matt fell out with the council and asked for the chain back. They believe that the reason for the falling out was that the council wouldn’t allow him to lay a water main from Church Street to a building on the hill up to St James’ Square that Matt had built as a public swimming baths. [The one I thought was a billiard hall] By at least 1922 this building was Phineas Brown’s electrical works so there is a mis-match between the story of the chain and the dates. Perhaps there was an earlier chain of office and this is why Matt resigned as a councillor in 1922? I know that there is a picture of Matt somewhere with a chain of office. As he resigned in 1922 it could well be that he got it back! However, the building was never used as a swimming bath and Matt dropped his plans for further development up towards the Square. The present owner tells me that at one time it was used for ice-making and of course in my time in the 1960s it was the Croft Garage. In 2004 the sign ‘Croft Garage’ can still be seen on the gable end facing Skipton Road.

Matt Hartley definitely had an interest in the palace Cinema early on and in the end he owned it. George Formby and Billy Cotton’s Band Show both played at the Palace. Arthur Harper started at the Palace Cinema playing the piano for the silent films. At weekends they had a trio. He eventually became secretary and manager for M Hartley and Sons Ltd. The reason why there was no stage at the Majestic was probably because Matt didn’t need one as there was one at the Palace. He transferred shows from there to the Plaza.

Barmy Mick bought the Palace off M Hartley and Sons in about 1960 and opened it as a cheap shop. Janet Kippax told me that they had a policy that nothing could be changed once you had gone through the checkout. One day she bought ten tins of Heinz baby food but was only charged for one. When she went back in to tell them about the mistake they said that it couldn’t be changed so it worked in her favour.

In the late 50s and early 1960s Boris Hartley, Harry Hartley’s son, ran what they called ‘Barlick Bop’ at the Majestic on Wednesday evening for adults and Saturday afternoon for the teeny-boppers. In 1959 he had a visit one Friday from three men, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Brian Epstein. They were touring round looking for bookings and had been at the Imperial Ballroom at Nelson. The manager there had booked them and suggested that they try the Majestic at Barnoldswick. When Boris asked Brian Epstein how much the group wanted he said £28. He said they couldn’t go higher than £15 because they only charged a shilling for entry. They could book The Hollies, Freddy and the Dreamers and Gene Vincent for £5 to £10. They all appeared at the Majestic from time to time. Brian Epstein gave Boris a demo record of ‘Please, please me’ and asked him to play it for the kids and if they liked it he could get in touch about a booking. This record floated round in the record collection for years until one day two lasses who had been helping Boris asked if they could have it. He gave it to them and in 2000 realised that only 15 of these demo records had been made and one had sold at Christie’s in New York for £85,000. So there is a good chance that someone in Barlick has an old EP record floating round in the attic that is worth somewhere in the region of £100,000! The Beatles never actually played the Majestic but Boris booked them several times in the early days for venues in other towns.

The films of the Gala mentioned by Walt Fisher did exist. They were made by Boris in 1951 and 1952 on 16mm film looking down Skipton Road from where the church is now and were shown at the Majestic. Nobody I have asked knows where these have gone to.

One more interesting fact. Boris said that one thing he always remembered was the smell of the venue when he opened it up the morning after and went in to sweep up. There were no snack foods in those days and most people brought oranges and peas in pods. He said the place smelled of orange peel.

I have no doubt that more information will turn up about this fascinating piece of Barlick’s history. Next time you walk along Albert Road, pause and look at the Majestic and Station Chambers and reflect how modern they must have seemed ninety years ago when they were built. Matthew Hartley may well have been ‘a character’, what is also certain is that he had imagination and a very good head for business. He was an asset to the town.

SCG/26 November 2004
1607 words.

No picture this week.
Stanley Challenger Graham
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"Beware of certitude" (Jimmy Reid)
The floggings will continue until morale improves!

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Post by PanBiker » 25 Jan 2013, 11:56

Brian Epstein became the Beatles manager on January 24th 1962 having first met them after a concert at the Cavern Club in November of 1961. Interesting that Boris says he met them in 1959. If he did it would certainly not have been with Epstein. According to various sources, "Please Please Me" was recorded as a demo by Parlophone on November 26th 1962 and about 200 copies were made for distribution to clubs and DJ's. A good example was catalogued for sale on the Parlogram Website in October 2011 with an asking price of £2,500. A bit of showman's licence and romancing going on with Boris I reckon, makes a good tale though.

Brian Epstein Official Site

Parlogram Website

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Post by David Whipp » 30 Jan 2013, 10:58

Stanley wrote:The films of the Gala mentioned by Walt Fisher did exist. They were made by Boris in 1951 and 1952 on 16mm film looking down Skipton Road from where the church is now and were shown at the Majestic. Nobody I have asked knows where these have gone to.
We showed some of Boris Hartley's footage of Barlick Gala at Centre Screen Cinema. The film was from the late '50s I think. The footage included the procession setting off from the Syke and from in front of Holy Trinity as well as on the gala field.

The film footage has been transferred onto DVD. Boris said he showed the films of the gala at the Majestic for several years.

Only after watching it several times did I spot my mum fussing over a little boy dressed as a chicken... (I remember the chicken suit quite well, it was still in use when my older daughter was a young lass, but has sadly disappeared from the family glory hole.)

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