The battle to close the Rex Ballroom and Cinema by Shire Hall in the 1970s

Once one of the main entertainment venues north of the river, the site generated lots of noise for local residents who by the 1970s, had had enough. The man who played a leading role in the campaign for its closure was my former history lecturer at Anglia Ruskin University, the late David Weigall.

One of the things that got me interested in local history was the photographs of the community buildings that the Museum of Cambridge have that show today’s generations what we no longer have. That led to spending many hours browsing through thousands of pages and digitised copies of old newspapers to find out why we lost them – the subject of one of my first blogposts back in 2017.

Above – clockwise from top-left: The Carioca (burnt town in an arson attack), top-centre, the Beaconsfield Club (shut down by court order due to anti-social behaviour), top-right, the Hills Road Wesleyan Methodist Church (lease surrendered, turned into offices), bottom left & centre, the old Playhouse on Mill Road (a victim of a new tax from Harold MacMillan as Chancellor), and bottom right, the old Co-operative Hall on Burleigh Street.

The Rex Cinema / Rendezvous night club on Magrath Avenue

The venue was refurbished in the early 1930s but cinema entertainment pre-dates it, and before that it was a roller-skating rink.

Above – from the Cambridge Independent Press 17 December 1909 via the British Newspaper Archive

How we could do with one today – despite the old one being a little narrow (approximately 60m x 9m in area). Cambridge has a couple of skating clubs including Cambridge Skaters and the Cambridge Rollerbillies.

Not long after, adverts appeared regularly in the local newspapers.

Thruppence admission, twice the price for men!

Noise complaints

Don’t think that noise from music wasn’t a problem – so much so that when the owners applied for a music licence, amplified music was prohibited!

Above – from the Cambridge Independent Press of 10 Dec 1910 in the British Newspaper Archive.

Above – adverts for shows at bot the then Rendezvous on Magrath Avenue, and above it at the old Kinema which was opposite St Barnabas Church on Mill Road – sadly converted into student accommodation despite local attempts to keep it as a community building.

The Magrath Avenue site was revamped at significant expense and had a glamorous launch.

The Cinema Treasures website summarises the building’s history from the 1932 refurbishment. It’s easy to forget that this was the time of the Great Depression – Cambridge was not immune to the huge economic hit, so any news like this would have been good news for the local economy.

…but the newspapers also reported the trouble that occurred as well. A litany of crimes and altercations – little different to today perhaps. As the British Newspaper Archive demonstrates, the regular events combined with the presence of affluent and glamorous American service personnel based at nearby air bases inevitably caused friction with local men – and parents it seems as well!

Above -right, a case from 1954 involving an argument between a mother and her teenage daughter after the former caught the latter dancing with US servicemen in the venue.

By the 1960s it had become a variety club and bingo hall.

Time was up – resident had had enough.

When one particular case of affray came to court, and with few willing to give evidence, the judge damned the venue.

“Judge David Wild hit out at the number of people who must have known what happened during the affray but “did not want to know” Cambridge Crown Court heard that about 20 people took part in the running battle. Bricks were hurled through the window of a nearby house in which two of the defendants took refuge as a family stood terrified inside Pieces of asbestos were ripped from a garage roof and other missiles included garden tools”report in the Cambridge Evening News, 11 Aug 1973

“If this is a result of what goes on at the Rex and one is led to believe this is a somewhat frequent occurrence then it is time the Rex was closed”

Judge David Wild at Cambridge Crown Court quoted in the Cambridge Evening News 11 Aug 1973 via the British Newspaper Archive

Local Residents pack a meeting to demand the land be redesignated for housing

Which is ultimately what happened – the appeal being made by the late David Weigall of CCAT – later Anglia Ruskin University. He was my history tutor in the early 2000s during my PG Dip in post-war European History after I returned to Cambridge from Brighton in 2002.

You can still see the footprint of the old entertainment venue on G-Maps – bottom centre in the image below.

Above – from G-Maps here. Just off-centre is the Octagon building of the Shire Hall complex – with the original Shire Hall top-centre. Bottom-centre is where the old Rex/Rendezvous was, with the older housing further along Magrath Avenue where the blue balloon business icon is.

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