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Scottish Cinema Spotlight: The Regal Cinema, Newton-on-Ayr

Updated: 4 days ago

Welcome to Scottish Cinema Spotlight! The segment where we shine a light on one of our nation's other golden age picture palaces, taking you on a journey through their history from construction to the present day. This month we head across the burgh boundary and visit Ayr's shortest-lived cinema that stood very close to home!

The Regal Cinema in the 1950s.

Let's head back to 1932. The world's golden age cinema boom is gathering speed. The Broadway does not yet exist, although the Bug Hut has already been serving Prestwick for 18 years. In Ayr, two purpose-built cinemas are about to come three, with the Orient soon to join the Green's Playhouse and the Picture House, later the Gaumont. Even Troon has two cinemas already, with a Picture House of their own and the Pavilion on Templehill.

Yet back in Ayr, a second cinema would appear alongside the Orient this year, although some could call it Prestwick's second instead!

The Regal appearing as 'Picture Theatre' on an Ordnance Survey map from 1936.

Just over the burgh boundary from Prestwick Toll, the community of Newton-on-Ayr would receive a 'picture theatre' of their own, with the arrival of the Regal Cinema. Built on Prestwick Road, just around the corner from Heathfield Hospital and School, the cinema would be built for a Mr. William Ross. He employed the skills of Glasgow-based architects and contractors F.D. Cowieson & Co. who would specialise in cinemas during the 1930s. If that name is familiar to you I'll be very impressed, as regular Scottish Cinema Spotlight readers may remember the Playhouse all the way in Stornoway being built by Cowieson too!

Back in Newton, the Regal was constructed with a simple façade that fit the name. The central section of the frontage was crowned with a design that reflected the ramparts of a castle, with recessed sections either side that became small balconies. The entrance featured a small elegant canopy with Regal signage on all sides, and the otherwise plain stone and brick structure was highlighted by bright pillars each side of the three sets of double doors, which featured curved glass and diamond-patterned windows above.

The entrance of the Regal around the late 1940s or early 1950s.

The auditorium of the Regal held 850 seats. Early editions of the Kinematograph Weekly tell us that the sound system was British-Thomson-Houston, and that by the end of 1946 the Regal was only opening for evening shows and Saturday matinees, with prices ranging from 9d. to 1s. 9d! Although we sadly have no photographs of the Regal's interior, memories shared with us from those who visited the cinema (including my Grandpa) recall the balcony only being two steps up from the foyer! More of a mezzanine level if anything, this comically low balcony was likely what you paid the extra shilling for. Others recall the first few rows being similar to the Bug Hut and featuring benches rather than seats, although the Regal's were apparently wooden rather than metal, so clearly a step up in the luxury department!

The Regal's staff standing at the entrance, believed to be around the time of the cinema's closure in 1956.

The Regal's ownership would change in the first decade or so too, with the cinema's operations moving to the Atalanta Picture House Ltd. in Glasgow by the end of the Second World War. However, as stated at the opening of the article, the Regal would sadly end up holding the title of the shortest-lived purpose-built cinema in the region, closing just 24 years after opening, in 1956. One of the best photographs we have of the Regal is shown above, with the staff posing in front of the entrance in the cinema's final days.

To those of you reading this who hadn't heard of the Regal before, it may come as a surprise to learn there was a cinema at Heathfield at all! Long disappeared and forgotten by many, Newton-on-Ayr's cinema would have relied heavily on its surrounding neighbourhoods. Just six years after the Regal opened, with the Broadway located in the heart of Prestwick, Newton itself featuring two other cinemas in the Orient and the Ritz closer to the heart of shops and activity, and with the vast majority of residents catching the bus further into Ayr for their entertainment, and another three larger cinemas at the heart of the town, we can see in hindsight that the Regal was not as suitably placed as its closest neighbours.

The Regal transformed into Rosefield Motors in the 1960s.

Yet incredibly, technically, the building still exists today!

After closure, the Regal was transformed into a motor garage known as Rosefield Motors. Straight away, extensive renovations took place. To begin with, the original façade of the Regal was demolished, with a new simplified square frontage added, as we can see in this wide shot above taken from Heathfield Road in the 1960s. Yet the original auditorium structure would remain, although the interior was extensively gutted to make way for the new garage floor.

Previously we made contact with a local resident who worked at Rosefield Motors, and he informed us that at the time you could still clearly see where the projection room once stood. Transformed into a storeroom you could still look out the portholes and across the auditorium floor. Even if the 850 seats had been replaced with Morris Minors!

The interior of Rosefield Motors in 1964, inside the former auditorium of the Regal.

And even now, 68 years after the Regal's closure, the building still remains in the automotive industry as Arnold Clark Vauxhall. Virtually unrecognisable, Arnold Clark in the early 2000s constructed a new glass frontage across the entire building, and the interior of the auditorium although still a garage has been divided up, added to, and had panels added to the walls and ceilings to the extent that even the brick shell is now shielded from view inside and out. It's quite remarkable passing the building today knowing that it was once a cinema, and comparing photographs from the 50s to the present day can have you scratching your head in confusion trying to work it all out!

Yet, the Regal is in there somewhere.

Arnold Clark Vauxhall in 2024.

Due to the cinema's short life having disappeared almost 70 years ago, a lack of detailed photographs, and few locals who remember visiting, any memories we can hear are preciously rare. Any stories people may have from the Regal are like gold dust in 2024. Therefore, we would encourage anyone, or anyone with family members or friends, who have recollections of visiting Newton-on-Ayr's often forgotten cinema to please get in touch!

In the Museum of Scottish Cinemas, we hope to capture as much detail as possible of all former golden age picture palaces across the country, and in particular those closest to home. For over 20 years for residents of Prestwick Toll, it was the Regal that would have been their closest cinema, rather than the Broadway!

The Regal Cinema in the 1950s.

We will do all we can to ensure that memories of the Regal remain, and that its place in local cinema history will be preserved for generations to come.

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