‘Quirky’ history of Dalston’s Rio cinema is stashed away in the attic

PUBLISHED: 17:10 05 January 2017 | UPDATED: 17:10 05 January 2017

Publicity stunt in 1950 on a roof top opposite the Rio, possibly to promote Mark Of The Gorilla

Publicity stunt in 1950 on a roof top opposite the Rio, possibly to promote Mark Of The Gorilla


The Rio is launching a campaign this year to restore the Art Deco picture palace to its former glory. Emma Bartholomew looks back at its past century.

The RIO as the Classic Cinema in 1950 The RIO as the Classic Cinema in 1950

The attic at the Rio Cinema contains a treasure trove of history - with pictures, photos, posters and press clippings “stuffed away” in endless rooms of filing cabinets.

Andrew Woodyatt, marketing and development manager at the Kingsland High Street cinema credits that to the management “never having thrown anything away”.

“It’s totally disorganised and more of a case of when I have a spare hour “Let’s open up another filings cabinet”. You come across the most amazing stuff - it’s totally and utterly random what you come across. “

One of the more quirky stories he has uncovered - documented in the cinema’s monthly newsletter from February 1991 - was that of Queenie, the cinema’s cat – who was formerly the feline for the Ace Cinema (now Efes snooker club).

The RIO in its first incarnation as the Kingsland Empire Cinema in 1915 The RIO in its first incarnation as the Kingsland Empire Cinema in 1915

“When that shut in 1984 she was carried down the pavement with her bowl and her favourite cushion,” Mr Woodyatt told the Gazette.

“She moved in at the Rio where she was happy for the reminder of her life. The regulars knew she loved sitting in people’s laps, so they would bring in titbits of food in the hope of luring her to sleep in their laps during the film. The old heating boiler wasn’t very reliable back then and she would keep them warm.”

Going back to the turn of the 20th century the Rio building was an auctioneer’s shop owned by Clara Ludski.

Silent cinema arrived as the latest entertainment craze on Kingsland High Street in 1908, with the opening of a small 50-seat shop conversion called Fairyland. It was joined by a much grander permanent building next door called The Amhurst Cinema Theatre designed by Frank Matcham - who also designed the Hackney Empire.

The RIO as the Classic cartoon Cinema in 1959 The RIO as the Classic cartoon Cinema in 1959

There was so much interest that Clara decided to convert her auctioneers business into a cinema in 1909, and called it The Kingsland Palace of Animated Pictures.

The venture was so successful she bought both properties on either side, demolished the entire site and commissioned the architect George Coles to design what was to be the grandest cinema in Hackney.

Called the Kingsland Empire, it opened in 1915, and was a lot more theatrical than most cinemas of its day with a two-level tea room, a domed tower, and an elaborate auditorium with five side arches and a double-columned proscenium arch.

Other new cinemas quickly followed and at one point there were 13 cinemas between Haggerston and Stoke Newington.

The auditorium in 1998 The auditorium in 1998

With the arrival of sound in the 1930s, the cinema changed hands and was bought by London and Southern Cinemas Ltd in 1933, then three years later Capital and Provincial News Theatres took over.

With the opening of two new luxury super cinemas - the ABC Savoy (now Efes) and the Odeon (demolished in 1984) the Kingsland Empire began to feel very dated.

The cult architect FE Bromige was commissioned to refurbish the Rio in Art Deco style and it reopened in 1937 as the Classic Cinema.

Mr Woodyatt explained: “At the Bromige he created a new auditorium within the shell of the earlier cinema – which English Heritage say is highly unusual. Through a secret door on the Rio’s roof, we can still peer into the “void” and see the ceiling and upper walls of the old 1915 auditorium.”

"It’s totally disorganised. Management never threw anything away. You come across the most amazing stuff - it’s utterly random"

Andrew Woodyatt

Since then the parapet was reduced in height in 1944 - but apart from that Bromige’s exterior design remains almost unchanged.

In the 1950s and 1960s the building was run under the Classic chain, and became the Classic Cartoon Cinema in 1959 showing news and family animation, then a year later it changed to the Classic Continental showing foreign art house films.

In 1970 was turned into the Tatler Cinema Club when a relaxation in censorship laws allowed cinemas to show “adult entertainment”, and strippers performed in between films on stage.

In 1976 the Rio as we know it today was born, when an independent cooperative with links to the Centreprise book shop opposite took over. They began running it as a not-for-profit registered charity in 1979 with an elected board of local people who act as volunteer trustees.

In 1999 the building was Grade II listed by English Heritage, and four years ago a petition led Transport for London to recognise the cinema as a major local landmark, and changed the name of the bus stop outside to ‘Rio Cinema’.


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Hackney Gazette visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Hackney Gazette staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Hackney Gazette account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

Latest Hackney Stories

Saturday, May 26, 2018

To listen to LCD Soundsystem through their intricately produced studio recordings, it’s easy to miss the musicianship James Murphy and his crew of unwilling rock stars command.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

A display in Hackney town hall’s newly refurbished vaults will shed light on the building’s 1930s origins, and the amazing relics unearthed during its £16m revamp. Emma Bartholomew speaks to curator Jacoba Mijnssen about democracy, regalia, and the mysterious cleaning unit uncovered by workers

Saturday, May 26, 2018

So you’ve been training got the big day, it’s been, you had a great time writes Dalston PT Matt Smith, Fitness First.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Middlesex coach Richard Scott hailed his side after a third successive win in the Royal London One-Day Cup.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Paul Stirling defied a thigh injury which forced him to bat with a runner to score his second century in less than a week as Middlesex beat Sussex by 74 runs at Hove in the Royal London One-Day Cup.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Block Universe - an international performance art festival taking place in London - is celebrating the artform with an international lineup.

Friday, May 25, 2018

The O’s will play a lot of local teams plus travel to Portugal for a seven-day training camp and it appears a good schedule for Justin Edinburgh’s side

Friday, May 25, 2018

Chelsea Clinton and local poet Jan Nobles appear at this year’s Stoke Newington Literary Festival


To celebrate LGBT history month, Hackney resident Amanda talks about her journey to becoming a foster carer, with the council’s support and training.

Education and Training


Read the
Education and Training
e-edition today

Read Now

Newsletter Sign Up

Hackney Gazette twice-weekly newsletter
Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Most read news

Show Job Lists