Before the advent of the cinema in the early 20th century, the only place to witness the new technological wonder of moving pictures was to attend a showing in a town hall, church, or temporary public exhibition space. As the medium exploded in popularity, “picture palaces” were specifically designed to show the early movies.
In Scotland, the Hippodrome Cinema in Bo’ness is believed to be the oldest surviving of these purpose-built movie theaters. Opened in 1912, the proto-art-deco structure was the brainchild of the cinema pioneer Louis Dickson and designed by the renowned local architect Matthew Steele. The interior is circular, harkening to a circus (hence the name), with a domed ceiling and small balcony. The Hippodrome was later expanded in 1926, upon which a box office was added, and seating in what was previously the standing room only section.
The cinema did close down in the mid-1970s, and after a stint as a bingo parlor was abandoned and empty for nearly 30 years, with disused projectors still sitting in their boxes. It reopened after a major renovation in 2009 that restored the vintage venue to its original glory and beautiful 1926 decorative scheme. Today it operates as a cinema once again, playing the latest releases as well as independent films and, of course, the early classics.
Know Before You Go
The Hippodrome functions as an operational cinema, so if you wish to see the interior, check the website for opening times. During the month of March, there is a 5-day Silent Film Festival with workshops, talks, and of course an array of silent films accompanied by musicians from around the world. Bo'ness lies on the Firth of Forth coastline, off the A 904 from Linlithgow. The town is serviced by the number 45 and 46 buses from Linlithgow.